The one with the robin, the fairytales and all the snow

November and early December have passed me by in a blur. I started writing Summer Nights at The Starfish Café on 4th November and submitted it to my editor on 5th December but over two thirds of that were written in the last ten days. I returned from a few days away in York with some of my author friends, panicking that I’d written just shy of 30k words so, considering my novels are usually about 100k words, I had a long way to go in a very short space of time. Eek!

Somehow I pulled it out of the bag and wrote a whopping 68,569 words during that last ten days. Unfortunately, I had to cancel going to a family event which fell on Saturday 3rd Dec as I absolutely needed that time (over 8k words were written that day). With 10,141 words written on the Sunday and 10,662 on the Monday, I finally submitted at 10.30pm with an apology email to my poor editor that the story was there but the manuscript was a mess. It’s the first time ever that I haven’t been able to go back through and do any editing. I hate submitting sub-standard work but I’ve been playing catch-up all year and after a few tough edits and illness and this book was a victim of that.

I now have the edits back and thankfully my editor loves the story so it’s a case of developing the two main characters a bit more, smoothing out the action, clarifying a few points here and there… basically a huge amount of work but nothing I didn’t expect. I’m hoping to get some good in-roads into that before Christmas. The magic happens in the editing stage, turning a good story into a great book.

Despite the intensity of the writing, I have managed to get out and about a bit as well. I’ve already written a blog post about my few days away in York but, before that, I went on a crafting workshop. Quite a few of the characters I write about have some impressive creative skills – chocolatier, cake decorator, crafter – so you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m a creative myself and put a little of me into those characters. I wish I was but my creative talents relate to writing and I’m more of a trier with varying degrees of success with any other types of craft.

A few years ago, I made a needlefelted stag at a one-day workshop with local crafting studio Ebberston Studios (Ebberston being a village between Scarborough and Pickering). I was really proud of it so, when I saw them advertising a robin workshop this year, I had to sign up, especially as robins have a special relevance for me in my Hedgehog Hollow series.

I’m really pleased with the result. What do you think? Here’s how he started and how he finished. I did, of course, need to wear a ‘Rudy’ robin dress from Poppy Clothing for the occasion which you can find here although, if you search on ‘robin’, you’ll find it comes in two different dress designs.

I’ve signed up for a wet felting workshop in February to make some hearts. Really looking forward to having a go at a different craft.

Last Thursday, hubby and I picked up our daughter after school and went to Castle Howard to see their ‘Into the Woods – A Fairytale Christmas’ event. This is the third time I’ve visited this stately home decorated at Christmas. Each year there’s a theme and a trail to follow round the house. The first year I went during the day but we had to go on an evening last year after our weekend booking got canceled due to a horrendous storm. It was lovely on the evening as the lights showed better, it was quieter and it had a lovely atmosphere.

This year was a little disappointing. I really liked the installation. There was some amazing detail as always although I will admit it perhaps wasn’t quite as impressive as Narnia last year. There’s a corridor you go along, for example, which was full of Christmas trees as though walking through a forest. Last year, in Narnia, there was an atmosphere in this corridor with wind whistling and moving lights which was lacking for this year which was a shame, although realistically Narnia is so magical and perfect for Christmas that it was always going to be a tough act to follow.

The part that disappointed me was therefore not the installation itself but what happened afterwards. Last time, we came out into the courtyard, explored the gift shop, hubby had a coffee and the daughter and I toasted giant marshmallows over a fire pit. It was lovely. This year, we came out and the gift shop and cafe were closed and the fire pit had been extinguished! We felt like we were being rushed out of the place and it put a dampener on the visit. Hubby and daughter have said they won’t return next year as it took us longer to drive there than we actually spent there which isn’t right. So I either give it a miss next year or go on my own. What a shame. Anyway, here’s some pics from it. They’re not amazing as you can’t use flash but hopefully they give you a feel for what it was like. Spot the hedgehog!

On Saturday, the daughter and I went to Northallerton to meet with my side of the family for a pub lunch. We nipped across early so we could go to Strikes, the local garden centre, and I was thrilled to spot my books in there.

They were in The Works too. I always look for books by friends when I visit The Works and it’s a special moment if we’ve been positioned alongside mine, just like they were here. Jo Bartlett, Helen Rolfe and I are all with the same publisher, Boldwood Books, and we started out our journey together a decade ago as a collective called The Write Romantics so it’s lovely to share shelf space with them.

I posed with a nutcracker outside a lovely furniture/gift shop and the tree was in the coffee lounge of the hotel. Love all the elves on it.

I’ve had a meet-up with authors Sharon Booth and Eliza J Scott too – always a good excuse for a yummy hot chocolate. Eliza and I were both wearing the same Christmas jumper and were meant to get a photo of us together but completely forgot. I did take a pic of the drink, though. I’ve also been enjoying my Lindt advent calendar. Mmmm.

Finally for this post, we’ve had snow in Scarborough. Lots of it! It came down on Wednesday night/Thursday morning with a good covering but, when we went to Castle Howard that evening, we were surprised to see it ended not that far outside Scarborough and there was none inland. It’s been so cold here that the snow has never gone and we’ve had more. We’re probably only talking a couple of inches but, because what was already there hadn’t melted, it’s very icy out there.

It’s causing chaos with lots of things being cancelled and moved around. I’ve just had a phone call this morning cancelling my optician appointment for the second time, both because the snow is stopping the optician getting in. I’ve also had my hairdresser needing to shift next week’s appointment to this evening because her son’s nativity has been moved to next week due to the snow, clashing with my original appointment. It’s all fun! However, as I write this, the rain has started. This will either wash the snow away … or leave more ice. Eek!

The super talented photographer hubby has taken advantage of the snow and captured some amazing photos in Wykeham Forest just outside Scarborough. If you want to follow him on Instagram, you can see his full range of pics – @MarkHeslington – but here are a couple of the ones that made me smile as a certain dog photobombed them! Let’s play spot the sprocker!

He also got these gorgeous photos of Whitsborough Bay (aka Scarborough) this morning after dropping our daughter off at school. So pretty although I feel sooo cold looking at them. He said it was -3 when he got out of the car. Brr!

I’d say I’d rather stay inside where it’s warm but that would be a lie. I’m nithered! I’ve got a long-sleeved T-shirt, a Christmas jumper and a fleecy oodie on, leggings and a long skirt and I’m still chilly. Might need another blast of the heater.

I’ll be back again before Christmas as I have a post about my Christmas decorations to do but bye for now. Stay safe, stay warm and hope the last nine days of prep go well.

Big snowy hugs
Jessica xx

The one where the Write Romantics went to York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big hugs
Jessica xx