The hedgehogs are absolutely smashing it

I’ve been a bit obsessed with checking my reviews/ratings for book 2 in the Hedgehog Hollow series – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollows – for two reasons:

  1. They have accumulated at a rate I’ve never seen before on any of my books
  2. There weren’t any 1 or 2-star ratings among them and I was intrigued as to how many I’d get before I received my first

The book was released on Thursday 7th January so it is day 19 now. After only a week, I was astonished to have gathered 100 ratings/reviews. Only two of those were 3-star which, although classed as ‘negative’ on Amazon doesn’t unduly concern me. Readers use the ratings differently and for some this is a case of enjoying a book but not having your socks blown off by it.

I hadn’t expected to get to 100 without any 1 or 2-star ratings/reviews so, once I did, figured it would only be a matter of time before that happened. This is not me being negative; it’s an inevitability that not everyone likes the same thing and there will always be those who don’t enjoy what an author writes and shares that feedback through negative reviews/ratings.

The number passed 200. Then 300. Still no 1 or 2-star ratings/reviews. Surely there was no way I’d get to 400. But I did. This afternoon, I got a screen shot at 402 reviews with no 1 or 2-star ratings/reviews. I’m a bit gutted as I’ve just realised that my screen shot doesn’t actually tally and it says 402 ratings at the top but 399 in the breakdown box but I did refresh it later and it was showing 402 in both boxes but I didn’t take another screen shot as I hadn’t realised it had been incorrect before.

Another refresh took me up to 405 and 2 x 2-star ratings (no review) had crept in. So now there are two properly negative verdicts (alongside 20 x 3-stars) but I am absolutely thrilled to have got beyond 400 before that happened. I doubt it will happen again so thank you to the hedgehogs for capturing readers’ hearts and to everyone who has left kind words or a positive rating. This spurs me on to keep writing.

They have also reached their highest UK Kindle chart position so far at #169.

If you haven’t already downloaded New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, the price is a bargain 99p on Apple, Kindle and Kobo so grab a bargain now.

And as the second batch of hedgehogs hit their 400 milestone, the first batch in Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow have just hit a mammoth one passing 1,000 reviews/ratings this afternoon. Woo hoo! Hurrah for those hedgehogs!

Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow joins Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café in the 1,000 Club although Carly is well on her way to 2,000 with 1,799 at the time of writing.

Thank you for the hedgehog love. And the Christmas books love. And all the love for any of my other stories.

Wishing you all a fabulous week.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

You can find my author page on Amazon here.

The one where I got 1,000 reviews. Woo hoo!

Ask any author and they’ll probably tell you that one of the scariest things about publishing a book is waiting for those first few reviews to come in. What will readers think? Love it? Hate it? Be completely indifferent?

Reviews are exceptionally important because they are our feedback from our customers. I read every single review I receive on Amazon and positive ones absolutely make my day. They’re like a warm hug, a thank you, and a dollop of motivation rolled into one. They inspire me to keep writing.

Negative reviews…. well, I’m sure you can imagine it’s not a warm hug I get from those. Occasionally (rarely) I might pick up something constructive from a negative review that makes me think, but more often than not, it’s just an angry rant and often feels quite personal. Cue tears and reaching for the chocolate.

At the start of 2020, I had a writing goal to get 100 reviews on one of my books. At that point, I already had about 95 on the original version of New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms. When Boldwood relaunched it with a fresh edit and makeover in February, I knew it wouldn’t be long before that goal was achieved. The rest of the series – and the other books due for a makeover – all had about 30-45 reviews each so they were a little way off that goal.

What I didn’t have was a goal to get 1,000 reviews. Definitely not on my bucket list. Not a goal at all. Why? Because, just like a book of mine going into the Kindle Top 10, it felt like such an enormous impossible goal to achieve. Yet yesterday, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes hit 1,000 reviews.

All weekend, it had hovered tantalisingly close. On Sunday night, I went to bed with it at 998. Surely it would be 1,000 by the morning given the rate at which they seemed to be coming in? I logged in on Monday and it was still 998. Then 999. Just one more needed. I couldn’t wait to grab that screen shot with a clean 1,000.

I never actually got it because, next time I refreshed my screen on the afternoon, it had jumped to 1,002. I’d done it! I’d achieved another goal that wasn’t even a goal! Woo hoo!

This morning, at the time of writing, Carly is at 1,014 reviews/ratings. 72% of these (723 of them) are 5-star and 19% (192) are 4-star. So that’s 915 out of 1,014 reviews or ratings (91%) that are positive. I’m so proud of that.

At the lower end, there’s only one actual 1-star review (plus 11 ratings) and it’s a bit mean: “The main character is ridiculous. Her sister is destroying her business, etc. etc. etc. I made it through one-third of the story and just couldn’t make it any further. When the main character has you rolling your eyes, page after page, I refuse to continue wasting my time with it.” Ouch! So it clearly wasn’t for that reader although it’s a shame she didn’t read on as she’d have found out the reason why Carly accepted Bethany’s behaviour but time is precious and why spend it reading something that you’re not enjoying?

For 2-star, there are three reviews (plus 12 ratings) and a couple of them do make me laugh because the reason for the 2-stars is: “Thinking about Christmas and it’s only September. Well, I realised that only after I bought this book…” and “Well, I think it could be worse. Thinking about Christmas and it’s only August. Well, the book will sit pretty on my wife’s shelf and not get read…” What part of a book called “Christmas at….” with a snow-laden cover including a Christmas tree and a blurb which begins “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing…” would make them think that the book is anything other than a Christmas one?

Let’s ignore those, shall we? An enormous thank you goes to Nia, my editor at Boldwood Books for the amazing editorial advice which took a good book and polished into a fabulous one which, in the space of only three months has reached 1,000 reviews.

As for the reviewers/bloggers/readers who’ve shared the book love, I am forever grateful. Please keep leaving reviews for authors whose work you love and we’ll feel those hugs, that motivation and that inspiration to keep going.

If you haven’t read Carly’s story, there are a phenomenal number of listening/reading choices:

  • Download the eBook on Kindle, Kobo or AppleBooks
  • Buy the paperback from Amazon, the Waterstones website or order it via any other good bookstore
  • Buy the audio CD from any of the above
  • Buy the large print version from any of the above, or borrow it from your library if they stock it
  • Download the audio CD from Audible, Kobo, SCRIBD, AppleBooks, Libra.fm, or Chirp (USA only)
  • Borrow the audio version from your library via the uLibrary app or Hoopla in the USA and Canada
  • Stream it via Spotify, Deezer, AppleMusic and YouTubeMusic

Big hugs

Jessica xx

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…


It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing.

For Carly, the owner of Carly’s Cupcakes, it’s the busiest time of year getting everyone’s Christmas treats ready on time. However with her clumsy sister, Bethany, as a co-worker, it’s proving a difficult task. They say you shouldn’t mix work with family. Maybe they have a point…

As Christmas approaches, Carly is also eagerly awaiting the return of her best friend to Whitsborough Bay. Liam has no idea he’s been the object of her affection since their schooldays. After years of pining after him, can Carly pluck up the courage to finally tell him how she really feels by 25th December?

Could a little festive magic make all of Carly’s wishes come true this Christmas…?

A heartwarming, short festive story of friendship and family from bestseller Jessica Redland. You can find out what happens to Carly next through exploring her best friend Tara’s story in 
Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café

The one where I passed my Masters

IMG_7453I got the results through this morning for my Masters in Creative Writing and I’m so excited to have secured a distinction. I know that, in the great scheme of things, the individual grade doesn’t really matter and it’s simply getting a Masters that counts but, for me, this was a personal journey and a goal I really wanted to achieve because of what happened with my undergraduate degree.

Screenshot 2019-12-09 at 16.57.19I have a BSc (Hons) in Banking and Finance from Loughborough University (Leicestershire). Studying my degree was full of highs and lows. When I applied to Loughborough, I wanted to be a bank manager and I hoped to secure sponsorship from one of the major high street banks to go there. I was fortunate enough to secure a place on TSB’s sponsorship programme which meant a small financial sum each year (positioned as being for text books but actually spent on pints of Purple Nasty!), holiday work in a local branch if I wanted it, a year out working for them, and potential to secure a place on their management trainee scheme after graduating.

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Image from Pixabay

So, at age 17, I’d already partially-secured a place on a graduate scheme which was an exciting possibility. The only challenge was whether I could pass the degree – something that proved more challenging than I could ever have predicted.

I remember sitting in my first economics lecture and listening to the professor stating smugly, “If you haven’t studied economics at A level, you’re going to struggle. And if you haven’t studied maths at A level either, you are going to massively struggle.” I hadn’t studied either of them and that professor was right. I struggled. I didn’t understand macro economics, I didn’t understand micro economics, I couldn’t do accountancy and quantitative analysis gave me nightmares. Thankfully, we studied banking law and business organisations too; subjects which I did understand. We could choose options and picking Marketing and HR also saved me. I finished my first year with a 2:2 average, although a 3rd in certain subjects. Oops.

 

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After my final exam (I’m in the purple jacket)

My second year was worse. I could continue with my preferred options but I couldn’t drop any of the subjects I hated. That same economics professor made a joke about anyone who hadn’t understood the first year not having a chance of grasping the second year. Also right. I spent hours in the library or locked in my bedroom with the course textbook and a dummy’s guide to the subjects yet still nothing made sense. Even with the subjects I liked, I couldn’t seem to secure a decent grade and I was at a loss as to what I was doing that was so wrong. Frustratingly, I now know that a lot of it was down to poor referencing but none of the tutors thought to tell me that at the time. Cheers for that!

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Final year fun drinking games (I’m on the left)

If struggling with my studies wasn’t bad enough, my social life fell apart. I’d chosen to stay in the Halls of Residence on the committee, where I was social secretary. One of my best friends from Halls in my 1st year was also on the committee and we’d chosen rooms on the same floor of our tower block with all sorts of plans for the fun we’d have. But we didn’t have fun. When we came back after the long summer break (bearing in mind that this was the days before social media, email or mobile phones so we had only exchanged a couple of short letters), he was very distant and didn’t seem to want to spend time in my company. I’m not sure what happened there. He quickly became part of a clique on our floor and the group would regularly go out together without ever asking me to join them. They’d return in the early hours, crank up the music, and shout at each other around the corridor while I curled up under my duvet in tears. I hated that year. I’ve never felt so lonely in my whole life. The only friend I had on my floor was a mature student from Ireland who also seemed to be an ‘outcast’ but, sadly, he was missing his girlfriend back in Ireland too much and made the decision to drop out at the end of the first term.

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My 2nd year was never fun like my final year (I’m at the front)

All alone again, I tried to throw myself into my studies but that’s not easy when you don’t understand your subjects. I tried repeatedly to get help from tutors but every discussion was over my head and I’d leave their office more confused than I was when I arrived.

It never entered my head to drop out – it wasn’t an option as far as I was concerned – but that year really was horrendous. I will be eternally grateful to two friends of mine off my course, Darrell and Andrew, who were there for me in my final term. We never talked about me being lonely and I always put on this display of confidence around them, but I think they both just sensed it. They’d both drag me out for something to eat or a walk around a park to stop me festering in my room. Darrell, in particular, was a Godsend, because he tutored me too, helping break down some of the concepts I just couldn’t get my head around.

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Graduate Day – in front of my Halls of Residence at L’bro Uni (Towers)

If I hadn’t had a year out, I don’t think I’d have looked back very fondly on my university days but that year out made me. I’d worked every holiday in my local TSB branches but I had an opportunity to work in their Head Office in my third year and it was amazing. I shared a house with another two sponsored students from Loughborough and we had so much fun. I loved my job and had some great work experience alongside a brilliant social life, mixing with the other sponsored students and management trainees.

When I returned to Loughborough for my final year, it was with a fresh perspective and a new confidence. I was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

I found the work experience added value in subjects like HR and Marketing and I had finally been able to drop most of the maths and economics-based subjects although there was one compulsory one called business finance which, for me, might as well have been conducted in Russian for all I understood of it! I made a mess of my business finance exam, which I fully expected, but I did well in the others. I didn’t dare to dream that I could get a 2:1. I wasn’t even expecting a high 2:2 yet I did somehow manage to secure the 2:1. It was only by 0.1% but it was still a 2:1 and I was beyond thrilled with it. I also made some really good friends that year and had the social life I’d been lacking in my second year, meaning I could graduate with happy memories instead of feeling relieved to escape from the loneliest time of my life.

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Graduation Ball … after a much happier final year!

Because I’d studied Marketing, I had a chance to get my marketing professional qualification at the end of my final year by doing a few more lessons and an exam after my main degree exams had finished, so I did that. I secured a position on TSB’s management trainee scheme, as hoped, which meant studying my professional HR qualification as well but, when I was in my mid-twenties, that was it. I was finished with education. I had a degree and two professional qualifications and no way was I studying again. Ever.

For the last 3.5 years, I’ve been a home-based tutor for the HR professional qualification that I possess. I run webinars, mark assignments and respond to student queries. Working in education got me thinking about studying again and, even though I’d sworn I never would, I started to weaken. My problem with my undergraduate degree had been that it included subjects I didn’t care about or understand. What if I studied something I was passionate about instead? So I enrolled on a Masters in Creative Writing with Open University which started in October 2017.

IMG_7456Working full-time, writing and studying is not easy. One sacrifice I knew I had to make was ceasing my role as Brown Owl. There was no way I could fit in planning and running a Brownie Pack as well, unless I wanted to give up on sleep.

After my experiences with my undergraduate degree, I was determined that I wouldn’t struggle through my Masters. I’d self-taught myself much of the content and had put it into practice in writing several books already so the actual subject area wasn’t a challenge for me. What I struggled with was the commentary we had to submit with some assignments. It took me quite some time to get my head around what was needed and the feedback seemed to be inconsistent and contradictory which was frustrating. When we did our secondary option – script-writing for me – I actually challenged the marking of it because it was so contradictory and the second tutor agreed I had been under-marked on it. But she decided I’d been over-marked on my fiction and ended up downgrading my whole assignment from distinction to merit. I was absolutely gutted. Lesson learned the hard way.

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Right from the start, I had a goal of coming out with a distinction to show that I could do something academic to a high level instead of struggle all the way through it like I did with my undergraduate degree. It was very touch-and-go, though. I’d get a distinction, then a merit, then back to distinction and that dream of the top grade overall started to drift away.

I was surprised when I ended the first year on a distinction but the second year was independent of that grade. Again, I was up and down with the scores and every time I ‘repaired’ something, a new ‘problem’ appeared to arise. However, a particularly strong assignment helped pick up my year two average and I went into the final submission at 88% (distinction being 85%). Whether I got a distinction overall was resting on my final assessment – 15k words of fiction.

There was a grade predictor on our student home page and I calculated what I needed to get in my final assessment to come out with a distinction overall but it advised me I needed 85% – a distinction – in that to get a distinction overall, despite being at 88% already.

Screenshot 2019-12-09 at 15.06.08I was never going to fail but whether I got a distinction or a merit overall was not a foregone conclusion. Most of my fiction had scored highly (a couple of submissions being 94%) and I’d submitted part of the assignment as a formative, for which I’d had really positive feedback so this had to bode well … but there was this nagging doubt that I might not quite make it.

The results were due today and I kept refreshing my home page to see them. Turns out I was looking at the wrong part of the page and, when I scrolled up looking for something else, I saw the final grade had actually appeared.

IMG_7455It confused me, though, and I have to admit that it felt like an anti-climax. The word ‘distinction’ was there in large bold letters. But it stated I only had 83% for my final submission and I still had it in my head that I had to have 85% or above because of that damn grade predictor. I was therefore convinced I was looking at the wrong thing and perhaps that was my year one grade showing instead. It was correct, though, and clearly the grade predictor was wrong. Thing is, disappointment had then set in. Firstly, it was disbelief that I had really received the distinction. Then it was: why only 83% for that piece of fiction when I’d had 94% previously? How had I fallen a full 11%?

I know, I know… I shouldn’t focus on the negative but, because of the grade predicator, I was so confused by my score and could only focus on the fact I’d dropped marks and got a merit for my final submission without it really registering I’d still received a distinction overall.

IMG_7454It still hasn’t sunk in that I have actually achieved what I set out to do; putting my study demons to bed. I might treat myself tonight by not working for a change! Don’t judge me but I’ve already eaten tomorrow’s advent calendar chocolate as a congratulations treat!  And I’ll have a very large piece of cake when I go out for the day tomorrow with my writing friend, Sharon Booth. It may sink in then. Also, I’d just spotted the result and then had to pick up the munchkin from school to take her to her first piano exam so I was a bit distracted thinking about her and whether she would be nervous or not. It will sink in. Soon.

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported, encouraged and believed in me but the biggest thank you of all has to go to my tutor group. Tracy, Mandy, Janet, Georgia, Angie and David – your feedback and friendship has been invaluable. I look forward to watching you all publish your first novels! You are all super talented writers and deserve to have success with your writing.

Jessica xx
(MA!!!)