The one with the chart neighbours who make me smile

I love watching the chart positions of my books. I’m probably a little more obsessed about it than I should be but there are a few reasons for this:

  1. It’s such a thrill to see my books doing so well after all the years of struggling and I find I need to look just to reassure myself that I’m not just dreaming
  2. My mum keeps a watch (thank you, Mum) so I need to be on the ball too!
  3. There are certain moments that really make me smile which I’d miss if I didn’t keep an eye out

What do I mean by the moments that make me smile? It’s those snapshots in time where my book appears in the chart next to:

  • An author friend
  • One of #TeamBoldwood (my publishing buddies) who are, of course, also friends but most are only virtual friends as Boldwood have mainly existed during a pandemic world so we’ve never met
  • An exceptionally famous author / an author I’m in awe of
  • A non-fiction author who is an expert in a subject connected to my books
  • An author who has a connection to my past

This first instance I can remember of this happening was before I joined Boldwood. In the year I released Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop (called Charlee and the Chocolate Shop at the time) and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes (title unchanged), I put them in relevant category charts where they toppled experts from the #1 spot. Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop appeared in a chart about cooking ingredients (chocolate), knocking Jamie Oliver into the #2 position and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes was in cake-making and did the same to Mary Berry. I probably do have the screenshots somewhere but no idea where I’ve filed them!

Of course, Jamie Oliver and Mary Berry will have sold absolutely monster quantities of their books as hardbacks but this brief snapshot of time where I was next to these experts in the charts was a special (and amusing) moment.

There were many occasions after that where I was chart buddies with my writing family, The Write Romantics, including when the Top 10 in the Christmas category chart was dominated by our Christmas releases. Aww.

Yesterday, I checked the UK Kindle Top 100 first thing and was greeted by this lovely sight:

As you can see, A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow is at #58 in this screenshot but positions #54 to #57 are all held by Boldwood authors! Jo Bartlett, Alex Stone and Alison Sherlock are all publishing buddies and Jo is also the co-founder of the Write Romantics with me so what a special moment this was. Not quite sure who invited Kazuo Ishiguro to the party but he was welcome to join us as long as he’d brought cake with him!

The past few days have also brought some special moments over on Audible but before I share those, I have to share a special moment of a different kind because the hedgehogs surpassed themselves in the Audible Top 100 yesterday…

I casually checked the Audible chart first thing, wondering if they were even still in the Top 100 as they’d been at the lower end over the past couple of days so I was astonished to see that they’d made a huge leap into the Top 40. Only just – at #40 itself – but that’s still Top 40 so I’m claiming that status! Book 4 had also finally hit the #1 position in the Romance chart which was thrilling.

But back to the special chart neighbours moments… The first was on Thursday when, as I said before, the Audible position of A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow was a little lower. When I was at university, many moons ago, I studied Banking & Finance with the intention of becoming a bank manager. Except I hated the finance part of it which was a bit of a problem. Thankfully, among the dreaded accountancy, economics and quantitative analysis modules, there were interesting subjects I did understand like HR, marketing, management, strategy and banking law.

In our management module, we studied the work of an American management guru called Stephen Covey. First published in 1989, it was a huge bestseller. Sitting in lectures discussing Covey’s principles, I could never have imagined there’d be a day where I’d be an author sitting beside that man in the charts. I literally couldn’t have imagined it because the audiobook wasn’t invented then – although the precursor of listening to books on cassettes and CDs had been – and being an author wasn’t even close to being on my radar then. I’d already sussed that being a bank manager wasn’t for me either but writing was an idea that emerged about a decade later.

After graduating, I followed a career in HR, specialising in recruitment, training, coaching and mentoring, and Covey’s work frequently popped up.

Then this morning, I had another blast from the past moment with another management guru. I was sponsored to go to university by TSB which basically meant I received a book grant each year (and text books were expensive so it was very much needed!), did a year out with them in my third year, and undertook holiday work in a local branch. I knew I wanted to work in HR or marketing at this point and managed to secure a placement in their Head Office in Birmingham for my year out.

One of my roles was organising and managing the Learning Resource Centre (LRC) which was a room full of books, cassettes, CDs and videos relating to leadership and management. I loved working in there. It was like being in charge of my own little library. There were workstations where staff would work their way through interactive videos – huge laserdiscs (the size of a vinyl album) where they could watch a scenario, make a decision on how they’d handle it, and watch that good or bad decision play out.

Anyway, one of the resources was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People and who should I be next to in the Audible UK chart this morning but Mr Carnegie himself? In the LRC, it was such a popular book that it had a waiting list and I frequently had to chase staff to return it. Again, who’d have thought that when I was working in my own little library that books I’d written would one day appear in libraries? Or that I’d be one step ahead in the charts of the book that was the most popular when I ran that little library?

So there you go. A few moments that have really made me smile. I hope there are many things that make you smile across the weekend. Have a good one!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one with some really special Christmas gifts

I know I’ve just posted about New Year but I was just scrolling through my photos and realised that I took several for a blog post, then forgot to write a post, so let’s dip back to Christmas for a moment when the lights were twinkling on the tree (ok, they still are), the gifts were looking gorgeous in their wrapping, and the dog was stealing things she shouldn’t have. Oh wait, Ella does that EVERY day, not just at Christmas…

There wasn’t anything the hubby or I particularly wanted this year so we agreed to treat ourselves to a picture we’d fallen in love with on holiday in the summer and get a few bits and bobs. The hope was to get the picture framed and up on the wall for Christmas but, well, you know how it is!

I find it pretty much impossible to think of anything for him beyond the supply of socks he needs every year after putting holes in them throughout the preceding 12 months, a dark chocolate orange, and his annual Landscape Photographer of the Year book but he usually comes up trumps with a few special gifts for me and this year was no exception.

I love the ‘On Air’ sign so watch out for that in my next Facebook Live on publication day of A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow (6th January). The ‘I’m a Best Selling Author’ colouring book made me laugh. It’s full of positive affirmations about my brilliance ha ha ha! The book has unusual words in it and the fluffy socks are bears. Perfect.

The hedgehogs in the next pic are mittens and they’re so gorgeous and soft. I wore them when we had our wander down to the harbour and they kept me so warm and snug. The munchkin bought me the hedgehog stress ball which I’m sure will be very useful when pondering tricky plot points.

The necklace (shown larger below) is adorable. It’s a hedgehog but its tummy is made from Whitby jet which combines my two worlds of Hedgehog Hollow and Whitsborough Bay in one necklace (as Whitsborough Bay is based on a mix of Scarborough, Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay). What a gorgeous idea!

The lovely hedgehog notepad above was from my friend Liz (who also sent me some delicious mint chocolates) and there’s a Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow key ring from one of the fabulous admins, Marie, at The Friendly Book Community Facebook group (who also sent me a large bar of Galaxy – nom nom). I’ll post a bigger pic of that (the key ring, not the Galaxy!) further down as it’s fabulous. It was very unexpected and extremely kind.

Hubby also bought me the latest Westlife CD (I’m a bit old school and enjoy CDs for my favourites) and a lovely starfish necklace and heart one… although I admit I picked those myself when we visited York Christmas Markets.

The face masks were sent in a care package with some tea and coffee from Fiona, one of the lovely admins in Heidi Swain and Friends – A Facebook Book Club – which was very kind of her and the lovely friendship heart hanger is from my good friend, Write Romantic and Boldwood Buddy Jo Bartlett.

My bestie, Sharon Booth, and I always exchange Christmas gifts and she is so much better than me at buying them. This lovely selection were so fabulous that I have to up my game next year as mine for her weren’t anywhere near as good.

I’ve added a larger picture of the wooden shop below. Isn’t it gorgeous? In All You Need is Love, part of the story is centred around a specialist teddy bear shop on Castle Street called Bear With Me. Main character Jemma and her mum make artist bears under the brand name of Ju-Sea Bears for her mum and Ju-Sea Jem bears for the smaller ones Jemma makes. The shop was inspired by my own teddy bear shop called Bear’s Pad and Ju-Sea Bears was the brand I used for the handful of bears I made.

Sharon has been building up a collection of these wooden businesses for a new series she’s working on for release next year and I’ve been admiring the photos on her Insta account but nothing quite beats seeing one up close. They’re amazing. I may need to start a Castle Street collection!

A huge thank you to everyone for these gorgeous gifts. I feel you all know me so well as these are simply perfect.

Tomorrow I will place my first entry in my ‘Happy Jar’ from Sharon. Absolutely love that idea and, as I’m celebrating a very big birthday in 4 months’ time, I hope that I have a lot to celebrate in 2022.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

I’m in conversation with Jo Bartlett tonight

Today is the publication day for the second book in the fabulous Cornish Midwives series by Jo Bartlett: A Summer Wedding for the Cornish Midwife. Huge congratulations, Jo.

The first book in the series – The Cornish Midwife – is Jo’s first release with Boldwood Books and is performing exceptionally well, still sitting high in the Kindle Top 100 two and a half months on from release, having racked up a Top 10 position. So exciting!

Book 2 looks set to follow. At the time of writing, it’s already #8 in the Apple UK Romance category chart and just outside the Top 300 overall Kindle chart but will rise as the day goes on as it’s usually later in the day when a book gets its highest publication day position on Kindle.

The series – which is planned at seven books – tells the story of the midwives based at the community midwifery unit in the fictional Cornish village of Port Agnes and the books are lovely, warm stories about love, friendship, family and community in a stunning setting. I’ve put blurbs and links below my signature.

I’ve read both and absolutely loved them. This is a quote from me about the first:

‘I love second chance stories. I love returning home stories. So a book combining both is an absolute winner for me. The Cornish Midwife is simply gorgeous. Stunning setting, wonderful characters, and oozing with warmth. A triumph from Jo Bartlett and a cracking start to what promises to be a fabulous series’

I don’t normally celebrate publication days of other authors on my blog (as I’d never get any writing done if I did!) but there’s a special reason for this one. It’s because Jo and I have a joint event planned today…

I’m very excited to be ‘in conversation’ with Jo tonight on a Facebook Live. The session will be hosted on Book and Tonic’s Facebook page which you can find here and will start at 6pm GMT this evening (Thursday 1st July) and last up to an hour.

I’ll be asking Jo questions about her writing journey and the series itself but it will be more of a conversation than an interview so I’ll be sharing some snippets too.

I’m really looking forward to this as, not only are Jo and I publishing buddies, we’re friends in real life. As to how we know each other, all will be revealed during our conversation so I hope you can join us.

We’ll be inviting questions from the ‘audience’ during the Facebook Live and anyone who asks a question then will be put into a draw to win a copy of the paperback of A Summer Wedding for the Cornish Midwife.

If you can’t attend live, then you will be able to catch up on the recording on Book and Tonic’s Facebook page, although wouldn’t be able to ask questions/go into the draw.

We’ll be reuniting on Monday 6th September where the roles will be reversed and Jo will be question-master, helping me celebrate the publication of Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café. The book itself is out on 31st August but we’re waiting until after the distraction of the school holidays to host the Live.

Really hope you can join us tonight. Happy publication day to Jo!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

THE CORNISH MIDWIFE

A fresh start…

Midwife Ella Mehenick left the small Cornish town of Port Agnes for London and never looked back. But when her seemingly perfect life crashes down around her, there’s only one place she can heal her battered heart – the place she once called home.  

A new arrival…

Ella is quickly welcomed into the small community midwife team and loves her new job caring for mums and their precious babies – it’s what she does best! But being back also means facing ex-flame Dan Ferguson…the first man to break her heart. 

A second chance at love?

Dan is still as gorgeous as ever, but he’s never forgiven Ella for leaving. And now she’s back it’s clear that there is unfinished business between them. As Ella settles into her new/old life, she can’t stop the memories of how she once loved Dan so completely – and maybe never stopped.

Maybe coming home to Cornwall is Ella’s chance to love again…

Meet The Cornish Midwives of Port Agnes- where community, friendship and love are always delivered.

An uplifting and escapist read, perfect for fans of Christie Barlow, Jessica Redland and Holly Martin!

This book was previously published as Return to Port Agnes.

You can buy it here on Kindle UK but it’s also available as an eBook for Apple and Kobo, as a physical audio, for download, to stream on Spotify and as paperback, hardback and large print formats. It’s also available for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

A SUMMER WEDDING FOR THE CORNISH MIDWIFE

It’s wedding day in Port Agnes!

The venue is booked, the dress is picked, and Senior Midwife Anna Jones only has to say ‘I Do!’ to the man she loves! Theirs might have been a whirlwind romance, but Brae Penrose is everything Anna dreamed her husband would be and she can’t wait to start a new life with him…and if they are lucky, maybe even a family of their own. 

But as the big day approaches disaster strikes, and their perfect day looks destined not to happen at all. Anna’s certain it’s a sign to slow things down.

The other midwives won’t hear of Anna and Brae postponing their big day, but can they and the community of Port Agnes pull together to make sure the Penrose summer wedding goes off without a hitch?

Meet The Cornish Midwives of Port Agnes- where community, friendship and love are always delivered.

An uplifting and escapist read, perfect for fans of Christie Barlow, Jessica Redland and Holly Martin!

This book was previously published as Christmas with the Cornish Midwives.

You can buy it here on Kindle UK but it’s also available as an eBook for Apple and Kobo, as a physical audio, for download, to stream on Spotify and as paperback, hardback and large print formats. It’s also available for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Reflections on June

It’s the final day of June so time to look back over the past month under my usual headings…

I started the month reading an ARC (advanced reader copy) of Escape to Honeysuckle Hall by Rebecca Raisin which I’d been asked by her publisher if I’d like to read. Many years ago, I read several of Rebecca’s books while on holiday and had really enjoyed them but then I got out of the habit of reading and didn’t read any more (not that that stopped me adding a few to my Kindle!) I do enjoy a new beginnings story and this is one of those with a beautiful setting and some interesting characters. You can find the blurb and pre-order the book here.

I then moved to Cornwall (not physically!) to catch up with the Cornish Midwife series penned by my good friend, Jo Bartlett, who is now also with the same publisher as me: Boldwood Books. I had already read the first book in the series The Cornish Midwife before Jo joined Boldwood but, like my backlist, it had some edits before being released as a Boldwood publication. I could see from the blurb that a particular plot point had changed so I did a speedy read through it to immerse myself back into the story and see the changes before moving on to book 2.

A Summer Wedding for the Cornish Midwife is out tomorrow and I should finish reading it tonight. Both books are fabulous – full of warmth, a gorgeous setting and fabulous characters. You can find them on Jo’s author page on Amazon here although they’re also available in a stack of other formats/from other retailers.

If anyone has read any of Jo’s books or is interested in finding out more, I’m in conversation with Jo on the Book and Tonic Facebook page tomorrow night (1st July) at 6pm GMT celebrating publication day and talking all things writing so hope you can join us.

You can find the Book and Tonic Facebook page here and, if you can’t join in on the day, you will be able to catch up from that page afterwards.

Another month with very little viewing. The munchkin and I are still working through Castle and we’re now up to season 5. Still loving it.

Last weekend we had a family film night and watched Armageddon. It’s the first time the munchkin (age 14) has seen it and she loved it, although it made her cry. I remember seeing it at the cinema. Such a good film. I’m thinking we maybe need to introduce her to some other disaster movies like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.

I’ve been very busy with writing in June. Right at the start of the month, I returned my second round of edits on my next brand new book, Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café. My editor loved the changes and it has since been through the copy edits and proofreading stage. I’ve done the final read-through so that book is now parked from my end and I’ll look forward to an official cover reveal next month.

Around those editing stages, I’ve been working on the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow book: A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow. I had a bit of a slow start with it because I was struggling to get some answers for some of my research and I had a bit of a panic because the third book, Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow, has had such phenomenal feedback and I was feeling the pressure of the bar being set very high. I wrote a blog post about it here.

I found I was procrastinating loads – something I’ve been aware of for the past year since becoming a full-time author – so I decided I would try to break the bad habits I’d fallen into and see if I could blitz a book in a fortnight. I wrote a blog post about it here initially wondering if it was possible to write a book in a week if everything else was ignored. I didn’t think it would be feasible to do that but figured it would be good to even manage to write half a book in a week and maybe get to the end within a fortnight. As for whether I’ve managed that, I’ll let you know next week when the fortnight is up so watch this space!

My big celebration this month was reaching one year as a full-time author on 8th June. Earning enough money from writing to be able to leave the day job was always my goal so it’s been wonderful being able to live the dream for a year. My heartfelt thanks to all the amazing readers who have made that happen.

We had a cover reveal for my final backlist book – Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop – and I had lots of positive comments about the gorgeous cover. It’s out on 3rd August and you can pre-order it here. It should be £1.99 but it’s only £1.59 on Amazon just now so, if you haven’t read the original version (Charlee and the Chocolate Shop), you might want to grab a bargain now.

I’m not a fan of clothes shopping, not helped by being overweight and there being very few shops where I can find clothes. However, every so often, I have to submit to letting the munchkin drag me round Primark. In the half-term holiday at the start of this month, we had a day out to Monks Cross which is a small retail park (with a Primark) just outside York, an hour’s drive from us. We made a day of it and grabbed some lunch while we were there. While I can’t say I loved the shopping, it felt like a small step towards some sort of normality.

The next day, we went over to my parents’ house for a BBQ with my family. I have two brothers who are both married with two girls each and we hadn’t seen any of them since Christmas 2019 so it was lovely to see everyone again and a relief that the weather was good so we could get together outside.

The munchkin started going to Rangers last month (for Guides once they’ve turned 14) and decided she wanted to do her Young Leader’s qualification. She’s also started her Duke of Edinburgh through school and needs to do a volunteering unit as part of that. She figured she could combine the two and arranged to help out at a Rainbow unit (age 5-6) in a village on the other side of Scarborough to us called Scalby. As it’s a bit of a drive across town and Rainbows is only on for an hour, hubby and I decided we might as well drop her off and go for a wander with the dog. I’d never really explored this village before and it was lovely to look around, fantasising about being able to afford a property there (no chance!)

After her second session, we pushed the boat out and went for a meal afterwards, although it was a bit nippy in the beer garden for my liking. The joys of outdoor eating in the UK!

The jaunts didn’t end there. I attended a talk as part of the Books by the Beach Festival in Scarborough. It was Rowan Coleman talking about her writing of The Brontë Mysteries as Bella Ellis after which I took the munchkin down to South Bay for an ice cream although it was heaving down there (bit too scary for me). I went on a retreat run by Rowan a few weeks ago and we arranged to meet up on the evening for a meal.

I went to Beverley and spent an afternoon with my bestie and fellow-author Sharon Booth. Four and a half hours whizzed by over food and chat and it was time to go home all too soon. Sharon and I used to meet up roughly fortnightly and we managed to squeeze in a September get-together between lockdowns but it was so good to see her again face to face. If you haven’t checked out Sharon’s amazing books, you can find them here.

I also had a hair cut and colour this month. I had decided to go grey and had my hair lightened last time to make it less obvious, leaving the roots grey, but I decided I didn’t like it and wasn’t ready, so I’m back to fully coloured and feel so much better for it!

I had a meal out with my mother in law and one of Mark’s sisters and that was the end of my planned outings. Then we had an unplanned and not so pleasant one. The munchkin texted last week to say she was being sent home to self-isolate and could we collect her. Students in her year had been sent home in groups over the previous few days due to a high number of Covid cases and she was in the third batch. Then the whole year was sent home. Then the whole school closed! As she was in one of the groups specifically asked to isolate, we were instructed that we all had to have PCR tests. Thankfully we all tested negative. Hubby and I are double-jabbed so we hoped we would be, but it was a relief that the munchkin hadn’t picked anything up. She does lateral flow tests every couple of days too.

So, other than the last unexpected trip out, it has been a busy month and it has been so lovely to be able to talk about going out after months of having very little to write in this section. I do feel a little on edge when in crowds but I’m more worried about the munchkin than I am about me now. She says they’re going to get vaccinated at school in September but I’d love it if it could roll forwards. The new variants that keep appearing are a concern.

Hope you had a great June and wishing you a fabulous July.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I recommend some gorgeous Christmas books

I have a confession to make. I may have written three Christmas novels and also covered the Christmas period in other stories but, until I became a published author, I’d only ever read one Christmas book! It may seem odd that I’ve therefore written several Christmas books but the reason I hadn’t read many was that, sadly, my first Christmas read was disappointing.

I remember browsing Waterstones about ten years ago and there was this table covered in Christmas reads. They looked so irresistible with their reds and greens and snowy covers and I selected one by an author whose name I recognised although I’d never read anything by her. I started to read it but it didn’t quite capture my interest and I didn’t get very far. Perhaps it was me. Perhaps I didn’t have enough time to get into it with so much going on in the run-up to Christmas. So I decided to try again the following year.

The following year, it didn’t fare much better. It took the third year before I got through it but it was a struggle. I’m not going to name the author or book as that would be unfair but instead of being the uplifting read I was promised, it was quite depressing and it put me off.

But a few years later, a friend of mine – Jo Bartlett – wrote A Holly Bay Christmas and my faith in Christmas books was restored. I think I’d just picked badly with my first Christmas read. Jo’s story is gorgeous and uplifting and simply fabulous and she’s written several Christmas books since then, all of which are lovely and highly recommended: The Gift of Christmas Yet To Come, Hope’s Cornish Christmas, A Song for St Nicholas and The Christmas Shop at Central Park. On my reading plans for this week is her latest release, The Last Christmas Kiss. You can find Jo Bartlett’s Amazon author page here.

Inspired by Jo’s first Christmassy read, I wrote my first Christmas book: Charlee and the Chocolate Shop. You can buy it here now but followers of my work will know that all of my back catalogue has been re-edited and re-issued by my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, and Charlee’s story will be the final one to get the Boldwood polish and will be re-released in August 2021 so you might want to wait until then for a fresh version.

That year, I also wrote a book called Callie’s Christmas Wish which was a sequel to a novella called Raving About Rhys. Both stories have been seamlessly combined to make one full-length novel – Making Wishes at Bay View – which is the first book in the ‘Welcome to Whisborough Bay’ series. It spans roughly a year but there is quite a bit of action around Christmas and New Year so, while not strictly a Christmas book, it will give the Christmas feels.

The following year, I wrote Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes (Kindle link here) and Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Café which have both been freshly edited and re-released this year through Boldwood, the latter under the new title of Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Café (Kindle link here).

I’m really looking forward to diving into some Christmas books across the rest of December, including a few from fellow Boldwood authors but I thought I’d share a review of some of the Christmas releases from this year that I’ve already loved…

SHARON BOOTH

Sharon is a really good friend of mine and I’ve read and loved every single one of her books. She writes beautiful stories of ‘love, laughter and happy ever after’ set in Yorkshire and there are several Christmas ones: Christmas at the Country Practice, Merry Christmas Bramblewick and Christmas at Cuckoo Nest Cottage are the 2nd, 4th and 6th books respectively in her gorgeous six-strong Bramblewick series. Each is a standalone story featuring a different main character but the whole series is fabulous so I’d recommend reading them all!

Saving Mr Scrooge is a full-length novel and a nod to the Dickens classic, as you can probably guess from the title. It’s the start of a Moorland Heroes series but each book is standalone.

Belle, Book and Christmas Candle is the brilliant start to the Castle Clair trilogy and set over Christmas. You’ll definitely want to read the whole series. It’s great fun!

But the book I’m going to focus on here is Sharon’s 2020 release: Christmas With Cary. My review is below. This is the third in a series called ‘Home for Christmas’ but all three books are only connected by the theme of being home for Christmas. There are no recurring characters or settings so they can be read completely out of order without any spoilers. Baxter’s Christmas Wish and The Other Side of Christmas are the first two books and both are wonderful.

Christmas With Cary

Having read (and loved) every single one of Sharon’s books, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of this on my Kindle and was hooked from the first page. I was instantly on Molly’s side, rooting for her to make some pretty enormous decisions about her future … and her past.

I could feel her trepidation as she moved into her holiday cottage facing Christmas alone and was delighted as she overcame each hurdle and started to find herself again.

I’m not giving anything away when I say this is about seeking a second chance with Cary – the one who got away – and, over the course of the book, we find out more about Cary and Molly’s past and why they didn’t quite make it. This is beautifully fed into the present-day storyline and is really easy to follow.

Cary is named after the movie star of old, Cary Grant, and I wondered if my lack of familiarity with him or his films might hinder my enjoyment or understanding of the story but it absolutely didn’t. The chapters are all named after films and very cleverly linked but you absolutely don’t need to know the films to follow this touch of brilliance. On an aside, I may now need to seek me out some Cary Grant films as he sounds divine!

Back to the book, though, it really is a delight. It’s such a beautiful and moving story and I did have tears in my eyes at several points, hoping that Molly would finally get the Christmas she deserved. As to whether she does, you’ll have to read it to find out but I would definitely encourage to you to read it. It’s an absolutely gorgeous warm hug of a book.

You can visit Sharon Booth’s Amazon author page here and specifically purchase Christmas With Cary here.

SAMANTHA TONGE

Sam writes lovely heartwarming stories and I’ve read and loved several of them. I’m hoping to read Sam’s Christmas release from last year – The Christmas Calendar Girls – this month as I didn’t quite manage to squeeze it in last year. Her 2020 release is The Winter We Met.

The Winter We Met

This is the story of Jess Jagger, toy shop manager, who sits in the wrong seat when flying back from a toy show – a move which brings Nik into her life. Nik’s family run a toy manufacturing company from Australia but it’s struggling and he’s on a research trip to see what’s new and popular in toy stores around Europe with the hope of injecting some new ideas into the business. Jess invites him to visit Under the Tree – the shop she manages – and they soon become firm friends.

Jess’s flatmate, Oliver, doesn’t seem too enamoured by Jess’s new friendship and is convinced that Nik isn’t the person he claims to be, especially when befriends the residents of the care home where Jess’s gran lives. Oliver becomes even more suspicious when Nik gets involved in a plan to throw a last Christmas party before the care home closes – shock news for everyone and awful timing – and the residents are separated into new homes.

I have a real fondness for intergenerational stories when the elderly characters are conveyed in a non-stereotypical way and Samantha Tonge handles this beautifully with some really interesting personalities. I love the friendships that are painted between the residents and how devastated they are at the news of Willow Court’s closure, and also the friendships with the staff and the families of the residents.

My favourite moment involves pebbles. I won’t say any more than that. I thought it was beautiful and poignant. I also loved the way the community pulled together to give the residents a memorable final Christmas party.

As for whether Oliver is right to be suspicious about Nik, you’ll just have to read The Winter We Met to find out for yourself!

This is a heart-warming story filled with lovely sentiments about what the spirit of Christmas is and the importance of family and friendships. Awww.

You can buy it here.

VICTORIA WALTERS

Victoria writes lovely heartwarming stories and started a series set in the Scottish Highlands last year. I haven’t read the first two but I read Hopeful Hearts at Glendale Hall this year which is the third book in the series. I’m going to go back and read the previous two as I loved the setting and Victoria’s writing.

Hopeful Hearts at Glendale Hall

A gorgeous feel-good story about embracing the unexpected and finding your place in life. With a stunning setting and fabulous cast of characters, I’m already looking forward to the next one. 

There are two books in the series before this one which I hadn’t already read but there was enough back story in Hopeful Hearts at Glendale Hall for me to follow what had happened in those. This book therefore can definitely be picked up now and thoroughly enjoyed. I’d now like to go back and read the other two as my interest has definitely been piqued and, of course, a return to the stunning Scottish Highlands would be lovely.

You can buy it here.

I’ll post some more reviews for the Christmas reads I manage before the end of the year.

Hope all the Christmas preparations are going well.

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

 

 

I’m so excited! I just can’t hide it …

Two weeks ago today, I was sitting at home, surrounded by soggy tissues, reeling in the news that I’d just been made redundant. Despite that little black cloud, this last two weeks has been absolutely amazing. To quote the Sister Sledge song, I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it …

_MG_5012For many years now, I’ve dreamed of becoming a published writer. I’ve dreamed of holding a paperback in my hands that I’ve written. I’ve dreamed of reading five-star reviews written by people I don’t know rather than friends and family. And all of those dreams have come true. Eek!

Other than the slight hiccup I mentioned in the last blog post where my books didn’t materialize in time for my launch party, I’ve loved every minute of the experience.

Some highlights I’d like to pick out include:

  • My 8-year-old walking into my bedroom on launch day and singing “Happy Launch Day to you …” (to the tune of Happy Birthday to You). She’s been so proud and excited, it’s quite touching to observe
  • My novella, Raving About Rhys, peaking at number 249 in the free Kindle chart and number 34 in romantic comedy. I never imagined getting that high. I know it was down to a free promotion, but it was still an exciting moment
  • The amazing messages of support I received from friends and family on Facebook when I was really upset about my books not being sent in time for the launch party, reassuring me that they were just so thrilled and excited for me and didn’t mind the lack of book. I’m so grateful to each and every one of them
  • _MG_4988Some amazing four and five star reviews from people I don’t know. Here’s a selection of quotes from Searching for Steven reviews:
    • “I am now officially a fan of Jessica Redland and can compare her with authors like Sophie Kinsella, Jenny Colgan and Claudia Carroll. Here’s to another great women’s fiction writer on the block…” Bleachhouselibrary. Wow! To be compared to some of my favourite authors … I’m lost for words!
    • “This book has a narrative that flows and keeps the reader intrigued, you feel for the characters in a way that they feel like your family and your there beside there with them. Fantastic Debut” Em
    • “I liked this book so much. It’s a wonderful, heartwarming story … Searching for Steven is a book that will put a smile on your face and happiness in your heart. It’s a definite must-read, because of the original story, the sympathetic characters, the beautiful setting and most of all the magical feeling of true love. I liked the creative aspect and the quest to find the one. This is a lovely feel-good book and one of the best romantic stories I’ve read in quite a while. It’s a light, cheerful quality read that I enjoyed very much” Suzanne Lavender
    • “Perfect for the beach of for fans of a Jill Mansell style” Miss S A Coles. Jill Mansell was my inspiration for writing romantic comedy as she was the first romcom writer whose work I read. Again, wow!
  • Raving About Rhys has gathered a phenomenal seventeen five-star reviews and three four-star ones which makes me smile so much. Here’s one of my favourites by Nic, although there are loads of other wonderful ones I could easily have chosen: “Loved this! Loved the style of writing and can easily relate to the characters. I couldn’t put it down. I ordered the next book Searching for Steven and I’m loving that too! Can’t wait for the next one! I’m thinking I have a new favourite authoress 🙂 Thank you Jessica!” Awwww. That’s just so lovely! I’m so thrilled that people I don’t know are reading my writing and loving it. And they care enough about it to take the time to write a review. It really is touching.
  • Having my box of books arrive a couple of days ago. Hubby is a talented photographer and he set up a little photo shoot in the conservatory which was fun. What an amazing feeling to be surrounded by piles of my books!

_MG_5008The one thing that has surprised me about the whole experience is how relaxed I am about sales figures and chart positions. I check on Amazon every day or so, out of curiosity, to see my chart positions but I’m not obsessed with it. I know from other writing friends that it can be easy to get fixated on them, but I’ve realised there’s no point. Sometimes a book can be at position number 12,000 and, the next day, it’s dropped 35,000 places. One bit of advice from my lovely writing pal, Jo Bartlett, has really stuck with me throughout the process and I think this is what makes me so calm about it: It’s long-haul. Those who appear to become an overnight success probably aren’t really an overnight success and they’re few and far between. For most of us, it will take several books and several years before we can make a full-time career out of writing … if at all. And that’s fine. Why? Because I write for the love of it; not because I want to be rich and famous. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a bestseller (or several!) but I write because I love it and I have stories I want to share. I couldn’t imagine life without writing. As far as sales figures go, I can’t obsess about these because I don’t have direct access to that information. This is probably a good thing.

It’s my last day in the day job tomorrow as my company have granted me gardening leave. I’m looking forward to having a couple of weeks off to edit book 2, work a bit more on book 3, and probably do some gardening too as there’s a serious dandelion situation going on out there! I’m expecting positive job news so I’m not worried about the loss of the day job so I’m in a good place work-wise. I’m in an even better place book-wise. I really am living the dream and want to enjoy every single moment of this. I read an interesting article the other day about how it’s really easy for writers to forget to celebrate their successes under the pressure of sales figures, chart positions, editing and so on and we should really take a moment to celebrate the many little successes, whether that be writing a great scene, finishing a chapter, getting a great review, or writing a well-structured blog post. Raise that metaphorical glass of champers and smile because, fellow writers, you’ve achieved your dreams and that’s a truly amazing thing 🙂

Working on one novel at a time? Pah! Let’s go for three and a novella!

When I set up my writing blog, my intention was to post at least once a week, preferably twice. I’m lucky if I manage twice a month at the moment. I do have a good excuse for the lack of posts, but I’ll come onto that shortly.

P1050559My good writing friend, Sharon Booth, is currently posting on her writing blog on a daily basis (every day except Sunday) and it puts me to shame. However, there’s also a good reason for this. You see, Sharon is taking part in the A-Z Blogging Challenge where bloggers blog every day (except Sundays) for a month, working their way through the alphabet in order. When Sharon first mentioned that she was going to do this, my first reaction was that it was a crazy idea. Where on earth would you get the time and inspiration from in order to generate posts for each letter of the alphabet? Sharon’s debut novel, ‘There Must Be An Angel’ (click on the link to buy it) had just been released, and she saw this as a great opportunity to promote aspects of her novel. What a great idea! Suddenly the A-Z Challenge made sense to me, so much so that I worked out my own alphabet of posts linked to the launch of ‘Searching for Steven’. Sharon had participated in the A-Z Challenge in the month following her launch, but I was going to do mine in the month leading up to the launch of mine. I was quite excited about it.

P1030956Thankfully I got no further than the list of potential posts because I’d completely misunderstood one vital aspect of this Challenge: it was a National Challenge for the month of April and bloggers signed up to it in the same way that writers would sign up to NaNoWriMo for the month of November. Oops! So I’ll hang onto my list of ideas and perhaps sign up to next year’s A-Z Challenge in the run-up to the launch of book 2 instead!

I’m also relieved that I no longer plan to do my own A-Z Challenge in May because, quite honestly, I don’t know when I’d have time to prepare the posts in-between working on three novels and one novella. Surely that’s more than enough for one writer to manage at one time.

Let me explain…

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nMy debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’, will be launched on 3rd June (oh my goodness, that’s only 44 sleeps away!) The MS has been edited, proofread and formatted so I now have the pdf. But there’s one last opportunity for a final read-through before it goes to print. My wonderful publishers, So Vain Books, have said that I don’t have to do the final read-through (as they’ll do one), but I feel that I want to so that I can give a final seal of approval before it goes to print. I’m away with my day job for four nights this week – lots of alone time in a hotel which is perfect for reading – so I’ve committed to having that done by the end of the weekend.

My second novel, ‘Getting Over Gary’, will be released in 2016. This is the sequel to Steven, although it can also be read as a stand-alone book. I’d edited Gary recently, but I felt that I hadn’t quite got there with a particular plot-point and I needed some direction. My lovely writing friend (and publishing company buddy), Jo Bartlett, had offered to do another beta read of it. Sharon had recently read Steven for the first time and also offered to beta read Gary for me. The feedback came back and they both had a couple of suggestions that I wanted to work on. Originally I’d agreed a deadline of end of May to get the MS to So Vain Books. This was well in advance of 2016’s release, but there didn’t seem any point in delaying putting Gary to bed. However, when I received the pdf of Steven, I flicked through to the back where the release of Gary was announced and it struck me that we were missing an opportunity to promote him properly. I had an email conversation with SVB’s Publishing Director, Stephanie, and we agreed that it would be great to include Gary’s blurb or, even better, the first chapter. But SVB would need to read Gary before we could finalise either of these so I’ve been working like crazy over the last week to do the final edit and another read-through. I emailed Gary to Steph last night. I confess I’m slightly nervous about this. What if they don’t like him as much as they loved Steven? Eek!

P1030967My third novel, with a working title (likely to change) of ‘Discovering David’ is the final novel in the trilogy. The plan is to release it in 2017 and you might think this is ages away so why worry about it now, but I want to be able to park the whole trilogy and move onto new stories before the end of the year. As someone who has a full-time day job as well as writing, it’s really important that I try to have several books in hand so that I’m not always trying to write to a deadline that I’d struggle to meet. While Sharon and Jo had Gary, I returned to David, and had got into a bit of a flow with him so I’m keen to return.

Finally, I have a novella on the go! Steph suggested that, as a good way to promote my writing, I might like to consider a short story relating to the trilogy. I knew that the heroine would need to be a minor character from the trilogy so that I didn’t give away any secrets. The obvious character was Callie who is the sister of my hero, Nick, from book 1. She gets married near the start of book 1 and I wanted to tell her story. I’m not known for short, short stories, so I was thinking that this would be more like an eight to twelve thousand word story. The problem is that, when I started writing it, Callie wasn’t content with being a short story. Her personality and her life grew and I suddenly had a twenty-four-thousand word novella on my hands. Oops! I emailed it to Steph with an apology that I’d sort of failed to deliver what we’d discussed. Thankfully, she loved the story – ‘Raving About Rhys’ – and could see great potential in launching a novella instead. Phew! It needs some minor editing as there’s a part of the story that happens a little too quickly (I completely agree). I don’t have the luxury of time, though, as this was meant to be released BEFORE Steven so it needs editing, proof-reading and getting out there fast. So I’ve also committed to returning the new and improved version by the end of the week.

P1050434I’m really excited about the challenge ahead, although I’m also looking ahead to the point when David is finished (hopefully early summer) so that I can relax for a bit. I’ve worked so hard for so long. A typical day for me sees me working until 6.30pm in the day job, getting home, checking social media while my daughter’s in the bath, then doing two to three hours of writing before bed. I try to have one evening off a week, but it doesn’t always happen. Thankfully, hubby understands. He’s self-employed and frequently has work to do himself on an evening, but I do feel that I neglect him so hope to have some office-free time soon.

Although book 4 keeps screaming at me to be written…

By the way, I hope you like the pictures. The official cover-reveal of ‘Searching for Steven’ will be this coming Friday (24th April) so I couldn’t include any images of the book. Instead, I’ve posted some snaps I’ve taken of Scarborough, North Yorkshire (except the one of me, of course, which hubby took) which is the inspiration for the fictional seaside town of Whitsborough Bay where the trilogy is set.

Jessica xx

The End of an Era

Today is 2nd January. Unless you’re celebrating a birthday, this is probably a fairly insignificant date for you; the second day in a row where you write 2014 instead of 2015, the day you awake with a hangover after too many New Year’s Day drinkies, or perhaps even the return to work after a Christmas break. But for many aspiring writers, 2nd January is one of the most significant days in their writing journey because 2nd January is the day they can apply to the RNA’s New Writers Scheme (NWS).

_MG_1520I’d post a link for the benefit of anyone interested but there’s no point because all the places will already have gone. You see, there are only 250 places a year and priority goes to those already on the scheme. However, each year, there are many who dip out. There are those who are celebrating the amazing news of a publishing deal and graduating from the NWS, those who’ve decided to dip out the NWS due to other priorities, and even those who’ve called time on their writing dreams. Hopefully the former are far greater than the latter.

This time three years ago, my writing journey changed course forever when I received the best email in the world ever: the one that told me I’d managed to secure a place on the NWS. This was a big thing for me. HUGE! Because I’d applied the year before and had missed out. It was 2011 and applications were via snail mail. I printed off the application form the moment it appeared online, completed it and posted it first class in the first post of the day. Except it took four days to reach its destination due to heavy snow blanketing parts of the country. And, by that time, the places had already gone. I was devastated. It’s funny how things turn out because 2011 proved to be a very challenging year for me. I was unexpectedly restructured out of the job I loved into a job I’d done before and, because I was the only experienced person in a new team that had been assembled, I ended up doing four jobs and working 14-16 hour days for several months. I had no time to write. I declared that enough was enough and left that job in the November and started writing again around my new job (which didn’t consist of silly hours). I resolved to try for the NWS again. To my relief, they’d changed the application system to an online registration of interest opening at midnight on 2nd January.

P1050687After a scary moment involving our internet going down and me making provisional arrangements to go to my in-laws just in case, the system came back on and I prepared my email and waited. The countdown was excruciating. Seconds ticked by like minutes and minutes felt like hours. Then my computer screen indicated 00:00 and I clicked “send”. Then panicked. What if midnight on the dot wasn’t good enough and it needed to be after midnight i.e. 1 minute past? I sent another email just in case. The organisers probably thought I was a right numpty sending two emails a minute apart but all I cared about was securing my place. And when I received my email later that day to confirm my place, it was worth it.

I’ve submitted a full manuscript for three years: 2012 and 2013 saw the submission of the same MS, ‘Searching for Steven’ as I made significant tweaks to it based on my feedback from my 2012 critique. 2014 saw the submission of the sequel, ‘Getting Over Gary’. This year I won’t be submitting.

It feels a little strange knowing that the deadline for being part of 2015’s NWS has well and truly passed and that the new “class of 2015” will have (probably) heard already that they’ve secured a place (or not). Before today’s deadline, it didn’t feel quite so real that I’d decided to give up my place.

So why did I give up my place? Securing a three-book publishing deal would normally mean graduating from the NWS and becoming a full RNA member. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for me. The RNA have rules about membership and one of these is that a publishing company must have been in existence for two years to be recognised by them. My publisher is new so isn’t yet recognised for full membership. I could have remained with the RNA as an NWS member for another year and become a full member in 2016 when So Vain Books will have been round long enough to meet the criteria but I made the decision that I didn’t want to stay in the NWS for another year when (a) I could release that valuable place to somebody else and give them the same opportunities I’ve enjoyed, (b) I could save myself the membership fee and put it towards a writing workshop instead, and (c) I’d still have the valuable support network of The Write Romantics.

_MG_6896The NWS and RNA have given me so much over the three years I’ve been a member. I’ve set up The Write Romantics with fellow-NWS member Jo Bartlett and the support, knowledge and encouragement from that group has directly secured my publishing deal. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll recall I got two offers. The first was from a US company who Jo encouraged me to apply to when I was about to give up and So Vain Books, with whom I accepted a publishing deal, were highlighted to us by Alys who’d spotted an advert. Jo submitted to them and secured a deal but I didn’t submit as I wasn’t sure my book was a fit. Jo spoke with the publishing director about my book and I was invited to submit as a result. I would never have received either of these deals without the WRs and I’d never have met the WRs without the NWS. And I’d never have  been part of the Winter Tales charity anthology of which I’m incredibly proud.

Two of the three reports I’ve received (the two for ‘Searching for Steven’) have been incredibly helpful and have helped shape it into the book that it is today (the one that received two offers!) The review of ‘Getting Over Gary’ wasn’t so helpful but I wonder whether part of that was because it was a sequel and my reader really needed to have read Steven first. Although I could have paid the extra fee and stayed in the NWS this year, I didn’t really want to submit the 3rd book in the trilogy and receive a critique that suffered because the reader was trying to read book 3 as a stand-alone book when it’s designed not to be stand-alone.

Good luck to all those who are continuing with the NWS and all the best to those who have secured a place for the first time this year (or maybe re-joined after a break). I think it’s the right decision to have dipped out this year and given my place to someone else although it’s a shame that this means dipping out of the RNA too. This doesn’t need to be forever, though, as I may well re-join when I’m eligible for full membership.

Thank you to all my readers, the organisers, and the RNA for playing a vital part in making my publishing dreams come true. I can’t thank you enough xx

A Little Christmas Reading

Every Christmas I take time off work. Typically I like to have Christmas Eve off right through to New Year and, if there’s only a day or two after New Year’s Day (like this year), I like to add them to the end of my break. A week and a half off work. Perfect. What a lot of time to spend relaxing and reading.

Except that never really happens.

P1050958I have visions of spending a relaxing family Christmas Eve watching festive films and eating chocolate. I wish! Typically there’s some last minute Christmas card distribution, a trip down to the market to buy the Christmas dinner vege, and the 4.00pm Christingle Service with my Brownie Pack. I take the munchkin with me and the girls are asked to dress as kings, shepherds or angels which is lovely. Only the munchkin never seems to get ready on time, or has a last-minute costume change, or we can’t find something so it’s a fraught panic to get out of the house and arrive before the Brownies. But, once we’re there, it’s fabulous. We have a good turn-out from the Brownies each year with around 15 or so of my pack of 24 joining us. There’s something very magical about being surrounded by excited 7-10 year olds, dressed in their Christmas costumes, singing carols by candlelight on Christmas Eve. Despite the getting-out-the-house annual panic, it’s one of my favourite events of the year. I’m wondering if the nativity can top last year’s. I can’t remember exactly what happened but it pretty much descended into disorganised chaos and I got the giggles. I often get the giggles. I know I shouldn’t when trying to be the role model for a group of children but, hey, if you can’t laugh at Christmas, when can you?

I’d best return to the point of this blog post which was about reading. So, every year I have these great intentions of doing a stack of reading. I’ve noticed more and more Christmassy books appearing over the last decade or so and they always look so enticing on the shelves (or the virtual shelves on Amazon). I’d never, ever bought a Christmas novel but I was drawn to one six years ago. The snowy cover enticed me, the blurb assured me it was my kind of story and, although I wasn’t familiar with the author, I made the purchase. But here’s what happened:

_MG_6905Year 1 – the book came home from the bookstore, got put on the shelf, got forgotten about

Year 2 – I picked the book up and read one chapter but Christmas chaos ruled and, by the time I picked up the book again three months later, I’d forgotten what happened in chapter 1 and I decided it was no longer the time of year to read about Christmas so it went back on the shelf

Year 3 – Exactly the same as Year 2 except I think I managed two chapters this time!

Year 4 – I had gritty determination to conquer my Christmas novel and, although I struggled to find time during the day to relax and read, I made sure I read some each evening. I actually finished the book before the end of January but, unfortunately, I didn’t like it! What an anti-climax! I was absolutely determined to plough through it because of the epic number of attempts to read it but I didn’t warm to the heroine, I didn’t really believe the story, and I was hugely disappointed by the ending. Needless to say, I’m not going to share the name of the book or author. Perhaps it was just me. Perhaps my battle to read it had already clouded my feelings and I was never going to enjoy it. Poor book

Year 5 – I was excited to discover a Christmas book in my RNA Conference goody bag. I decided I’d start this one much earlier so that I’d be well into it by the time Christmas itself hit and I’d make myself find a few snatched moments across the holidays to bury my nose in it. I managed about three chapters but then Christmas hit and we dug out a Christmas jigsaw we’d bought the year before but never opened. The munchkin likes jigsaws and I’ve helped her complete children’s ones over the years but I haven’t done a complicated jigsaw since I was a child and, here we were, presented with a 1000-piece scene from a toy shop at Christmas. We lay it out on the coffee table and all joined in. I had no idea that it would be so hard or that it would become an addiction; one that caused hours to whizz by without me noticing. The Christmas book is still on my bedside shelf with the marker in at the start of chapter 4. And, guess what? Yep, I can’t remember what’s happened so far.

This year, however, I’m already ahead of myself. Because this year, I’ve discovered the wonder of the novella. If I’m honest, I hadn’t actually heard of a novella until last summer. In my mind, there were novels and there were short stories and I had no idea of a concept that existed in-between and may I say what a wonderful concept it is.

As a writer, I should read. I know I should. It’s research. It’s enjoyment. But as a writer who also has a full-time job, a Brownie pack to run, goes to bootcamp 3 mornings a week, and has a family, time really is a struggle. I hardly ever watch TV as evenings are my writing time. I’m trying to get into the habit of going to bed a smidge earlier and reading before sleep, even if only a chapter. The novella has helped massively because these are stories that are long enough to develop characters, make you care about them, and tell a decent story, yet they’re short enough to be read across just a few evenings. Perfect for the person with no time.

The fact that I’ve read three Christmas-themed novellas already and we’re still a few days off Christmas Day speaks volumes. Ok, so I cheated and I actually read one of them over half term in October whilst on my holidays, but it was still a novella set at Christmas and I did go on to read the other two in the series.

So, here’s my lowdown:

The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come by Jo Bartlett

51RNIeU+KiL._AA160_Even if Jo wasn’t a fellow-Write Romantic and great friend, I would still be raving about this book because it’s gorgeous. Set in the fictional St Nicholas Bay (where I want to move right now!), it spans across a whole year, starting and ending with Christmas, and leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. I can’t recommend this novella enough. And it seems I’m not the only one; 15 x 5-star reviews agree!

Here’s the blurb:

The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come is a novella that spans two Christmases and one woman’s quest to complete a family with a missing piece.

School-teacher Kate Harris is about to turn thirty-four and suddenly the tick-tock of her biological clock is almost deafening. Facing another Christmas without a longed for child in her life, it’s time to take action.

With the support of her closest friends, in the close-knit small town of St Nicholas Bay, she decides to go it alone. But in a town where Christmas is big business all year round, and it’s rumoured that Charles Dickens wrote some of A Christmas Carol, it turns out Santa Claus isn’t the only one with mysterious powers.

Should Kate listen to a voice from beyond the grave telling her to slow down and wait for her real fate to be revealed, or follow her heart and find the missing pieces of her family in a way she’d never imagined?

Holly’s Christmas Kiss by Alison May

61JIt0EQtvL._AA160_This Christmas Kisses novella was out last Christmas but I only downloaded it this year and I’m glad I did. From a wedding to an airport to snowy Scotland, this is another warm and fuzzy read that will leave you smiling. I’m off to download the second Christmas Kisses novella right now, Cora’s Christmas Kiss, as I think I’ve time to squeeze in one more before Christmas Day!

Here’s the blurb:

Happy Holidays? Not for Michelle…

Holly Michelle Jolly hates Christmas and she has a good reason to. Apart from her ridiculously festive name which made her the brunt of jokes at school, tragic and unfortunate events have a habit of happening to her around the holiday season. And this year is no different.

After the flight to her once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination is cancelled, Michelle faces the prospect of a cold and lonely Christmas. That is, until she meets Sean Munro. Sean loves Christmas, and he wants to share the magic with Michelle.

With Sean’s help, can Michelle experience her first happy Christmas, or will their meeting just result in another year of memories that she’d rather forget?

Christmas at The Gingerbread Café by Rebecca Raisin

51JIuTL6nPL._AA160_This is the first in a series of novellas set in Ashford, Connecticut; a small town with lots of small businesses including Lily’s Gingerbread Café. I gobbled up the first three novellas whilst on holiday over half term and am about to download the fourth which is set at Christmas too. Perhaps that’s one for after Alison’s?

Here’s the blurb:

Christmas is the season the Gingerbread Café in Ashford, Connecticut was made for…but owner Lily couldn’t be feeling less merry if she tried. She’s spent another year dreaming of being whisked away on a sleigh-ride for two, but she’s facing festive season alone – again. And, just to give her another reason to feel anything other than candy-cane perky, a new shop across the road has opened… Not only is it selling baked goods, but the owner, with his seriously charming smile, has every girl in town swooning.

But Lily isn’t about to let her business crumble — the Gingerbread Café is the heart of the community, and she’s going to fight for it! This could be the Christmas that maybe, just maybe, all her dreams – even the someone-to-decorate-the-Christmas-tree-with ones – really do come true!

P1060064Of course, there are a stack of other novellas and novels out there. These are just three that I have read and loved and therefore recommend if you want something quick that will make you smile and make you care.

Oh, and Winter Tales: Stories to Warm Your Heart is still available, of course, with all proceeds going to Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust.

Happy reading and Happy Christmas!

Jessica xxx