Last year, I wrote a really detailed blog post looking back over 2020, broken down into the highs and lows of each quarter in what was a very strange year for us all. It was really interesting reading it earlier so I decided to replicate something similar for 2021.
I’ve just spent three hours working on it, pulling together everything that happened across the year, and I’ve lost the will to continue. Not because there aren’t amazing highs to share or that it isn’t interesting to look back but simply because I think it’s more interesting for me than my readers. So I’ve ditched it.
Instead, I’m going to write a much shorter thank you post to those who have made 2021 another special year for me professionally.
Thank you in no particular order to:
Everyone who has supported me and my books this year. To my readers and listeners, thank you so much for buying, borrowing, streaming, reviewing, promoting, and recommending some or all of my books
Anyone who has participated in a blog tour (especially those who’ve joined them all) and to the amazing Rachel Gilbey for organising these
Readers/reviewers who have named one or more of my books as their favourites of the year. What an absolute honour!
Bloggers/reviewers who’ve kindly featured me on their blogs/websites as a guest this year
Readers who’ve sent me messages or emails telling me what my stories have meant to them
The amazing members of my Facebook community, Redland’s Readers, who share their love of the worlds I’ve created and gorgeous pictures of hedgehogs, lighthouses, the sea and so on
The Boldwood readers community who voted for Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café as the first #BoldBookClub readalong and shared their thoughts, and to the fabulous Claire Fenby for creating this
Sharon Booth, super talented author, for friendship and encouragement
The Write Romantics, my original writing family, for friendship and support through the highs and lows of our journeys – Jo Bartlett, Sharon Booth, Jackie Ladbury, Deirdre Palmer (also writes as Zara Thorne), Lynne Pardoe, Helen Phifer, Helen Rolfe, Rachel Thomas, Alys West
All the fabulous authors at Team Boldwood, most of whom I’ve only met virtually, for being so friendly and supportive
New friends I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this year including the lovely Eliza J Scott
A wonderful community of authors who’ve been shared posts and been amazing in the author community. Too many to name but I specifically want to shout out to Sandy Barker, Kim Nash (aka Kim the Bookworm) and Ian Wilfred who have done so much for me and other authors this year
My mum for being my biggest fan who shows unwavering interest in everything that’s happening with my books
My brilliant husband Mark for being the most supportive and understanding husband ever, and our gorgeous daughter Ashleigh for never moaning about how much time I spend drifting off in my fictional worlds
Everyone involved in the process of getting my books to the market – Cecily my copy editor, Sue my proofreader, Debbie my cover designer and Megan at Boldwood preparing all the books for digital upload and distribution
The amazing team of narrators and distributors at ISIS Audio and Ulverscroft
The amazing library staff who’ve stocked and promoted my books/audiobooks, especially Middlesbrough Libraries who had me as their author of the month during December
The Works for taking another two of my books this year and specifically to the manager Jamie and her fabulous team at The Works Scarborough for being so welcoming and promoting my books to their customers
The RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) for championing romantic fiction and challenging the appalling snobbery this genre receives
The best editor in the world ever, Nia Beynon, for editing excellence, empathy, and encouragement. Fifteen books down, nine to go… and hopefully many more after that!
And last, but by no means least, the whole team at Boldwood Books for another amazing year. Five more books released, three of them brand new, and sales of half a million earlier this year have been phenomenal. Amanda our CEO continues to drive an innovative, inspirational publisher where the author is at the centre of everything they do. I can’t wait to see what new ideas 2022 brings
I hope 2021 has brought you kindness and happiness, despite the continued strangeness and I send you best wishes for 2022. Hope the year starts well and brings dreams and wishes fulfilled.
Big New Year hugs Jessica xx
I’ll finish with a gallery of some of this years writing-related highs including five new releases, two books into The Works, an Italian translation, an amazing competition in conjunction with Lucy Pittaway artist, and so much more …
If you read my 2020 round-up post yesterday, you’ll know that I’ve had mixed feelings about saying goodbye to 2020. For me, it was the most wonderful and astonishing year so far in my writing career. I fulfilled long-held dreams and achieved so many goals, including some that weren’t even on my writing bucket list because I never, ever expected to achieve them.
But, for so many other reasons, 2020 was pants wasn’t it?
Anyway, it’s behind us now. Welcome to 2021 and a new colour for the blog (previously pale blue). This year sees the start of my first full year as a full-time author and I have plans.
Brand New Releases
New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – the second book in my Hedgehog Hollow series – is out on Thursday 7th January and is available on Kindle here. Advanced reviews are mainly positive so hopefully the blog tour will go well.
I’ll try to ignore the two reviewers who were “very disappointed” with it and left feedback that I shouldn’t have extended this into a series, particularly the one who said she’d loved my previous books but “this one was cringeworthy and had nothing to add, just padding”. Ouch! Thankfully there were plenty who loved it and can’t wait for the third instalment. Phew!
Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – book 3 – is out on 4th May and will be up for pre-order as soon as the cover is ready.
Ooh, is that the first time you’ve heard that title mentioned? Fabulous isn’t it? I’ve been a little vague about the name until now, tending to refer to it as ‘book 3’. We were going to call it Life Begins at Hedgehog Hollow which you may have heard me mention in interviews. It felt like a good title for the end of a series. However, book 3 is no longer the end so it wasn’t as appropriate.
My editor, Nia, came up with ‘Family Secrets’ and I absolutely love it. It’s possible that ‘Life Begins’ will be used for book 4, or we may come up with something else. It won’t be out until January 2022 so there’s still time to decide.
Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow is written and I’m working on my edits now but I won’t write book 4 until later this year.
The final two books in my back-catalogue acquired by Boldwood as part of my original publishing deal will come out this year:
All You Need Is Love is available for pre-order now (click here) and will be out on 11th March. This was previously available under the title Bear With Me. The original version was only ever available as a Kindle eBook and was taken down from sale just before Christmas. I wrote a blog post about what the changes involve which you can find here.
Charlee and the Chocolate Shop will be re-released in August. I haven’t had edits through for this story yet but I don’t anticipate any major changes. It could be that additional chapters are added in, like with my other two Christmas stories, but the fundamental story and main characters won’t change. I don’t know whether there’ll be a new title or not but watch this space for as and when I have news.
My Writing Plans
I’ll have my edits finished on Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow within a week and may or may not have a second round of edits before it goes through the copy editing and proofreading processes.
Then I get cracking on a brand new book, which I’m really excited about, especially as it’s a return to Whitsborough Bay. This will be my first release from my second Boldwood publishing deal and will be my Christmas release (out in September 2021).
Although it’s a brand new book for readers, it’s not completely new to me. I’ll be returning to a story I started but abandoned three years ago. I wanted to release a Christmas novella in 2017. I had the idea, the setting, the main character and even did a stack of research. As soon as I started writing it and my male main character arrived on the scene, I realised it was definitely not a novella. It needed to be a dual perspective full-length novel so I parked it after 10k words. I absolutely love the story and it has been nudging at me all that time so I can’t wait to return to it.
After that, I’ll be back to Hedgehog Hollow for the fourth (and final???) instalment.
I had originally talked with my editor about a new series for 2022 – which I’d start writing this year – but I’ve thrown a spanner in the works with my fourth Hedgehog Hollow book so I’m not sure whether I’ll still be starting work on that new series this year (for a spring 2022 release) or working on some of my standalone ideas with a view to the series being out in 2023 instead.
I also want to return to The Chocolate Pot at some point soon. It’s been lovely seeing reviews and comments on social media hoping for a follow-up. I have mixed opinions on exactly how I want this to work. For those asking about Zoe, who appears at the end of Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café, we will find out what happens to her. I have big plans for her which will ultimately impact on another business in Castle Street. I haven’t decided yet how I want that to work and whether that business will come into play in the Starry Skies follow-up or as a third book further down the line. Hmm. Decisions decisions!
Writing-Related Plans, Hopes & Dreams
I’m hoping to set up a reader’s group on my Facebook page but want to think some more about how I best do this in a way that engages with my readers who are keen to know more about Whitsborough Bay and Hedgehog Hollow without me taking too much focus away from novel-writing. It’s a delicate balance.
I’m also working on some writing tips and plan to share these on my blog and You Tube simultaneously. To ensure regularity of posts, I want to have most of these prepared pre-launch so I’ve written the first few blog posts this week.
Other hopes and dreams include:
At least one more book in The Works. I have been spoilt by having three in the space of six months last year so I’m kind of hoping for more than one
Appearing on the Books by the Beach Festival programme (Scarborough’s literary festival in June). I keep pestering the poor organiser and hoping!
A UK Kindle Top 10. Not hopeful of this one but you’ve got to have dreams!
Foreign rights for any of my books
A film or TV deal. Come on, Netflix! Christmas on Castle Street? Hedgehog Hollow? Gorgeous!!!!
Not letting imposter syndrome spoil my enjoyment of achieving my dream to become a full-time author
Not letting negative reviews upset me. I thankfully don’t get many but those I do get can knock me back for days and I shouldn’t let them
Getting more of a work:life balance and accepting I don’t need to work evenings and weekends
Reading more and not feeling guilty if I spend a day reading instead of writing
And other hopes and dreams…
Personally, I’m looking forward to a return to some form of normality and being able to see friends and family again. Roll on vaccination time!
I have developed a very bad case of lockdown-lard-arse which I absolutely must address. I start every New Year saying I’m going to lose weight and get fit to the point where it has become a standing joke because I know I have no intention of putting in the effort. A distinct lack of movement in 2020 alongside some understandable comfort eating has definitely exacerbated an already large problem. I’m not a vain person and my size doesn’t bother me that much because I’m used to it, but the potential impact on my health does bother me and 2020 was scary, knowing that my food demons had made me more susceptible to the virus. I turn 50 next year and I don’t want to be fifty and fat.
I have tickets booked for a number of gigs at our local outdoor concert venue – Scarborough Outdoor Theatre – across the summer and hope all will go ahead. Our tickets for Six at Leeds Grand Theatre were rescheduled for July so hopefully that will go ahead too but Sister Act has been completely cancelled. I’m just praying our poor theatres will have survived a horrendous year for many of The Arts. Still can’t get my head around why it was okay to fill aeroplanes but not theatres when restrictions were lifted in the summer but let’s not go there!
What are your plans for 2021? Hope it treats you more kindly than 2020 has.
Let’s face it, Christmas 2020 isn’t going to pan out the way any of us had planned (or re-planned) so saying “Happy Christmas” does feel a little strange, but I do absolutely wish it for everyone and hope you can still enjoy the day with family and/or friends, even if that means in smaller numbers or virtually.
A meme has been doing the rounds on social media this week showing soldiers in trenches on Christmas Day 1914. It’s a sobering image and, in my opinion, a valuable reminder that it may have been a really tough year compared to what we are used to but we do have so much to be thankful for…
And, scary news about virus mutations rapidly spreading aside, let’s look forward to next year with vaccinations and hopefully some sort of return to normality (albeit a new normality) so I also wish you a Happy New Year and THANK YOU so much for making so many writing dreams come true this year by choosing my stories and writing such gorgeous reviews…
Sending much love and strength to those who have lost someone this year (Covid-related or otherwise), have lost their job, had financial struggles, been lonely, been ill or any number of challenges faced during the strangest of years.
And sending particular best wishes to my own family who have lost three loved ones this year, two of whom were taken far too young and one as recently as Saturday. RIP to my brother-in-law Richard, my cousin Gary and my brother-in-law’s mother Mary. My thoughts with their families as they come to terms with their tragic losses. As I light my candles on Christmas Day, I’ll be thinking of you all.
I’ve had a really hectic Christmas and feel as though I blinked and missed it.
Going away on holiday before Christmas was a first for us and, in some ways, it meant a longer run-up to Christmas because I needed to get my presents bought and wrapped so much earlier than normal. I was looking forward to a few days to relax and get into the Christmas spirit before the big day itself but the reality was that I had to retreat into my editing cave and lock the door. Other than a short break on Monday afternoon (23rd) to see Last Christmas at the cinema (amazing by the way) – which I’d probably not have done if I hadn’t pre-booked the tickets before our holiday – I was in my editing cave until early evening on Christmas Eve when I forced myself to stop working. I was then back to it on Boxing Day and finally finished what I needed to do late that evening. I’ve been fortunate enough, whether employed or self-employee, never to have had to work on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day so this was a bit of a shock to the system for me! It therefore meant I didn’t have the immediate build-up I normally have which is why I feel I blinked and missed Christmas.
There was no time to draw breath as we had family gatherings on the next couple of days so yesterday (Sunday), I announced I was going to lie in then stay in my PJs all day and watch films. So that’s what I did. Well, maybe not quite all day because I had a few things to do on the morning, but I popped on some ‘loungewear’ and slobbed in front of the TV to watch Fisherman’s Friends (loved it), The Princess Switch (loved it although I’d already watched it when wrapping gifts last month so this was more for munchkin than me) and Avengers: Endgame (loved it although struggled a bit to remember what had happened in previous films). And I wrote a blog post about the past year which I’ve just completely scrapped because I decided it was more boring than a boring thing that’s really tediously mind-numbingly boring whilst wearing its most boring clothes and visiting Boringville. Yes, it really was that bad.
So my alternative post today is more about reflecting on the past decade instead where I went from an aspiring writer to becoming an international best-selling author. Eek!
At the start of this decade, I was working for a very well-known food manufacturer with a strong presence in York (think chocolate, coffee, cereal, water and pet food) in a job that I absolutely adored. I was responsible for designing and running development centres for factory-based staff who had the potential to become shift managers or engineering managers but needed to work on a few areas. It was one of those dream roles where it really is a round peg perfectly fitting in a round hole.
We were living in Scarborough town centre but had made the decision that we wanted to move out to a village and our house was on the market. I started helping out at a local Brownie pack in May and took over as Brown Owl in the September when the existing Brown Owl retired; something I’d always wanted to do, having gone through Brownies, Guides and Rangers myself.
My daughter was three and time for writing was very sparse although I had made a good start on my debut novel, Searching for Steven. Well, when I say good start, I mean there were lots of words. Not particularly good words and not in the right order but there were words which is significantly more progress than a blank page!
Then something really exciting happened. I’d made an 11th hour submission of a short story to a competition run by English Heritage for stories set at or inspired by Whitby Abbey. The top fifty would be selected and placed in an anthology from which profits would be ploughed back into the Abbey. It wasn’t as polished as it could have been but I was thrilled to have been selected as one of the top fifty. Woo hoo! Somebody thought I could write. It certainly spurred me on.
Remember that dream job I mentioned? It was taken away from me. A massive HR restructure gave it to someone completely inexperienced in training, coaching and development and left me ‘at risk’. I was devastated. We’d just accepted an offer on our house the day before I got the news and I was kept in the dark for one week, not knowing whether I had a job or not, and therefore not knowing if we’d be able to move. When the call finally came through, I was told that I did still have a job … back in the recruitment team where I’d started life at the company two years previously. The existing team had all lost their jobs and I was going to provide consistency for the new team being recruited.
The reality of this change was that I ended up doing my original job (because my replacement lacked the knowledge or experience to do it), my recruitment job, the graduate recruitment role (because the person doing that had left during the restructure too and I had expertise in this) and the Head of recruitment role. All for no extra money, or course. The further reality was that I couldn’t do any of the roles well because, let’s face it, who can do four full-time roles at the same time? On top of this, I was no longer home-based but, because the house sale had gone ahead and we’d moved out to a village, I now had a pig of a commute. I spent 4.25 hours commuting each day by a mixture of bus and train. I worked solidly during that commute and until 11pm each night because that was the only way I could even attempt to keep fire-fighting my many roles.
Needless to say, no writing got done in 2011. I’d been gutted that my application to join the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) hadn’t arrived on time to secure me a place that year but, with hindsight, it was a blessing because there was no way I’d have been able to finish my manuscript for submission with the hours I was working.
My daughter started school in September and I managed to secure a couple of days off work so that I could take her on her first two days and be there when she finished. When I dropped her off on that first day, I burst into tears when I walked across the playground, realising that I was missing out on everything about her growing up with the stupid commute and the demands on my time from work. I returned to work the following week with my resignation letter.
At the start of 2012, I tried again with the RNA’s NWS. They’d changed the system so that you could apply via email instead of post and I secured my place that way. Yay! What this meant was that I needed to crack on with writing because I had a deadline of August to get my MS submitted. I work well when I have a deadline, though.
I’d started a home-based role conducting telephone interviews and, whilst this did see me working evenings and weekends, I did manage to find some time to write and got a draft of Searching for Steven submitted. The feedback was really positive and the key improvement needed was to make it shorter as it was at least 30k words over at nearly 130k words.
I turned 40 in May this year. I’d like to say that I had some huge life-changing epiphany but there was nothing so exciting. It was just another birthday and a milestone like that didn’t really bother me.
The life-change that didn’t happen when I turned 40 actually happened in 2013 when I joined a bootcamp. Three mornings a week, I rose at 5.15am (plus a Saturday slightly later) to go down to the seafront in Scarborough and work out for an hour. It was an amazing time, full of laughter and friendship, and I blogged about my journey towards losing half my body weight.
Searching for Steven went back through the NWS with a 30k cull – but various changes had added a different 30k words back in – so I knew I was going to get similar feedback to the first year. I did. But it was extremely helpful and insightful, helping me shape him to send out into the world of publishing the following year.
I attended the RNA’s conference for the first time and pitched Searching for Steven to a couple of digital first imprints who both loved it. One cited it as one of her favourite reads and both were sure they would be interested in publishing it and I should definitely submit the full MS. Naively I thought I was in there and, as soon as it was ready, I started sending it off to agents and publishers – including those two – and the waiting game commenced. And I waited… and waited… and waited.
Writer Jo Bartlett and I formed the Write Romantics, a group of ten writers who were all on the NWS and who had aspirations of becoming published. We started blogging together and soon developed quite a following.
Career-wise, 2013 was a bit of a disaster. Although repetitive, I’d enjoyed my telephone interviewing role but some significant changes were made to the work expected of us (more detail in the reports) but the pay rate per call actually decreased. Double the work for less money? Not exactly fair. I took a fixed term contract to do a coaching role at my local technical college but it turned out not to be a ‘real’ job and had been more about having someone in situ to avoid them losing some funding. I was made redundant after only five months into a two-year role and I couldn’t find another role without returning to commuting to York or perhaps even Leeds which I really didn’t want to do. I ended up securing a seasonal job in a garden centre on minimum wage just to have some money coming in. I actually really loved that role. Christmas at a garden centre? What isn’t to love?
At the end of the previous year, I started a training and development role at the Scarborough factory of an international food manufacturer (think frozen food, particularly chips or other potato-based products). In the summer, a request for flexible working was agreed meaning I worked my full-time hours across a Tuesday to Friday, giving me a Monday free. Monday was Brownies night so meant I could prepare for my meeting but the main bonus was a day to write. Luxury. There were niggles with the job but the day devoted to writing meant they weren’t that significant.
I finished Getting Over Gary (the second book in my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series) and submitted that to the NWS for critique. In the meantime, Searching for Steven rejections were coming in thick and fast. The two publishers who I’d met at the 2013 conference took forever to get back to me and actually had to be chased by the RNA as I wasn’t the only one waiting to hear. After a whopping 9 months, both said no. Oh. I was so sure one of them would take it from the reaction at the conference, although I’d become less sure as the months plodded past.
By this point, I had 23 rejections (or no response whatsoever) and, although some of them had been very positive, I was fed up. I hadn’t necessarily expected Searching for Steven to find a home so the rejections weren’t too upsetting; it was more the time and effort that was soul-destroying. Everyone wanted something different and, at that point in time, a lot of them wanted it via paper format so it was very expensive too. I had a couple more publishers to hear from and had decided to go indie if it was a no from them. But both said yes and I had a very happy dilemma on my hands.
I actually verbally accepted one but they were so slow in getting a contract drawn up that the other came through before I’d signed anything. I was also starting to get doubts about them as it seemed that, after saying they wouldn’t change much, they wanted to change loads, particularly removing the friendship focus and keeping the stories pure romance. The friendship thread was very important to me and was what made the series so it was actually very fortunate that So Vain Books made an offer and I went with them instead, signing my contract in September 2014.
On the day that Searching for Steven was published (3rd June 2015), my husband gave me a set of three canvasses. One had the front cover of Steven, one had the cover of a novella called Raving About Rhys that my publisher released in May as an introduction to the series, and the third had this quote on it:
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain
3rd June 2015
The day life changed for Jessica Redland
It made me cry. It is still above my desk and I draw inspiration from it when I doubt myself as a writer. I am a writer.
I had a launch party for Searching for Steven but it didn’t quite go as planned. The printers messed up and I actually had no paperbacks to sell. A launch party without a book to launch? I forgot to cut the cake and it was an unexpectedly hot day with no air con in the venue so everyone was melting. So I drunk lots of wine!
Just when my writing career was taking off and I could finally say “I’m a published author”, my HR career was about to take another nosedive. The company had gone through a major restructure and we were assured that, because HR was already streamlined, there would be no HR redundancies. Only they needed to trim a bit further and my job went. I was fortunate to walk straight into a role for a local recruitment agency but it was a real low point for me. The company and the people were great. I was not great at the job. Naively we’d all thought that my recruitment skills would translate well into the role but the reality is that a recruitment agency is a sales role; not a recruitment role. Me and sales? Very square peg and very round hole. I knew my days were numbered there.
I stopped going to bootcamp because I was couldn’t fit it in around my working hours and the three stone I’d lost (nowhere near my goal at that point) started to pile back on.
I’d worked at a local factory some years earlier and the engineering manager had rated me highly. When he realised I was working for the agency, he was keen to put a number of vacancies my way. It was worth a lot of money to the recruitment agency so I’d managed to cling on by my fingertips at the back end of 2015. 2016 arrived, the vacancies had all been filled, and I wasn’t bringing in much income so they let me go. They were right to do so because I was completely and utterly crap at the role, but this was the first time I’d ever been let go rather than made redundant and it was awful.
Fortunately I’d been working part time for a distance learning company for several years as an internal verifier and they were rapidly expanding. I’d already put out some feelers about working for them as a tutor too and this got escalated. I still have that role today, based from home, dealing with queries and marking assignments for students studying their HR professional qualification. I travelled a lot, running weekend workshops in London and Birmingham, which was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends based in both cities who I hadn’t seen in ages.
With hubby and I both home-based, we made the decision to get a dog; something hubby had always wanted. Ella the Sprocker Spaniel joined our family, much to Felix the cat’s disgust!
Getting Over Gary and Dreaming About Daran were released in March and August respectively, concluding my series. And also concluding my time with So Vain Books. Things hadn’t worked out for them as hoped and I secured back my rights before the company ceased trading. Feeling very despondent, I decided to lick my wounds as an indie writer and see how that went before thinking about submitting again.
As an indie writer, I released Bear With Me, a standalone novel but still set in Whitsborough Bay like all my others. I was very proud of it but it didn’t soar. In fact, none of my books were setting the charts alight but I was working so many hours that I had no time available to invest in marketing and promotion so I had to just keep ticking along.
A lot of work travel meant a lot of time on trains and in hotel rooms to write and I managed to pen two Christmas books. I’d only planned to write one – Charlee and the Chocolate Shop – but I mentioned a shop called Carly’s Cupcakes in that book and suddenly had a vision for who Carly was and what her story was. It was begging to be written. So in October 2017, I released twoChristmas books and they sold far better than anything else I’d written … although still not quite as well as I’d have hoped.
I made a big decision in the summer to start studying towards a Masters in Creative Writing through Open University. I’d never thought I’d study again but I liked the thought of taking the next academic level in a subject I loved. If I was going to study, a sacrifice had to be made and the only one I could make was leaving Brownies. After 7.5 years with the pack, I stepped off my perch in December.
I was surprised to discover that a Christmas book is not just for Christmas. Charlee and Carly continued to sell in January, February, March … and all year round. It seemed that Christmas books were winners so I wrote another two for release ahead of Christmas 2018: Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe and Callie’s Christmas Wish, the latter being a follow-on to my novella Raving About Rhys.
Word was out, though: Christmas books sell. Everyone seemed to be writing them and neither book did as well as the two the previous year. And then Amazon sent me to Amazon Jail. They claimed I was engaging in activities to manipulate the sales and downloads of Searching for Steven. I wasn’t. I’m not clever enough or technical enough to even begin to know how to do this. So Steven was stripped of his rankings in all markets meaning he couldn’t be found in any searches unless someone specifically looked for that title. Sales practically disappeared.
Earlier in the year, I attended the RNA’s conference again. It wasn’t yet finished but I pitched a book called Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye which told the story of several women who needed to say goodbye to someone or something in their lives but were struggling to find the strength to do so. It explored whether meeting each other via a bootcamp could give them the encouragement to let go. The setting was inspired by my bootcamp experiences and I was very proud of this piece of work. I pitched to four publishers who all enthused about it but two wanted it to go down a cosy romcom route and two wanted me to keep the contemporary women’s fiction I’d moved towards in my writing. They were particularly passionate about it finding a home with them. Only, when I finished it and submitted to them, they didn’t want it.
The rejections floored me and, with low sales across all my books, I began seriously questioning whether I could write or whether it was worth the heartache. Yet being a writer is who I am. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t tell my stories. The sales figures may not have screamed success but the reviews did and I’d regularly pick myself up looking at them.
In a home-based role, the weight continued to pile on and my despondence about my writing didn’t help me in doing anything about it. The long hours I worked between the day job, my Masters, and trying to write didn’t help either.
I started the year still languishing in Amazon jail. They finally released me in February and put me straight back in less than two weeks later, starting the hideous episode all over again.
A couple more rejections for my latest novel came through. Whilst acknowledging that I was a good writer with a great location for my books, they either didn’t “get” the bootcamp setting or didn’t think the book had enough of a “hook”. This floored me again and, on top of the Amazon jail situation, I wasn’t in a happy place with my writing in early 2019 and was flooded with doubts about my future as an author.
But things were about to change in a big way. On 1st February, a new publisher called Boldwood Books opened for business and they sounded different. Reading their website, Boldwood sounded like the perfect home for me. I just had to hope that they “got” the setting and thought it had a sufficient “hook”. Fortunately they did and, on 20th March, I received a whopping nine-book-deal from Boldwood for four brand new books and five from my back-catalogue. Woo hoo! It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye got a new identity as The Secret to Happiness and was launched on 3rd September. It came out in all formats (eBook, audio, large print and paperback) globally from day one; something very unique to Boldwood as part of their “publishing reimagined” offer.
The Secret to Happiness had performed well during its first month out but a Bookbub promotion in Canada and Australia in October saw me become an international bestseller with the amazing positions of number 9 and number 20 respectively in the overall Kindle charts in those countries. I still can’t quite believe I’m both a top 10 bestseller and an international bestseller. Eek! Some major promotions in the UK also saw the book achieve its highest UK chart position within the top 600 which was very exciting too.
More good news was on the way. After two years of studying, I passed my MA in Creative Writing with distinction which I couldn’t be more thrilled about. I worked so hard to achieve that grade but creative writing can be very subjective so I wasn’t sure I was going to quite get there in the end.
The Write Romantics still exist and the group have gone from being ten unpublished writers to ten published writers, whether that be traditionally, indie or through a hybrid approach. We no longer blog together as we simply don’t have the time with our individual social media activities to manage, but the support of the group is invaluable. Whenever one of us are experiencing a high or low, whether in writing or in life in general, there’s someone there to give a virtual hug of sympathy or congratulations. I’ve met every member at least twice and am very fortunate in having forged a very strong friendship with the fabulously talented Sharon Booth who I meet a couple of times a month to catch-up on all things writerly, and eat cake. Perfect!
As for 2020 and beyond…
I have a whopping six books coming out with Boldwood Books next year. That might sound excessive but five of them are from my back-catalogue. The ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series that started my writing journey has been re-edited, re-packaged and re-titled. The novella has been combined with the follow-up Christmas short novel to make one book, turning this into a four-book series. Making Wishes at Bay View will be out on 14th January, New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove will be released on 20th February and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage will come out on 17th March.
July 2nd will be the publication day for my next brand-new Boldwood release, which doesn’t have a title at the moment. Then Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe will be re-released on 1st October. This was my Christmas novel last year and I have added several new chapters to extend the story. I needed to keep it under 70k at the time because I’d submitted it for a competition where it couldn’t exceed that amount but, whilst the reader wasn’t left hanging, there was an aspect of the story I could have explored more and this has been my opportunity to do so.
My July release is part one of a new series and the second part will be out on 7th January 2021. I’ve only written one chapter so far so need to get cracking on that one very soon!
It’s still my dream to be able to write full-time one day. Maybe 2020 will be the year it happens. Got to dream big!
Wishing you all the best for a wonderful start to the new year and new decade. See you on the other side.
I wasn’t sure whether to do an end-of-year round-up but I read a couple of posts from writing friends of mine today and really enjoyed reading them so I decided to go ahead and do mine.
I wondered how to approach this: month by month, season by season, highs v lows, the good/bad/ugly … then I decided to approach it in a slightly different way, taking inspiration from my absolute favourite film of the year which hurled itself into the number two slot on my most favourite films ever (Shawshank Redemption is still my very favourite): The Greatest Showman. Have you seen it? If you haven’t, you really must, even if you’re not usually a fan of musicals. Hugh Jackman. Zac Efron. Need I say more?
Please note that the songs aren’t presented in the same order as they appear in the film. Ooh, and on that subject, I must add that the soundtrack is my favourite movie soundtrack of all time. I play it every single day and was delighted to add the reimagined version to my CD collection (yes, I’m old school and still like to own CDs) this Christmas. I can even play A Million Dreams on the piano. Well, part of it. Badly. But it’s getting there.
The Greatest Show
Being an author is an amazing thing. For me, it really is ‘the greatest show’. Thinking up plot ideas, developing characters, and having their stories unfold is like creating a show for people to read, as opposed to watch. Sometimes the show receives a standing ovation, but sometimes things don’t quite go to plan …
A Million Dreams
A few writing-related dreams came true this year and a few special things happened:
I passed Year 1 of my MA in Creative Writing with distinction
I received not one but two awards for Bear With Me: A Chill With a Book Readers’ Award and a Cover of the Month Award
Several of my books achieved that little orange bestseller tag for achieving the number 1 position in a category on Amazon. For some, this lasted days and, for others, it was only an hour or two but each was still a proud moment
Searching for Steven secured an audio deal and so did Bear With Me. I had to walk away from the one for Bear With Me as it had been shortlisted by a major publisher on a non-agented submissions day and I didn’t want to blow my chances of a publishing deal with them by tying it up in an audio deal. Unfortunately, it became a no from the publisher too so I could have had the audio deal after all, but it was one of those decisions I had to make. In the meantime, Searching for Steven is out now on audio format which is very exciting. You can get it here
I completed 5 x blog tours organised by the fabulous Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources. Rachel makes me laugh because she talks about the ‘fans’ I have in the blogger community who can’t wait to read my work. Fans? My fans? I still find that a little astonishing
At the point of writing, three separate books have appeared in ‘Best of 2018’ Top 20 lists (actually a Top 18, Top 20 and Top 21) which wasn’t even a dream I’d had but would have been on my wish list if I’d dared to hope such a thing could happen
I joined forces with my very good friend, Sharon Booth, to create the Yorkshire Rose Writers, building on our brand as Yorkshire-based writers who write about Yorkshire
I attended some great writing-related events: the RNA Conference, the RNA’s York Tea, a bloggers/writers event in York, a social media workshop run my Anita Chapman and a Writer’s Retreat in Bronte country run by author Rowan Coleman. Through these, I met some very special and talented individuals and am very grateful for this
Three books came alive for me this year. I released Callie’s Christmas Wish in October and Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe in November.
I also wrote another novel which will be released in 2019 (see ‘The Other Side’). I’m very proud of all three of them. Callie and Choc Pot both went on blog tours and received some amazing reviews which came at a time when I really needed the encouragement to keep going because giving up was becoming very tempting (see ‘Tightrope’).
The Other Side
I took another foray into ‘the other side’ this year: exploring traditional publishing. I wrote a novel called ‘Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye’. Told from three perspectives, it was a challenge to write and I was very excited about the story. My beta readers told me it was the best thing I’d ever written and I used various chapters for my MA in Creative Writing, securing a distinction each time. I pitched it at the RNA Conference and 4 publishers were eager to see the full MS. They all turned me down. I’ve had rejections before, when I sent my debut novel out for publication, but these rejections – and a few others – completely floored me. There were tears, there was massive self-doubt and, yes, there was a lot of consolation cake eaten.
Rewrite The Stars
Amazon decided to ‘rewrite the star’ ratings for a lot of authors this year. In spring/summer, there was an outcry on social media when Amazon’s algorithms were altered, resulting in a lot of individuals having all their reviews unceremoniously removed because they allegedly knew the authors. For a very successful writer who has hundreds of reviews for each book, this is annoying but for a struggling indie writer who doesn’t have anywhere near that number, this is pretty devastating. I don’t have an exact figure but I lost approaching 20 reviews and, typically, they were nearly all 5-star ones. Why couldn’t Amazon take one 2-star one? Meanies!
During the later part of the year, I feel like I’ve been balancing on a ‘tightrope’ when it comes to my writing, with no safety net, no bar to balance me, and a long way to fall. The ‘stolen’ reviews were the start of it and, at about the same time, sales massively dipped and so did pages read on Kindle Unlimited, pretty much overnight. I stopped receiving emails promoting my books too. It felt as though Amazon’s changing algorithms weren’t favouring me. I reached out to them for some guidance on why I never got promoted anymore or selected for a Prime deal. They responded … with a standard email suggesting I might like to promote myself by setting up a Facebook profile, a website, a blog, Twitter and so on. Really? Wish I’d thought of all that!!!
Then I lost my footing on my tightrope. I woke up one Monday morning to a Facebook message from a very successful author telling me that her publishers were threatening legal action against me because one of my book covers was too similar to hers and I needed to change it. Turns out her designer and mine had used the same Shutterstock image; something that happens all the time and is a risk that all designers know they face when using stock images. The case was dropped when we shared Shutterstock’s stance on this but it was a horrible and scary experience and I’m still licking my wounds.
I clambered back on that tightrope and sent my MS out to be considered for traditional publication (see ‘The Other Side’) but the ‘audience’ didn’t like what I did and pelted me with rejections.
Pulling myself together, I tried to cross that tightrope once more and this time it was Amazon determined to make me fall. An email came out of the blue a week before Christmas accusing me of engaging in activities designed to manipulate sales of Searching for Steven in the USA. They rank-stripped me for that book in all markets (which means it can’t be found unless someone specifically searches for the title or for books by me) and have threatened further action. I have a separate blog post prepared about this which I’ll release when – if – the matter gets resolved.
On top of everything else that had happened in the second half of 2018, this left me emotionally and mentally defeated. I’ve never felt so low and, sadly, it ruined my Christmas.
As I continue on my writing journey, I’m a bit like Barnum in The Greatest Showman because each goal achieved just leaves me wanting more. I wrote a poem about it earlier this year which you can read here.
I am very lucky to be part of two writing collectives. The incredibly talented Sharon Booth and I have started a partnership as the Yorkshire Rose Writers, but I’ve also been part of the ten-strong Write Romantics for 5.5 years.
Being surrounded by writers is a double-edged sword because on the one hand it is such a joy to have regular dialogue with like-minded individuals who understand the highs and lows of being a writer and can support you through the lows, as well as it being inspiring to observe their successes and live vicariously through those. On the other hand, it’s very hard not to compare your success (or otherwise) with those around you, especially when everyone else seems to be doing so much better (more sales, higher chart positions, Prime deals, Amazon bonuses etc) and I’m the one with the weakest sales, being threatened with legal action, and being rank-stripped.
And so we move into 2019 and I turn to the final two songs in this amazing film.
This Is Me
Throughout my writing journey, I’ve always remained true to myself, writing the stories that I want to write and that my readers seem to want to read. When I sent my debut novel out to publishers, I was fortunate enough (after many rejections) to have two publishing offers on the table. The first, which I’d verbally accepted, wanted to make a lot of changes to the trilogy: more heat, shorter, focus on the romance and not the friendships. I was on the verge of walking away from it and going indie because it was no longer going to be the story I wanted to write, when the other offer came through. Sadly, that publisher ceased trading so it didn’t work out but it was still the right decision for me at the time to have chosen them.
This year, I have had publishers and other authors advising me to take my writing in a particular more cosy direction if I want to secure a new publishing deal … but that style isn’t me. It was when I started but my writing has changed over time. I would have called myself a romcom writer but I now write contemporary women’s fiction where the romance is not always the central thread. THIS IS ME! It’s my style and my voice and I don’t want to change it. I wouldn’t hesitate to do so if readers and bloggers didn’t rate it but they do … I just don’t reach enough of them as an indie writer.
I’m not giving up on the hope of securing a traditional publishing deal again because I do feel I need that step to get greater exposure. However, I’m not going to change the type of book I write just to secure a publishing deal. If it’s meant to be, the right publisher will like my approach. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I can’t learn from a publisher and don’t want my work editing because I think I’m perfect. Far from it. What I’m saying is that I write a certain type of emotional story and I get a buzz from that so that’s what I’ll continue to do, even if that means I remain an indie writer because it’s not what publishers are seeking.
From Now On
From now on, I need to re-focus and, just like Barnum in the film, remember the important things in life: my family, my health, and why I started writing in the first place. This year has taken its toll on me in more ways than a loss of confidence. I’ve worked too many long hours trying to fit writing and studying alongside my day job as an HR Tutor. This has meant that my lardy backside has been pretty much welded to my office chair from rise til bedtime. I’ve not slept well for most of the year because I’ve not given myself any time to switch-off, which means I’m permanently tired and feel pretty grumpy. My diet has always been bad (I’ve battled with my weight since I was 10) but its been the worst ever this year and I don’t exercise at all. I daren’t get on the scales. I know I returned to my heaviest ever earlier this year, but my clothes still fit so, if I’ve gone over that, it can only be by a couple of lb. Lack of daylight has left me with a vitamin D deficiency (I’m turning into a vampire!) and bad diet has left me with a lack of iron and folic acid so I’m on medication for those as well as high blood pressure. When I returned from my holidays during the October half term, I started having heart palpitations but various tests and an ECG revealed (perhaps surprisingly given my weight) there’s nothing wrong with my heart and the palpitations were actually stress-related anxiety attacks. Eek!
Nobody starts a diet at Christmas but, by mid-January, I need to be back at the gym, eating healthily and spending some time each day outside instead of permanently sealed in my office. I need to organise my time better so that I get more writing done but also have more time with my family. And I need to shut down the computer and read or watch TV on an evening to give myself time to switch-off and hopefully get a good nights’ sleep.
And I need to be kinder to myself, accepting that everyone is on a different path towards their writing goals and mine appears to be the one that meanders, backtracks, and has a few dead ends along the way rather than being a direct route. But quite often a path that meanders has really stunning views so I need to stop and take those in.
From now on, it will be different. From now on, this is me, balancing on a tightrope where it may feel like what I do is never enough but I still have a million dreams and can rewrite the stars to achieve each one. 2018 was a tough year but I made it out the other side and will come alive again in 2019 because writing really is THE GREATEST SHOW!
Happy New Year to you all. I hope 2019 is kind to you and that you’re kind to yourself too. I’m going to try to be.
Happy New Year! I hope you had a fabulous Christmas and New Year. Mine was pretty quiet, but that’s how I wanted it. It’s been a long six months or so, adjusting to a new demanding day job and finishing my second full-length novel. I was also working on a novella for Christmas release, but that plan didn’t quite come off.
Before Searching for Steven was launched in June, I released a novella called Raving About Rhys. Set in the same fictional seaside town of Whitsborough Bay, it’s set before Steven although the books can be read in either order.
Rhys tells the story of Callie Derbyshire – a minor character from Steven -and how she meets the man she marries at the beginning of Steven (Rhys). It works well as a stand alone story and, although it finishes at a perfect point, I started to think about a follow-up with another novella. This would continue to explore the relationship between Callie and Rhys, but it would also focus on Ruby, a fascinating resident at the care home where Callie works. She was a character I loved developing and she’s someone who readers have clearly warmed to as she’s mentioned a lot during reviews.
The plan was to launch the novella by the middle of November but, as I’d barely put fingers to keyboard by then, that wasn’t going to happen! I put myself under quite a lot of pressure in mid-late November to try and work on it ready for an early November release, but I got an unexpected opportunity to take on some additional work through a very part-time job I have and, financially, it was too good an opportunity to turn down. A week or so of intensive preparation for this on evenings meant that I couldn’t work on the novella and, ultimately, I made the decision that I needed to put my plan on the back burner as I simply wasn’t going to have the time to write it. I didn’t want to rush to write it and end up putting out something that was sub-standard. Better to wait and get it right.
The plan is still to release another novella following on from Raving About Rhys … just not yet. I need to decide whether I release it at some point between my second and third full-length novels (Getting Over Gary is out on 3rd March but available for pre-order now and the as-yet-untitled book 3 is out in late summer) or whether I make it a Christmas 2016 novella. I need to make this decision sooner rather than later because, of course, a Christmas release means the novella needs to be set at Christmas which will mean different timescales and different events to a none-Christmas release. Hmm.
At the moment, though, my priority is book 3. I’d written a lot of it, but I’d originally written it from three points of view. Then I’d started re-writing it from two POVs. Getting Over Gary was originally written from two POVs and, after a good chat with my publisher and a couple of trusted beta readers, I changed it to one POV just like Steven. Book 3 needs to follow suit so I need to do some significant work on it. It shouldn’t take too long, though, as the bones of the story are there; I just need to add some meat to some of them and remove others.
One of the main reasons I want to release the novella is as an experiment in indie publishing. I have a publishing deal for the trilogy with So Vain Books and I released Rhys through the same publisher as it made sense to do so. At some point this year, I’ll need to make a decision as to what I do next. Do I:
Stick with my existing publisher (if they still want me, that is!)
Look for a different publisher
Look for an agent
There are pros and cons with each option and I’m sure I’ll explore these in a future blog post. Releasing a novella myself will give me the chance to experience an indie release, it will show versatility on my writing CV, and it will give the hubby an opportunity to experience the process too. He’s a self-employed typesetter and he laid out the pages for Winter Tales: Stories to Warm Your Heart, the anthology of feel-good stories released by The Write Romantics last winter (and still available this year if you click on the title). He’d like to add indie publishing support to his services and this would give him a great opportunity to demonstrate success at this.