The one where we had a gorgeous Easter in the Lake District – Part 1

I’m writing my seventeenth novel at the moment (eek! how did that happen?!) and all the books I’ve written so far are set in one of two places: the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay or Hedgehog Hollow, a fictional hedgehog rescue centre in the Yorkshire Wolds countryside.

Last year, conscious that the Hedgehog Hollow series would reach a natural end point, I spoke to my publisher about adding a third location to my repertoire. I have the coast and the countryside already and I wanted to add lakes and mountains by setting a series in the stunning Lake District National Park. I was delighted when they said yes.

I love the Lakes and have been a regular visitor since childhood. My parents have been longstanding caravaners and would often take the caravan across to the Lakes – usually the southern ones. In my teens, they bought into a timeshare on the shores of Lake Windermere for a week in early February and, when education then work allowed, I sometimes stayed there. In the August before going away to university, my best friend, older brother and some of his friends went camping there and it holds so many fond memories. We won’t talk about the disastrous camping trip with an ex-boyfriend where it rained constantly, we piled the soggy tent into the back of the car and left early, our relationship ending not long afterwards. Not such fond memories!

Anyway, having secured the Lakes as a future setting for my books, I needed to do some research and we booked a week’s holiday near Thirlmere last August which was amazing. You can read about it and see the photos here.

I also booked for us to have a working/research holiday over this Easter. We spent the first week staying in Bowness by Lake Windermere and the second week in our absolute favourite place: Keswick.

As I have lots of photos, I’m going to divide them across two blog posts and this post is therefore all about our first week in Bowness.

We wanted to be central so that, if hubby and I were working, our daughter (15 and a half) could wander into town on her own from the cottage to explore her favourite store, Neon Sheep. Sadly, Neon Sheep – a gifting store set up by the owners of Mountain Warehouse – has ceased trading so that fettled that!

I found a holiday cottage called ‘Jessica’s Cottage’ so absolutely had to book it. A sign! It felt like it was calling to me. I had hoped to get a photo of me pointing to the cottage name but it only appeared on the gate and was very worn which was disappointing.

The cottage itself had the potential to be lovely but was a bit dated and unloved inside and we had a few problems with a blocked sink, toilet cistern not working consistently and a leaking boiler which put a bit of a dampener on things (literally). The sink and toilet did get sorted fairly quickly but the boiler needed a part and we had to put up with the leak all holiday which wasn’t ideal and I’m waiting to hear back about a partial refund. But this isn’t a moaning post so let’s move onto some photos…

At the end of a row of cottages at the top of a very steep hill, Jessica’s Cottage didn’t have a lake view but we could see Windermere at the other end of the row where it joined the road and I was excited to see a hedgehog crossing area sign on the way down the hill although I didn’t see any hedgehogs while we were there.

Behind the cottages were steep fields and we were able to join a walk up to Brant Fell where there are stunning views over the lake and surrounding countryside. This is the field behind us although our holiday cottage is hidden behind the right one of the pair of trees in the middle of the pic.

Hubby and I had a weekend in the Lakes on our 10th wedding anniversary seven years ago and we discovered Brant Fell then via a slightly different route so it was lovely to go up and see those views again. Shame the weather wasn’t better. As you can see from all my photos from week one, it was very, very dull and grey so the pictures don’t show the Lakes at their absolute best. When there’s a bit of sun and blue sky, they are breathtaking.

The following day I’d arranged to meet up with my fabulous author friend Helen Phifer (do check out her amazing crime books set in the Lake District here). She lives in Cumbria so drove across to Bowness for a scone and coffee. We’d also met up when I was in the area last August and we forgot to take a photo. Guess what? We forgot to take one again this time! Too busy chatting. It was lovely to catch up with her, though, although we couldn’t have done without the torrential downpour that started while we were out and didn’t let up for the rest of the day.

I booked the family in for a visit to Hill Top on the Monday which was one of Beatrix Potter’s farms and is run by the National Trust who have kept the house very much as Potter had it. We’ve visited before but I hadn’t imagined Hedgehog Hollow back then so was keen to return and couldn’t resist wearing my latest Popsy Clothing Helena hedgehog dress and taking my daughter’s childhood Mrs Tiggywinkle with me (much to her mortification) to get some hedgehog-themed pics.

That day we also visited Tarn Hows which is one of my favourite places for a short circular walk round the water. Last time we visited, the munchkin was only little – maybe five or so – and it was a sweltering hot day. It was a slight contrast this time although at least it didn’t rain.

The absolute highlight of our walk was a little incident with a Belted Galloway. There were several notices explaining that this breed of cow was grazing, like this one. Another larger sign had said they were very docile.

We hadn’t made it very far round the tarn when we came across several of the cows munching on the grass and a couple of them on the path. Ella, our sprocker spaniel, was on her lead and we gave them a wide birth and took a couple of photos.

But one of the cows which had been on the path – this one right here…

… clearly didn’t like posing for photos. As the hubby crouched down to get his camera out his backpack, the cow got closer and closer. ‘Cow!’ the daughter and I repeatedly said, perhaps a little unhelpfully. Next moment, the cow gave hubby an almighty shove on the elbow. He dropped his (expensive) camera, whacked himself in the jaw with his shoulder, and nearly toppled over. We shouldn’t laugh, but….!

The daughter moved well away with Ella and that seemed to placate the cow who left the hubby alone and joined its mates for a munch. No cows were hurt in this incident and thankfully no cameras were either although hubby’s jaw was painful for a couple of days afterwards!

We moved on to Hawkshead next where we had the most enormous ice creams. Mmm. Or rather the daughter and I did as hubby wasn’t too fussed. It was only a two-scooper but it was actually a bit too much for me. Definitely not a ‘little’ ice cream! Nice, though.

The day finished with a wander along the Lake Windermere in Bowness where I found ‘my’ boat.

Our destination for later in the week was Ambleside. We caught the ferry from Bowness and, once again, it was a cool and dull day. I had to take the photo that everyone who visits Ambleside takes of the little house on the bridge. If you’d like to know about the history of Bridge House, you can read about it here.

Our week in Bowness was rounded off with a trip to Brockhole which is just outside Windermere. We’ve visited several times and it’s a great place for families as there are stacks of activities but do book online in advance or you may be disappointed. We’d pre-booked for the daughter to go go-carting and decided to add her into archery on arrival but the only slots available were the very end of the day when we’d have been long-gone. The high ropes course is very popular but it’s huge so can take a lot of visitors at once although, again, I’d still book ahead.

If you don’t want to pay for activities (although you will need to pay to park), there’s a huge playground and the grounds are lovely for walking around.

Ooh, and they do the most amazing hot chocolates in the cafe! Nom nom nom. I will point out that they weren’t both for me!

We were ready to move onto Keswick, especially after the boiler problems, but couldn’t get into our second holiday cottage until teatime so we took a trip via Kendal on Good Friday which was fairly deserted, and then stopped at Thirlmere for a walk down to the water’s edge. The sun even made a very brief appearance, although the sky remained grey.

Did I end the week with some inspiration for my Lakes series? Sadly, no, but that – like the weather – was all about to change when we moved to Keswick. I’ll be back before the end of the week with my second post.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

An amazing holiday in the stunning Lake District

We’ve been back from our holiday for exactly a week now and it already seems like a distant memory. Although the suitcases on the landing waiting to go back into the attic and the pile of walking trousers/thick socks/breathable T-shirts I’d bought for the trip and don’t have a home for in my wardrobes do keep reminding me it wasn’t that long ago.

The Lake District is one of my favourite places in the UK. I remember family caravanning holidays as a child, paddling in the lakes in flip flops or wellies, and visiting the gorgeous towns and villages around the national park. As an adult, I’ve visited many times.

I often dreamed of living there and, in my late 20s, I actually had an interview to be a trainer at an outdoor activity centre on the shores of Lake Windermere. I was gutted when I didn’t get the job. I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason and there were other plans in place for me. If I’d got the job there, I’d probably never have become an author.

My husband and I have visited many times with our daughter and we also went on our own for a weekend to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary in 2015 so we have many fond memories. Usually, we stick to the towns but this time we were determined to get walking. After 18 months of hibernating thanks to a certain pandemic, even the low fells were perhaps a bit ambitious but there was nothing to stop us walking round the lakes and what a treat that turned out to be.

Our holiday cottage was a gorgeous building in a small hamlet on the southern tip of Thirlmere which is a reservoir serving Manchester. We couldn’t see the water from the cottage because of the woods but it was very close by. The views out of the lounge window were stunning.

DAY 1 – GRASMERE & RYDAL WATER

The weather was stunning for our first full day so we had a wander round the pretty village of Grasmere then set off towards the lake. It’s quite a walk from the village to get to the edge of the lake but it’s absolutely worth it. At every turn, there was a new photo to take.

I’m proud to say that all of these are mine taken on my phone and the only one my talented photographer husband took is the bottom one in this batch.

We continued from the northern part of Grasmere towards Rydal Water where we’d heard there were some caves in hills which we’d never visited before. It was a bit people-y around the cave but I was keen to have a go crossing the stepping stones, praying I wouldn’t be the one person who went splat in the water. (Thanks to hubby for the batch of pics below):

It was worth making the crossing as the cave was fabulous although I was too embarrassed on my own to do what I normally would – a deep ‘mwah ha ha ha ha!’

Outside the view was gorgeous and there were loads of amazing stacks of stones. We were pretty hot at this point so didn’t stop to create our own.

We’d covered a lot of miles in the heat by this point and stupidly weren’t prepared as we hadn’t packed any lunch or brought enough water with us. Thankfully, the pathway at the northern tip of Rydal Water opened out onto the road immediately opposite The Badger Bar so that was us sorted for lunch and drinks. It didn’t take much (any) persuading to get the bus back to Grasmere instead of walking!

From there we drove onto Ambleside for something a little more leisurely – a game of crazy golf. Hubby sat on a bench with Ella (the dog) while the munchkin and I played a round. She would claim she won, but she cheats!!!

DAY 2 – FERRY TRIP TO BOWNESS-ON-WINDERMERE

We decided to take a catch the big steam ferry from Ambleside to Windermere on the Sunday which, with hindsight, was a bit of a mistake because Bowness on a bank holiday weekend was crazy busy. I’ve seen it busy many times but this was something else. It was so calm before we boarded the ferry, and the boat itself was fairly empty but we disembarked in Bowness and there was a sea of people everywhere and a wall of noise. Eek!

It was a grey day but still really warm (although a bit chilly on the ferry itself). We had lunch followed by a wander round a lovely market and the town, but we were keen to get back on the ferry and return to some peace and quiet (and an ice cream) in Ambleside.

DAY 3 – BUTTERMERE

Bank Holiday Monday was another grey day but there was no rain forecast so we decided to drive up to Buttermere. We’d heard it was a lovely walk around it. At 4.5 miles, that seemed do-able. And we were prepared with a packed lunch this time!

The sat nav directed us on the terrifying route via Honister Pass or, as the munchkin kept calling it, Hoisin Pass. OMG! If you’ve not done it, it takes you high – very high – past a slate mine with sheer drops and extremely narrow roads. My knuckles were white as I clung onto the door handle! (I will point out that hubby was driving!)

The photo opportunities were very different from our previous lake walk and I even turned on the black and white filter (get me using the tech!) to catch some moody shots!

The walk was lovely and I certainly brightened up a dull day in my red fleece!

We had a lovely treat on the route back up the other side with a few cows lying down by the side of the footpath, taking it all in. Aren’t they gorgeous? And there was an amazing waterfall too which hubby scrambled up to it while the munchkin and I had a little rest. The single cow and waterfall pic are courtesy of hubby.


DAY 4 – LAKESIDE, HAWKSHEAD & BROCKHOLE

It was publication day for me for Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café but we had no WiFi at the cottage so I drove out to a lay-by near Grasmere first thing to pick up 4G and do some sharing of social media posts! After that, we all headed down to Lakeside at the southern tip of Lake Windermere and hubby and munchkin took Ella for a walk while I met my fellow Write Romantic and fabulously talented crime writer Helen Phifer. Helen lives in Cumbria so it was such a great opportunity to catch up with her. We were so busy chatting, we completely forgot to take a photo. Oops!

The family and I then headed up to Hawkshead which is one of my favourite villages and had a wander round and a delicious publication day lunch outside a pub called The King’s Arms.

Although we’ve visited HillTop before, I thought it would be fitting to visit Beatrix Potter’s former home on the day one of my books was released but they were taking bookings only which had never even crossed our mind so that was a no-go.

We caught the car ferry from Hawkshead and headed to Brockhole on the shores of Windermere instead. The munchkin had a freezing cold paddle with Ella (as you might be able to tell from her facial expression on the first pic) and a go-cart ride so she was a happy bunny.

DAY 5 – THIRLMERE

Our plans to do the walk around Derwentwater were a bit scuppered today when munchkin woke up complaining of stomach ache and feeling sick. We stayed at the cottage for the morning hoping it might wear off but she was sick and definitely couldn’t go out and about.

I read and hubby went off for a walk with the dog but I was going a bit stir crazy after lunch so, with munchkin being at an age she can be left alone, we left her sleeping and walked to Thirlmere.

The reservoir was very low after a lengthy dry season and we came close to a stuck-in-the-mud disaster, fooled by the crusty surface! (Top 3 pics are hubby’s).


DAY 6 – KESWICK & DERWENTWATER

It had obviously just been a 24-hour bug as the munchkin woke up feeling much better and, although we decided it would be pushing it to walk the full perimeter of Derwentwater as planned, we reckoned she could manage partway.

We’ve always loved the walk past the theatre and down to the lake shore but have never done the walk round the lake and we can’t believe what we’ve been missing out on because it is stunning. It helped that we had the same gorgeous weather from the start of the week. Just like our walk round Grasmere, there was a photo opportunity with every few paces.

We were so sad to have to say goodbye to our cottage and head back home. We all agreed that, even with the munchkin being ill one day, it was the best UK holiday we’d ever had. I think that was for a combination of reasons – the gorgeous weather, the stunning scenery, properly switching off from work (no WiFi certainly helped) and a break for the first time in nearly two years. Perfect.

I can’t wait to start writing my new series set in the Lake District which does, of course, mean lots more trips there are needed. No hardship whatsoever!

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at the pictures. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been to any of these places or you have recommendations for others. Our holiday cottage was gorgeous but it had a few shall we say ‘interesting’ decorative touches. I leave you with the fish vase, the squirrel bin (which weighed a ton), the frankly terrifying ‘Catbells’ artwork (Catbells being a famous fell overlooking Derwentwater which features in the top photos on the above section), the scary rabbit dish thing and the disproportionate squirrel acorn situation.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

What’s on my wall (Part 4)? Monday Motivation

Happy Birthday AliceIt’s back to a motivational phrase for Part 4 of my ‘What’s on my wall?’ #MondayMotivation blog post.

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I’d never heard this phrase until my writing friend and fellow Write Romantic, Helen Phifer, mentioned that it was one of her favourite sayings shortly after the Write Romantics formed. Back then, we were all aspiring authors hoping that we’d get our break one day and it seemed very apt so the group adopted it.

In recent years, this phrase has become the subject of many humorous memes along the lines of ‘She believed she could but she was tired so she ate a giant bar of chocolate instead’ which have perhaps turned this phrase into a bit of a joke.

But I still love it.

Authors have to have a phenomenal amount of self-belief to write the book in the first place and then to put it out there in the publishing world. We face rejection from agents and/or publishers, criticism from bloggers and readers, poor sales and chart positions and can often question what the point is. Some will accept it isn’t going to happen. Others will hang onto the belief that they will get there – eventually – and keep going.

I believed I could write a book.

I believed I could create a series of books in a world with interconnected characters that readers would love.

I believed I could secure a publishing deal.

I believed that, one day, I could become successful enough to write full-time.

My journey to this point has been a rough ride, riddled with doubts but I kept going until I got there. I believed I could, so I did.

Now the sign sits above my window and I look at it and smile every day.

Have a great week.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where it’s #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay

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The Angel of the North

Today – 1st July – is #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay. I’m northern. I’m an author. It’s therefore a special day for me and what’s even more special is that this year is the very first year for #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay.

Set up by northern authors, Trisha Ashley and Milly Johnson, it’s about celebrating northern authors past and present. Northern authors have an opportunity to promote their own work over on Twitter and celebrate their favourite northern authors.

I’m northern born and bred. My parents are from the area around Bishop Auckland in Co Durham but I was born in Middlesbrough in Teesside. Shortly before my fourth birthday, we moved to the market town of Guisborough, still in Teesside (although it was known as Cleveland back then). I left home when I went away to university in Loughborough, Leicestershire, and lived all over the country after that, as far north as Edinburgh and as far south as Reading. But the north always felt like home and I settled in North Yorkshire seventeen years ago, moving to Scarborough a year later where I’ve been ever since.

(The beautiful north: Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland, a view over Lake Windermere and Hardraw Force Waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales)

I’m immensely proud of being northern but have experienced a lot of prejudice about my roots over the years. It always astonishes me how many people believe the phrase “it’s grim up north” and think of it as dark, dirty and industrial. And don’t get me started on the stereotypes of all northerners wearing flat caps, eating fish and chips, walking whippets and still having outside toilets. Rude! Yes, there are parts of the north that are industrial but this is part of our heritage and essential for the economy. There are also parts of the south that are industrial. In the same way, both the north and the south boast exceptional beauty. If you’ve never been, just Google any of the following: Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland, Lake District National Park, Yorkshire Coast. Wow!

(The beautiful north: Castle Howard, Scarborough Castle and Ribblehead Viaduct)

As well as boasting stunning scenery, the north is proud to present a plethora of writing talent, past and present. From poets such as Wordsworth, Ted Hughes and W H Auden (remember that gorgeous poem read at the funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral?) to playwrights such as Alan Ayckbourn and Alan Bennett to authors such as the Brontë sisters, Catherine Cookson and Beatrix Potter, the north has demonstrated impressive writing credentials across the years.

Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 10.25.12One of my northern writing heroes is Catherine Cookson. What a writer! Born into extreme poverty in Tyneside, Cookson channelled her experiences into over 100 books. My mum has read all her books and I have probably read about a quarter to a third of them, borrowing from my mum’s collection in my teens and early 20s. My favourites include the Tilly Trotter series, The Dwelling Place and A Dinner of Herbs. I would certainly cite Catherine Cookson as an early inspiration for me becoming an author as, along with Virginia Andrews, she was the first author of adult books I read prolifically. They both taught me what a page-turner was. You can find Catherine Cookson’s author page on Amazon here.

Moving into the present day, I am now a northern author myself. Certainly never imagined that when I was reading Catherine Cookson’s novels! All my books are set in North Yorkshire, on the coast or in the countryside in the Yorkshire Wolds. I can see me writing books in other settings but I don’t anticipate moving away from the north. It’s what I know and it’s what I love. My readers seem to love my setting too. Phew!

I’m very lucky to class some super talented northern writers as good friends so want to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to three of them:

Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 10.18.26Yorkshire-based Sharon Booth writes stories that include “love, laughter and happy ever after” and they’re simply gorgeous. I’ve read and loved every single one. With Yorkshire settings inspired by the Dales, Robin Hood’s Bay and Knaresborough, you can find her Amazon author page here.

Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 10.19.37Helen Phifer is based in Cumbria and writes crime and horror books. I absolutely love her Annie Graham series which are crime with a supernatural/horror book but her pure crime are superb too. On Amazon, you can find Helen’s author page here.

Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 10.18.52Alys West is also Yorkshire-based and she has a couple of different genres in her writing toolkit with contemporary fantasy and steampunk. Both are genres I’d never explored before but Aly’s work is fabulous and I’m a convert! Alys’s author page can be found here.

And, of course, you can visit the fictional North Yorkshire Coast town of Whitsborough Bay through my books, and take a trip to Hedgehog Hollow in the Yorkshire Wolds with my brand new series set in a hedgehog rescue centre. Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow is out tomorrow.  My author page is right here.

Wishing all northern writers a happy #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay. Are you doing anything special to celebrate? As for me, I’m about to nip to the toilet (outside of course), put my flat cap on and take my whippet out for a walk. Then I think I’ll enjoy a fish and chip supper 😉

Please do join in with the fun over on Twitter but don’t forget to use the hashtag #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay to join in the conversation. Thanks Trisha and Milly for setting this up 🙂

Big hugs

Jessica xx

Welcome to Whitsborough Bay 4 Books

 

 

The one where I talk about my lovely London trip

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At the end of last week, I had a very busy and very exciting few days in London. There were so many highlights but I nearly didn’t make it, thanks to our delightful train network.

Hubby dropped me off at Scarborough Train Station on Wednesday morning to catch the train to York where I’d connect to London. I was confronted with this…

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Whilst the new trains are lovely and the staff are delightful and often full of good humour, the actual service run by Transpennine Express is shocking. So many of the journeys I have made lately have been cancelled or running late. Apparently there was no conductor for the service so it was simply cancelled and no alternative provided other than the next train an hour later; far too late to make my connecting train to London.

I’m very lucky in that hubby works from home and I knew he wasn’t working on a deadline so I called him on the car hands-free and he had to turn around and come back to collect me. Our dog was in the car so we had to arrange to drop her off with his parents rather than dragging her to York and back (an hour each way). Just as well we did this because, whilst my London train was thankfully running on time, it took hubby nearly three hours to get home again. There’d been an accident on the main York to Scarborough road and both lanes were shut so there was a massive diversion in place. I actually made it to London fifteen minutes after he got home which is ridiculous.

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Me with my editor, Nia. No idea why I’m leaning like that!

I had a lovely afternoon in London, meeting my editor, Nia, and the CEO and Founder of Boldwood Books, Amanda. I’ve spoken to Nia on the phone several times and have had a Skype conversation with Amanda and Nia but nothing beats meeting them face to face. What a lovely lunch we had, talking about the first few months of The Secret to Happiness being out there, and marketing plans for 2020 and beyond. Every day, I am so very grateful that I submitted to Boldwood and my manuscript was chosen for representation because they really are an absolute joy to work with.

My hotel had a room with a view, ha ha ha! I posted this image showing Fenchurch Street station on Facebook and one of the Write Romantics, Deirdre, really made me laugh by asking “what’s that on the roof – ectoplasm?” Certainly looks like it!

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On Thursday morning, I had a very quick swim, jacuzzi and steam room before wandering over to The Tower of London and Tower Bridge, five minutes’ walk from the hotel.

I’ve been to London many times over the years and this is the second time I’ve been to this area but I don’t think the sights of London will ever bore me. I love all the history amongst the modern. It was a bit chilly by the river, mind.

Usually I find London several degrees warmer than the north but not last week. Brr.

After my walk, I took the tube to Kings Cross to collect my very good friend and fellow Write Romantic, Sharon Booth. I was early but Sharon’s train was running late so that gave me a great excuse to wander around the shops at Kings Cross and the ones at St Pancras over the road. How gorgeous is this Lancome Christmas tree? When you get up close, each light is shining through a bottle of perfume. That’s a heck of a lot of bottles of perfume!

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As well as meeting Boldwood, a massive highlight for me was having seven out of ten of the Write Romantics in the same place at the same time. I think we’ve managed six before so maybe one day all ten of us will get together. (From left-right on the 2nd picture below, it’s Jackie Ladbury, Jo Bartlett, Helen Phifer and Sharon Booth). Helen J Rolfe is in later pictures and I’m afraid I didn’t manage to get a picture with Deirdre Palmer as we weren’t sat together.

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We joined RNA members for a talk with bestselling author, Sophie Kinsella, who has just released another book in her shopaholic series after several years’ break. It was interesting to hear how she became a writer and more about her stories. Sorry about the poor pic but we were on the back row!

I love the Confessions of a Shopaholic film and am looking forward to Can You Keep a Secret? released soon. I’ve read several of Sophie’s books including that one.

After the talk finished, all but one of the Write Romantics gathered in my room for Prosecco and I grabbed a quick drink with them before changing and heading to a drinks reception with Boldwood.

This was an opportunity to see Amanda and Nia again but also a third team member, Megan, who is the Publishing Executive. Several of the Boldwood authors were gathered and it was so wonderful to meet them in person.

(L-R is Beth Moran, Amanda Ridout (BW), Lucy Coleman, Emma Murray, Diane Saxon, Jessica redland, Nia Beynon BW) and Fay Keenan). Megan (BW) was taking the pic.

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Next was the RNA’s Winter Party and Industry Awards. I’ve never been to one of the RNA’s London parties so this was a first. I had been looking forward to catching up with a few people I knew on social media but had never actually met but it was busier than I expected and, despite doing a few rounds of the room after the awards ceremony, I couldn’t see them! It doesn’t help that I’m vertically-challenged so trying to spot people in a roomful of people isn’t easy at the best of times but, when the lighting is dim and the room packed, I don’t think I stood much chance.

IMG_7344The highlight of the party for me was seeing two wonderful bloggers – Anne Williams and Rachel Gilbey – being nominated for the Best Blogger Award. Rachel reviewed my very first book and has read everything I’ve written since. I’ve been on several blog tours arranged via her Rachel’s Random Resources role. Anne has been a wonderful supporter of my work too more recently and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her a few times before. Anne won and I was pleased to be able to congratulate both of them and get a photo of them together.

One of the Write Romantics was heading off home soon but the remaining six of us decamped to Pizza Express and had a lovely evening, catching up on all things writing and non-writing. Helen J Rolfe is the one on the right on the 1st image above. And I had to show my pizza because, whilst you may not be able to see, it had potatoes on it. Yes, that’s right, potatoes on a pizza! And it was delicious.

It was pouring when we left but that didn’t stop us getting a couple of photos outside The Four Seasons Hotel.

Isn’t that a lamppost gorgeous? It’s like something out of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I kept expecting Mr Tumnus to appear at any moment!

A huge thank you to everyone who organised the Sophie Kinsella talk and the Winter Party as I know how much time and effort goes into coordinating events like this. Thank you so much to Boldwood for organising the pre-event drinks and to all the Boldwood authors. I’m sorry I didn’t get to chat individually to everyone during our short time together and then for not being able to find you to say goodbye.

My journey home was a bit fraught. I only had six minutes to make my connection in York and we were about 25 minutes late. However, so was my connecting train so I did manage to catch it. One time when I’m grateful for the poor service!

IMG_7295Have an amazing week.

Jessica xx

 

Some useful links:

The Romantic Novelists’ Association

Boldwood Books

Anne Williams’s ‘Being Anne’ Blog  

Rachel Gilbey’s ‘Rachel’s Random Reads’ Blog

 

The Write Romantics’ Amazon Pages (including those not in London):

Jo Bartlett

Sharon Booth

Jackie Ladbury

Deirdre Palmer (also writes as Zara Thorne)

Lynne Pardoe

Helen Phifer

Jessica Redland

Helen J Rolfe

Rachael Thomas

Alys West

 

 

A Tale of Two Contracts – Act II

_MG_5263Sorry about the tease at the start of the week. I couldn’t resist! Where were we? Oh yes, publishing deals being like buses. You wait nearly a year for one and two come along at once.

At this point, I hadn’t signed with the US publisher but I was close. I had to be honest. I emailed back the 2nd publisher (a UK company) and explained the situation and that I’d love to find out more but would understand if they didn’t want to pursue things. The Publishing Director was eager to chat to me and we caught up on the phone for about 30-40 minutes that evening.

What I was facing were two very different offers:

US publisher

  • Established (but only two years ago) so dedicated readership already
  • eBook only
  • Distribution rights around USA & Europe
  • 3-book deal
  • Launching summer 2015 with books 2 launched two months later and book 3 two months after that. Big pressure to have next books ready, even if the contract with them didn’t continue beyond the trilogy
  • Concern over wordcount reductions
  • Concern over the friendship theme; would I need to tone it down?
  • Writer community for all their authors with lots of support and guidance
  • Would set up a blog tour but marketing beyond that would mainly be down to me

UK publisher

  • Brand new with no track record in publishing books
  • eBook and print format
  • Distribution rights around USA & Europe
  • 3-book deal (once they found out more about the trilogy, they were keen to offer this too)
  • Launching spring 2015 (probably although could be summer) with a book a year in the spring (or summer) in order to maximise on marketing activities
  • Don’t want to cut any words at all – love the story
  • No issues over the friendship theme running alongside the romance
  • Lots of marketing activities planned because, of course, it was important for them to do what they could to make this a success
  • Lower royalties

When I write it like that, it does look like a no-brainer until we get to the last point of lower royalties which brought the indie debate back to the forefront of my mind: I’d earn far more by publishing that way but would I sell more copies just on my own? Probably not. Almost definitely not. I then reasoned that having my novel available in two formats – eBook and print – would surely mean more sales which would ultimately cancel out the lower royalties.

I asked lots more questions of the UK publisher on email the next day and all were answered in detail. I asked the US publisher to absolutely clarify the wordcount and theme issue too and was assured it wouldn’t be a problem. But there was still this niggle …

Initially my head had been saying to go for the originally offer from the US publisher – established, more money and they offered first, but my heart and gut were saying So Vain Books (SVB). On the Thursday evening after a day at work where my mind flitted back and forth between the two, I spoke to my husband. He’d been initially encouraging me towards the US offer and I was a bit concerned that he wouldn’t be as supportive if I said that I was leaning towards SVB. Unexpectedly, he’d changed his mind. He’d reflected on how I’d enthused about the conversation with SVB and how upset I’d been on Black Friday when I was so worried about whether the US offer would lead to me compromising my stories.

P1050675I ran it by my parents over the phone who felt SVB were the best option too. In my debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’, my protagonist Sarah has some major decisions to make. She does this using colour-coded post-it notes stuck to her wardrobe door, highlighting the pros and cons. So that’s exactly what I did (any excuse to use stationery). This is my bear cabinet obliterated with my musings. Green for go (positive) and dark orange for stop (negative). As you can see, there’s pros and cons for each.

And, just to make absolutely sure there wasn’t anything I’d missed, I got my lovely colleague at work to coach me about the decision (thanks Joanna) and SVB came out on top!

So who did I go for? It’s probably not going to be a surprise after all that but I’m delighted to say that I have chosen to join So Vain Books, the UK-based publishers, and it feels absolutely the right decision.

I went to bed on Friday night with a churning stomach because my contract arrived in my inbox from my US editor and I couldn’t help but feel incredibly guilty at letting them down. I know it’s business. I know that. But I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like to let people down. It doesn’t sit with my values very well.

On Saturday morning I rose and had a shower. I’d made my definite decision to go with So Vain Books and, knowing that was going to be the case, I’d asked the Publishing Director if I could call her that afternoon to tell her in person. And if I had any doubts that I’d made the right decision, I turned the radio on when I came out of the shower and guess what song was playing? Carly Simon’s, “You’re so vain!” Now is that spooky or is that spooky? I’m a firm believer in signs and they don’t get much more significant than that! It was wonderful to make that call and be told that I’d made her day.

Emailing the US company was very hard but I was honest about the situation and, to be fair to them, I got a lovely email back saying I’d done the right thing to take time to weigh up the offers and that I had to do what was best for my career. It was a lovely email but I’d expected some reference to them being disappointed that they weren’t going to be representing Steven. Which just showed that it’s business. Always has been. Always will be. And that made me feel a lot better. But with SVB, it feels like it’s more than business; it feels like a partnership and I am incredibly excited about it. I’ll share my journey to publication on this blog as and when I can.

P1050687My parting words would be to say to any writer out there who’s still looking: never give up on your dreams. Believe in yourself and believe in your work. There are many options out there with eBooks and indie publishing so you can have the dream whether it’s via the more traditional route or by your own hand. For me, indie wouldn’t have been the “failure” option; it would have been my choice to not submit anywhere else and to take my future into my own hands. But my final round of subs reaped rewards and I knew that So Vain Books, in particular, could support me in a way I couldn’t support myself with regards to marketing so I’m absolutely delighted to be on board. A friend of mine makes signs. I got her to make me this one which fellow-Write Romantic Helen Phifer introduced to me. It feels very apt. It can be apt for you too.

Jessica xx

To SP or not to SP: That is the Question!

Self publishing. Indie publishing. Call it what you like but it’s the subject that has been going round and round in my mind for the last few months and I really can’t decide what to do. I’m not sitting on the fence on this one; I’ve been leaping back and forth across it from Traditional Crop to Indie Meadow and, quite frankly, I don’t know where my head’s at! So, in true writerly style, I’m going to put fingers to keyboard and try and write my way into a decision. Would you like to come on a little journey with me?

In the beginning …

When I first had the idea for Searching for Steven back in 2003 and decided to write, the dream was simple: to get a publishing deal and be able to hold a book I’d written. (If I’m being honest, the dream was really to dive into Waterstones, WH Smith or my local bookshop and be photographed grinning inanely whilst pointing to said book but let’s not go there cos it’s slightly cheesy even though I’m sure most writers long to do it!) When I say “book” I mean a physical book because this was four years before the first eReader came out and it simply wasn’t on my radar to even imagine a world where there would ever be a format for books other than paperback, hardback or audio. How things change!

ImageBack then, I had no idea that something called self publishing existed. But I hadn’t heard of vanity publishing either. In fact, I had little ideas of how publishing worked full stop. Then I met my husband and, as a freelance typesetter, he opened my eyes to the world of publishing. Sadly he mainly sets journals and text books so doesn’t have connections in the large fiction publishers so this isn’t going to be a short story with a happy ending where he introduced me to one of his clients and the deal was done. Instead, what I learned from him was the existence of self publishing. Local vicar-turned-writer, G P Taylor (Graham) had self-published his debut novel “Shadowmancer” that same year (2003) and Mark had picked up a 1st edition in Waterstones. The book took off and was picked up and re-released by Faber & Faber and became a New York Times No 1 bestseller. Graham’s books were cited at the time as being “hotter than Potter”. Imagine that! No pressure then!

In 2006 I attended a creative writing course run by Graham and, although I never thought seriously about becoming self published at the time, Graham’s success was always at the back of my mind. You can read more about G P Taylor on his official website

For several years I continued writing and learning my craft, always working towards the goal of being published in physical book format.

Then the eReader hit the market and the face of publishing changed forever.

I fought against owning a Kindle for some time. Books. That was what people should be reading. None of this new-fangled technology rubbish for me putting writers out of business. Except the reality has been quite the opposite. It’s actually opened up a world of publishing to many who would never have been in the right place at the right time with the right idea to secure a traditional publishing deal.

I succumbed and got a Kindle for Christmas 2012 and I confess I absolutely love it. It will never fully replace physical books for me. I’ll always love the smell and feel of an actual book but my Kindle is so practical. It’s with me all the time for those unexpected moments of waiting. I’m someone who can’t bear not being on the go and who hates wasted time so being unexpectedly stuck waiting for a lift, bus, child etc can suddenly be time well-spent by whipping out my Kindle and reading a few pages.

But this posting isn’t about the virtues of Kindles (other e-Readers are available!) It’s about the decision to self publish or not so let’s get back to that …

ImageLast summer I attended the RNA’s annual conference where one of my biggest learnings was that it is almost impossible for a debut writer to secure a UK publishing deal in my genre (note I said “almost”; some do, of course, achieve it but they are definitely the exception rather than the rule). For the rest of us debut writers, it became clear that a publishing deal would more likely be with an ePublisher. Many of the large publishers have set up dedicated ePublishing arms. I was lucky enough to secure a pitch with editors representing two ePublishers at the conference and, to my delight, they loved the premise of my story and my writing style and both wanted to see my full MS. The excitement I felt at this news made me realise that, even thought I will always like the idea of holding a book of mine in my hand, I would be very happy to secure an ePublishing deal. I think several factors contributed to this change of heart; my new love of my Kindle, the reality check that this was the way forward for a debut romance writer, the speed at which the book could be available to readers when compared to the traditional print market and also fellow Write Romantic, Helen Phifer, having secured a deal with Carina for her debut novel. You can read more about Helen here

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing Helen’s journey with her and have observed what it means to be ePublished via a large publisher. In the meantime, I’ve been submitting my MS. I’ve submitted to both the ePublishers I met (would be rude not to when so politely invited), I tried a few agents (just in case; got to keep that traditional publishing deal dream alive) and a handful of other ePublishers, more recently a few in the USA.

As expected, I’ve had some rejections. I had a very encouraging “near miss” from an agent which was exciting but, for every positive response, I’ve been disappointed by the “if you don’t hear from us within 6 weeks/2 months/6 months, assume it’s a no” approach to decisions. My day job has seen me in many recruitment roles over the years and I have always, always, always had the courtesy of getting in touch with candidates to let them know their application has been unsuccessful. It takes a bit of time to do and it’s bad news for the candidate … but at least it’s news! They can move on. They can apply elsewhere. They don’t have to keep checking their email wondering if today will be the day they hear. In this day and age where most submissions are online or via email, there simply isn’t any excuse for not getting in touch to tell an aspiring writer they’ve been unsuccessful. In my mind, it’s downright rude and it’s also poor customer service because, don’t forget, those who are good at their craft should also be voracious readers and therefore customers you’d hope not to alienate. Phew! Relax. Deep breath. Rant over!

Back to the journey …

So, I waited and I waited. And I waited some more. And I’m still waiting. And, to be honest, it’s frustrating as hell. Where else in business would such a long wait be acceptable? Nowhere. It feels so out of control. And that’s where the appeal of indie publishing comes in. It’s in your control. There’s a line in one of my favourite films, Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts’s character, Vivian, confronts Richard Gere after his lawyer, Stuckey, assaults her when she refuses his advances. She yells at Gere, “I say who, I say when, I say who …” Well, with self publishing, I’d say what, I’d say when, I’d say how much. I hadn’t really thought about the control thing until I had my recent lovely writerly afternoon with fellow Write Romantic Alex and our fellow NWS-friend Sharon. Sharon is quite keen on the idea of SP and one of the main drivers is the control. I’m someone who likes to be in control. I’m very organised, I’m usually a manager/leader at work, I’m a Brown Owl outside of work and generally I like to get things done … but within my timescales. I would only have that as an indie which makes indie very appealing.

I left my afternoon with Alex and Sharon with a spring in my step about self publishing. But then a couple of The Write Romantics received some really positive news that took them one step closer to their publishing dream and I had another reality check. I revelled in their news vicariously and was absolutely ecstatic for them. But feeling their excitement for them was a reminder of how excited I’d feel myself to get “the call”. Suddenly indie lost its shine and I was back to square one.

My current day job is a Learning & Development Advisor and, a couple of months ago, I was asked to be a facilitator, supporting a colleague running a coaching workshop. To give the delegates an opportunity to practice their coaching skills, they were broken into small groups and the facilitator of each group needed to present an issue they were dealing with outside of work and get the group to coach them. I choose “to SP or not SP”. I have to say the results out of this coaching session were quite fascinating. The only thing stopping me from going indie was me (often the case in any coaching situation) and the only reason I was stopping me was this slight doubt I have at the back of my mind (which I’m sure all debut writers have … and probably some successful writer too) is that I’m not good enough and having “the call” would be having someone in the know saying, “Don’t worry, Julie, we loved your work; you really are good enough.” But one of the coaches-in-training asked me the most enlightening question of the session: “Is there any other way you can get feedback that you’re good at writing.” OMG. Lightbulb moment. Sales. Reviews. Feedback. Of course!!!! (This lightbulb moment is worthy of several question marks even though I know that’s really a writing sin!)

Which brings my journey to present day …

I’m still waiting to hear back from 7 publishers. This is not me being either modest or down on myself but I absolutely do not expect to hear back from the three UK ones. I don’t think I have a chance with one of them as they did a submissions call and were inundated and I think they’ll be spoilt for choice. The other two have had my book way, way, way too long. Yes, it’s possible it’s going through a process and the length of time I’ve waited is a good sign but it’s equally possible it still hasn’t been read and, given that both editors specifically asked me for it, I feel that if it was really calling to them, I’d have heard by now so I have to conclude that the pull that was there in the summer isn’t there any more and I don’t know why. As for the US publishers, it’s an unknown for me. I want my book to be available to UK audiences as I want my friends and family to read it. Surely they deserve to after hearing me wittering on about being a writer for 11 years! I wonder if they’d publish in the US and I’d retain UK rights which would mean, what? SP is the only route in the UK again? I don’t know. As I said, it’s an unknown entity and a bridge I’ll cross if I ever get to it.

ImageThe final update on the journey is that, although at the start of this rather long post, I said Mark doesn’t have connections, that’s not strictly true. He has a local contact called Piers who has been in the publishing industry since the early 1970s. Piers writes fact and fiction, is traditionally published and self published and has published for others so he’s a wealth of knowledge and experience. I had a very useful phone conversation with him on Tuesday and he presented the indie route as a no-brainer, particularly financially. There’s no guarantee you’ll sell shed-loads but, hey, there’s no guarantee you’ll do any better if you have a publishing deal. Either way, you still have a lot of the marketing to do yourself and, with SP, you reap greater financial rewards for the same volume of sales. There’s formatting to do (cue expertise of typesetting husband). And a cover to design (cue expertise of amateur (but exceedingly good) photographer husband or his best friend (best man at our wedding) who happens to be a graphic designer). And there’s reliable experts to proof-read and edit the work (hello Write Romantics) and then voila! He also presented an idea I really hadn’t considered but which is pretty obvious if you think about it. The books he SPs, he does in both e-format and print format. He’s going to give me the details of a very good printing firm he uses and gave me an indication of costs. I love the idea of the credibility and increased market that potentially having eBooks and print books available on Amazon could bring. And if I didn’t want to invest in a large box of books, there’s CreateSpace who do POD (print on demand) so there are many options available to become indie AND still hold a physical book in my hand AND get that feedback from reviews and sales that my work really is good enough.

To SP or not to SP? I think I’ve answered the question haven’t I? I think the question really should be, “Do I have time to go indie for the summer market or do I wait and aim for Christmas?” Impatient by nature, there’s a part of me saying summer but professional by nature too, I believe Christmas may be more sensible. More time to plan. More time to network and build a customer base. More time to get the cover that’s really right for me. Plus, I’d like to do one more edit of Searching for Steven (just in case). After all, I haven’t read it for about nine months and a fresh look may inject new energy and life into it. And I suppose I would like to give that last few months to (hopefully) have the final decisions in from the 7 publishers who have Steven.

Although it would make a really great beach read …

 

Give me just a little more time …

I’ve been home alone for nearly an hour this evening. My husband left for archery 50 minutes ago and my daughter hasn’t been dropped off from her Nana’s yet. The cats haven’t yet reached point in the evening where they stare at me and squeak annoyingly until I relent and feed them so all is calm and quiet. Which would be the perfect time to sit down and write. Yet how have I spent this time? I need some tea so I managed to spend about 5 minutes putting a pie and chips (hmm, healthy!) into the oven but they’re not going to be ready for 20 mins so I haven’t spent any time eating yet. I’ve changed out of my work clothes which took all of a minute. And I’ve responded to a text so that’s probably about 7 mins accounted for. As for the rest? I’ve flicked around on Yahoo! news, checked my empty email inbox several times, done a Bitstrips on Facebook and stared at my news feed for a very long time waiting for someone to say something interesting. Which, incidentally, they haven’t. As in nothing has appeared as opposed to someone has said something that I rudely deem uninteresting.

So why am I wasting this really valuable writing time? 

Several years ago, I met a writing friend. As a single mum with a young daughter, she was taking some time out of work and I used to envy her the days she could spend in writing heaven, particularly when her daughter was at nursery and then school. I, on the other hand, was commuting several hours a day and working long hours in a demanding job so time was exceedingly precious. Yet we used to often discuss how funny it was that sometimes I could get more writing done in a week than she could and we concluded that, the more time you have, the more time you waste. Well, maybe not waste but you do find other things to do. When your writing time is snatched, as mine was, you tend to just knuckle down and make the most of it.

Image

I decided to pack in my crazy commute and long hours a couple of years back and after a couple of job changes, I’ve now settled into a role that’s very local. So local that I finish work at 5pm and am home by about 5.20pm. Luxury. Especially for someone who spent 4.25 hours of her day commuting this time two years ago! So now that I have the luxury of time, I should be getting a lot more writing done. But I’m not. Yet I am spending most evenings in the office in front of my computer so why am I not upping my word count?

Some of my time can be accounted for. I run a Brownie pack so that rules out a Monday evening and I need to spend some time planning. But I’ve been doing that for 4.5 years. It’s part of my routine. I also have responsibilities for The Write Romantics blog and regularly communicate with the group on our closed Facebook page (our support network). But we’ve just celebrated our one-year anniversary. So that’s part of my routine too. I’ve started this blog but, realistically, I post less than once a week and blogging is also part of my routine. In February last year, I started a bootcamp and blogged about it after every session until I stopped going in January this year. That’s four times a week! Now we’re maybe talking three times a month. So that’s also part of my normal routine and is a lesser commitment than it used to be.

So, I work shorter hours, I don’t commute, my other responsibilities haven’t changed (become fewer if anything) and I do spend every evening in front of the computer. Yet I’m getting less writing done. Deep down, I know the reason why. There are actually two reasons and, if we really need to give them a label, we’d probably say “crisis of confidence”.

Let me explain …

It took me over a decade to write my first novel. During that time, it got submitted to the NWS twice (to great reviews), went to some beta readers (also to great reviews), was pitched to two editors at the RNA Conference last summer (both of whom wanted the full MS) and is now out there seeking a publishing deal. I’m happy with the book and on up-beat optimistic days, I convince myself that it’s going to find a home because other writing friends who have submitted to certain publishers after me have had regrets already which would indicate I’m in a process and successfully progressing through various stages. (I hope! It sounds more pleasing than the idea that it’s still on the slushpile completely untouched!)

BUT … and it’s a big BUT which is why I’ve put it in capitals … I had that “difficult second book” to write. And I’d set myself up for an even bigger challenge by making it a sequel. A double viewpoint one too. All change! I’d learned so much about the writing process during the book 1 decade that I actually wrote book 2 in seven months! I had my beta readers lined up and I have to say that I was more nervous about them reading book 2 than I had been about book 1. What if they didn’t think it was as good? What if they didn’t like the dual viewpoint? (Which would be a big EEK for book 3 which would be told in triple viewpoint). What if they didn’t think there was sufficient storyline to make a sequel? My relief was incredible when they all loved it. Phew. The ultimate test, though, would be the submission to NWS. As I submitted early in the process (you have until end August), I naively thought it would be back with me in a few weeks. I was completely forgetting that the reviewers are writers themselves with their own deadlines and it was very possible I may be delayed by one of those. It turns out I have been although it will be posted back to me this week. I’ve therefore been in this limbo knowing that my readers liked it (yippee) but wondering if the critique may come back full of development areas. Until I know this “professional” verdict, I’m almost afraid to progress with book 3 (which I’m a third of the way through).

Book 3 is the final book in the series and, as I’ve already said, is told from three points of view but, in its early draft form, I’m looking at it and feeling it’s too episodic i.e. we run from something happening in person 1’s life, then to person 2’s, then back to 1, then 3, then 2, then 3 again and so on. It felt like something was missing. Then I realised what that something was. My main character’s character arc. She doesn’t change by the end of the book. She doesn’t learn something. Well, she does change and she does learn something but not in the way she should for a character arc to really satisfy. I know what the arc will be but that means shifting round some key events and, typically, they’re the events that have already happened which means some major re-work. Do I do this now or do I just finish writing then shift it around?

That’s it, then. That’s the problem. I’m scared of what my critique of book 2 will reveal and I’m being overly critical of what I think would be revealed if book 3 was about to be critiqued and both those things together have put me in ostrich mode where I’m simply avoiding writing because that’s easier than facing up to the fact that I may be a one-book-pony! Ok, ok, stop shouting at me. I know I’m not really. I know my beta readers loved book 2 and, actually, so did I when I read through it (so much more refreshing than having read book 1 about a million times) and I know book 3 has great potential but is just going to be a little longer and more challenging to construct than book 2. Mind you, as long as it’s not longer than book 1, that’s fine by me!

I’m actually feeling better for having put fingers to keyboard. It’s probably the most writing I’ve done this month and it feels good to let it flow. I’ve now had my tea, I’m about to wash my daughter’s hair and sort out bedtime routine but, at 8pm, she’ll be going to sleep and all will be quiet (once I’ve fed those pesky cats) so that’s a great opportunity to get cracking and do some writing. Face my demons. Conquer this thing. Although fellow Write Romantic Helen Phifer’s second novel ‘The Secrets of the Shadows’ was released yesterday and, according to my Kindle, I’m 32% of the way through it. Just like her debut, ‘The Ghost House’, it’s really gripping. Maybe I’ll just finish that first …..

We’re all going on a blog tour!!!

We’re not scared. With a pen in our hand and post-its too ….

Something slightly different on my blog this week. I was very excited to be invited to join my fellow Write Romantic, Rachael Thomas, on to join The Blog Tour. Her debut novel, A Deal Before the Alter (HMB), will be available later this year and I can’t wait to read it and follow her journey as she fulfils her dreams. Find out more about Rachael at http://rachael-thomas.blogspot.co.uk/

So, what I have to do is answer a series of questions and nominate three other writers to do the same. We’ll start with the three questions:

My Writing Process


What am I working on?

I am about one third of the way through my third novel, ‘Discovering David’. It’s the final book in a trilogy. Book 1, ‘Searching for Steven’ went through the RNA’s New Writers Scheme in 2012 and 2013 and is now out there fluttering its eyelashes and hoping to secure a publishing deal. Book 2, ‘Getting Over Gary’ was submitted to the NWS 5 weeks ago and I’m anxiously awaiting the verdict. Book 3 has been planned but I’m in the first stage writing process. The trilogy follows Sarah and her two friends Elise and Clare and explores the core theme of love but also the theme of friendship and how this can shift over time and circumstances. Book 1 is essentially Sarah’s story, book 2 is Elise’s and book 3 is Clare’s. However, each picks up where the other leaves off and becomes multi point-of-view to do that.

How does my story differ from others of its genre?

Most novels in my genre (romantic comedy) are one-offs. There are exceptions but the majority are stand-alone so I feel a trilogy is fairly unique. I also have further books in a series planned in that they will be set in the same place (fictional North Yorkshire seaside town Whitsborough Bay) but feature different characters … although the original cast may have cameo appearances!

‘Searching for Steven’ was also inspired by a real-life event which I think makes it pretty special too.

Why do I write?

I couldn’t not write. I have so many ideas and have always loved putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). My favourite tasks at work are always ones that require writing. I think it’s just part of me.

How does my writing process work?

My writing time is typically on an evening after my 7-year-old daughter has gone to bed and lunch breaks at work although 45 mins isn’t long to eat and write! ‘Searching for Steven’ was a massive learning process. I knew roughly what the story was, I knew the characters but I had no plan of how to get from start to end. Result? Ten years of work! I wasn’t going to put myself through that again. Book 2 was completely different. I planned out every chapter (about an A5 page per chapter), chartered it on a weekly planner to ensure I’d captured the days of the week, months and seasons correctly, and then wrote. Helped by doing NaNoWriMo in November last year, I completed book 2 in 7 months. Slightly different to the 10 years for book 1!

I’m hoping that April will see good news about Steven. Please!!!!

Next week, the following authors will be participating.

Helen Phifer, a fellow member of The Write Romantics and member of the RNA. Helen’s brilliant debut novel, ‘The Ghost House’ was published by Carina in October 2013 and her second novel, ‘The Secrets of the Shadows’ is out next week (and I can’t wait to read it). Visit Helen’s blog at: http://helenphifer.wordpress.com/

Alex Weston, also a fellow Write Romantic and NWS member will be tackling the blog tour on her Facebook page (thanks Alex) at https://www.facebook.com/alexwestonwrites?fref=ts

Sharon Booth, fellow NWS member (who, like Alex, kindly let me beta read her debut novel) will talk about her experiences at http://sharonbooth23.wordpress.com/

 

Thanks for reading!

Silence is golden when you’re a writer … or is it?

Wednesday evenings in my house are very quiet. Once my 7-year-old daughter has settled to bed and the cats have been fed, it’s just me and my writing because hubby goes out on Wednesday to do some shooting. Not guns. Arrows. He took up archery last summer and loves it. I usually really enjoy Wednesday evenings because I can just get on with my current WIP with absolutely no distractions and no feelings of guilt that I’m lost in my little world of imaginary friends while other members of the household may actually appreciate a bit of company.

But last night felt strange. Last night seemed overly quiet. Last night, writing was a struggle. And I realised that, for me, silence isn’t always golden. Silence doesn’t always help me write. Silence isn’t always my friend. I knew only one person could help me … Delta Goodrem. “Who?” I hear you ask. Long blond hair. Australian. Plays the piano. Started out in Neighbours in 2002. Used to be engaged to Brian McFadden (formerly of Westlife) and did a duet with him called “Almost Here”. Debut single was “Born to Try”. Know who I mean now? I confess that “Born to Try” isn’t one of my favourite tracks but I absolutely love everything else she’s done. I don’t know if it’s the piano or her particular vocals or the fact that I’ve listened to her albums so many times that I don’t need to concentrate anymore but Delta is the perfect soundtrack to my writing. Plus she writes about love and loss and emotional angst which is exactly what a romance writer needs. (Find Delta on https://www.facebook.com/DeltaGoodremMusic)

I’ve tried to write and listen to other albums and I’ve discovered that any old music won’t do. I can’t write to anything brand new or anything I’ve only heard a few times because I sit and listen to it instead of concentrating on my writing. I can’t write to anything too up-beat. And I can’t have any music on loud. I also can’t have the TV on because, even if it’s something I absolutely hate and would normally rather gouge my eyeballs out than watch (e.g. football or Newsnight), I’ll be drawn to the TV and completely unable to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Going back to last night, I will admit that, once Delta got going, so did my writing. Not particularly fast, mind, but it was better than it had been before I switched the music on.

This got me wondering whether I’m the only one who prefers a soundtrack to writing in silence and a specific one at that. So I asked my fellow Write Romantics. Aspiring writer Helen R lives in Australia (must ask her if she knows Delta!) in the suburbs and says she’s often distracted by the noise of hedge trimmers and leaf blowers so likes to put on music to drown that out although it varies as to whether it annoys her or revs her up. Lynne is similar – sometimes music, sometimes not although she’s found it can be helpful to listen to specific music to get her into a specific mood e.g. 1970s tunes if her novel is set in that time. Alex echoes this in that she does enjoy quiet but did delve into a bit of Scottish folk singing (listening to it; not doing it) when she was trying to perfect a Scottish accent in her debut novel.

Soon-to-be-published Rachael likes to listen to music when she writes, although usually something without lyrics to avoid them getting into her head. She finds that switching the music on helps her switch her mind into ‘writer mode’. Interesting. A bit like some writers making a drink in a certain mug, wearing a particular piece of jewellery or using a specific pen.

Successful novelist Helen P (2nd book “The Secrets of the Shadows” is out next month – can’t wait!) differs from us all. She tells me her writing space is in the corner of the room next to a huge TV so silence is not in ready supply. She needs to put her iPod on and drift away into her own world. What’s on her iPod? “I tend to have a playlist for each book. The last one had Frank Sinatra, Elbow, Barry White, U2, Nat King Cole, Kelly Rowland, Lady GaGa to name a few”. Eclectic mix or what?! Not sure I’d manage to write to all of those!

On the other side of the coin, Jaxx and Deirdre do believe that silence is golden. Jaxx even goes so far as to wear ear defenders to keep out the noise (I so have to see photographic evidence of that) and Deirdre needs “complete quiet” but admits that a busy main road and “a certain someone talking to the cat, singing, having TV up loud etc” pretty much scuppers her quest for peace.

It seems we’re a bit of a mixed bag although it seems we’re all united in avoiding the TV. That said, Helen R said that one of my favourite authors, Jill Mansell, writes with the TV on and it apparently gives her lots of ideas. I know that Jill writes long-hand rather than straight into a PC so I’m wondering if she can maybe find TV helpful in the ideas formation stage or whether she can switch off enough to do this at all stages in her writing. If you’re reading this, Jill, we’d love to know!

One more thing I’ll say about Delta Goodrem is that, not only does her music help my writing flow but she writes some amazing lyrics and some great song titles which would make great titles for a book. I find this quite a lot with music; I’ll hear a line or a title of a song and think “great title” and then, suddenly, there are all sorts of ideas about what the book could be about. I have a word document called “Potential Book Titles” and it’s full of ideas – many of them from songs – and a sentence or two about the book theme.

So, thank you Delta Goodrem for being the background singer as I work and thank you to the wonderful Write Romantics for helping me with this post. 

Over to you … is silence golden?