The one where the Write Romantics went to York

I’m part of a writing collective called the Write Romantics. Started by myself and fellow Boldwood author, Jo Bartlett in late 2012 with a plan to blog together, we realised that we had very little to blog about – both approaching but not quite being at the submissions point – so we opened it up in spring 2013 and asked if anyone else wanted to join us. Two became ten. We’re based all over the country from as far south as Brighton and as far north as Cumbria so there isn’t a lot of opportunity to get together. I’ve met everyone – most on several occasions – but we’ve never all been in the same place at the same time. Smaller numbers of us have done our best to meet up at RNA events over the years or catch up when we’ve been on holiday or working near one or more of the others.

Last November, six of us went to Stratford Upon Avon and had such a lovely time that we decided to arrange another get together for this November in York and had a whopping seven takers – the biggest number we’d have ever had in one place. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against us and numbers dropped and only three of us were able to make it – Sharon Booth, Jackie Ladbury and me. We missed the others loads but still had a lovely few days away together.

My parents take their caravan to a site just outside York each year to visit the Christmas markets and celebrate my mum’s birthday and it struck me we’d be there at the same time. My mum’s a voracious reader and has read most of the books the Write Romantics have written and has loved them all so she was very excited at the idea of meeting some of the group. As we couldn’t check in to our hotel until 3pm but had all planned to arrive earlier, we met her for lunch while my dad did a walk round the city walls.

After checking in, we had a little bit of writing downtime then met for tea. I didn’t think to take a photo but I had the most delicious meal. My ‘festive burger’ had turkey slices, stuffing, bacon, a sausage and cranberry sauce with a pig in blanket on the top, served with roast potatoes and gravy. Mmmm.

The forecast for Wednesday – our full day – was looking pretty dire for the morning so we decided there was no point traipsing into the city centre, getting wet and miserable, when it was meant to be clear in the afternoon. We loitered over breakfast and had been told we were fine to do so but felt a bit guilty when they started vacuuming round us so we returned to our rooms for a bit more writing time.

As forecast, the rain lifted at noon and we walked into the city, pausing on one of the bridges to take some photos of a very swollen River Ouse, although it wasn’t as high as it had been over the weekend.

None of us were planning on doing much in the way of Christmas shopping. It was more of a chance to wander round the market stalls, soak in the atmosphere and catch up. I still haven’t quite mastered the art of the selfie as I always find my eyes straying to the button I need to press so please excuse my dodgy gazing!

Here, we have the Christmas Markets, The Shambles, a nutcracker outside the Christmas shop on The Shambles, and York Minster. I had to pop into The Works to get a shelfie which included another couple of Write Romantics – Jo Bartlett and Helen Rolfe – in our trip, albeit in book format.

Speaking of books, I had an amazing surprise in Waterstones. I’d already been to York on Saturday to take my mum out for a birthday meal and my daughter and I had dived into a few shops. I love to go into branches of Waterstones and look at the R shelf, imagining seeing my books there so imagine my surprise when York Waterstones had a copy of Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow in stock! They don’t stock my books so I’m assuming it was ordered in for a customer who failed to collect. Very exciting to see it there, even if that was the reason!

This is actually me on Saturday. I took Sharon over to the shelf yesterday and pretended it was a surprise to spot it there but I’m a rubbish liar and admitted pretty much straight away that I’d seen it at the weekend. She took a photo of me holding it which I was going to include here but then I realised it was on Sharon’s phone so I’ll get that off her and post it on social media instead.

Back to the Write Romantics trip, there were several nutcrackers around the city centre but I hadn’t noticed at first that they all had names on them. It seems there’s a nutcracker trail which would be a really lovely thing to do but we were nearly done with our wandering at this point. We’d paused on a bench next to a white one and I spotted that his name was Stephen so I had to take a picture. In my book New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, Sarah goes searching for the man of her dreams called Steven and I’d just found him for her in nutcracker format!

Sharon had a gift voucher for tea for two at Patisserie Valerie so we went in there for a late lunch. I’ve never been in before but have always thought the cakes looked delicious. The afternoon tea looked impressive and we even managed to eat the scones without our usual debate as to how to pronounce the word so we must all have been tired! However, we were extremely unimpressed that there were no toilets in working order. There was a sign on the door saying no toilets and we assumed that was a deterrent for the general public but it was genuinely the case that the toilets were out of order. I’m pretty sure that’s actually illegal and not great when a food stop usually includes a toilet stop.

Sharon and Jackie headed back to the hotel and I stayed in the city centre for a little longer so I could grab a couple of Christmas gifts and catch the lights. My photos really don’t do justice to how pretty York looked as dusk turned to dark but hopefully they give you some flavour of it.

Today, we had breakfast, some writing time, then met for lunch before all heading home. I’ve got a very busy ten days ahead of me to finish writing Summer Nights at The Starfish Cafe. I’ve only written a third of it so far so that’s definitely going to be a challenge but I’ll get there.

We missed our other Write Romantics buddies but did have a lovely few days of writerly and family chat and hope it’s not too long before we can see the others. Thank you, Sharon and Jackie, for the fabulous company.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I talk about the RNA’s conference

In my last blog post, I said I was heading off to the RNA’s conference and would report back ‘next week’. That should have been last week and I’ve just realised that, although I shared some photos on Facebook, I never did a blog post so here I am catching up.

The conference was at Harper Adams University which is for agricultural studies near Telford, Shropshire. It’s a small campus and ideal for an event such as this as there’s not too far to walk between the accommodation and lecture rooms. We were staying in the student halls and ours was the one covered in ivy on the right.

It was my fourth conference and by far my favourite, mainly because I felt much better about myself as a writer than I had the previous three times. I knew what to expect format-wise and I’d finally learned to the pressure off myself by not booking onto an event for every slot on the timetable, allowing some breathing and thinking space.

There were four out of the ten of us from my writing support group, The Write Romantics, in attendance, and there were quite a few Boldwood authors, some of whom I hadn’t met before so it was lovely to be able to say hello to them.

Write Romantics – Me, Jackie Ladbury & Sharon Booth (joined by Rachael Thomas on the bottom right)

I also had a chance to catch up with some of the delegates from my March workshop. I’d been really looking forward to sitting down and having a proper chat to them all, finding out how their writing journeys had been since the workshop, but the timetable just didn’t allow it. I’d been invited to join them at lunchtime on Saturday but my pre-lunch session ran over slightly and, by the time I made it to the back of the food queue, there weren’t many spaces left in the dining room and I knew there was no way they could save me a seat at their table. I could also see that several of them had already eaten so it just didn’t happen.

I did get the opportunity to speak to several of the group, albeit briefly in some cases, but I swear time goes into a vortex and I left thinking about so many people I’d spotted but just didn’t get a chance to say hello to properly.

On the Sunday morning, we had about twenty minutes before a session started and I looked around the coffee room but realised I’d hit a wall and was probably incapable of having a coherent conversation. Doing a job where I spend most of my time completely on my own, it can be intense and overwhelming being surrounded by people. My since apologies, therefore, to anyone I didn’t get a chance to talk to.

I did get to talk to my idol, Jill Mansell, though! We’ve spoken several times on social media and met before and it’s ridiculous that I get shy about these things but I do. I actually find it hard to approach anyone already in a conversation so add in one of my writing heroes and that escalates. My Boldwood buddy took a photo of me with Jill in the background and then took me over for a proper hello which was very special.

I met loads of other amazing authors across the weekend but took a distinct lack of photos so I’ll leave the blog post here. Thank you to everyone involved in the organising, who ran sessions, or who chatted to me. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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