Happy Women’s (also read by men) Fiction Day 2021

Today is Women’s Fiction Day, a day set up two years ago by USA-based WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association) “to celebrate the authors, stories, readers, bookstores, and fans of the women’s fiction genre.” You can read more about them here.

When a reader sent me a lovely message earlier today wishing me Happy Women’s Fiction Day and thanking me for my stories, I was touched and delighted and nearly penned a blog post immediately to celebrate the day.

But then I didn’t.

And I wondered why I’d paused. I realised it was the label ‘women’s fiction’ that had stopped me.

I’m not the sort of person who gets precious about labels because I know I work in an industry that is rife with them. Two decades ago before I ever entertained the idea of being an author, I used the term ‘chick-lit’ for what I read. When I became an author many years later, there was a definite move away from this and many authors felt it was a derogatory term. I can see why but I’ve never felt upset by it, although it’s not a term I tend to use these days, much preferring ‘romcom’.

I sometimes say I write romance or contemporary romance. I more often use a tagline – stories of love, friendship, family and community – but I’ve never applied the term ‘women’s fiction’ to my work and I think that’s because I struggle with the suggestion that the stories I tell are only suitable for women. Because they’re not.

Before anyone shouts at their computer, I know that the term doesn’t mean that but, to me, it implies it.

I love how the WFWA describe women’s fiction and they have this amazing visual on their website. They also make the point that women’s fiction may or may not have a romance :

This is definitely what I write. Although there is always a romance in my books, it doesn’t always take centre stage. Even when the romance is a major plot point, the driver of the story is more about the journey the protagonist is going on and their emotional growth.

Despite reading – and agreeing with – all the above, I still struggle with using the term ‘women’s fiction’. I am certain that women make up the largest percentage of my readership and my social media following, reviews, and membership of my Facebook Readers Group would back this up, but I know for a fact that I have male readers. Some message me, some engage on social media and others make it clear they’re male in their reviews and I love that.

We don’t have a genre called men’s fiction so why do we have women’s fiction? What else would we call it though, especially if it doesn’t include a romance? Contemporary fiction is far too broad as anything set in modern times would fall into that. I don’t know what the answer is.

So I think I’ll create a new label for the purpose of this post called ‘Women’s fiction (also read by men)’ and leave it there for the moment.

To all the authors of this wonderful genre and all those who love to read it, sending my love and thanks.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

Celebrating a very special book birthday

It’s a busy end to the week as I was celebrating the publication day for All You Need Is Love yesterday and, today, I’m celebrating a special book birthday.

Today is one year since the final part of the ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series was released through Boldwood Books. Woo hoo! Happy book birthday to the series!

The four-book series had previously been published under different titles and the rights were acquired by Boldwood as part of my original publishing deal. They all had a fresh edit and were updated for a quick-succession re-release between January and March 2020. My writing was largely undiscovered before joining Boldwood and the idea of four novels being released so close together was to build my name and create an appetite for the next part in the series.

This plan absolutely worked and I still can’t quite believe how well my debut series (which is also available as a boxset with additional exclusive content) has done during this year after five years of struggling to get noticed:

  • More than 130k copies of the books combined (across all formats) since being re-released by Boldwood
  • Nearly 3000 reviews/ratings on Amazon, 93% of which are 4 or 5-star
  • Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1) going into The Works
  • Making Wishes at Bay View being free book of the week on Apple UK and USA and reaching #1 on the free UK chart/#16 in the USA
  • Making Wishes at Bay View breaking the Top 100 in Australia and Canada
  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2) going into Prime Reading and reaching #14 in the overall UK Kindle chart
  • All the books making it into the UK Kindle Top 200 and staying there for the whole of the summer
  • Books 2-4 making it into the Apple Romance Chart Top 5 at the same time and the overall Top 25
  • Best seller tags for all books at the same time

I often get asked which of these books is my favourite and I love them all for a different reason:

  • Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1) was such a fun story to write and Ruby is one of my favourite characters. She was fascinating to create and I love the banter she has with Iris
  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2) was the first book I ever wrote. The main character, Sarah, is predominantly based on me and the premise of the story is a true-life event. As this was where it all started, this book will always have a special place in my heart
  • Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (book 3) is a lovely story of how to pick yourself up after everything in your life falls apart. I love Elise’s journey and I also love the way the friendship dynamics between the main characters in this series begin to shift. The relationships with friends and family are a very important aspect of my stories and often take centre-stage over the romance
  • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (book 4) is Clare’s story and I have to confess it is my favourite as I love the plot. Clare arrived in book 2 as a spiky character with a mysterious past and here we discover why she’s the way she is. It’s a story full of twists and turns and I’m so proud of this book

I have amazing reviews for all the stories which makes me so very happy but New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms does have a few more negative reviews than the others. In some quite angry ranty 1 and 2-star reviews, Sarah is accused of being silly and her actions childish or selfish. While I completely accept that everyone likes different things and not everyone is going to love my work, I do feel sad that those readers have missed the point of a character arc. Sarah does make some some questionable decisions early on but her journey is one of learning from those and she experiences major character development over the course of the book.

At the start of the book, Sarah has stayed in a relationship for a year too long (not an abusive relationship; just one that isn’t right) and there are also reviews commenting on how ridiculous that is and that she should have just left him/nobody stays in a rubbish relationship for that long. Who are these people as I’d like to congratulate them? I am in huge admiration of anyone who can be in a long-term relationship and walk away just like that but I would suggest that the reality of most relationships is that walking away is not that easy. The person may be very aware that the relationship is not right for them but there can be a million reasons why they don’t walk away including fear of being alone, financial challenges, where to live, children, self-esteem, mental health and so on. Sometimes what lies on the other side doesn’t seem more appealing than what they already have. I know this because I was in a relationship like that. I knew it was wrong all along but I wasn’t in a place where I could deal with walking away. I know so many men and women who would admit to the same. Thankfully hundreds of readers do relate to Sarah, find her scenario very realistic, and are rooting for her all the way.

One of my aims for 2021 was not to be hurt by negative reviews and to remain focused on the positive ones and I’ve made great progress with this but I have to admit that I was a bit (a lot) wounded by a particular scathing 2-star review I spotted on Audible for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms a couple of days ago. I’ve pasted it below as it’s quite a long review:

Ouch! There are so many interesting things about this review. Firstly, book 1 of the series is not the chocolate pot cafe (Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café). That particular story is set in Whitsborough Bay but is not part of the ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series. It was written several years later. Therefore the last paragraph all about the links is inaccurate because there aren’t meant to be links. The Chocolate Pot is mentioned a couple of times in New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms because it’s on the same street as Seaside Blooms but, at the time the book was written, Tara and her story from Starry Skies… did not exist.

So if we remove the comments about the two books not following on from each other, we have that the story was ‘flat’ and ‘like the writer had a multi book deal and had to bang out something else.’ Wow! That’s a bit harsh! Every author starts somewhere and, although New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms is book 2 in the series, it is the first book I wrote as book 1 was written afterwards as a prequel/introduction to the world of Whitsborough Bay. Seaside Blooms is my debut – my first book baby delivered into the world and I am immensely proud of it. It does have twists and turns in it. They may not have the same shock/surprise as a couple of the revelations in Starry Skies… but they’re still there. When I started out writing, I intended to write romantic comedies but my ideas developed and my writing style developed and I now write contemporary women’s fiction. My later books are more emotional than my early ones and some of the plots are more intricate. It’s common and natural for a writer to adjust their style the more books they write. Their voice will develop and their confidence will grow and they may well experiment with style and genre. That’s not to say romcoms don’t have complex plots – they absolutely do – but my natural style moved away from the comedy and more into the angst although all my books are warm and uplifting and do still contain humour which balances the more emotional moments.

The real shame about this is that I have lost a reader/listener who clearly has some gripes about the story but, given a significant focus of the review is the lack of link to a story it’s not meant to be linked to, I can’t help feeling that this misunderstanding on the reader’s part has heavily influenced their contempt for this story. I’m trying to put myself in their shoes and, if I wrongly believed this was a follow-on from Starry Skies… I’d be confused too. The thing is, Audible clearly does show which books are in the series (see below), as do Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Fantastic Fiction…

Stung by this review – and thinking of the small number of negative ones for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – I decided to conduct a poll in my Facebook readers’ group asking members who’d read the full series to let me know which was their favourite. We’re talking a small sample here but the results were interesting:

  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – 53%
  • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage – 32%
  • Making Wishes at Bay View and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove tied – 7%

Many of those who voted did add a comment that they absolutely loved all of them but I had pushed them to pick one as I was curious as to the results and it was both surprising and reassuring that more than half the vote went to the book that has generated the most negative comments. I’m going to focus on the hundreds who love it and thank them so much for sharing that love.

So happy birthday to the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series and thank you to everyone who has bought/ borrowed/ downloaded any of the stories, loved them, and reviewed/ rated/ recommended them. You are absolute superstars. Callie, Sarah, Elise, Clare and the rest of the cast of characters in Whitsborough Bay send you hugs of appreciation.

And thank you to Boldwood Books and my amazing editor Nia for breathing fresh life into these stories and taking them to such a wide readership. I’m forever grateful.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I talk about my publication day charms

Yesterday was publication day for Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe and, on the evening, I participated in a Facebook Live with my fabulous editor, Nia Beynon.

The very first Trollbead representing being an author

I was thrilled with the number of attendees and how many have watched the video since. If you would like to watch it, you can access it on Boldwood’s Book and Tonic Facebook page here.

I started to write my debut novel and learned my craft while running my own specialist teddy bear shop so a bear had to feature

There were some fabulous questions posed before the event and some great ones on the night. One came from the 10-year-old daughter of fellow Boldwood author, Emma Murray (do check out Emma’s witty and uplifting debut novel, Time Out, if you haven’t already done so – find it here). Ava asked: “Do you reward yourself for reaching writing milestones? And if so, what do you reward yourself with?”

To the right of the bear is a round charm with hearts on it to represent writing books about love and friendship (apologies for slightly blurred image!)

My initial response was to say that no I don’t, but I probably should and then it struck me that there is something I used to do which I hadn’t really thought of as a reward for reaching a writing milestone yet it is exactly that. More on that later.

This conch represents all my novels being set on the coast and the heart was an added bonus linking it back to them being stories of love & friendship

When my debut novel – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – was originally released in June 2015 (under a different title), I held a launch party for friends and family. I certainly wasn’t expecting presents but I was spoilt with flowers, bubbly and other gorgeous gifts. One of my friends, Carrie, gave me a leather thong bracelet with a Trollbead charm on it in the shape of three books. This was extra perfect for me as that novel was originally part of a trilogy (it is now the 2nd book in a 4-book series).

This lovely circle of flowers was for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms because the protagonist, Sarah, runs a florists

Carrie’s husband’s family owned a jeweller’s at the time but they were selling up as Carrie and her family were emigrating to Canada. We therefore took advantage of their closing-down sale and brought several more troll beads which I felt represented my writing journey so far.

I really struggled for something to represent Making Wishes at Bay View which, at the time, was called Raving About Rhys. Rhys is a gardener and the cover had purple flowers on it so I went for a purple glass bead with flowers on it. If I was to buy a Trollbead now, ‘wishes’ would probably give more inspiration (although see the star later)

The bracelet is now (almost) full and takes me from first putting fingers to keyboard until the publication of my last pre-Boldwood release. All of my back catalogue has already been or will be re-published by Boldwood so the only books not represented here are the ones that were new for Boldwood Books: The Secret to Happiness and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow. I need to decide whether to buy charms to represent them and squeeze them onto the bracelet, to start a new bracelet or to think of something different. Hmm. If I did stick with charms, a hedgehog is the obvious one for Finding Love… but I’m not sure about Secret. Again, hmm.

In Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove, protagonist Elise drives a lime green Beetle called Bertie which features quite a lot in the story, hence the Beetle

I’m so delighted that my friend brought me my first Trollbead. My bracelet of charms means so much to me. Going back to Ava’s question, I originally thought that adding a charm was simply to remember each book I published but it’s really to celebrate a major milestone achieved and all the highs and lows that may be experienced in getting that book out to publication. Thank you so much, Ava, for making that connection for me as I honestly hadn’t thought of it like that.

I really wanted a four-leaf clover for Coming Home to Seashell Cottage to represent Clare’s Irish roots and part of the book being set in Ireland. I could only get one as part of a special set with a new bracelet. Any excuse!

I hope you enjoy my journey through my Trollbeads. Do you do anything to celebrate milestones achieved, whether that’s relating to writing or any aspect of your life? I’d love to hear your comments.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

PS Apologies for the formatting. It looked perfect until I uploaded it and I’m too lazy to change it as I haven’t got my head around the new block layout yet!

It’s not so easy to make this one out in the picture but it’s a polar bear hugging a baby polar bear. Although Bear With Me (to be re-edited & re-released by Boldwood next year) doesn’t feature polar bears, it does feature bears so this was a perfect fit, especially as I already had a teddy bear to represent my starting point

My next release was Charlee and the Chocolate Shop: A Tale of Two Christmases (also to be re-edited & re-released next year). I struggled to find anything chocolate-related so went for snowflakes to represent Christmas

Making Wishes at Bay View is the amalgamation of a novella and a short sequel novel (formerly Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish). The star therefore represented Christmas wishes (sort of!)
I so wanted a cupcake to represent Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes but didn’t manage to find one. A key scene is where Carly makes snow angels in a deserted Castle Street and therefore mittens seemed appropriate for that

And, finally, we have a mug representing hot chocolate at The Chocolate Pot in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe

The one where Daran is the Chill With A Book ‘Book of the Year’

Untitled-3I had some amazing news today. The final book in my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, Dreaming About Daran, won the Chill With A Book Awards ‘Book of the Year’ for 2019. These Awards recognise the best reads from indie authors and independent publishers.

Each book entered into the Awards is read by several readers who rate it against several questions:

  • Were the characters strong and engaging?
  • Was the book well written?
  • Did the story / plot have you turning the page to find out what happened next?
  • Was the ending satisfying?
  • Would you recommend to someone who reads this kind of story?

If the book meets the criteria, then they could win a Readers’ Award for the month. Those classed as really exceptional may be awarded a Premier Readers’ Award.

In May 2018, Bear With Me won a Readers’ Award and the Book Cover of the Month. In February, Searching for Steven won a Readers’ Award, in March Getting Over Gary won a Readers’ Award and the Book Cover of the Month and then, in May, Dreaming About Daran won a Premier Readers’ Award.

Untitled

With 51 books (including Steven and Gary) winning Readers’ Awards across 2019 and 28 (including Daran) winning Premier Awards, I thought there was no chance of Daran getting the Book of the Year but he did. I’m so proud of my boy! What a wonderful way to start 2020!

I absolutely love Dreaming About Daran. It’s my favourite book in the series and I was really pleased with the way it came together and concluded the threads so it’s so thrilling to be selected as the best book that the reader group read last year.

I cracked open the Christmas Maltesers Truffles to celebrate earlier today! I’d like to say I’ve celebrated this evening too but I’ve been taking down the Christmas decorations so that I can focus on editing all weekend.

Thank you so much to Pauline Barclay who runs these amazing Awards, supporting and promoting the best in independent authors and independent publishers and, of course, all the readers who made this possible. Woo hoo!

Dreaming About Daran NEW COVERHere’s the blurb:

Where do you go when it’s your own past you’re running from?

Sometimes, you can run from the past, but you can’t hide. Since the age of sixteen, Clare O’Connell has lived her life by four strict rules:
1. Don’t talk about Ireland
2. Don’t think about Ireland
3. Don’t go to Ireland
4. Don’t let anyone in

And so far, it’s worked well. She’s got a great career, some amazing friends, and she’s really happy. The future’s all that counts, isn’t it?

When her boss insists she travels to Ireland to repair a damaged relationship with a key client. Clare finds herself drawn back to the village of Ballykielty where she comes face to face with the one person she’d hoped never, ever to see again.

With the door to her past now wide open, the first three rules have gone out of the window. Can Clare stick to rule number four?

Making Wishes at Bay View

My fabulous publisher, Boldwood Books, are re-releasing the series in the first quarter of this year, re-edited, with new titles and fresh covers. Making Wishes at Bay View will be out on 14th February, replacing Raving About Rhys (a novella) and Callie’s Christmas Wish (a short novel following on from the novella).

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms is the new title for Searching for Steven and comes out on 20th February along with Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove which is the new title for Getting Over Gary. 

Then, on 17th March, Dreaming About Daran will be revamped and re-issued as Coming Home to Seashell Cottage. I hope to share the covers for books 2-4 very soon so watch this space.

You can read all about the Chill With a Book awards here: http://www.chillwithabook.com

Pauline is always on the look out for new readers so if you’re a prolific reader, you might want to consider being part of the Awards.

Jessica xx

 

My Crazy Week of Job Loss & Book Launch

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Jessica Redland - Searching for Steven - Front Cover LOW RESOh my goodness, what a roller coaster of a week I’ve had full of highs and lows, twists and turns!

Morning of Monday 1st June – LOW – I work flexible hours in the day job and normally take a Monday off, working the rest of my full time hours across longer days for the rest of the week. As I had Wed-Fri booked off as holiday to enjoy my book launch, my manager suggested I came in on Monday instead and took my flex day on the Tuesday, giving me four days off on the trot. I’d been out the previous week running a training workshop and she’d been on holiday so I was expecting our 10am meeting to be a catch-up and handover while I had the rest of the week off. Instead, I got made redundant! I completely and utterly had not seen that one coming! Last year, there’d been a bit of a cost savings and restructuring exercise and we’d been assured that HR weren’t being looked at and there’d been no redundancies. Hmm. I got really upset in the meeting because of the shock of it. Thankfully I was allowed to go home to come to terms with the news.

P1060369Afternoon of Monday 1st June – HIGH – Hubby picked me up from work and took me into town to collect a parcel we’d missed. I expected this to be my box of books which seemed very ‘one door closes and another opens’ but it wasn’t books. It was something equally fabulous, though – my very own Steven Bear from lovely writing friends Jo, Sharon and Alys. I love him.

Evening of Monday 1st June – HIGH – I’m a Brown Owl and, to celebrate the launch, we’d decided to complete our Booklover and Writer badges as a pack this term. I’d pulled together a short PowerPoint presentation for the Brownies followed by a creative writing workshop. I wasn’t sure how well this would work but it went down a storm with lots of questions and the creative juices flowing.

Tuesday 2nd June – LOW – Reality hit that I was out of work yet again and I felt so hurt at the timing. It was meant to be the week of my life and my employer had started it by making me redundant. I’d wanted to spend the Tuesday feeling all excited as it was, after all, book launch eve. Instead, I was job hunting.

CoversWednesday 3rd June – HIGH – Searching for Steven was launched (buy it here)! What an incredibly exciting day. I seemed to spend it solidly on social media, thanking people for supporting me, and grinning from ear to ear. I had a well attended Facebook launch party on the evening and I went to bed very, very happy

Thursday 4th June – HIGH – The high continued with more excitement around Steven but also around my novella. To celebrate Steven‘s launch, Raving About Rhys (buy it here) went on a three-day free promotion and was climbing the charts as well as gathering some amazing reviews. By the end of the promotion, I’d got to number 203 in the free Kindle chart on Amazon and number 26 in the romantic comedy chart. I was thrilled about it.

P1060374Another fabulous thing that happened that day was that hubby disappeared out and then returned with a set of three canvasses for me – the cover of each book, and a dedication canvas including a quote he’d recently seen in a film: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” by Mark Twain. It feels so apt for me and my writing. It made me cry!

Friday 5th June – LOW – I received the devastating news that our printers had let us down. Despite expecting a box of books earlier in the week, it turns out they’d had problems with their binding equipment and hadn’t even printed my books. I was having a launch party the next day with nearly 100 guests, many of whom would have travelled long distances, and they weren’t going to get a copy of my book. I have to say, I was absolutely distraught. At one point, I even wanted to cancel the party, but my lovely hubby gave me lots of hugs and encouragement. I posted a private message on Facebook to  friends and family explaining what had happened and the outpouring of support and understanding was really quite overwhelming. I was genuinely touched at how proud people were of me and how excited they were to be coming to the book launch, with or without the inclusion of books!

11401385_10206847816496801_2560504648333263427_nSaturday 6th June – HIGH – Launch party day had arrived and what an amazing day it was. My publisher had managed to send me their two sample books by special delivery. These had a page missing and a few errors but it was a thrilling moment opening the box and putting my paws on a copy of my paperback for the first time. I’d have captured it on film but I was still in my PJs with no make-up on so that wouldn’t have been a good look!

The party was fabulous. The only downside is that I needed it to go on about ten times as long as I tried my best but it was impossible to get round everyone. I had family, old friends, new friends, former work colleagues, writing friends and it was so lovely to have everyone together to celebrate this unique occasion.

I have so many people to thank for making the day so special: hubby and munchkin, my sister-in-law Vanessa for the amazing cupcakes and cake (which I completely forgot to cut and hand out!), my mum for the scones, biscuits and caramel shortbread (nom nom), The Scarborough Anglers Social Club for such a friendly/flexible venue, Jon Mancrief for a delicious buffet, and everyone for coming. I got cards, flowers and gifts which was very unexpected. And people paid for books too! I really appreciate all your support and your positive comments. You’ve helped make a horrendous start to the week with a few dips along the way, end on a high xxx

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