A happy dance for the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series

I’m delighted to say that all four books in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series have now passed the 1,000 reviews/ratings milestone on Amazon and want to thank every single reader who has taken the time to leave a review or rating, especially if it’s a positive one!

Book 1 – Making Wishes at Bay Viewwas the first to get there quite a few months ago and has already passed the 1,500 milestone, next stop 2,000. This made sense to me as the first book in a series is often the most widely read.

Book 4 got there next – Coming Home to Seashell Cottageand is well on its way to the 1,500 milestone now. Again, this made sense to me as, reading the reviews, quite a lot of readers have referred to the whole series as though they have perhaps just rated the final one.

It was therefore a battle between New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2) and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (book 3) as to which would get to 1,000 first. Seaside Blooms took that crown nearly a fortnight ago on 16th September and, at the time, Lighthouse Cove only needed seven more reviews to reach the milestone. But there were none the next day… or the day after.

Finally, today, book 3 was jubilant and hit the big 1,000.

Between the four books and the box set, there are well over 5,000 reviews/ratings on Amazon and 92% of those are a positive 4- or 5-star rating. I’m thrilled that readers have taken this series to their hearts and shown such love for Callie, Sarah, Elise and Clare’s stories.

No matter how many books I write, this will always remain an exceptionally special series for me as it’s where my writing journey started. I often get asked which my favourite book is and I love them all for different reasons.

Seaside Blooms, although book 2 in the series, is the first book I wrote so that will always hold a very special place in my heart. Seashell Cottage is probably my favourite story as I felt something shift in my author voice when I wrote that story, moving from a lighter romcom style into the deeper emotional women’s fiction category. Clare fascinated me as she arrived on the pages of Seaside Blooms all feisty, spiky and guarded and I didn’t know why. It was a wonderful thing unwrapping her story in book 4.

But I love Making Wishes because octogenarian Ruby is one of the most fun and fabulous characters I’ve ever created, and Lighthouse Cove has one of my favourite romances in it. So, yes, I love them all and I’m thrilled that readers do too. Thank you again.

A huge thank you also to my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, and my brilliant editor Nia Beynon without whom I wouldn’t be celebrating milestones like this.

What a lovely start to the week. If you haven’t yet taken a trip to Whitsborough Bay, I hope you’ll be tempted to dive in.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Celebrating three review milestones in two days

Some authors steer clear of their reviews and I can completely understand why. A negative review can be so hurtful and destructive that it can leave them unable to write for the rest of the day and sometimes even longer. I know that to be true as it’s happened to me.

But not all reviews are negative and it seems a shame not to read the lovely comments shared by readers who’ve loved a story. I feel they’re so special and something to celebrate. I therefore read every single review posted on Amazon, including the negative ones. The latter do still hurt but they are massively outweighed by the positives and I’ve been working hard to keep the negative few in perspective.

This week, I’ve been thrilled to reach review/ratings milestones for three of my books. Woo hoo!

Just under a month ago, I announced in my Facebook readers group that three books were heading for the 1,000 milestone and asked members which they thought would get there first:

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms at 980

Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove at 957

All You Need Is Love at 949

As the first two have been out a year longer and the rate of reviews had massively slowed, I did wonder if All You Need Is Love might just race ahead. It came very close but Seaside Blooms pipped it to the post. Just.

I logged on yesterday morning and New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms had hit the 1,000 mark.

And then, this morning, there was a surprise. A book not even previously in the race – The Secret to Happiness – had stormed ahead hitting the bigger target of 2,000!

Not to be outdone, All You Need Is Love also hit the 1,000 mark this morning. I knew the bears could do it!

Finding Lighthouse Cove isn’t far off the target either with 993 reviews/ratings at the time of writing this so hopefully we’ll be celebrating that milestone by the start of next week. Come on Lighthouse Cove. You can do it!

To all those lovely readers who have taken the time to share a review – whether detailed, a couple of sentences, a few words or even just a rating – I am so grateful. I get such a buzz out of reading all the gorgeous comments and it drives me to keep writing and wanting to bring you loads more books.

Please keep sharing the book love for all your favourite authors as you never know when a few kind words might be the lift they need at a time when they’re struggling with edits or deadlines, feeling disillusioned by lower sales or weaker chart positions, have been wounded by a negative comment, and may be questioning whether it’s all worth it. You really can make a difference. No pressure!

Big squidgy grateful hugs to you all
Jessica xx

Discover 6 of my books on Audible Plus

At the end of July, Audible launched a new programme for their UK subscribers called Audible Plus. This programme was rolled out in the USA previously and is all about giving subscribers additional free unlimited content so, if you’re an Audible user, do check it out.

The Audible Plus catalogue consists of thousands of carefully selected audiobooks, podcasts and Audible originals which subscribers can listen to as many times as they want for no additional charge.

Audible say: “The new Plus Catalogue offers an exciting opportunity to introduce more audiobooks, podcasts and Audible Originals to members, on top of their credits. New and existing members will be able to discover more titles for the first time at no extra cost, which we believe will increase member listening and allow them to discover new authors or similar genres and themes. The Plus Catalogue provides extra content our members will love, and forms part of our ongoing commitment to present value-added offerings to consumers.”

I’m really excited to have a whopping SIX out of my twelve titles included in this special programme from day 1:

  • Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series)
  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series)
  • The Secret to Happiness
  • Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes
  • Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café
  • Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (book 1 in the Hedgehog Hollow series)

I hope that this will introduce new listeners to my worlds of Whitsborough Bay and Hedgehog Hollow who will perhaps go on to use their usual credits to explore my other titles.

Let me know if you’ve discovered any fabulous new listens through this programme.

Happy listening!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Celebrating 6 years as a published author

Six years ago today on 23rd May 2015, my debut book was published. Happy anniversary to me!

I’ve written a few posts in the past celebrating all the amazing things that have happened since joining Boldwood Books in 2019 and my challenging journey prior to joining Boldwood. I’m therefore not looking to repeat that. Instead, I’m going to look back at what happened when I first became published as it was one of the most exciting but also one of the most stressful periods of time as one door opened but another closed.

My anniversary would originally have been 3rd June as that’s when my debut full-length novel Searching for Steven was released (now available under the revised title of New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) but my publisher at the time had asked if I could write a short story to give away for free before publication day. It needed to be linked to the series (Searching for Steven was originally the start of a trilogy).

Short. Hmm.

Well, I tried, but I’m not so good at thinking ‘small’ and ended up writing a novella!

We weren’t going to just give that away so it went up for sale as a 99p eBook on 23rd May 2015. It was called Raving About Rhys and, a few years later, I wrote a follow-up short novel called Callie’s Christmas Wish. These two have since joined together and are now available as Making Wishes at Bay View, the first book in the four-strong ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series.

I remembered staying up late the evening before both releases to watch them appearing on my Kindle at midnight which was a very surreal and magical experience. I know I barely slept at all after Searching for Steven was published as that was the big one: my proper, real, full-length debut novel.

These two publication days saw the start of a new era for me as I became a published author. Eek! But late May/early June that year also saw unexpected change.

I was a Learning & Development Advisor for a large food manufacturer at the time and the company had been going through some major restructuring so it had been quite a difficult period. The HR function was already slimmed down to the bones and a couple of job vacancies on the structure chart were removed so the remaining HR staff were given repeated reassurances that there would be no HR redundancies.

Guess who got made redundant?

It was a hell of a shock and the timing of it pretty much took the shine off the release of Raving About Rhys. I’d been out of the office for the week prior to Rhy’s release – which I’ve just realised makes it sound like he was coming out of prison! – running a special community event I’d organised for the apprentices I supported. It had been a huge piece of work which I’d planned to run with a colleague and good friend of mine who did the same role as me but for the more southerly factories. Last minute, she got pulled off it and I was told I had to run it on my own which was a disaster because the whole programme had been planned around two of us so I had to put copious extra hours in – including evenings and the weekend before the event – re-working everything we’d so carefully put together.

Thanks to all that additional hard work, the week with the apprentices went fairly smoothly but it was exhausting. I was so relieved that I’d tagged an extra day’s holiday on after Spring Bank Holiday Monday so I had four days to recover before returning to work.

I got back into the office on the Wednesday – four days after Raving About Rhys was published – and my manager asked if she could see me. She was working in a different building to me so I walked across the site thinking we were meeting for a debrief about the week. As soon her manager came into the room, my stomach sank and I knew something bad was about to happen. I frantically tried to think what it was that I might have done wrong as their sombre faces suggested I was in trouble. Job loss never entered my head.

I cried when they told me I’d been made redundant, but mainly because it was such a shock after the reassurances that nobody in HR would lose their job.

Even worse, I was the only one.

And even worse than that, the decision had been made several weeks previously but they’d wanted me to run the brilliant high-profile event I’d masterminded first!

That was a bit of a punch in the stomach. I did understand from a business perspective why they’d done that, but I was a little insulted that they might think I’d be so unprofessional to run a sub-standard event just because I’d lost my job. If they knew me at all, they’d have known that’s not how I work and, if anything, I’d have pulled out all the stops to make it even bigger and better in order to leave an impressive legacy behind.

What also hurt was that they’d taken my support away from me, meaning I had re-work the entire thing and have the most stressful week ever, when they could have softened the blow of redundancy by letting that week run as planned.

Fortunately, I’d put feelers out with a local recruitment agency during the apprentices week as, although I definitely hadn’t foreseen redundancy, I wasn’t happy with the way things had been heading lately. The apprentice week incident had been the last of many uncomfortable situations.

The day before I was made redundant, while I was on holiday, I’d coincidentally had a conversation with the recruitment agency to explore my CV and consider if there may be an opportunity to join the team, but I had no idea if that would come to anything. I had years of recruitment experience in big and small companies but never in an agency role and I wasn’t sure if my skills would be a good fit.

On Wednesday 3rd June when Searching for Steven was released, I was out of work. I had been invited back to the recruitment agency for a conversation the following week and I had to keep focusing on the hope that it would be a positive outcome otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy my special moment for worry about the future.

I had a launch party for my friends and family on Saturday 6th June and still had no idea whether I had a job. My dream was to write full-time but I was under no illusion about how unlikely this was. I knew the statistics. The vast majority of published authors make less than £10k a year from their writing and most make nowhere near that. I wasn’t with a big publisher. I wasn’t even with an established publisher. If I made £100 in the year, I’d probably be doing well! So it was essential that I found myself another HR job.

The problem with where I live is that HR roles are few and far between. Those that exist tend to be more generalist (dealing with contracts, grievance and discipline, ill health and so on) and that’s not where my expertise (or interest) lay. I was a recruitment and training specialist; roles usually associated with large companies in their head offices and not many companies had HQs in Scarborough. I’d just been made redundant from the biggest!

My launch party was emotional and I remember being in floods of tears a couple of days before when I had it confirmed that the printer had made a mistake and I wouldn’t have any books. A launch party with no books? Well, that was certainly going to be interesting. My publisher had a couple of sample copies that they could send to me so I could at least show what the book looked like and, bless them, they sent me a gorgeous teddy bear to say sorry, but it did mean the day I’d dreamed of for years wasn’t going to be quite as I’d hoped.

Despite the lack of books, the party went reasonably well but it was a boiling hot day and there was no air-con so everyone was melting, especially me.

Hubby was going to take photographs but got so distracted talking to people that he didn’t get a chance so I have very few photos of the event.

My sister in law made an amazing cake and I completely forgot to cut it. I didn’t get to speak to half the guests and I didn’t manage to get any buffet to eat so I was starving and my celebratory wine went straight to my head.

But it was still lovely and I’m so appreciative of everyone who came, some of whom had travelled quite some distance, and all the lovely and unexpected gifts.

The following week, I did get a job offer to join the recruitment consultancy and, after serving my notice on gardening leave (lovely), I started in early July.

Just to close the loop on that, it didn’t work out in the end. Eek!

It was a learning experience on both parts. I might have skills and experience at recruitment but what the role needed was a salesperson and I’m not that. I shed so many tears knowing I was a square peg in a round hole, loving the company and the team, but hating the role itself, knowing that I’d be found out at any moment.

The first few months were a fluke because I was able to secure business with a large manufacturer the agency had been desperate to work with for ages. I’d worked there many years before and one of the managers had rated me highly and was delighted to work with me again. On the back of that, I filled several vacancies, secured bonuses, and was crowned ’employee of the month’.

But once those vacancies were filled, the reality was I couldn’t do the job and that was a horrible position to be in as I’ve always been good at roles I’ve previously held.

There were no other roles around so I couldn’t jump ship, even though I wanted to. The day my manager called me into a room and said ‘this isn’t working’, I also cried. Shock? Yes. Relief? Oh, yes! Time to pack up my desk again…

Fortunately, I’d put feelers out once more. I’d held a very part-time job for several years as an internal verifier for a company who offered the HR professional qualification by distance learning. I’d been scheduled to verify a tutor on a workshop but, when his wife took ill, I was asked if I could train the workshop instead and had the opportunity to meet the manager who managed the tutors as he was tutoring on a workshop that same weekend. I explained my predicament and asked him if they might be looking for any more tutors. It so happened that they would be as the company had expansion plans for later in the year. Yay!

I got straight onto the phone to him while I was waiting for hubby to pick me up after losing my job at the recruitment agency and, within a couple of weeks, I’d secured a tutoring role alongside the verifying role and did that for the next five years.

Last June – roughly five years on from first being published – I marked my final assignment and became a full-time author. This was always my dream although the struggles I had in the first five years as a published author meant I never expected to achieve it. I never gave up hope, though.

To all the readers and bloggers/reviewers who have been with me since the beginning or those who’ve discovered my writing more recently, I cannot thank you enough for putting this square peg firmly in a matching square hole. I’ve finally found my place.

And to my editor Nia and the team at Boldwood Books, you know how grateful I am for being selected as one of the first twenty authors when you first set up and for everything you have done to take my books to an international audience and achieve so many dreams. Thank you doesn’t seem enough.

So I’ll raise a glass (of water – it is only lunchtime after all) and toast a happy sixth anniversary. And it truly is a happy one now that I’ve found the place I was always meant to be.

To quote Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are they day you are born and the day you find out why”. The day I became an author was the day I found out why, but this last year or so has been the year I’ve experienced why. The gorgeous reviews, social media posts, and messages from readers about how much my books have meant to them have meant so much to me.

My hubby had canvases made for me on the publication day for Searching for Steven with Rhys’s and Steven’s covers on them and the Mark Twain quote. It hangs above my desk and I look at it several times each day and am so grateful to have found my purpose in life.

Thank you for all the support.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Wishing you a happy notebook day!

Did you know it’s notebook day today – 20th May 2021? Nope, me neither, but a lovely reader/reviewer, Sue, posted on social media about it. Thanks, Sue.

Like so many authors, I’m a bit stationery obsessed. Let’s face it, you don’t need to be an author to have that obsession at all and I’ve been a huge fan of all things stationery-related from a very young age. I get excited looking at a packet of felt-tip pens/highlighters/Sharpies/Stabilo fine points laid out in in a stunning colour transition format. Oh my goodness, I’ve gone to my happy place just thinking about it!

My absolute favourite of favourites is notebooks so I’m thrilled to discover there is a day to celebrate them. Apparently this year is the sixth annual special day. How have I missed this?

So, in celebration of notebook day 2021, I thought I’d share some photos of my collection. It is a hideously dark day and bucketing it down where I am so I apologise if the photos are a little more dull than I might have liked. Hope the fabulousness is still clear.

I’ve written a few bits to bring the collection to life but I completely understand if you just want to scroll through the pics and gaze at their loveliness!

Let’s start by seeing the collection… or the largest part of it. I used to have these on my bookshelves but they were taking up such a huge amount of space that I put them in a crate. The ones leaning at the front all live in the crate but I needed to take them out to get the full effect. If I’ve counted correctly, there are 45 living there!

I use a notebook for each book I’m working on. I develop mind maps for each of my characters which capture details about their appearance, job, family, age, motivations and so on. I add in information about the timeline/critical dates, work through problems, and scribble down research.

They’re mainly A5 sized as that sits nicely in a plastic wallet for each book along various other documents I create as part of my process and I don’t need more space than that for the information I include.

Many have been gifts but most have been ones I’ve bought for myself because there’s something on the front cover which is relevant for a future project or simply because they were gorgeous. And, of course, there are bargains I have picked up in a sale and couldn’t resist at the reduced rate!

I absolutely adore hand-stitched journals. Paperchase carry a stunning range of these and they’re gorgeous for gifts (to myself!!!) Aren’t these just stunning? There isn’t a Paperchase in Scarborough so I have to wait until I visit York to explore. I can, of course, order them online, but I do like to stroke the books with texture.

I’ve been attracted to other notebooks simply because they’re beautiful. I am not a huge fan of ‘boring insides’ i.e. pages that are just white lined or plain paper. I like colour and/or an image. So much more inspiring. The ones in my crate that do have a ‘boring’ inside tend to be the ones I keep rejecting (sorry notebooks).

The ‘Agenda’ one was a Sainsbury’s one. From time to time, they carry lovely ranges of stationery. Not sure about the middle one – maybe Paperchase – and the flowery one is Cath Kidston and the pages are coloured and flowery. Gorgeous.

The one below is a bit bigger than my usual size but isn’t it so pretty? I know it’s only stripes but there’s something about that colour combination that is so beautiful. I bought it in TK Maxx. I’ll be honest. Not my favourite shop for clothes – I don’t have the patience to rummage – but I love the home section and particularly love their stationery. Every so often, I’ll find something gorgeous.

I love the journal-style notebooks. I think these may all have been gifts. The central one definitely was; a gorgeous gift from the hubby. I love the old-fashioned feel from he soft leather and the strap. Mmmm.

Some of my notepads are bought for the cute factor. These ones, for example, are for stroking. I bought the bear for myself and the other two were for my daughter but she never used them and put them on a clear-out pile … so I snaffled them! The fluffy ears may not be the most practical when it comes to writing on the left-sided page but awwww, soooo cute!

I think the ones with ears might have been Clintons and the panda is Paperchase.

I have an eclectic mix of other cute ones. The bottom left two in the picture below were also snaffled from the daughter’s clear-out pile (I think I might have been guilty in attempting to pass on my notebook obsession over Christmases past!)

I don’t know where the top left one is from but it’s a Hallmark one so I’m thinking maybe Clintons too, and Boofle is a Clinton’s bundle of loveliness. Hadn’t realised quite how much Clintons stationery I have! I salute you, Clintons!

The top right one is a range from a Dutch company called Paperclip International which I used to stock when I had my teddy bear shop in 2003-05. I stocked a good range of Paperclip cards, love and friendship postcards (used to sell a stack of those), keyrings and stationery items, and they were really popular. The main characters were the bear and his friend a giraffe although the greetings cards and postcards included a range of other animals such as sheep and pigs. I’ve just looked on their website as I can’t remember what the little bear was called, but they don’t make the range anymore and I got bored after ten minutes of Googling and finding pictures of paperclips instead of the company.

The bottom right is another Clintons one from a collection called Herbie and Friends they had in a few years back. I loved that collection so much but I’m not sure it really took off as I managed to pick up a lot of items on sale the following year, including a soft polar bear (and a bear in the same range for the munchkin), a bag, and several stationery items.

Some notebooks were chosen for nostalgic reasons. I have a feeling the Mickey Mouse and Moomin ones were Sainsbury’s. Holly Hobbie was Clintons. I’m not such a fan of the Mickey Mouse one (sorry Mickey) as, up close, the image looks a tiny bit blurred and that messes with my eyes! I think I might have had an impulsive sale purchase there but I love the other two.

I adore Winnie the Pooh. As a child, I really wasn’t familiar with the work of A A Milne but I fell in love with the characters as an older teen and adult. I stocked traditional characters in my shop and a big range of traditional and colourful Pooh stationery. The notebooks below were not from my shop, though.

I absolutely love Eeyore’s smile on the bottom right one and the phrase: “Some days just don’t let you stay grumpy”. Awww. I have a feeling the top two were Sainsbury’s.

I was a Brown Owl for 7.5 years between 2010-2017 and absolutely loved running a Brownie Pack. Owls were therefore an obvious theme for notepads. A couple were gifts from the Brownies but most were gifts from me to me. I absolutely love the special middle one which was given to me when I stepped down from my perch from a pair of lovely sisters who came to my pack. Isn’t that the most adorable?

The top right one is a Lucy Pittaway design. If anyone has read the acknowledgements in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café, you’ll know that Lucy’s amazing artwork inspired part of that story.

Hedgehogs, of course, do feature. The bottom right one is another gorgeous Lucy Pittaway from a friend of mine, the top right is from my mum from The Works which she sent me during the first lockdown and felt particularly appropriate.

The big one is my work in progress notebook for the Hedgehog Hollow series. It’s from the Wrendale Designs range which I adore. I started writing Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow using an A5 notebook from the same range but, when I realised I had my series on my hands, I super-sized with an A4 one.

I’m also drawn to notebooks with phrases or sayings on them. I have some lovely ones from TK Maxx saying things like “if you want to write…write” but they’re in small lettering on the cover and it didn’t come out very well on camera.

I love the phrase on the pink one (another TK Maxx one). It felt so applicable to my journey to becoming an author. Ask a group of authors what phrase they often hear when they tell someone they’re an author and I can guarantee most will say this: I’d love to write a book… if only I had the time! None of us had time. Not one iota. But we were the girl (or boy) who decided to go for it. We had a dream and it would never come true if we didn’t do something about it so we created time and went for it.

The purple notepad is one of my absolute favourites for three reasons:

  1. It’s purple
  2. The quote – it’s amazing
  3. What the notepad represents

In 2002-03, I made a major change to my life. I’d ended a bad relationship in 2002 and our house was on the market. A friend gave me a gift voucher for a telephone clairvoyant. Not my thing really but I was at a career crossroads, wondering whether to leave a well-paid job to move back to the north and open a teddy bear shop or to stay put and buy a house on my own in Reading. So I made the call which changed my life. The clairvoyant told me I was going to move home and set up the shop and, not long after doing that, I’d meet the man of my dreams who’d be called Steven.

Is this sounding a little bit familiar? If you’ve read New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, you’ll recognise this as the premise for the story. I didn’t find Steven when I set up the shop but, from that clairvoyant call, I did find the premise for my debut novel. When I opened Bear’s Pad in 2003, that’s when I started to write. Having the shop also provided the inspiration for All You Need is Love which is partially set in a specialist teddy bear shop.

In New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, the main character Sarah comes across lots of different Stevens when she takes over her auntie’s florist’s and that was all inspired by my real life experiences when opening Bear’s Pad. You know that red notebook with the little yellow bear from earlier? The rep for Paperclip was called Stephen. I’d made enquiries with the company to stock their products and someone rang me to say a rep was in the area and did I want him to call round. I had such a shock when she gave me his name! Cue me rushing around in a panic because I had no make-up on, my hair was a mess and I was in casual clothes as I’d been cleaning and painting!

Anyway, I said the purple notebook was particularly special for what it represents. When I was getting ready to leave Reading and move home, a good friend of mine came to stay with me and she presented me with the notebook with best wishes for the new chapter of my life. She knew my premise for my debut book and the quote (which I’ve put in a bigger picture below) couldn’t be more appropriate. And I did become what I imagined!

I have a drawer full of small A6-sized notebooks and another drawer full of even smaller ones (not shown) and usually pop one of those in my handbag when I’m out and about as you never know when inspiration might hit. Yes, I know I can use the Notes app on my phone but a phone isn’t stationery and doesn’t get me excited!

And I have another drawer of A4 notebooks. I have future plans for a series set on a farm so I bought the highland cow in anticipation of that. It’s from the same series as the hedgehog one – Wrendale Designs – and I love it lots.

I’ve a bit of an obsession with desk jotters too. Spot the Herbie and Friends one, picked up in the sale…

And, finally, I have a drawer full of unicorn ones as I have a plan for a future project involving them but goodness knows whether I’ll ever find the time to write it. Still, the stationery is ready for if and when I do!

So on notebook day, I think we can safely say I have a notebook obsession! I’m trying to be good. When I’m writing a new book, I do try to select one from the collection rather then buy a new one but it’s hard when they’re not quite right! Some of the ones in the collection have specifically been bought for future projects although I did recently purchase one for a future project, went to put it in the crate, and realised I already had two with that particular theme on them. Oops!

Are you a notebook fan? Do you have a crazy large collection like me? What draws you to them? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Making Wishes at Bay View makes wishes come true

The first book in my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, Making Wishes at Bay View, has reached a huge ratings/reviews milestone on Amazon today, passing the 1,000 point. Woo hoo!

This is the sixth of my books to pass the 1k milestone, joining Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, The Secret to Happiness, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café. and I still have to pinch myself that this has happened.

Before I joined Boldwood Books, this particular book had somewhere in the region of 30-40 reviews on it and none of my books had reached the 100 point, never mind 1,000!

I’m so chuffed that they’re mainly positive too. Thank you to all the readers and bloggers who have taken the time to share the book love and to pass on their recommendations to friends and family. It makes such a difference.

I’m now watching the remaining books in the series. They’re all way past the 700 point with which I’m delighted.

It looks as though Coming Home to Seashell Cottage – the final book in the series – will make it to 1,000 first. I love all the books for different reasons but this is my personal favourite as I love the many twists and turns in the story. I’m not sure whether it has the most reviews out of the remaining three because more readers loved it or because not all readers have reviewed the previous books, instead rating book 4 with their thoughts on the whole series. Whatever the case, this is a very happy sight…

Thank you again for helping Making Wishes at Bay View achieve this amazing milestone today.

Have a fabulous week.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Amazing Kindle Deals in Australia TODAY ONLY

Happy Easter everyone!

Down in Australia, the Easter bunny is delivering a fabulous basket of treats for Kindle readers because a whopping eight of my ebooks … yes, EIGHT of them … are on a very special offer for ONE DAY ONLY.

The four titles in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Series, one of my Hedgehog Hollow books, and three more of my Whitsborough Bay books are all reduced to the ridiculously low price of $0.99 for SUNDAY 4th APRIL ONLY:

  • Making Wishes at Bay View (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay book 1)
  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay book 2)
  • Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay book 3)
  • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay book 4)
  • The Secret to Happiness
  • Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes
  • Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café
  • New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow (Hedgehog Hollow book 2)

And All You Need Is Love and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (book 1 in the Hedgehog Hollow series) are both only $1.89 on offer at the moment too.

So you can get all ten of my Boldwood Books releases for only $11.70!!!

You can find my Amazon Australia books here.

The only book not on offer is Charlee and the Chocolate Shop because that’s due an edit and re-release from Boldwood Books in July so I’d encourage waiting until then to read the fresh version.

Happy Easter and happy reading! Please tell your friends and family and I wish you a fabulous Easter weekend.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Celebrating a very special book birthday

It’s a busy end to the week as I was celebrating the publication day for All You Need Is Love yesterday and, today, I’m celebrating a special book birthday.

Today is one year since the final part of the ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series was released through Boldwood Books. Woo hoo! Happy book birthday to the series!

The four-book series had previously been published under different titles and the rights were acquired by Boldwood as part of my original publishing deal. They all had a fresh edit and were updated for a quick-succession re-release between January and March 2020. My writing was largely undiscovered before joining Boldwood and the idea of four novels being released so close together was to build my name and create an appetite for the next part in the series.

This plan absolutely worked and I still can’t quite believe how well my debut series (which is also available as a boxset with additional exclusive content) has done during this year after five years of struggling to get noticed:

  • More than 130k copies of the books combined (across all formats) since being re-released by Boldwood
  • Nearly 3000 reviews/ratings on Amazon, 93% of which are 4 or 5-star
  • Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1) going into The Works
  • Making Wishes at Bay View being free book of the week on Apple UK and USA and reaching #1 on the free UK chart/#16 in the USA
  • Making Wishes at Bay View breaking the Top 100 in Australia and Canada
  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2) going into Prime Reading and reaching #14 in the overall UK Kindle chart
  • All the books making it into the UK Kindle Top 200 and staying there for the whole of the summer
  • Books 2-4 making it into the Apple Romance Chart Top 5 at the same time and the overall Top 25
  • Best seller tags for all books at the same time

I often get asked which of these books is my favourite and I love them all for a different reason:

  • Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1) was such a fun story to write and Ruby is one of my favourite characters. She was fascinating to create and I love the banter she has with Iris
  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2) was the first book I ever wrote. The main character, Sarah, is predominantly based on me and the premise of the story is a true-life event. As this was where it all started, this book will always have a special place in my heart
  • Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (book 3) is a lovely story of how to pick yourself up after everything in your life falls apart. I love Elise’s journey and I also love the way the friendship dynamics between the main characters in this series begin to shift. The relationships with friends and family are a very important aspect of my stories and often take centre-stage over the romance
  • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (book 4) is Clare’s story and I have to confess it is my favourite as I love the plot. Clare arrived in book 2 as a spiky character with a mysterious past and here we discover why she’s the way she is. It’s a story full of twists and turns and I’m so proud of this book

I have amazing reviews for all the stories which makes me so very happy but New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms does have a few more negative reviews than the others. In some quite angry ranty 1 and 2-star reviews, Sarah is accused of being silly and her actions childish or selfish. While I completely accept that everyone likes different things and not everyone is going to love my work, I do feel sad that those readers have missed the point of a character arc. Sarah does make some some questionable decisions early on but her journey is one of learning from those and she experiences major character development over the course of the book.

At the start of the book, Sarah has stayed in a relationship for a year too long (not an abusive relationship; just one that isn’t right) and there are also reviews commenting on how ridiculous that is and that she should have just left him/nobody stays in a rubbish relationship for that long. Who are these people as I’d like to congratulate them? I am in huge admiration of anyone who can be in a long-term relationship and walk away just like that but I would suggest that the reality of most relationships is that walking away is not that easy. The person may be very aware that the relationship is not right for them but there can be a million reasons why they don’t walk away including fear of being alone, financial challenges, where to live, children, self-esteem, mental health and so on. Sometimes what lies on the other side doesn’t seem more appealing than what they already have. I know this because I was in a relationship like that. I knew it was wrong all along but I wasn’t in a place where I could deal with walking away. I know so many men and women who would admit to the same. Thankfully hundreds of readers do relate to Sarah, find her scenario very realistic, and are rooting for her all the way.

One of my aims for 2021 was not to be hurt by negative reviews and to remain focused on the positive ones and I’ve made great progress with this but I have to admit that I was a bit (a lot) wounded by a particular scathing 2-star review I spotted on Audible for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms a couple of days ago. I’ve pasted it below as it’s quite a long review:

Ouch! There are so many interesting things about this review. Firstly, book 1 of the series is not the chocolate pot cafe (Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café). That particular story is set in Whitsborough Bay but is not part of the ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series. It was written several years later. Therefore the last paragraph all about the links is inaccurate because there aren’t meant to be links. The Chocolate Pot is mentioned a couple of times in New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms because it’s on the same street as Seaside Blooms but, at the time the book was written, Tara and her story from Starry Skies… did not exist.

So if we remove the comments about the two books not following on from each other, we have that the story was ‘flat’ and ‘like the writer had a multi book deal and had to bang out something else.’ Wow! That’s a bit harsh! Every author starts somewhere and, although New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms is book 2 in the series, it is the first book I wrote as book 1 was written afterwards as a prequel/introduction to the world of Whitsborough Bay. Seaside Blooms is my debut – my first book baby delivered into the world and I am immensely proud of it. It does have twists and turns in it. They may not have the same shock/surprise as a couple of the revelations in Starry Skies… but they’re still there. When I started out writing, I intended to write romantic comedies but my ideas developed and my writing style developed and I now write contemporary women’s fiction. My later books are more emotional than my early ones and some of the plots are more intricate. It’s common and natural for a writer to adjust their style the more books they write. Their voice will develop and their confidence will grow and they may well experiment with style and genre. That’s not to say romcoms don’t have complex plots – they absolutely do – but my natural style moved away from the comedy and more into the angst although all my books are warm and uplifting and do still contain humour which balances the more emotional moments.

The real shame about this is that I have lost a reader/listener who clearly has some gripes about the story but, given a significant focus of the review is the lack of link to a story it’s not meant to be linked to, I can’t help feeling that this misunderstanding on the reader’s part has heavily influenced their contempt for this story. I’m trying to put myself in their shoes and, if I wrongly believed this was a follow-on from Starry Skies… I’d be confused too. The thing is, Audible clearly does show which books are in the series (see below), as do Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Fantastic Fiction…

Stung by this review – and thinking of the small number of negative ones for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – I decided to conduct a poll in my Facebook readers’ group asking members who’d read the full series to let me know which was their favourite. We’re talking a small sample here but the results were interesting:

  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – 53%
  • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage – 32%
  • Making Wishes at Bay View and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove tied – 7%

Many of those who voted did add a comment that they absolutely loved all of them but I had pushed them to pick one as I was curious as to the results and it was both surprising and reassuring that more than half the vote went to the book that has generated the most negative comments. I’m going to focus on the hundreds who love it and thank them so much for sharing that love.

So happy birthday to the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series and thank you to everyone who has bought/ borrowed/ downloaded any of the stories, loved them, and reviewed/ rated/ recommended them. You are absolute superstars. Callie, Sarah, Elise, Clare and the rest of the cast of characters in Whitsborough Bay send you hugs of appreciation.

And thank you to Boldwood Books and my amazing editor Nia for breathing fresh life into these stories and taking them to such a wide readership. I’m forever grateful.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

How a piece of coursework became a series: The story behind the story of Hedgehog Hollow

New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – the second book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – has been out for just over a week now and there are two more books planned so far. Book 3 – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – is going through the final publisher edits at the moment and is available for pre-order, and book 4 (not yet written or titled) will be out in January 2022. But this series started as a coursework activity on my Masters in Creative Writing. So how did a short exercise develop into (at least) a four-book series?

Ideas are everywhere if you keep your mind open. A newspaper headline, a song lyric, a snippet of overheard conversation, an old church, a quirky cottage, a character trait… the list could go on and on.

I’ve written twelve full-length novels now and the ideas for all of them have come to me in a variety of ways. The only fully-formed idea was for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – book 2 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series but the first book I wrote. I personally received a clairvoyant reading telling me that, when I moved back to the north and opened up a shop, I would meet the man of my dreams called Steven. This triggered the whole plot for that story but it’s the only time this has happened. All my other stories have developed on the back of something smaller which has developed into a bigger idea with the help of the most valuable question a writer can ask themselves: What if…?

Between 2017 and 2019, I completed a Masters in Creative Writing through Open University. We had assignments to submit for formal marking but we also had shorter writing activities to share with our tutor group for feedback and discussion. In our first year, one of these activities was around characters being in uncomfortable scenarios where they needed to hide how they really felt.

As I write romance stories, I wanted a romantic scenario and what is more romantic than a wedding? The bride would (hopefully) be happy on her wedding day so she wasn’t the ideal person to be my protagonist but her bridesmaid could be ideal…

What if… the bridesmaid had to act all happy and smiley but was secretly devastated because the groom was the man she loved? I liked that idea.

And what if… the bride wasn’t just her best friend but also a relative? Sister? Bit too close perhaps. Cousin? That certainly added some intrigue. 

So I had my love triangle: Samantha being bridesmaid at Chloe’s wedding – her best friend and cousin – and the groom, James, being the man they both loved.

This presented lots more questions. Why was Chloe marrying the man Samantha loved? Did James know Samantha loved him? What was his relationship to Samantha? So many possibilities!

But this wasn’t a fully-formed plot idea. It was just a starting point. I needed so much more including a setting. So far, all of my books had been set in the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay but, even if I was sticking with Whitsborough Bay, I still needed a specific setting for this story. For some reason, Samantha didn’t strike me as one of the Castle Street business owners. So who was she?

For a while, I’d been thinking of setting one of my stories on a farm. I had a vision of my protagonist stumbling across a dilapidated farm and befriending the owner.

I’d also been thinking about setting a story in a hedgehog rescue centre. My auntie runs a small-scale rescue centre and I’d talked to her about what the role involved. I was a Brown Owl at the time and one of my Brownies was passionate about animals, particularly hedgehogs, and she asked if she could talk to the pack about them for one of her badges. I discovered through her that there was a hedgehog rescue centre in the village where our pack was based. It was called Sleepy Hollow (since closed) which I thought was gorgeous. I love a bit of alliteration and ‘Hedgehog Hollow’ immediately popped into my mind for my story, if I ever wrote it.

So here I was with three separate ideas: a story set in a rescue centre called ‘Hedgehog Hollow’, a protagonist stumbling across a dilapidated farm, and a love triangle at a wedding. Could they be combined?

What if… Samantha was the person who stumbled across the dilapidated farm?

What if… she was a nurse so she was able to help the person she found and potentially have a reason to stay in touch with him afterwards?

And what if… she found him because she was lost on what was already proving to be a stinker of a day: Chloe and James’s wedding?

Ooh, and what if… the farm was a hedgehog rescue centre?

With lots more questions and what ifs, the idea for Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow came together.

It was only meant to be one book but I fell in love with Samantha and the beautiful Hedgehog Hollow and there was no way I could just get the rescue centre up and running then leave it there. I certainly wanted to know more. And from the amazing reviews I’ve had so far, readers have absolutely loved their return to the rescue centre on the Yorkshire Wolds.

A few days ago, I posted that I’d passed 100 reviews within a week. I’m thrilled and astonished to say that, just a few days later, I’ve passed 200 reviews and still no 1 or 2-star ones. (217 global reviews/ratings and, from them, just 9 ratings (without reviews) at 3-star). Eek!

What’s that saying? Out of small acorns grow giant oak trees? Something like that! That’s how I find most of my books grow. There’s a small acorn of an idea and I plant it in my mind, feed it with some questions, and it grows roots and branches until it’s a become a tree. And, in the case of Hedgehog Hollow, it’s not just one tree; it’s a small copse.

Although there are four books planned, there’s so much scope with these characters and this setting. Who knows where it will take me next?

A huge thank you to everyone who has shared their love for New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow and is excited to read Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow. The hedgehogs and I are absolutely delighted with your support.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Why I absolutely loved, loved, LOVED Bridgerton

I’ve been working flat out recently – evenings and weekends – working on the first round of edits for the third book in my Hedgehog Hollow series: Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow. With them emailed to my editor on Sunday evening and the second round due back within a week, it didn’t make sense to get into my next book – only to have to dip out of it soon after – so I decided to take this week off to catch up on a combination of housework and admin. And perhaps a rare bit of relaxation.

Last night, conscious I was quite late to the party as friends have been raving about it for a while, I decided to try the first episode of Netflix’s new eight-strong series: Bridgerton. Four episodes later, I had to force myself to stop watching and go to bed. Today I caught up on the remaining four. Wow! What a series!

I do love a period drama but I dragged my heels on watching this one and nearly didn’t bother last night because I was disappointed with a couple of period films I’d watched over Christmas and was reluctant to invest my time in Bridgerton in case it left me with the same feeling of disappointment. It absolutely didn’t.

The two films in question were Emma and Little Women. Both really good films and I am sure that many will have loved them but I’m afraid I personally preferred previous adaptations of both. I love the 1994 version of Little Women starring Winona Ryder and Emma was always going to have tough boots to fill for me as the 1996 version starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Toni Collette and Ewan McGregor is one of my all-time favourite films.

I confess I haven’t read either of the books so I have no idea which version of the film is the closest representation of Austen’s/Alcott’s classics but the 90s films definitely did it for me.

It’s always hard, isn’t it, when there’s a remake of a film you love? I can’t think of any occasions where I’ve preferred the version I’ve seen second time around. Miracle on 34th Street is my all-time favourite Christmas film but it’s the 1994 version I love. I’ve never seen the 1947 original as I know I will be constantly comparing it, even though I know most who saw that first will probably say it’s the best.

Anyway, back to Bridgerton. Set in 1813 Regency England, why did I love it so much?

The Costumes

Oh my goodness, how simply divine were the costumes? Tiaras? Jewellery? Apparently a whopping 7,500 pieces were made for the series with the lead female character having a whopping 104 costume changes. Eek! And the make-up and hairstyles were fabulous too. Stunning. I loved how the two main families – Bridgerton and Featheringtons – had a colour palette. And the final ball is a visual delight of different shades of blue.

The Music

Set across one debutante season, Bridgerton is packed full of balls so there’s lots of music courtesy of string quartets. As I listened, I thought, ‘I recognise this song!’ and I don’t mean familiarity with a classical piece. You see, the music is contemporary but played by a string quartet in the regency style. I specifically recognised ‘In My Blood’ by Shawn Mendes (the munchkin is a huge fan of his so I know that song well) and ‘Wildest Dreams’ by Taylor Swift (although I confess to only confirming that one after I Googled it as I didn’t quite get there and it was bugging me!) I loved this contemporary edge on a period piece.

The Settings

As with any period drama involving society, there are some sumptuous properties. Much of the series was filmed in London and Bath but there were various settings used around the country and I was particularly thrilled to spot that The Duke of Hastings’s fictional home was Castle Howard. Deep in the countryside off the A64 between Scarborough and York, I love Castle Howard. I visited it with my good friend and fellow author, Sharon Booth, in Christmas 2019 where the decorations were masquerade-themed. We’d have returned in 2020 if we could but hopefully will be able to return in 2021. I’ve put a few pics below although the sunny one was not from Christmas 2019!

Incidentally, Castle Howard makes an appearance in one of my books – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – under the guise of Denbury Castle where protagonist Sarah has a hot air balloon flight.

The Story

But my absolute favourite part was the story itself. It was fast-paced, gripping, full of intriguing characters. It was about love, family and friendships and all the challenges that come with that. It explored how relationships change as character circumstances change. It made me laugh out loud and it made me cry. In short, it was everything a good book should be and these are the elements I endeavour to include in all my stories as they are what excite me.

Ultimately, this was a beautiful love story about someone whose past has left them damaged and how they find their way through that. Again, a bit of a theme for my own writing.

I loved the idea that the narrator, voiced by Julie Andrews, is the person who pens the society gossip pages – Lady Whistledown – whose identity is a mystery but whose narrative certainly causes a few problems for everyone. This added a level of intrigue throughout the series which was fun. I made several wrong guesses in the first couple of episodes before guessing correctly. Not that guessing spoilt my enjoyment of the rest as I did change my mind a couple of times after that before the final reveal!

I adored all the comments about the place of women and could feel the frustration of the characters who wanted more from their lives than what society expected of them. I felt invested in them all and hoped they’d manage to achieve their dreams in the future.

And I love that this beautiful story has not been out of the Top 10 on Netflix since its release on Christmas Day proving that romance stories are alive and loved. As they should be!

I don’t want to say too much more as I don’t want to give any spoilers but I’m delighted to see the author of the books – Julia Quinn – riding high in the Amazon and Apple charts (screen shot from Apple as there were more of her books together at the time of writing).

I’d love to read the books and I can’t wait for season 2 of the series (had been planned but filming coudln’t go ahead due to the pandemic). Netflix haven’t confirmed a second season but, after the success of this one, surely there’s no question that they will.

Congratulations to Julia Quinn, Netflix, and absolutely everyone involved in this production. My faith in period dramas has been restored.

Have you seen it? If so, what did you think? Had you perhaps read the books first? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Big hugs
Jessica xx