All you need is love to help you achieve your dreams…

Today is the publication day for my latest Boldwood release, All You Need Is Love. Publication days are always special but this one is extra special. It’s my husband’s birthday, it’s my sprocker spaniel Ella’s fifth birthday (happy birthday my lovelies xx) AND this is my tenth book to be released through Boldwood Books. Ten! Eek!

I first thought about writing a book a long time ago – back in 2002 – when a manager at work told me my business reports read like stories and I should write a book. Great idea but what would I write about? Then something happened to me that gave me the premise for my debut novel and I started writing it the following year.

Back then, I never thought about the next stage. Getting the book published wasn’t something I was aiming towards. The goal was simply to get to the end, to write a book. Could I even do that? Could I construct an interesting page-turning story with engaging characters?

It took me a decade to finish the book due to a combination of big life events – wedding, baby, house moves and job changes – but I kept chipping away. I started to think beyond finishing, especially as the idea for one book had developed into a trilogy.

After two critiques through the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme, my debut novel was ready to seek a publishing deal. For most authors, the road to publication is a bumpy one paved with rejections and disappointments and my experience is no exception. Ten months and twenty-three rejections later, I was seriously thinking about going indie when two very different offers came along: an established US-based digital only publisher v a new UK-based publisher who’d publish in ebook and paperback. I chose the latter.

My debut novel and a prequel novella were released in May and June 2015. My amazing husband surprised me on publication day with a set of canvases: one of each of the book covers and a third with the release date on it and this quote from the author Mark Twain: 

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

The quote made me cry. We both knew that I’d found my purpose in life and, having secured a publishing deal, I was now on my way…

But it didn’t work out. The company failed to make an impact in the publishing world and ceased trading shortly after my final book was released. I was devastated. With my rights back, I re-released the trilogy and prequel novella independently. They tanked.

I thought things might change when I released a brand new book the following year but they didn’t and, for the next few years, I struggled. I was working long hours in a full-time job, I led a Brownie Pack, and I had a family. Finding time to write was a massive challenge. Finding time to explore how to be a successful indie author was an impossibility.

I released another four books – all Christmas ones – and enjoyed some success with them but, mostly, it was days of zero sales and low chart positions. My reviews were great. Those who discovered my books seemed to love them but not enough readers were discovering them so, in summer 2018, I decided that it was time to try to secure a publisher again.

First time around, I had no idea if I had something a publisher might want and saw it as a process: Rejection? Okay, that’s a shame, but who’s next on the list? Second time around, each rejection floored me. A brand new novel provisionally titled Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye received five rejections. I also tried one of my back catalogue, Bear With Me, which gathered three passes. It was really hard to focus on the positive feedback when phrases like “Not suitable for our list”, “Not ‘hooky’ enough to stand out” and “Didn’t quite hit the mark for me” kept leaping out at me.

As 2018 drew to a close, I’d never felt so low about my writing and questioned whether it was time to give up. What was the point in spending months writing a book when hardly anybody was reading it and no publishers wanted it? But the reality was that writing was part of me. I was bursting with ideas. I had stories to tell. It was the only thing I wanted to do. I kept looking at that Mark Twain quote and believing that, one day, it would happen. One day my manuscript would land on the right desk at the right time and my world would change.

And it did.

I spotted an advert for the newly-formed Boldwood Books who’d be opening for submissions in February 2019 and knew I’d found my perfect home. I just hoped they agreed. Thankfully they did and I was offered a whopping 9-book publishing deal for four new books and five from my back catalogue. Another couple of contract addendums added in the remaining three previously-published books.

The book that secured my deal with Boldwood was the five times rejected Wish I could Tell You Goodbye. It was released in September 2019 under the title of The Secret to Happiness and has since sold nearly 50,000 copies and been in The Works. And the rejected Bear With Me is now re-edited and reissued as All You Need Is Love out today.

I’m writing my thirteenth book at the moment; the first for a new 12-book contract with Boldwood. If somebody had told me when I was writing my first novel that I’d be a full-time author releasing my tenth book through the most incredible publisher while writing my thirteenth, I’d never have believed them. When I went through my second submission round and devasted by the rejections, I wouldn’t have done either.

So today as I celebrate my tenth Boldwood release, I am so grateful to my husband and daughter for the canvas that hangs above my desk and reminds me each day of my purpose in life and for their constant encouragement. I’m so grateful for the rejections I had along the way because they brought me to my perfect home with Boldwood Books. And I’m so grateful to all the readers who’ve bought or borrowed my books and audios, particularly those who send me messages or write gorgeous reviews telling me how much they love my books. My tenth book is called All You Need Is Love and it’s a message that applies to authors. We need the love from readers to keep going through the tough times, the love of a publisher who believes in us, and family and friends who support us every step of the way.

If you have a dream, don’t give up on it. Sometimes when it feels like things are falling apart, they might actually be coming together. It might not happen for you immediately … but it could happen down the line. It did for me.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

It’s that marmite time of year again

_MG_0218It’s Valentine’s Day today. That marmite time of year. Do you love it? Or do you hate it?

As a romance writer, it might follow that I love Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, declarations of love, proposals. All fabulously romantic and lovely and just what a romance writer would adore, surely? Who wouldn’t love 14th February? Well, me actually.

Sorry to say it but I’m not a fan. I know that there are many people who hate it because they think it’s an overly commercial day designed just to make card companies, chocolatiers, and florists a wad of cash. They may have a point but retail is a tough business (she says having run her own shop) and I don’t begrudge them the opportunity.

There’s also the belief (sometimes held by the same people) that there shouldn’t be one day of the year set aside on which you must specifically show you love someone; if you love someone, you should demonstrate it all year round.

I can see both of these points but neither are the reason why I don’t love Valentine’s Day. I don’t love Valentine’s Day because Valentine’s Day doesn’t love me.

Let me explain…

_MG_7511My very first brush with Valentine’s Day was making a homemade card for a lad I fancied at primary school. I can’t remember whether there was a postbox set up or whether I sneaked it into his tray but I vividly remember him being unbelieveably disinterested in it. He made no enquiries to find out who’d sent it. He didn’t care. Boys eh? Needless to say, I didn’t get any cards that year. Or any other year at primary school.

When I was about fourteen, I was thrilled to receive a card and a heart-shaped chocolate in the post. My very first Valentine’s card. And it came with a gift! It was from a lad that I’d befriended on an adventure holiday the previous summer (I knew because he’d signed it). I went into school all excited… only to discover that he’d also sent one to my best friend who’d been on holiday with me and another girl we’d befriended there. It was a gesture of friendship. Nothing else.

I was eighteen before another card came my way. This time it was from my boyfriend in my first year at university. We’d been to the Halls of Residence bar on the evening of the 13th February with a couple of friends. One of them lived on the same floor as me and kept me up close to midnight, asking if I liked surprises. I thought this was a little strange. As midnight struck and Valentine’s Day arrived, the doors to the floor burst open and my boyfriend came running round the corridor dressed in nothing but boxer shorts covered in hearts, carrying a bottle of wine, a card, and a red rose. I’m going to sound so awful saying this, but my recall (many years later) was that it was a bit more embarrassing than romantic! Plus, I had lectures the next day and I was really, really tired! I didn’t want to drink wine and be romantic. I just wanted to go to sleep.

P1060175I had a free period later that morning and propped open my door and wandered into the kitchen to make a cuppa. When I came back, there was a card and a Sad Sam (remember those? Puppies with big, sad eyes that were all the rage in the late 80s/early 90s) sat on my bed. The lad in the room next-door (with whom I was friends) had put them there. Apparently he’d fallen for me and, even though he was also friends with my boyfriend, he seemed to think it was okay to share his feelings too. It was Valentine’s Day after all! I can’t remember whether I guessed it was him or whether he told me, but I somehow found myself sitting on my bed with him confessing his undying devotion to me and telling me that he’d be there for me if I ever wanted to ditch the boyfriend. Please keep remembering that the boyfriend and he were friends. Not so much after that. You see, the boyfriend knew I had a free period so came to see me and found me on the bed having a heart-to-heart and holding a card and a Sad Sam that he hadn’t given me. He understandably wasn’t too chuffed with my neighbour’s bold declaration of devotion. It was quite a fraught free period and I have never been so relieved to have an Economics lecture to attend as I was that morning; perfect opportunity to escape the tension!

The boyfriend and I went out for a romantic meal that evening. Only it wasn’t at all romantic. He was livid about the incident with the next-door neighbour and, even though he knew I didn’t feel anything for the lad, the betrayal of friendship hung in the air. Great.

P1060177In my final year at university, I was stunned and delighted to receive three Valentine’s cards, especially as I was single at the time. One was from a good friend who wanted to cheer me up, one was from a lad with whom I’d had one date but who’d made it clear that he didn’t want another date or a relationship as he was on the rebound from someone. Not really sure to this day why he sent me a card. The third was a mystery, though. It contained some song lyrics and I knew I recognised them but I absolutely couldn’t place them. These were the days before t’internet. I couldn’t just Google them. I was sure I knew who’d sent me it – a lad who I’d dated for about a week the term before – but he demanded to know why I thought it was him. I had to solve the clue in the lyrics. I finally sussed the song but I still couldn’t work out the connection to him. By the time I worked it out (the name of the band was connected to his name), it was a week or so later, and the moment was well and truly lost. He admitted that it had been him but I think he was annoyed that I hadn’t worked out why as, when we’d been dating, he’d told me that, if he ever sent someone a Valentine’s card, he’d put the lyrics of a song by this particular band in his card. Clearly I’d forgotten that conversation which suggested I’d never been listening to him in the first place and had therefore been a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Oops!

_MG_0221After that, I had years of being single and I seemed to go through a phase of being away with work on Valentine’s Day. I was exceedingly self-conscious about dining in the hotel alone as it was. Throw into the mix a restaurant full of couples gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes and it was excruciating.

I’ve now been with hubby for eleven Valentine’s Days. When we first met, we exchanged cards and a few silly gifts (I remember buying him some Purple Ronnie socks, for example) but I’ve never had any flowers, teddies, or anything particularly special from him on Valentine’s Day. Several years ago, I declared that I only wanted a card. I’ll admit this was more of a defence mechanism; declare that you only want a card and you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get anything else and will be pleasantly surprised if you do! I sometimes wish he’d surprise me and present me with some flowers. Or perhaps something that’s even more me… like a romantic novel, some heart-themed stationery, or a film. Or all three but that’s just greedy! But would I really want this on Valentine’s Day? When I see my Facebook feed later today full of friends and family declaring, “Look what I got” and posting pictures of bouquets, champagne, teddy bears holding hearts, posh meals out, and so on, I know I’ll get envious (because I do every year) and wish I was on the receiving end of all these lovely gifts. But then I remind myself that past experience has made me dislike this day because of the pressure and disappointment it brings, whether you’re single or not. Why, therefore, would I want to acknowledge this day?

Perhaps I am more with the school of thought that showing you care should happen all year round; not just on February 14th. The problem is, my husband isn’t romantic. He doesn’t buy me flowers. In nearly twelve years together, he’s never sent me a bouquet. He’s bought me some flowers home from the supermarket on a handful of occasions, along with the weekly shop. Not quite the same thing. The thing is that I don’t really want flowers on Valentine’s Day. I object to the inflated prices. But it would be nice to have some at another time of year. Perhaps.

Hubby doesn’t surprise me with romantic meals either. I can’t remember the last time we went out together, just the two of us. Or even as a group. To be fair to him, we were meant to go out between Christmas and New Year as a six. One of the group was ill so that couple pulled out but the other couple then cancelled as the plan had been to go out as a six. Hubby and I could have gone out as a two but I couldn’t be bothered. I’m not very good at dealing with changes to plans and a takeaway in front of the TV seemed so much easier than getting all dressed up and braving the cold.

P1060118So hubby doesn’t do meals and flowers but he does do other things that show he cares. He spends ages choosing the right cards with the right words in them and he always adds some of his own instead of just signing his name. He lets me lie in on a weekend and brings me a cup of tea and some breakfast in bed. He reads my bootcamp blog without fail and is really proud of me when I achieve my goals. He bought me a necklace one year (for birthday or Christmas) with a pendant of St Paul on it, the Patron Saint of Writers. I went on a girly trip to York last month with my mum and sisters-in-law and wasn’t going to buy anything because we’re trying to save some money. He insisted I treated myself to a teddy bear for my collection as I’d been really down about work last year when I thought I was going to lose my job yet again. And I mustn’t forget coming home from my shopping trip to discover that he’d been creative and designed a photo for the launch of my debut novel. I hadn’t asked him to. We’d never discussed it. He just did it.

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nIt’s not over the top displays of romance but, when I break it down, it’s all evidence that he’s thinking of me and he cares. Isn’t that what romance is? Especially the little things that he does regularly like reading my blog and making me breakfast in bed. Do I need bouquets of flowers when I have this? Hmm. Well, maybe not constantly but once in a while would be lovely 🙂

Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it brings you happiness, whether you’re in a great relationship, a relationship on the rocks, or single. Find something that makes you happy. For me, it’s a script-writing workshop at our local theatre and tea with hubby and the munchkin. What a fabulous way to spend a Saturday. Watch this space for a future blog about the script-writing workshop.

Happy weekend 🙂

Jessica xx