The one where I visited Steampuss Cat Lounge

I love cats but was never allowed pets as a child. When I was at senior school, I lived several miles from school but my best friend lived a short walk away so I’d go to her house at lunchtime. One summer’s day, we found a litter of 4 kittens abandoned in a cardboard box in a cut-through by a main road. Who does that?! I dread to think what would have happened to the poor little things if they’d got out and ventured onto the road. My friend and I carried two each to her house. In a gesture of extreme gratitude for rescuing them, one of them peed down my white school shirt! Yummy! I wanted to keep one but wasn’t surprised when I was told a resonating no. Fortunately my friend’s mum found them all new homes.

It was many years later before I owned my first pets when, fourteen years ago, my husband and I adopted two RSPCA rescue kittens: Felix and Pixie. Sadly they’ve both crossed the rainbow bridge. We lost Pixie six years ago and Felix left us in January this year.

No longer having my own cats to fuss over, I was really keen to visit Steampuss Cat Lounge which had opened in Scarborough in 2019. Then Covid hit and that wasn’t an option.

Last Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of The Secret to Happiness – my first release through Boldwood Books – and it was also the last day before my daughter, Ashleigh, returned to school so I booked us in to visit the cats as a special treat. What a lovely hour! In fact, some might say purrrr-fect!

The cafe is on Scarborough’s Bar Street which provides partial inspiration for Castle Street which appears in many of my books. There’s a ground floor room which, when we were there, had two tables and a lower ground room also with two tables. Booking is advisable to avoid disappointment as spaces are limited. This can be done via their website or Facebook page.

There are twelve cats who go home with the owners each day rather than living in the cafe but they’re not all there every day. We were told that there were eight cats there during our visit and we saw seven of them. There’s an area on the lower ground floor for staff and cats only so a cat may occasionally go in there for a complete break.

Ashleigh and I were thrilled to be allocated a ground floor table by the bay window because it’s in the window where the cats tend to congregate. There’s a large scratching post/sleeping tower in the middle and vintage suitcases either side which the cats were curled up in.

Most of the cats are named after characters in films/books and there’s a lovely booklet on the table including pictures and giving detail about each cat from breed to age to who its best friends are. Awww! It’s perfect for trying to identify the cats although a few of them have similar markings so we’re not convinced we were accurate with our guesses!

The menu includes hot and cold drinks and cakes but there’s a large choice within that and vegan/gluten-free choices too so it caters for all dietary needs. Ashleigh and I both had the most delicious milkshake we’ve ever tasted. Mine was caramel and vanilla and hers was white chocolate and vanilla. To eat, she chose chocolate cake and I had a Victoria sponge with passion fruit topping although her chocolate cake was enormous and she let me have the last bit. Nom nom!

Delicious as it was, a visit to Steampuss was not about the food for us. It was all about the experience of being there among the adorable cats. You’re allowed to stroke them when they’re asleep (which several were) but are asked not to try to wake them up and definitely not to lift them. Full guidance on getting the most out of your visit and treating the cats with care and respect is on the website.

When we first went in, the largest cat – Hagrid – was in the middle of the floor, staring at us. It was as if he was telling us it was his domain and checking us out. Loved that! Once he was satisfied we were friends rather than foes, he settled into one of the beds on the scratching post.

There were six cats including Hagrid spread out in the window area but then another appeared. Lots of shelves were built into the walls in a way that made an accessible climb for the cats so that one decided to hang out on one of the higher shelves.

Ashleigh absolutely loved the experience. She’s 13 and I think children young and old and adults (as long as they like cats) will adore a visit. Actually, scrub that, even if they’re not cat-people, it’s such a lovely experience. Do it!

The cats are so soft and happy and lovely. A friend of Ashleigh’s has visited and it sounds like they were more active during her visit. Having been a cat owner myself, I would imagine that there are times of the day when they might be prowling more than sleeping, either of which will be amazing.

It costs £5 for an adult and £4 for a child to have an hour in the Steampuss Cat Lounge and then, of course, you do pay for your food and drinks on top of that. There are also various gifts available.

We’ll definitely be back in person but I hope to be back in my imagination too because, of course, the cogs are now whirring and I have a story forming. I would love to add a cat cafe to Castle Street. I think it would be perfect in Whitsborough Bay and not in competition to Tara’s The Chocolate Pot because it’s a very different experience to what Tara offers.

Because I was celebrating my book publication anniversary, I just happened to have a paperback with me for a photo shoot!

I highly recommend a visit to Steampuss Cat Lounge. You can find their website and all the details about the cats here. They’re also on Facebook here. The Twitter and Instagram accounts are @Steampuss with Twitter not active since last year but Instagram full of regular picture updates for a gorgeous fix of beautiful cats.

Have you ever been to a cat cafe? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

Be Careful What You Wish For

Just under a month ago, I wrote a post on the Write Romantics blog called ‘Chasing My Tail’ and I re-blogged it here. At the time, I found myself massively struggling to to everything I wanted to do. In fact, I was struggling to even do the things I needed to do; never mind the extras. Although I didn’t write it in my article, a little voice in my head kept telling me that it would be nice to catch one of those bugs that was going round to get me a little time off work so perhaps I could catch up a bit.

Be careful what you wish for.

On Wednesday 25th February, I came back from my morning bootcamp and couldn’t stop sneezing. My nose was like a tap that day and I had a constant headache. This continued the following day but, by the time I went to bed, I was aching. My head pounded all night, I went from pouring with sweat to shivering, and I barely slept a wink despite feeling exhausted. I phoned in sick and slept most of that Friday. Things went from bad to worse. I felt drained all weekend. I’m not often ill and, when I am, it’s likely to be two days at the most so I figured I’d be back by the start of the next week. Instead, I was at the doctor’s. I discovered I’d contracted two viral infections at the same time – the cold and flu one and the D&V one – and I could expect to be ill for quite some time as they were particularly nasty strains.

After a week of self-certifying, I had to get a sick note for another week off because I’d still got the infection, but had added conjunctivitis in both eyes to my list of problems. Saturday 7th March was a particularly low point for me. The cough – which kept me awake most nights and added to my exhaustion – was so bad that it made me sick, but the force of doing this burst blood vessels in my eyes. Bear in mind I already had conjunctivitis so was suffering already. My eyes were red and swollen and I could barely see. Early last week, I started to see a slow improvement. Very slow.

I returned to work on Friday. I’m still really tired, but I am well enough to be back at work and I’m definitely not contagious anymore. So was I well enough to catch up on anything or do any writing while I was off sick and therefore fulfil my little wish? Was I heck! I have a strong work ethic and have never/would never skive. If I’m off work, I’m off because I physically can’t work. Which meant I didn’t have the energy to write either. It turned out to have been a very stupid thought!

My first few days were all about bed. After that, I could make it downstairs to the sofa, but spend my days watching films or napping. On the plus side, I saw a lot of films I haven’t seen before. We have Netflix so I had a lot of choice. Particular favourites included a Sandra Bullock film called “28 days”, two based on Nicholas Sparks novels called “Safe Haven” and “The Last Song”, a Natalie Portman film called “Where the Heart is”, plus a Gwyneth Paltrow film called “Country Strong.” I’d never heard of any of them and would therefore never have sought them out if I hadn’t been ill.

Although I didn’t have the energy to write, I did have time to think about my writing. I’m nearly ready to send book 2 to my publishers. It’s being read by two beta readers, one of whom has read it before and the other who is reading it for the first time. I feel like I’ve made some great improvements to it recently, but something still wasn’t quite there. The storyline for one of the films bears no resemblance to the plot for book 2, but something that happened in the film triggered a thought process around book 2 and, along with some initial feedback from one of my beta readers, I think I might have found the missing piece. Yippee!

I’ve done very little writing since my return to work on Friday but it’s my flex day tomorrow (I work a full time week across four long days) so I’m hoping to crack on again then. One thing I’m a little scared of is whether I’m trying to do too much. I do cram a ridiculous amount in with work, writing, bootcamp, Brownies, and family, and I’m wondering if this little illness episode was my body’s way of telling me to slow down and relax a little. Perhaps I do need to have a night off a week where I just lie in front of the TV or watch another film I’ve never heard of on Netflix. I’m back at bootcamp in the morning and I’m back at Brownies that evening after a 2-week break. I just hope that I don’t set myself back again.

Moral of this story: if you are ever chasing your tail and need some time off, book some annual leave. Don’t hope for a minor bug; there’s no such thing!

Jessica xx

Does a novelist only write novels?

I’m always keen to experience anything that will help me improve my writing. I’ve got a shelf full of ‘how to’ books about all aspects of writing that I dip in and out of from time to time, and I would absolutely love to go on a writing workshop but I simply don’t have the funds. However, when hubby spotted an advert for a one-day script-writing workshop at our local theatre for just £30, I immediately signed up.

As a novelist, I’ve never considered scriptwriting before, but my books are very dialogue-led and scripts for plays are all about the dialogue so I thought, ‘why not give it a try?’ Earlier this year, I challenged myself to write a short story for The Write Romantics charity anthology, ‘Winter Tales’ (still available on Amazon here in paperback and eBook formats) and I really enjoyed the experience of writing in a different way to the norm so I figured that scriptwriting could be another great diversion.

I had no idea what to expect. The blurb in the programme simply said: “…gain an insight into the way scriptwriting works … come along and discover how to create your very own original piece of drama.”

There were eleven of us on the workshop at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre. Two of the delegates were college students, then there was me in my early forties, and all the others were in their late fifties or older so that made for quite an eclectic mix.

The workshop started with a brief discussion on the difference between scriptwriting and novels, then we explored different types of scriptwriting: plays, TV and films. Our tutor explained that scripts were made up of three components – story, characters, setting – and that the day would focus round these.

P1060185Then we moved into a series of activities. I confess that I was a bit thrown by one of the morning activities because it involved working in pairs and, because there were odd numbers, I ended up working in a trio. I work in a team all the time in my day job but I’ve never tried writing with anyone else. It was really hard. I’d been asked to develop a character and the other two had a place each. Our task was to develop a story with that character and the two settings. Sounds like a fairly easy piece of teamwork but it wasn’t. You see, we’d been asked to pick images with which we had an emotional connection so we’d all developed and bought into a very clear idea of where we wanted the story to go. Combining all three ideas (the lady, open road with a figure on, and lighthouse shown in the picture) was a huge challenge and incredibly frustrating at first, especially as both my team-members had imagined characters in their settings and the three characters didn’t necessarily work in the same story. Quite a bit of discussion and compromise got us there in the end, though.

An interesting exercise we were asked to do was called ‘What’s in the bag?’ We were asked to imagine one of the characters from the story and think about what they might have in their bag or briefcase. This would help establish what was really important to that character and the sort of person they were. We had to be detailed e.g. if our character had some paracetamol, would it be a branded one or supermarket own-brand, would make-up be Clinique or Rimmel and what sort of condition would it be in. I actually found this a really helpful exercise and, as I pointed out to the group, I thought that what was missing from the bag was also very revealing. For example, I imagined that my character had hair bands with bits of hair still attached to them but no hairbrush which showed a lack of interest in her appearance.

We returned to our groups and completed a fun exercise where we were challenged on genre. We were asked to transpose our world into the wild west (history), the moon in the future (sci-fi), fairytale world (fantasy) or soap opera world (slice of life). It was really interesting seeing the changes this made to everyone’s stories as they shared them around the room.

P1060180The afternoon was all individual activity. We were given a new set of pictures all on the theme of love (well, it was Valentine’s Day) but we were told it didn’t have to be romantic love. We could be thinking about friendship or families when, as before, we selected an image that spoke to us and develop the character(s) in that image, then create a story, then write a script for a scene. What was fascinating was that, out of sixteen pictures and eleven delegates, seven of us were drawn to the same picture! This was an image of two old people ambling down a blossom-strewn lane (shown below).

I really loved my characters and the story I developed. When I gave the group the synopsis and read out my script, I got a fantastic reaction. This was incredibly flattering. It was a historic piece – not my usual genre – which reminded me of a piece I’d written on a creative writing workshop many years ago. I’ve always thought about returning to that piece and I’m thinking now that this would be a great piece of work alongside it that I would like to develop further.

P1060181Overall, it was an enjoyable and interesting workshop and, if I’d been a beginner, it would have been a great starting point for unlocking the imagination. What it didn’t really do is teach us how to write a script. But maybe I’m overcomplicating it. After all, isn’t a script in it’s simplest form just a list of names with dialogue and some stage directions? The challenging part is developing the story, characters and setting that our tutor said were the three components of a script. What I personally took from the workshop was a great premise for a story that I might develop, a useful exercise in the form of ‘What’s in the bag?’ and encouragement that I can very quickly and easily come up with characters and a plot that others love. As to whether I can imagine myself moving from novels to scripts, I’m not so sure. I’m already imagining my lovely old couple story as a novel rather than a script, but is that because that’s my default style?

I’m glad I attended. My next decision is whether to take this to the next step. The Stephen Joseph Theatre run scriptwriting workshops on a termly basis. They’re run in batches of six lessons every other week and I’m toying with whether to join one after Easter. As I understand it, delegates develop a script for a play across the time and enhance this through group discussion and the support of the tutor. Twice a year, the plays are performed at an event called ‘Plays and Pinot’. This is a fairly informal event where actors (and some of the writers I think) read out the plays while the audience enjoys a glass of Pinot. It must be exciting for the writers to hear their plays read out. As part of my workshop, I get a free ticket to attend a ‘Plays and Pinot’ performance in a weeks’ time. I’m going to see what that’s like and then make a decision on whether I join the post-Easter course and develop a play.

Can a novelist write more than novels? Absolutely, yes. But do they want to? Hmm. Watch this space!