It’s always extra special when a fixed date event like your birthday or Christmas falls on a weekend (unless, of course, you work on a weekend in which case it’s not quite as special).
This year, fans of Halloween would have been excited about it falling on a Saturday but this Halloween, for obvious reasons, was different and most plans to party will have been scuppered.
As a child, I used to love dressing up for Halloween and trick or treating. I was brought up on a housing development built in the late 60s/early 70s and it was very family friendly so it felt really safe to go wandering round the nearby streets with our torch-filled turnips (I’m not sure if you could even get hold of pumpkins back then) visiting the many neighbours who we knew well, saying hello to their children who were out doing the same.
My husband did something very similar but our daughter hasn’t had the same experience of Halloween that we’ve had. When she was very little, we lived in the town centre and we didn’t know our neighbours. Everyone’s opinions on this will differ but both my husband and I are of the belief that you shouldn’t be knocking on doors of people you don’t know. There could be a vulnerable person behind the door, fearful of who is knocking, and it seems to contradict the ‘stranger danger’ messages from school.
When we moved out of town, we found ourselves living somewhere with very few children so, again, we didn’t really know our neighbours and the same principles applied so she still didn’t go out and about as where would we go?
Then we started going away over the October half-term and this invariably meant we were away on Halloween itself.
She never missed out on dressing up, though. Over the years, she’s dressed up for school or simply for fun and, one year, we did join friends in a nearby village to trick or treat with them … after they said we’d only be going to people they knew well who wouldn’t mind an infiltrator!
She’s carved pumpkins many times and we bought her a spooky gingerbread house this year which she loved decorating (and eating!)
This Halloween turned out to be unexpectedly special for us. My dad got in touch a couple of weeks ago and said he and mum were missing seeing us (a theme for us all this year) and he proposed a series of Halloween barbecues at their house. I have two brothers who are each married with two girls. Under restrictions, we couldn’t meet as one big family unit but one family per day, outside, would stay within the rule of six.
My parents live in the same county as me but North Yorkshire’s the biggest county in the country and it can be up to two hours to get to them if we get stuck behind a slow driver or tractor; a regular occurrence. We therefore only saw them a few times when restrictions lifted over the summer and I haven’t seen my brothers at all.
Our visit was scheduled for Friday and it’s lucky my dad planned it in as we had the announcement on Saturday of England going into lockdown once more and, with the munchkin back at school this week, would have lost our window of opportunity otherwise.
I rummaged in my dressing-up box and found some of my old Halloween costumes for the munchkin and I to change into. I used to be a Brown Owl, running a pack for 7.5 years. We did a few Halloween parties so I had built up a selection of outfits, my favourite being my pink witch’s hat and my highwayman outfit. I’m proud to say I made the cloaks for both outfits and the highwayman’s face covering (way ahead of my time there!) but they weren’t the most demanding of projects.
If somebody had told me last Halloween that I’d be spending this out having a barbecue outside, I’d have laughed at them. However, this is the new world in which we live and we find ways to adapt. It was really quite lovely with the log burner on and LED heating under the parasols. We had a rainy patch where we sheltered under the parasols and a chilly moment after eating when the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the wind picked up but, generally, it was really pleasant.
As for the day itself, hubby and the munchkin watched a horror film while I cleaned the bathroom. Not sure which was the most scary!
If you don’t like being spooked and prefer to stay cosy at Halloween, I did a reading from one of my favourite cosy scenes in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes. You can access it on Facebook here.
Wishing you a fabulous start to November and sending best wishes to those who might struggle with a second lockdown. There will be an end to this eventually. It has to rain for us to see a rainbow.
For part 8 of my ‘What’s on my wall?’ #MondayMotivation series, I’ve selected a really special canvas and probably one of the most important pictures/signs I have on my wall.
My husband, Mark, presented this to me on the day my debut novel was published in June 2015 as part of a 3-set of canvases, the others being the book cover for my debut and for a novella that was released a couple of weeks before.
The two book cover canvases are no longer on my wall because these were the covers from my original publishers who ceased trading. Both books then received a fresh cover when I re-released them as each an indie author. Then another revised one. They have since been re-released through Boldwood Books with different titles and a fourth new cover each!
The quote on this sign is so special:
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” (Mark Twain)
Isn’t that just fabulous?
This quote came up on the credits at the end of a film Mark was watching and it resonated with him as being so appropriate for me in relation to how I feel about writing. If I didn’t write, I wouldn’t be me. I’d be lost. It is very much a part of me and I feel strange when I’m not at my keyboard creating, as though part of me is missing.
The day I finished writing my first book was the day I found out why I’d been born. Writing gave me a purpose and a goal. But this year has brought something unexpected. My books have actually helped others. I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the number of messages I’ve had from readers saying that they have discovered my books and binge-reading them has provided valuable escapism, helping them through these challenging times. It’s really humbling to think that my imagination and words have touched others in this way.
I can’t thank my husband and daughter enough for how supportive they are with my writing and the moments when I’m so lost in my creative world that I’m unable to concentrate on anything in reality. I’ll always cherish this canvas from them, reminding me of the day I fulfilled my first goal of becoming a published author, and the day I became the person I was always meant to be.
Do you agree with this quote? Have you found out your purpose? I’d love to hear from you if you have or you’re on your way.
I always think there’s something extra special about the start of a month being on a Monday – fresh week, fresh month, fresh start. Lovely.
And as we step into June, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on May because it’s been an unusual month with a few disappointments but, oh my goodness, what a delicious set of delights. Which is perhaps a little odd considering the whole of May was spent in a COVID-19 lockdown.
DISAPPOINTMENT – I hate to start on a negative but the month started with a disappointment. I’m a May Day baby and I really didn’t respond well to a lockdown birthday and had a little strop about it which actually surprised me as I don’t really both much with my birthday. I tend not to work, I love gifts, and I like to go out for a meal with my husband and daughter to acknowledge the day. The fact that we couldn’t go out made me unhappy and my reaction was to ignore my birthday rather than have a half-hearted non-event. I made a ‘no gifts’ rule and sort of regretted that when the day arrived …. although I then broke it by ordering myself a stunning Lucy Pittaway print for my office. I can’t put it up yet because I can’t get it framed but it will make my heart sing when I can. And, actually, I might have ordered two. Well, there was 25% off and it would have been rude not to!
DELIGHT – I worked in the day job on my birthday but I took the following week off – a much needed break after working some extremely long hours since the start of March. When I returned to the work as a home-based HR Tutor, it was to a big delight because I handed in my notice. I really enjoy my day job but to write full-time is a dream come true and, whilst I will not be matching the income from the day job, I will be doing what I love and finally have a work:life balance; something I haven’t had for well over five years. Six days and counting…
DISAPPOINTMENT – There’ve been a couple more disappointments. Like so many people, there were plans in place which had to be cancelled in May – a shopping and theatre trip to Leeds to see Sister Act with the munchkin and a family half-term holiday in Portugal.
DELIGHT – I’ve missed my fortnightly meet-ups with my very good friend and fellow-author, Sharon Booth, but we had a lovely virtual catch-up this month and it was so good to see her/speak to her. Last week, I also caught up with a really good friend who I met when I was on TSB’s graduate programme in the mid-90s. We haven’t seen each other since I had my daughter (who will be 14 in December) so it was great to see/speak to her online too although that’s a lot of years to try and catch up on! One of the things that has come out of lockdown for a lot of people is reacquainting with old friends and that’s definitely a delight.
DELIGHT – I’ve received lots more delights this month with readers getting in touch with me. I’ve had tweets, emails and messages on Facebook from readers thanking me for writing my books which they say have seen them through lockdown. Every single time I receive a message like that, it humbles and astonishes me. I’m so grateful that (a) my stories have helped provide escapism during these challenging times and (b) that they’ve thought highly enough of them to take the time to find me and contact me. How lovely is that? Thank you to everyone who has made contact in May or prior to that. It really is so kind and thoughtful of you.
DELIGHT – And the month of May finished on an absolute delight. One of the things that many readers have been saying is that they’ve binge-read my entire back catalogue. My fabulous publishers, Boldwood Books, have re-released five of my books (two shorter ones were packaged together as one to make it a four-book series release) and I’ve signed a contract with them for my remaining four but, for now, those four are out there as indie releases. I can therefore log into the author information on Kindle and see how many eBooks have sold each day and how many pages have been read.
Prior to the re-release of the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, I had a steady but not impressive number of pages read and eBooks sold. Nothing to make me particularly visible in the charts. Nothing to write home about. Nothing to make me feel I could ever do this full-time. But the re-release, the promotion on these books and the lockdown scenario have steadily boosted sales and pages read of all of my books. This morning, my Kindle stats told me that I had well over 1million pages read during May from readers borrowing my four indie books on Kindle Unlimited (Bear With Me and my three Christmas books). Eek! I have never come close to that before. I had a look back at the same month from last year and we’re talking just shy of 197k pages and that was for nine books, not four! And even if I just go back one month and look at April, pages read were 443k so they have more than doubled in one month and increased nearly six-fold in a year. Wow!
For years, I’ve felt invisible. I’ve felt I was failing. I always believed in my ability to write but I just couldn’t seem to make an impact. And now it’s happened. I cannot thank my publishers, Boldwood, enough for helping get my name out there and to all the readers who have bought or borrowed my Boldwood and my indie releases. Because of you all, I will be a full-time author this time next week. If I didn’t have writer’s bottom, I’d be doing a happy dance round my office right now! I hope to make you proud with more time to write and therefore more uplifting stories to read.
I know that June is going to bring a couple more cancellation disappointments but hope it brings another box of delights too. Hope it also brings delights your way.
When I was young, Sunday was ‘visiting day’; the day where we had our Sunday lunch then bundled into the car and visited my mum and/or dad’s family who lived about 35 miles away. It wasn’t every week but it was regular.
We’d stay for tea at my grandma and granda’s house or occasionally dine with or visit other relatives. Tea was always afternoon tea-style food with sandwiches and scones and cakes. Lovely. Ooh, I could just fancy a bit of cake right now. Nom nom.
On the way home in the car, we’d catch part of the UK Top 40 Singles Chart on BBC Radio 1. We’re talking the late 1970s and most of the 1980s here and this was way before the days of digital downloads. In fact, most of that time was before CDs, with the charts compiled purely on the sale of vinyl records. Showing my age here!
In those days, singles would typically enter the charts and gradually climb up week on week, sometimes only one or two chart positions at a time. It would be exciting listening out for whether our favourite records would have gone up that week and, if so, how far and it would be so disappointing if they’d dropped, especially as that would typically mean the song wasn’t played.
What was even more exciting was predicting who’d be in the Top 3. One of the DJs – can’t remember which one now – used to get listeners to phone in with their predictions.
Many amazing records didn’t make it to number 1 but still sold in significant quantities and the ones that did make it to that coveted position often stuck around at the top slot for weeks. Anyone remember Bryan Adams being at number 1 for eight years with ‘(Everything I do) I do it for you’? from the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? Okay, so it was 16 consecutive weeks really but it felt like eight years although I never fell out of love with that song despite it being played constantly. This was 1991 and Bryan Adams still holds the record (literally) these days for having the longest number of consecutive weeks at number 1 in the UK.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this on a blog predominantly about writing and I promise there’s a link!
Over the past month or so, the four books in my Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series have been steadily climbing up the Kindle charts and, over Easter, I blogged about how excited I was that they’d all received a best seller tag for at least one of their categories and that they’d all broken into the Top 1000 with Book 2, New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, storming ahead at #352 on the morning of 10th April. You can read that blog post here.
Breaking the Top 1000 was so exciting for me. All the books had previously been released under different titles across 2015-2016 and, after my publisher ceased trading, I re-released them as an indie author. They had never got anywhere near this type of chart position so this was an absolute dream come true. But it kept getting better. By late April, they’d all cracked the Top 500 and, a week into May, they’d all cracked the Top 400 with the trailblazer, Seaside Blooms, making it into the Top 100 at #91 on 5th May. Wow!
It didn’t end there and this is where the chart connection comes in. Once a book makes it into the Top 100 on Amazon in any chart – including category charts – then you can see all the books in that Top 100 displayed beautifully in a chart showing the covers rather than just a number at the bottom of the book details.
It’s a lovely visual representation of how your book is performing and which authors have the books out either side of yours.
New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms made it to #51 in the overall Kindle chart a couple of days later on 7th May and suddenly a new milestone of Top 50 seemed realistic. The next day, it got to #42. Was the Top 40 possible? Yes, the following day, it reached #32. But that meant another potential milestone of Top 30. Could it? Would it? The day after – Sunday 10th May, it did. And, not only that, it also reached the Top 25 on the same day. Eek!!!!!
I will admit that, by this point, chart-position-watching had become a bit of an obsession. I think all ‘firsts’ are for writers. I remember staying up until midnight on the day of my first release to watch it arrive on my Kindle. I don’t do that now.
The charts are meant to get refreshed hourly but my experience is they don’t seem to – more like bi-hourly or even every three hours. I couldn’t sleep at night, waking up every couple of hours, wondering if I’d have made it even higher. I am still shattered from several days of doing this. I have, thankfully, got it out of my system now. I wasn’t setting an alarm or anything like that – I’m not that desperate – but it was like my body clock would go, “Right, you, a couple of hours have passed so it’s time to get up and check the charts”. So up I got and padded into my office across the landing to see where I was.
In the very early hours of the Monday morning, I hit #20. Top 20!!! Yay!!!!
But, of course, I wanted more. That’s the problem with achieving a goal; you instantly make a new one! Could I actually get inside the Top 20 into the teens?
It didn’t look like it. On Monday 11th May, Seaside Blooms began to drop to the mid-twenties. Boo. But 20 was absolutely amazing and when it first dipped inside the Top 1000, I’d never have dreamed of reaching that sort of number.
Like the UK singles chart where records go up and down, Seaside Blooms did the same. A good friend of mine tagged me on Facebook on Wednesday 13th May with a screenshot to show #19. I’d done it! I’d made it inside the Top 20 and figured that surely it would end there, especially when it began dropping again.
Up and down, up and down, it gradually moved towards the Top 10 with the highest position to date – #14 – being secured on Sunday 17th May. At some point over the past few weeks, it has held every single position from 14 to 30!
My mum and husband were convinced I’d make it into the Top 10 still but, with a few days having now passed since hitting #14, I think Seaside Blooms has definitely peaked. Although I thought that at #20 and, a few days later, it hit #19 so you never know.
Meanwhile the other three books are all doing me proud:
Making Wishes at Bay View (Book 1 in the series) is currently at a personal best of #157. Top 150 next?
Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (Book 3) has a PB of #182 from Monday but has mainly hovered around #200 since then. I’m hoping it will follow Book 1 and 2 nearer the top of the charts as readers steadily work through the series
Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (Book 4) achieved a PB of #214 earlier today so I’m hoping it will break the Top 200 soon. It would be so amazing to have the entire series in the Top 200 together. Even better if they were in the Top 100 together! I achieved that on AppleBooks UK back in March with all of them being in the Top 75 at the same time which was another really thrilling moment.
I am absolutely delighted and so very grateful to my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, for giving me this opportunity and to all the readers who have helped the series rise. I will admit, though, that it doesn’t feel real. When I was at #14, it didn’t feel possible that only 13 books in the UK out of the millions of eBooks on Amazon were higher in the charts than mine. As I’m typing this, it feels like something that must be happening to someone else; not to me.
Without wishing to sound pessimistic, I don’t think this is something that will happen to me again unless one of my books is on something like a BookBub promotion. I think a combination of factors have all come together at the same time to lead to the current positions enjoyed by Seaside Blooms:
Lockdown Time – people have the time to read a lot more and sales of eBooks have rocketed
Lockdown Comfort – readers want escapism and they want books that will uplift and hug them, which is what I write
Whole Series – because these are re-issues, the whole series are out at the same time, creating an appetite for binge-reading and more so during lockdown
Prime Deal – Seaside Blooms is currently on a Prime deal so lots of Prime members are downloading it too
I don’t have another whole series in my back catalogue to re-issue and I hope we are never, ever in a scenario of lockdown ever, ever again so the above set of circumstances won’t happen again. Or at least I hope the lockdown scenario doesn’t happen again.
Going forwards, I will never forget the moment I broke every goal I dreamed of and those I hadn’t even dared to imagine.
I’ll never forget that unreal moment at 4am, lying back down in bed thinking, ‘I’m at number 14 in the charts!’ and having to fight the urge to wake up hubby to tell him.
I’ll never forget watching my books steadily moving up the charts, just like when I listened to my favourite songs moving up the charts on ‘visiting day’ as a child.
And I’ll never forget those who I’ve been unable to visit for many years. RIP, Granda Wiseman, Grandma and Granda Williams, Uncle Stan, Uncle George and Auntie Olive. Sending love and I hope I’ve done you proud.
It was my birthday on Friday – 1st May – and I decided to ignore it this year because of lockdown which was perhaps an odd decision because I’m not struggling with our current scenario. Not really. Okay, I am, but perhaps in a different way to most. For us, not a lot has changed. I’m used to working from home because I’ve been doing it for five years. I’m used to hubby always being around because he works from home too. I’m used to not seeing my family because they’re not local and I’m used to not seeing friends regularly because they’re not local either. I’m also used to working long hours and barely leaving the house. But the hours I’ve worked so far during lockdown have been unprecedented and this is what led to my decision to say to my husband and daughter, ‘No presents, please. Let’s do this later instead’.
I’ve always struggled to find a decent balance between my day job as a distance learning tutor and writing, with the latter always having to take the back seat. During lockdown, the number of assignments and queries coming through has almost doubled as students have decided to use the time to study after being furloughed, losing jobs, or still working but not being able to go out on evenings and weekends. And it’s broken me. I’ve marked one assignment and four have arrived. I’ve marked another one and another three have appeared. It’s been a constant battle to keep on top of my queue. I’ve been mentally drained, unable to sleep, and I’ve barely stepped outside the house, even into the back garden.
In that state of heightened stress, the thought of celebrating my birthday when I couldn’t actually celebrate it properly was a step too far so I declared that I wanted to ignore it. We couldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day either or hubby’s 50th birthday properly (happened days before lockdown, scuppering plans to go away) so we’ll celebrate them all when we’re through the other side instead. Or next year.
There was cake, though. Cake is good. Given that my new book – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – available for pre-order now, is all about a hedgehog rescue centre, hubby had hoped to get me a hedgehog cake from the supermarket like this one he bought for his mum’s birthday last year. Unfortunately they’d had a run on celebration cakes and there was very little choice so we had a Thorntons one instead (pictured at the top of this post). Very nice it was too. All gone now. Nom nom.
Wishing all the best to those who’ve missed celebrations due to lockdown so far and to those who’ll miss them going forwards. Good excuse to do it all when we’re though the other side.
And I’m sure anyone who has lost a loved one to this horrible virus or who knows someone fighting it right now would happily trade the rest of their birthday celebrations to have their loved ones safely with them. I know I would. My thoughts are with you.
My fabulous publishers, Boldwood Books, have been running a #PetsOfIsolation thing (there’s probably a technical term for this but let’s go with ‘thing’ for the moment) over on Twitter for the last week. Or is it fortnight? Hmm. Time is a fluid concept just now. Anyway, the idea was to encourage their authors to share photos of their pets during lockdown and hopefully have readers do the same, filling Twitter with happy images of animals. Aw, lovely.
We have a 4-year-old sprocker spaniel called Ella so I shared a few pics of her but I decided to put together her guide to isolation here. For anyone not on Twitter (looking at you, Mum), I thought I’d share Ella’s advice on here.
So, here it is, Ella’s Guide to Isolation:
Get out of the house for socially-distanced exercise. Give your human extra exercise by dodging all photo ops and making them chase you for 1 x blurred pic. Fun for all the family
Steal stuff. As much stuff as you can. Steal all the stuff that doesn’t belong to you and use doe eyes to protest your innocence. So much fun winding up the humans and great for relieving boredom
Sleep. Do this lots. Preferably by clambering into your human’s bed when they’re not looking. Mmmm. Sleep is good. Sleep is better when you shed hair all over your human’s duvet
Ella’s Guide to Isolation Part 4 of 5: If your human is eating, stare at them. Maybe cock your head to one side, put paw on their knee & whimper. Focus. Intimidate. They’re weak. They will fold. That food will be yours mwah ha ha
Dream of life beyond isolation. Paws for thought. Think about holidays, trips, parties, hugs. This will one day pass and we can say hello friends. Hello family. Hello life. Hang on in there, stay home, stay safe xxx
Hope you enjoyed Ella’s Guide as a #PetsOfIsolation.
How are you holding up? Do you ever have to remind yourself that this really is happening and not just a strange dream from eating too much cheese?
In the UK, we’re entering month 2 of lockdown. For those who work, it’s business as usual for some, immense additional volume and/or pressure for others, and there are those who find themselves furloughed or redundant and perhaps at a loose end. And many of those are turning to books.
In life before pandemic (concentrate hard and you’ll remember it), different people read at different times: before bedtime, on a commute to work, during breaks, all day (if they’re able) or perhaps only when on holiday. Before pandemic, people read for different reasons: to learn, to be challenged, to switch off, to escape. In our reality now, the latter two have never been more important.
In a survey conducted by The Reading Agency, the people responsible for World Book Night, it was revealed that over 31% of people were reading more since lockdown began. They reported a 35% week-on-week boost for paperback fiction yet a drop of 13% in adult non-fiction sales. Bookstores with an online presence are reporting phenomenal increases in online sales (Waterstones, for example, reporting a 400% week-on-week increase) and the rise in new readers in digital format has been unprecedented.
This isn’t really surprising. In a world where we are staying home to stay safe, entertainment is needed, particularly for those who aren’t working, and books are an obvious place to turn, providing hours and hours of entertainment for a small financial outlay, or even for free. I’m not surprised that it’s fiction that has seen the surge either, based on that need to switch-off and escape.
I write uplifting stories of love and friendship and, via my chart positions in AppleBooks and Amazon, I have seen a surge in readers escaping to the world of Whitsborough Bay. My amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, have massively raised my profile as an author through some wonderful recent promotions on Apple, Amazon and Kobo. The coincidental timing of these with lockdown has seen readers binge-reading the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series and then turning to my other books to continue their fix. I’ve received messages on Facebook, Twitter and by email from readers thanking me for writing these books which have lifted them and given them a much-needed escape during difficult times. I feel so humbled to think that my words – written in a time when a worldwide pandemic was the domain of a Stephen King novel rather than reality – have given someone a much-needed hug.
I have been quite astonished by the reaction. By the kind words from strangers. By the virtual hugs I’ve received to thank me for the hug my book gave them. I wanted to share some of them here, received recently on Twitter and Facebook:
There are many gorgeous reviews on Amazon and Apple too for which I am so appreciative. The kindness of strangers has been touching, heartwarming and, as I say, humbling.
I come from the school of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything”. However, as an HR Professional specialising in recruitment, coaching, learning & development, I know this is an ideal and not necessarily practical. In my current role as a tutor, I constantly need to give feedback about the assignments I’ve marked and I can’t say “that was amazing” when it clearly wasn’t and hasn’t met a single one of the criteria needed to pass. However, there’s a massive difference between writing something like “this is dire and clearly you will never secure an HR role” and writing “xxx was a good start but you may have misinterpreted the next point and what I’m looking for is xxxx” The difference is constructive feedback; feedback that doesn’t destroy the student and from which they can learn.
Which brings me to the other point of the title of this blog post: the cruelty of strangers. Oh my goodness, some people can be nasty. I’ve seen some reviews of books that can only be described as vicious and it makes me wonder whether the person writing them even pauses to think that there’s a human being at whom they’re directing their venom.
I have been really lucky with most of my reviews. I confess that I do like a spreadsheet and I will admit to being a geek in keeping a reviews one for Amazon, which tells me that, at the time of writing this post, I have 518 reviews across my nine titles combined and 500 of those (96.5%) are at 5- or 4-star (416/84 respectively). Thirteen (2.5%) are at 3-star, 3 at 2-star and only 2 at 1-star (1% combined). I’m thrilled with this and it does help me think, in my insecure moments, that I might not be too shabby at this making up stories lark. But some of my lower ratings are a little cruel.
I must start with my all-time favourite insult for The Secret to Happiness. “Absolute pish” apparently. If I remember correctly, this reviewer also reviewed a book from a very big name writer and a charger for their car, all of which got the 1-star treatment. Obviously a tough customer to please. On first reading this, I’ll admit that my heart slipped down my body, ran out the office screaming and hurled itself down the stairs. And then I thought of them sitting there, so livid about their car charger and my book that they had to have such a rant yet they haven’t reviewed anything else. Nothing from Amazon has brought them 3-, 4- or even 5-star rating joy. I began to feel sorry for them. And I reminded myself that 55 x 5-star reviewers disagreed, although I can’t comment on what those lovely people might have said about the car charger 😉
Then there was this very unfair one for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms. The blurb said it has previously been released as a different title and it’s been all over social media. All the person needed to do was return it for their money back for a purchase made in error:
Also in New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, a reader took a strong dislike to my protagonist, Sarah. Yes, Sarah makes some questionable decisions but she learns from them. It’s known in writing as a character arc 🙂 Sarah is actually predominantly modelled on me and the book is inspired by a true-life story about me. That’s me told, then!
I have a scathing review on Goodreads for Christmas at the Chocolate Pot Cafe. It’s not scathing because the person didn’t enjoy the book but because I hadn’t released it in the format of their choosing. Ouch! Okay, I admit it, the rise of eBooks as the chosen (and sometimes only) format for indie and trad-publisher releases is all my fault. I’ll take one for the team on that!
Another reader didn’t like me having cancer in my books and went to pains to point out that there are other ways that people die and listed them. The book on which she placed this review had somebody who was in remission from cancer and, across all my books, I have many other forms of death where a death is required for the plot line. Another gave me a low review because she prefers erotica and my book was a bit tame. Had she looked at my covers and read my blurbs? I have no idea what about them would possibly suggest they could appeal to someone who only reads erotica!
But I have to save my ‘favourite’ review till the end. This is actually a 3-star review for the final part in the series, Coming Home to Seashell Cottage so, rating-wise, not so bad. It’s from someone who appears to have read the whole series… and hated it – and me. I’m ‘Redland’ – the one whose voice and characters are disliked:
Why read the whole series when you “never enjoy them”. And what’s that about Ireland? It was read by an Irish proofreader and copy editor who Irish-ised it for me.
Confused by the review? Yes, I was too! And so was this reader whose comment made my day. Nice to have someone in my corner there:
I don’t think negative reviews will ever not upset me but how long they upset me for has certainly diminished over time. Everyone has different tastes and my books aren’t going to appeal to everyone who picks them up, even if my genre is usually the one they enjoy. But it would be nice if people could be a little kinder if they haven’t enjoyed what they’ve read.
In fairness, all the negative reviews I’ve placed above with the exception of one were pre-lockdown and some are a few years old. We’re all facing challenges right now and a little bit of kindness – even if the message is 1- or 2-star rating – can go such a long way.
So I’ll leave this post with a big thank you to all those strangers who are kind, who have reached out, who have picked me up at a time when I am physically, mentally and emotionally drained because my day job has doubled in volume and I’m working 12-14 hours a day 7 days a week. Your kind words have meant the world to me and I look forward to creating more characters and stories to provide you all with further comfort and escapism.
Stay home, stay safe, stay kind.
Big (safely distanced) hugs
PS All the messages and reviews are in the public domain but, in the interests of kindness, I have removed the name from the Amazon reviews. I therefore thought it only fair to remove the names from the kind comments too as this is a post about observing the differences between two approaches and not about popping anyone on the spot and making them feel uncomfortable
Our sprocker spaniel, Ella, has recently turned four and pictures of her as a puppy have been cropping up on my memories on my Facebook timeline. When we made the decision to have a dog – a first for me – I’d been working from home as a distance learning HR Tutor for over a year. I thought that having a dog to walk would provide the perfect excuse for a break from the computer, would give me a reason to leave the house each day, and would provide some much-needed exercise before my bottom expanded beyond the size of Brazil a la Bridget Jones. The reality was that my working day was too long and the dog-walking quickly became the responsibility of hubby who also works from home but has a job that is slightly less demanding on hours than mine. So the bottom did continue to expand and is now the size of South America, never mind Brazil!
At the start of lockdown, I resolved to get outside for a family walk with Ella each day, in-keeping with the government’s guidelines around exercising once a day and keeping a safe distance from anyone else doing the same. I managed a few walks during the first week and it was lovely but I hadn’t quite appreciated the impact lockdown would have on my workload. Students who have been furloughed or have sadly lost their jobs are at home with the opportunity to knuckle down and study, those who are still working are no longer going out on weekends or evenings so they’re studying too. And a stack of new students have enrolled. My workload has gone through the roof. I often struggled to fit writing around it and now it’s even more of a challenge. I know I’m fortunate that I still have my job – which is just as well because I am one of the self-employed who falls through the gap for financial support, being a sole trader who happens to be set up as a limited company – but I do long for an opportunity to pause and take a breath occasionally!
So I made a big decision that, this weekend, I was not going to work on the day job. I don’t mind working 12-14 hour days the rest of the week but I needed a break and I’m so glad we did this morning because the weather is stunning on the North Yorkshire Coast although a bit blowy on the clifftop as you can see from the photo above.
Hope you’re staying safe. Wishing everyone all the best and I’ll leave you with some of the photos I took earlier. The Yorkshire Coast welcomes you to visit and explore its beauty as soon as we’re through this but hope you enjoy a few photos in the meantime.
The Cleveland Way passes along the clifftop just 5-7 minutes walk from our house. We didn’t take the path down to the beach today but probably will do one day soon:
The north and south ends of Cayton Bay. We could see a few walkers down there. On the south side, there are some WWII ‘pillboxes’ that fell down the cliffs and embedded in the sand many years ago:
Ella found an abandoned tennis ball so had great fun running after that. We live on the housing estate just over that field in the middle photo and are so lucky to have this on our doorstep:
This bench fascinated me. It would once have had such a stunning view but it’s become somewhat overgrown over the years:
One of the gardens in the houses overlooking the sea has the most amazing treehouse in it. Would have loved a treehouse when I was a kid. Actually, scrap the kid bit. Would love one now! xx
Yesterday was day 1 of schools being closed in the UK (to most but not all children) and today was day 1 of ‘lockdown’. The PM hasn’t officially used that term and I know some people hate it but, to me, it makes sense. My immediate household is in lockdown because hubby and I are both self-employed home-workers who have no need to travel other than hubby going out shopping for basics for us and his parents (mid-70s and early-80s) who live locally. Unfortunately my parents live about 1.75 hours away so we can’t provide them with shopping support. (Sending love to you both xx)
Because we both already work from home, each with a spare bedroom as an office, very little has changed to our ‘normality’. If I stay off social media and avoid the news, I can actually believe that this isn’t really happening. And that’s no bad thing sometimes because, quite frankly, I’m scared. But this isn’t a doom and gloom post so I won’t expand on that. Let’s get back to lockdown in our house…
Even our 13-year-old daughter’s presence doesn’t scream of ‘different’ to us because we’re used to her arriving home from school late-afternoon and being in the house while we’re still working, and we’re used to having her here in school holidays while we’re still working. So everything feels pretty much business as usual. Sending my love to all those for whom this is a completely alien, those who are unable to work from home and are still going out to work, those who have found themselves out of work and, of course, those who work for any of the key services, especially the NHS/other healthcare services and food retailers (and all those involved in the supply chain).
Ironically, staying at home for me is probably going to mean I go out more. We have a dog – a 4-year-old sprocker spaniel called Ella – and she needs walking. Hubby normally does this and meets up with a group of dog walkers as I usually work long hours and can’t find the time. Obviously that can no longer happen.
We’ve decided to make a walk with Ella our daily exercise as a family, in-keeping with the PM’s guidance of staying with a family unit, going somewhere where there aren’t people, and keeping that distance when we encounter anyone. I need to do this daily because, if I didn’t, I would sit at my desk solidly, work from morning till bedtime and never get any air at all, not even in the garden. I know this because I am a bit of a workaholic (comes from having two jobs – day job and author) and have done that for most of the past 4 years. Even with that mentality, I did at least get out and about for some fresh air with the odd trip to the shops, a weekly piano lesson and a fortnightly get-together with my good friend and fellow-writer, Sharon Booth. The daily dog walk is to make sure we all get some air and exercise and so that my bottom doesn’t continue to expand whilst welded to my chair!
We’re very fortunate to live in a village on the outskirts of Scarborough, a short walk along a coastal road to Cayton Bay. There’s a loop we can take which is about an hour and we did that this morning. It’s such a lovely walk. We met very few people and, in the main, distance was maintained when passing anyone. There were a few muppets, though. Take the couple walking towards us with a large dog. We were about to cross the road when the man moved so we thought he was going to cross the road and that the woman and dog would follow. She stayed where she was, leaving us trapped with no choice but to walk between them. Social distancing not observed. What is wrong with people?
A little further up the road, a woman was out walking 4 young children, probably aged 6-10. She wasn’t paying any attention to them, walking in front, looking at her phone, while they meandered all over the place behind her. We tried to give them a wide berth but they got in our path. Clearly not been educated on what’s going on.
Then, on the home stretch along the coast, a woman sat in the middle of the footpath distracted by her phone while her kids ran about in the field next to her. We had to walk on the road to bypass her and then the kids ran out the field into our path. *Rolls eyes in despair*
Aside from those few numpties we did enjoy it and, if it wasn’t for the distinct absence of vehicles, you could believe that it was a completely normal day but the lack of vehicles, particularly on the busy main road into Scarborough (that we walk over), told a different story.
We walked through a bypass and I loved this sign drawn in chalk on the side. It hasn’t come out very well on the photos but there’s a rainbow at the end of it.
Wishing you all the best, wherever you are and whatever challenges you’re facing or worries you’re having right now. If it’s safe to do so, I hope you are able to get outside – if only for a short while or even just through an open window – to see the arrival of spring and find a little comfort from the flowers, blue skies and birdsong.
This week in the UK, life as we know it has changed beyond all recognition. Other countries like Spain and Italy have been in lockdown for some time and, whilst we haven’t quite hit that point, we’re well on our way. Schools closed yesterday, and the Prime Minister announced that pubs/ clubs/ cafes/ restaurants/ leisure centres/ gyms would need to close with immediate effect.
The past week or so has seen many strangers reaching out with amazing acts of kindness but we’ve also seen shocking scenes of ignorance and greed while people panic buy. Supermarket shelves have been decimated with pasta, toilet roll, liquid soap and hand sanitiser being like gold dust. In fact, food in general is flying off the shelves and the ridiculous thing is that there isn’t actually a food shortage or even a threat of one. There’s plenty to go around and the problem is simply that people are grabbing so much that the supply chain can’t get enough to the supermarkets to accommodate the shocking £1bn of additional spending that has taken place this week. Wow! The government’s message today massively focused on this. People basically need to calm down, stop stockpiling, and give a chance to those who are elderly, vulnerable, working shifts and so on as well as the sensible ones among us who are just trying to shop normally.
When I woke up this morning, I had Taylor Swift’s fabulous ‘You Need to Calm Down’ in my head, but with a few tweaked lyrics to fit with the current panic-buying mentality. This afternoon, I had a play about with the full song. If you’re not familiar with Taylor’s song, you can find a You Tube link to it here. I apologise to Taylor for doctoring her brilliant lyrics and hope she can forgive me. And I’m no lyricist so I hope you can forgive me too! I challenge you to sing along and see if you can fit all the words in!
Please calm down, everyone. Just stop! There’s food. There are toiletries. The supermarkets and smaller local stores are not closing down. Many restaurants, cafes and takeaways are still delivering. You don’t need a year’s worth of supplies this week!
By the way, I highly recommend Taylor Swift’s latest album, ‘Lover’. It’s amazing 🙂
Stay safe everyone.
You Need to Calm Down by Taylor Swift, doctored by Jessica Redland
You are somebody in the same boat
But you’re takin’ things from shelves like it’s a joke
And I’m just like, damn, there’s enough to go round
Taking more than three, that’s a bad shout
But to steal from my trolley, that’s a knock-out
And I’m just like, “Hey, have you a brain?”
And I ain’t tryna mess with your fear and tension
But I’ve learned a lesson that kindness and compassion are what we need at this time
And greed and hate never saved the world
So oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
You need to calm down, you’re being a clown
And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (oh)
You need to just stop
Like can you just not buy all that stuff?
You need to calm down
You are somebody who is obsessed
Stockpiling all this food like you’re possessed
Why are you mad?
It makes us so sad (Makes us so sad)
Loo rolls in your house like a stockade
Pasta piled up high like a blockade
Just takin’ that soap you are being a dope
You just need to take several breaths and then try to restore the peace
And control your urges to buy all the food that you won’t eat
‘Cause greed never made anybody complete
So oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
You need to calm down, you’re being a clown
And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (oh)
You need to just stop
Like can you just not buy all that stuff?
You need to calm down
And we see you over there on the internet
Booking all the slots to deliver it
But we’re calling you out
We all know now we can all eat
You need to calm down
Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
You need to calm down (you need to calm down)
You’re being a clown (you’re being a clown)
And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (oh)