The one where the past two months have been crazy busy

Do you ever have months where there’s so much going on, you hardly get to pause for breath? I’ve just had two of them and there’s more still to come this month. But it’s (mainly) been wonderful.

I’ve met up with lots of friends, new and old…

Before I became a full-time author, my most recent role was as an HR Tutor – something I did for about five years. I marked assignments for students studying their HR professional qualification, CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development), and ran online workshops. However, when I first started in the role, the workshops were run in person on weekends and I met some wonderful students and also some amazing tutors.

One of my former (and favourite – but don’t tell the others!) students, Charlie, was holidaying in Whitby with his husband, Paul, and asked if I’d like to meet them in Robin Hood’s Bay. We worked out it had probably been about seven years since the workshop. It was so good to catch up with Charlie and to meet Paul. I never thought to take a photo but here’s a pic of Robin Hood’s Bay from a previous visit.

From my tutoring role, I also met up with my former colleague, Carol, for a day out in York. York’s my favourite city and so lovely for a wander, especially outside the school holidays on a weekday when it’s a bit quieter. We met at York Station where I spotted this gorgeous postbox topper and completely fell in love with the viking on the top – so perfect for York. Whoever made this is so talented.

I also had a catch-up with a blast from the past. An old friend from school dropped me a message recently on my author page and, as I write under a pen name, it was a bit of a mystery at first as to how she’d found me. It turned out that she’d seen me on the re-run of my appearance on ITV’s The Chase and had recognised me from school. She couldn’t find me on Facebook under my maiden name but couldn’t remember my author name. Then, spookily, she was running a workshop and a delegate mentioned that she was reading one of my books! So she found me and it was so good to meet up, although the memory was certainly tested as it’s 34 years since we left school. We’ll hopefully catch up again before Christmas.

I had several writing-related get-togethers too. My first was with Sharon Booth and Eliza J Scott which was several hours of wonderful chat. There’s a cafe and farm shop on the outskirts of Scarborough which is a great central location as Sharon and Eliza live in different directions and I’m in the middle.

I indulged in the most amazing hot chocolate before lunch and we had a quick look at a few of the animals before we left – and I mean quick because it started raining!

A second writerly meet-up was with author Lizzie Lamb who was also holidaying in Whitby. Sharon and I have both met Lizzie on several occasions at RNA events (Romantic Novelists’ Association) but, with so much happening and so many people to talk to, conversation has always been brief so it was fabulous to have a full afternoon together.

We exchanged signed books, which was lovely. Thank you, Lizzie, for my copy of Scotch on the Rocks and the accompanying bar of chocolate – nom nom!

My next writing-related meet-up was with four of the five-strong admin team on the amazing Facebook group, The Friendly Book Community. If you’re interested in sharing the love for books, this is such a happy, friendly place to be. I was thrilled to be invited to join the group right at the start and watch them grow to a whopping 2.7k members so far.

They’d come to Scarborough for a weekend and I met them for lunch. It was amazing to meet (from L-R in the pic) Sarah, Marie, Louise and Hazel in person (I’m in the middle), having got to know them virtually over the past 18 months or so, and they were just as warm and welcoming in real life. I stayed with them all afternoon and wish I could have stayed longer, but I had a deadline to get home to (more on that later). Love to Adrienne who was unable to join them for the weekend.

Our only disappointment is that we nipped to The Works where they hoped to get a photo of me next to my books on the shelves but the shelves were pretty empty at that point and all my books had sold through.

I have a final writerly catch-up today which I’m really looking forward to. Sharon and I are having lunch with authors Joy Wood and Sylvia Broady. Sylvia is in the same RNA Chapter as us so we have seen her recently but the last time I saw Joy was last September at the RNA’s York Tea. I’m excited to hear all their news.

There’ve been writing events…

I had three writing events lined up for September but only one of them actually went ahead. The first would have been the RNA’s annual York Tea but it was being held a little earlier in September than usual and, unfortunately, the date clashed with a few other events so there weren’t enough tickets sold and that got cancelled. It’s my favourite RNA event so hopefully all will be back to normal next year.

The next cancelled event was to be my first ever festival appearance. I was so excited about appearing as a speaker on the Richmond Walking & Book Festival but my slot was scheduled for 11am on 19th September – the same time and day of the Queen’s funeral – so it couldn’t go ahead. Hopefully I’ll appear next year instead. It was the only day that was cancelled so such a shame that I was booked for that day. What a sad time that was, losing our Queen, and it feeling so sudden too.

What did go ahead in September was a library talk. Stockton Libraries had kindly invited me to speak one evening so I went along to Norton Library and was thrilled to have an audience of roughly twenty there. They’d created an amazing display of my books and a local library user had made the most stunning (and delicious) cupcakes. Mmmm.

I completely fell in love with the kissing hedgehogs in the display and was told they were from Next. I couldn’t find them online but we have a Next Home on a small retail park near us so I nipped there the following day and was thrilled to find one on display so I bagged it!

A huge thank you to Ruth for arranging the evening and the amazing team at the library for being such welcoming hosts. Thank you to all those who attended including a few members of my Facebook group Redland’s Readers who it was lovely to meet in person. I am, however, mortified, as a member of my group came along and I didn’t register who she was. For some reason, I had it into my head that she was coming to my Richmond talk and couldn’t make it to the library. When she said her name, I misheard it too and made no connection at first. Even though we’ve messaged and it’s all sorted, I still feel really bad as I know she was disappointed that I didn’t click who she was. All I can plead is brain drain. There’s so much going on in my head at an event like this and my brain can’t always hold everything.

My friend and amazingly gifted artist Lucy Pittaway came along to support – an extra surprise for some audience members who love her work – and we went for a quick drink afterwards with her and her colleague, Vicki, which rounded off a perfect evening.

I’m excited to announce that, although I hope to speak at the Richmond Walking & Book Festival next year, I will definitely be appearing at a festival. Stockton Libraries collaborate with the Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland districts to put on an event called Crossing the Tees (genius name – the River Tees running through the area alongside the literary meaning of the phrase). A date for your diary is Sunday 10th June 2023 at 2.00-3.30pm at Ormesby Library, on the outskirts of Middlesbrough. I’ll be on a panel of authors talking about the romance genre. Jane Lovering, a fellow-Boldwood Books author, will be joining me and I’m in the process of securing another author too.

If anyone is an aspiring writer, I’m also going to be running a beginner’s writing workshop on the afternoon of Saturday 9th June. The details of the workshop and the venue will be confirmed later but I’m really looking forward to that.

It was my wedding anniversary in late September (17 years) and we had a family trip up to Whitby and a delicious meal on the way home. I was excited to see a whopping FOUR of my books in Great Reads Whitby (a discount bookstore) including one in the window.

It was a beautiful day, but very windy as you can see from the photos. That sea was definitely wild… and so was my hair!

There was a publication day…

Already looking pretty busy? There’s more! Around all this, I had publication day of Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow and a separate audio publication day on this occasion as we couldn’t secure the main narrator for the original publication date. Publication day is always busy with announcements, responding to congratulations messages, having the blog tour start, and eagerly watching the chart.

The hedgehogs have been dipping in and out of the Top 100 since publication day and, at the time of writing, they’re currently at #90 which is exciting (they have been higher – woo hoo!). This week, a day shy of 6 weeks since release, they had their 1,000th review/rating on Amazon and I’m so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to share their thoughts.

And some special offers on my Hedgehog Hollow series…

Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (book 1) and Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow (book 6) both went into Prime Reading so are free to Prime Reading subscribers. Finding Love is currently 99p on Kindle.

Although not in Prime reading, book 5 – Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow – is also currently on a 99p offer so do grab that if you haven’t already done so.

I mentioned writing deadlines a couple of times. These two months have also been deadline-filled. Book 18 is out on 24th January 2023 and is called Healing Hearts at Bumblebee Barn. It’s available to pre-order for Kindle right now (click the title to get to it) although the cover and blurb won’t appear until early November. It will be available to pre-order on other eBook platforms and on Audible nearer the time. It will also be out in all the print formats from publication day too.

I had a deadline to get the first draft in to my editor which I had to extend as I contracted conjunctivitis and had to spend a few days away from the screen. I’m really squeamish with my eyes. You know that episode of Friends where Rachel needs eye drops and the others have to quite literally pin her to the sofa? That was me! I swear the hubby took far too much delight in putting those drops in my eyes!

I made it to the revised deadline but knew my manuscript was a bit of a mess and that I wanted to change one part of the plot and the ending. My editor, Nia, is amazing and she typically agrees with what I’ve already identified is wrong with the story (but didn’t have time to fix) and comes up with some invaluable suggestions of her own. I then had deadlines for getting the 1st round of edits back and the 2nd, which were returned at the weekend. In between those rounds of edits, I came down with Covid for the second time!

Fortunately it was reasonably mild – bad cold, tired – and I’m so thankful it hit me between edits instead of during them as working was too exhausting. I watched lots of films but had hoped to do lots of catching-up on my admin so that all had to be put on hold.

I’ve seen the gorgeous cover and have had the blurb finalised too and can’t wait to share them with readers.

And as if all that wasn’t busy enough, I’ve had a flu jab, hair appointment, physio sessions (I have back/neck/shoulder problems – typical for an author spending too much time hunched over their keyboard!), a tour round the local sixth form ready for my daughter applying there for next September, and an open evening at her school about GCSE revision tips. Phew! Exhausted thinking about it all!

So today I’m off to meet Sharon, Sylvia and Joy as mentioned and then I’m off on my holidays over half-term – a much earned (and needed) rest after a couple of busy months.

Hope September and October have treated you well and hope you’ve enjoyed my photos. Do grab yourself those Hedgehog Hollows on offer if you haven’t already done so. And spread the word!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I’ve collaborated with Lucy Pittaway for an amazing Christmas giveaway

I am so excited to have joined forces with my publisher, Boldwood Books and my favourite artist, Lucy Pittaway, to bring you a fabulous Christmas giveaway.

One lucky winner will receive a framed 18″ print of their choice from Lucy’s Open Collection and signed paperbacks of the four books released in my Hedgehog Hollow series so far, including the newest one – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – out on 6th January.

You can view Lucy Pittaway’s open collection here. Whether it’s sheep, cows, hedgehogs, houses, cyclists or something else that draws your eye, you’ll be spoilt for choice!

You can read the blurbs of my first four Hedgehog Hollow books here although if you’re not familiar with the series, there will be spoilers if you read them all so maybe just read what the first book – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – is about!

I’m really excited about joining forces with Lucy Pittaway for this giveaway as, not only is she an amazingly talented artist, she’s a lovely person too who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times recently. We already knew there were some spooky connections between us but were astonished to discover how parallel our lives have been. You can read all about this in a blog post on Lucy’s website here.

As explained in the post, Lucy’s artwork heavily influences the storyline in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café.

The full details of the giveaway can be found on Lucy Pittaway’s Facebook page here but I’ve posted the stills from the video here to give you an overview of the offer.

For the full T&Cs and to enter, you’ll need to check out Lucy Pittaway’s website here. The closing date is midday on Christmas Eve and the winner will be announced later that day. What a special Christmas gift! Obviously you won’t get your prize in time for Christmas. My fourth Hedgehog Hollow book isn’t released until 6th January so I’ll be bundling up my share of the prize after then.

Please note that delivery will only be to a UK mainland address so if you’re based overseas, you absolutely can enter providing you have a friend/family member in the UK to whom the prize could be sent for safekeeping.

Hope you enjoy the article about our parallel lives. Good luck!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Our Yorkshire Dales Adventure Part 3 – All Things Bright and Beautiful

This is the final part of my blog about our family week away in the Yorkshire Dales. Apologies it’s a day late – something urgent cropped up yesterday (work-wise).

Still staying with the James Herriot theme, I’ve selected another book title – All Things Bright and Beautiful – which is, of course, part of the hymn from which All Creatures Great and Small comes.

I’m focusing on an eclectic mix of beautiful things for this part, whether that’s beauty in nature, food, or simply things that make me happy.

Gayle Beck which runs off the River Ure passes through Hawes and we were staying in a holiday cottage just round the corner from it called The Old Surgery. It was a brilliant location, right at the edge of the town centre so very accessible for everything.

On Sunday morning, the day after we arrived, we went for a little wander and I took a photo of the waterfall – probably one of the most photographed sights in Hawes. As you can see, there was a gentle but steady flow of water. Very beautiful.

As the week progressed and the rain persisted, the flow strengthened…

And by the time we left, it was a raging torrent!

There used to be a mill across the beck from our holiday cottage on the other side of the bridge that that waterfall above flows under. There was an old enlarged photo in the cottage showing what it used to look like with the mill wheel. On the bottom photo, you can clearly see the wall around the wheel although the wheel itself is long gone. What’s particularly interesting is that there appears to have been a wall across the beck, presumably to keep the water higher for the wheel to turn. That’s gone too.

Hawes has a few lovely gifts shops and a particular favourite was one called The Mulberry Bush which stocked Jellycats (I love them) and some gorgeous Christmassy gifts.

A shop I always love to visit is Bear Cottage. It’s an interior designs business but it stocks some lovely gifts and I like to have a hug with the two bears outside although I was conscious this time of not putting my paws on them in this strange Covid world so I had to do a sort of hover thing!

There was a gorgeous bear inside too although it wasn’t so easy to get his photo. I wished I could have taken him home. He’s so gorgeous.

Mid-week, the rain was so torrential with no sign of let up so the munchkin and I left hubby back in the cottage with Ella (our sprocker spaniel) and took a walk to the other end of the town to visit the Wensleydale Creamery.

There’s a visitor centre there and a visit includes cheese-making demonstrations but we were on a mission for a cream scone! We were the only ones in the café at first. The scones were still warm – mmm. I’m not a massive fan of fruit scones, preferring a plain or cheese one. They had cheese but I wanted jam and cream so it had to be fruit. I will eat some of the fruit but then I hit the point where I have to remove it as it’s too much. If you’ve read Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café you’ll know what I mean when I said I did a Mrs Sultana.

Various pictures by my favourite artist, Lucy Pittaway, were displayed around the café and I was particularly pleased to see two of the images from ‘The Home Collection’ hanging right next to each other as, combined, they remind me so much of my Hedgehog Hollow series. I have the print of ‘Happiness is Homemade’ with the hedgehogs surrounded by wildflowers, just like in Thomas’s meadow. The three-storey house in ‘Dream Big’ reminds me of the farmhouse as shown on the cover of Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow.

Lucy Pittaway’s art also inspires part of the storyline in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café.

The gift shop at The Creamery is lovely and we had a good browse (and little purchase) before stepping back out into the torrential rain.

In the afternoon, we went over to the Dales Countryside Museum a few minutes’ walk from the cottage. It’s all about the people and activities in the Dales over the years and there are lots of activities to keep young children amused – or 14 year olds on a wet miserable day! 

We managed to catch a break in the rain with a trip out to Richmond and Leyburn, including a visit to Richmond Castle. There are fabulous views from the castle and the changing colours of the trees looked lovely, but the photos on a gloomy day like that don’t quite do justice to them.

While we were away, we celebrated a special publication day with the release of my very first foreign rights translation – Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café being translated into Italian. It’s called Festa Sotto La Neve and I hope sales in Italy go well.

And how do you celebrate an Italian publication day? With a takeaway pizza of course! We’re so sophisticated!

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing the photos from another beautiful part of North Yorkshire, mainly caught during rare breaks in the rain. The ones I posted in Part 2 on our walk were the only day we saw blue sky across the whole week which was a shame and did somewhat hamper our plans for the week, although I’m just grateful for the opportunity to get out and about a bit after so long at home.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

A visit from North Yorkshire to North Yorkshire

The hubby and I have just returned from a lovely few days away and we never even left our home county of North Yorkshire. It’s such a huge area that, if you live at the edges, you can travel over two hours and still be in the same county! The reason for a few days away was that our daughter is having a summer break staying with my parents and hubby suggested that, instead of dropping her off and driving back home, we could make a mini-break of it. We even arranged for Ella, our sprocker spaniel, to go to hubby’s parents’ for a couple of days so we’d have no restrictions on where we could go.

We were hoping to stay in Richmond which is where I had my teddy bear shop many years ago and hubby searched for a nice hotel or B&B figuring we could have a couple of drinks and a meal in the town on the evening. No chance. Even though we decided on this about six or maybe even eight weeks ago, we’d left it far too late and the only rooms available were extortionate prices like £500 for two nights. Eek! So we ended up at the Premier Inn in nearby Catterick Garrison which is on a retail park close to the army barracks. Yep. Not exactly a romantic location but at least it was a chance to get away and you can always rely on a Premier Inn.

We dropped the munchkin off at lunchtime on Wednesday and headed to the market town of Leyburn. It was heaving and it took a few circuits before we finally found somewhere to park but we had a delicious meal in the beer garden of The Bolton Arms at the top of town, watching the world go by, followed by a wander around the gift shops. It was a shame to see one of my favourite shops had closed down. I wondered if that was as a result of lockdown or from before. I do remember my mum mentioning it to me but can’t for the life of me remember how recently we had that conversation. The concept of time seems very fluid at the moment! A couple of other shops were closed. A notice on one said this was due to a funeral and we didn’t wander down to the other as we could clearly see it was in darkness. Maybe for the same reason? I do like to treat myself to a little something while away and I found this gorgeous Steiff hoglet called Joggi in another gift shop, although hubby bought me a Steiff hedgehog for Christmas who is also called Joggi. I wondered if that meant anything in German but Google translate says not. I have, however, discovered that a hedgehog in German is called an ‘igel’ and a hoglet (baby hedgehog) is a ‘babyigel’. Awww!

We moved onto Masham from there but caught it just as the final market stalls were packing away. I remembered there being several nice gift shops last time we visited and could only see one this time. There were still Covid restrictions on social distancing and a queue to get in so we wandered round intending to return … and forgot!

Checking in at the Premier Inn a little later, we were advised that there was no TV reception in the room thanks to the recent fire at the Bilsdale mast TV transmitter affecting TVs in the Yorkshire Dales, northern parts of North Yorkshire and Teesside. Hubby had intentionally left all tech behind and kicked himself for this as it meant we couldn’t relax in front of the TV but we weren’t in a location with lovely pubs to walk to and we didn’t really fancy driving anywhere after so much driving already that day. So we sat in the hotel room watching old episodes of Gogglebox on his phone. We so know how to party!

On Thursday, we went into Richmond. It wasn’t forecast to rain but it rained while we visited Richmond Castle, although not too heavily or for too long and we were prepared with waterproofs. Please therefore forgive the very dull-looking photos!

As I said earlier, I used to have a teddy bear shop in Richmond on the top corner of Finkle Street. This has been the Lucy Pittaway Gallery for several years now and I absolutely adore Lucy’s artwork. If you haven’t discovered it before, do check out her website here. I already have more of her amazing prints than we have space for but there’s always room for another notebook in the collection! I had to pose outside – just like I’d done when it was my shop – and also take a photo of one of her gorgeous hedgehog prints in the window. Lucy’s prints are the inspiration behind one of the storylines in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe.

We had a wander round some more of the shops and I loved spotting this sign on the back of a car down a side street and this wall art on the side of a building.

There’s a fabulous circular walk from The Station – the former train station which is converted into a cinema, cafe, arts/gifts centre – via Easby Abbey so we set off on that walk on the afternoon. We hadn’t gone very far when I recognised a group of people heading towards us. My cousin, her husband, younger son and their dog were coming to the end of the circular walk, having completed the loop the other way to us. How spooky is that? They don’t live in Richmond. It’s about 40 mins away for them so what an amazing coincidence and lovely to catch up with them.

We continued on our walk and I put my new FitBit to the test, racking up nearly 22k steps across the day which isn’t too shabby as a starting point. It’s not going to be happy with me today as, back home, I’m lucky if I’ll manage 500! Ssh, don’t tell it! And as it’s on my desk and not my wrist, it won’t even register any of them!

The walk was lovely, through trees, alongside the river and past Easby Abbey which is an English Heritage site with free access. We did the walk once before several years ago when we were camping in the area with hubby’s sisters but I don’t think we must have explored much of the abbey as I definitely didn’t remember it being quite so big.

Back to my 22k steps, I haven’t walked anything resembling that far since pre-lockdown and had actually only left the house on a dozen or so occasions since March 2020 so being out and about for me was a pretty big thing and it completely wiped me out being in the fresh air for a full day. It was so good to be out, though.

Even though we’d have loved a relax in front of the TV that evening, resting our feet after the walk, the mast problem prevented that. We returned to the retail park, grabbed a quick drink in one of the chain pubs there, then I had a relaxing bath before going out to the cinema 2 minutes’ walk from the hotel to see The Last Letter From Your Lover. Hubby hadn’t been too keen as it looked more like my sort of film from the trailer but he enjoyed it and I loved it. I’ve read a few of JoJo Moyes’s books but not that particular one. An added bonus was that we had the cinema – Empire Cinemas – completely to ourselves and could upgrade to recliner chairs which were amazing. I say upgrade but it was only £3.99 each in the first place so £5.99 each seemed a very reasonable price.

On Sunday morning, I met a friend for a hot chocolate in The Station while hubby went for a walk with his camera and then we headed to Fountain’s Abbey. We knew it would be busy but we must have timed it horrendously wrong by arriving around lunchtime. The queue for the cafe stretched across the courtyard in one direction and the queue for tickets to get in stretched the entire width in the other direction. So we left. I know, I know, that’s super impatient but we just couldn’t face standing for maybe an hour queuing after a long walk the day before.

Newby Hall isn’t too far away so we drove there instead and the thankfully wasn’t a queue to get in although it was pretty expensive to get in. It’s a lovely place, the gardens are gorgeous, and there’s loads for kids to do but be warned that the child entry fee is not a lot less than the adult fee (the family of 4 in front of us paid a whopping £62 to get in) and there are additional fees required for the train and boat trips once inside. And you’re going to buy food, drinks, ice creams too. Definitely somewhere you need to spend a full day to get your money’s worth.

I had the most delicious warm scones with jam clotted cream for my lunch although we had to move tables twice, eventually retreating indoors, as the wasps were out and after the jam! Ooh, I hate them so much.

I’d been hoping that The Bear House might have had some new displays – perhaps a project someone might have undertaken during lockdown – but they were the same as when we visited a couple of years ago. Disappointingly, quite a few bears had fallen over at some point, especially in the picnic scene. There’s meant to be a bear on a wooden swing but the wooden plank had slipped out and the bear had tumbled into the others so it looked a little unloved in there, poor bears.

I had to take a picture of Barbara Cartland’s bear. The plaque accompanying him states: “This very special German bear was given to Barbara Cartland, the romance novelist, in 1904 when she was three years old. When Dame Barbara gave him to Gyles Brandreth [whose enormous collection of bears is partly housed in The Bear House] she explained that she had adorned him with the fabulous jewels, and named him The Prince of Love’ because she had discovered that he believed himself to be an Indian Prince”. How fabulous is that?

The traffic was grim all the way home – one of the challenges of heading to the coast (albeit back home for us) among holiday-makers coming for the weekend or the week – and it took us about 2.5 hours to get back from Newby Hall. For context, this is a 60 mile journey! Eek! So we were pretty shattered by the time we got back.

Despite quite a few hitches to our plans, it was lovely to be away, especially when I finished writing A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow the day before I left so it came after a big milestone. My mind definitely needed the rest! It was good for me to be out and about and doing some exercise after pretty much hibernating for the past 18 months. Already looking forward to my next trip.

Big hugs
Jessica xx