My Lovely Blog Hop

My writing friend, Jo Bartlett, invited me to participate in the ‘Lovely Blog Hop’ (see her post here) in which writers pass on the baton to other writers to talk about what has shaped their life and writing under a number of headings. Jo is my kindred spirit of the writing world. She’s the co-founder of The Write Romantics alongside me, and we’re also publishing buddies with So Vain Books. Her debut novel ‘Among a Thousand Stars‘ is released on 17th June in e-Book and paperback formats, and will be available for pre-order within a week or two. Her novella, ‘The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come‘ is still available. Although the start and end of the book are set at Christmas, the action spans a whole year so it can be enjoyed all year-round.

Jo kindly also nominated our writing friend Sharon Booth whose debut novel ‘There Must Be An Angel‘ is available now and is a fabulous read. You can read her Lovely Blog Hop here.

First Memory

P1060221I’ve recently written something about a first memory being pushing my pram around the estate I lived on until shortly before my 4th birthday so I won’t repeat that one here. Instead, a slightly later – but probably the next oldest – memory is of being in reception class at primary school. Mrs Wheel, the reception teacher, was the school’s pianist and, once a week, the rest of the infants (KS1 in new money?) would gather in her classroom and sing songs. The reception children would put the small chairs round the outside of the room and we’d typically get to sit on these and bag some spares for older siblings. I can remember sitting on one and saving one for my older brother Michael and one of his friends (also called Michael). Mark Readman who was in my class and who lived over the road from me asked if he could sit in one and I can remember looking at him, shaking my head, feeling very strange … then promptly vomiting all over the floor! Oops! I bet the teachers absolutely loved me for doing this minutes before three classes of children were about to merge. Especially as it was on the carpeted part of the classroom too! They used to then put poorly children in the reception area on a camp bed, tucked in with a ridiculous number of wooden blankets, until their parents came to collect them. I remember a couple of teachers walking past and one asking the other who was in the bed. The reply was something like, ‘It’s Michael Williams’s little sister and she just threw up all over the floor of the classroom!’ Even at the tender age of four or five, I was mortified by this and hid under the blankets willing my mum to appear and take me away from the humiliation! Did you enjoy that memory? 😉

Books

_MG_4519As a child, I played out a lot on my bike. There were lots of children on our estate of about the same age, give or take a couple of years, so there was nearly always someone to play with when I was primary school age. I used to go out on my bike a lot, dress up and parade round the streets with my female friends, and build dens in the fields at the bottom of our road with the boys. For me, reading was therefore more of a before-bedtime or on holiday activity. I loved Enid Blyton, especially The Faraway Tree series, Famous Five and Mallory Towers. I graduated to Adrian Mole, then Virginia Andrews’s Flowers in the Attic series, then I would say I had quite a gap when I barely read. I’d say these were my university years and just beyond when life seemed to be about studying, working, and socialising rather than reading. The discovery of chicklit in my mid-twenties got me back into reading. I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like to as I’m often writing until 10pm or 11pm and then I can barely keep my eyes open to read. I have a dream of being a full time writer one day and being able to incorporate reading as part of my day. I bet I don’t … but it’s a nice thing to imagine!

Libraries

I can’t remember what led me to first visit our local library. It might have been a visit with school, but I went through a phase of going down on a weekend with my mum and selecting some books to take home. The thing was, I rarely read any of them! I was a slow reader. I still am. Therefore I would struggle to get through one book, nevermind a pile of them! I think mum cottoned onto this and stopped taking me.

P1040080The munchkin goes to the local library where we live now. My mother in law volunteers once or twice a week on the mobile library so her link has helped Ashleigh get involved. She loves choosing her books and has completed a reading challenge the last couple of years – Spooky House then Myths & Legends – where they have to read something like six books over the summer. It’s promoted through her primary school and the librarians come in with certificates and present them in assembly which I think is lovely. She has these proudly displayed in clip frames on her wall.

I’m going to be involved with the libraries in the local area soon. I’m a Brown Owl and, as a celebration of my debut book launch in June, the Brownies are going to do their book lover and writer badges after the May half term. This will involve a trip to the same library that Ashleigh uses. I happened to mention in my email that the reason I was doing the badge was because I was about to release my debut novel and they’ve become very excited about that. My husband is an amateur photographer and has met someone through this who is a senior manager across North Yorkshire’s library so she’s also been keen to work with me. The consequence is that I’m going to the local library in a weeks’ time to discuss a library tour and signing. I’ve also been invited to join their book club which is all very exciting.

What’s Your Passion?

P1060143It probably won’t be a surprise to hear that it’s writing. If you’d asked me this question 15 years ago, I’d have struggled to answer. I’d have said I didn’t really have one and that my only hobbies and interests were reading and watching DVDs. I used to deliberately leave ‘interests’ off my CV as it sounded so bland and generic! I started to write twelve years ago and would say I loved it, but it’s really developed into a passion in the last five years or so. I couldn’t not write now. I actually struggle to remember what life was like without writing.

Linked to writing, I’m passionate about stationery. I could spend hours in WH Smiths, Waterstones and Rymans, stroking the notepads and oggling at the pens! Paperchase excites me too, but we don’t have one in Scarborough. We do, however, have one in Beverley where I read my writing pals Sharon and Alys every couple of months. I always arrive early to fit in a Paperchase visit!

I love running my Brownie pack. I love the organising element that goes in behind the scenes, and the satisfaction that my five leaders and I run meetings that give so much pleasure to the girls and make our pack permanently oversubscribed.


I am passionate about teddy bears, particularly proper collectible ones. I was so passionate about this that I packed in a well paid job twelve years ago to set up and run my own teddy bear themed shop!

P1030875And bootcamp! I rise at 5.20am three mornings a week (and I’m NOT a morning person) to do a bootcamp on Scarborough’s North Bay. I’ve massively increased my fitness, but I’m useless at dieting so I still need to get to grips with the weight loss part. I love the exercise, though, especially with the beach, countryside, and castle as a backdrop. Absolutely stunning.

And, of course, I’m passionate about my family, but I hope that goes without saying 🙂

Learning

I loved primary school (other than the humiliating vomiting incident), but senior school and I weren’t such good friends. I enjoyed the concept of school, but I was bullied a lot so I didn’t enjoy actually being there. There were subjects I loved like English, History and RE and others I hated and couldn’t do like Maths, Physics, Chemistry and French (although I got a Grade A GCSE so can’t have been that bad at it!)

My rather eclectic choice of GCSEs (e.g. Humanities, Typing, Commerce) didn’t naturally lend themselves to A Levels so I went to a technical college in another town and studied a BTEC in Business and Finance. I loved that qualification. It was very essay-based and I found most of the subjects (except Economics) fascinating. I worked hard on all my assignments and came out with 13 distinctions and 1 merit (was gutted by the latter!)

I then went on to Loughborough University to study a BSc (Hons) in Banking and Finance. I found university exceptionally hard and had to work my socks off to get anywhere resembling decent grades. Looking back, I feel really frustrated as it’s only in later life that I’ve realised that I was laying out my work wrong. I was losing marks from my style of writing and my improper references which was why I seemed to put heart and soul into assignments and scrape a 2:2. Grr. Why didn’t anyone tell me at the time?

Since then, I’ve done a professional qualification in Marketing and another in HR. I’ve taken work-based qualifications in Coaching and Career Development, as well as psychometric testing for recruitment and development purposes. But it’s been years and years. I feel ready to be challenged and developed at work again, but can’t see that ever happening. Of course, I’m always learning about writing but, again, would like to find more time to read my stack of ‘how-to’ books to see if I can hone my skills a bit more.

Writing

10527383_331005803724929_5378621437399779308_nAs alluded to under the passions section, writing is now part of me and who I am. I feel a bit twitchy if I don’t do any! It doesn’t have to be work on my book; it can be a blog post or even a bit of interaction on social media but I NEED to write. My dream is to write full time. I’ve been fortunate enough at work to secure a flexible working pattern where I work my full time hours across four longer days. The day I don’t work has given me a valuable insight into what being able to write all day is like and I love it. I don’t feel guilty that I’m spending time writing that I could be spending with the family because the munchkin’s at school and hubby’s working. I long for this to happen. Please buy ten million copies of my book so it can!!!

Thank you for joining my ‘Lovely Blog Tour’. I’m passing the baton to urban fantasy writer Alys West who is also a Write Romantic and local author. She’ll be sharing her experiences on Monday 11th May. Alys is currently working on the second novel of a series of three, and I’ve been lucky enough to read the first one, ‘Beltane’ and look forward to that being published soon.

Thanks again to Jo for nominating me xxx

Books, books, everywhere

I like big books and I cannot lie … Hmm, that sounds like the start of a rather dodgy song so I’ll leave it there! I like books. I like to own them. I love my Kindle (despite battling against getting one) but I will always love the physical look and feel of books. All books. I love books with pictures in them, books full of facts, and proper reading books. The problem is storage. We don’t have a big enough property to be able to devote a whole wall in the lounge to books or a wide enough hall to have bookshelves down one side. Shame. The consequence is that I have pockets of books everywhere so this is a walk-through them. Apologies that the photos aren’t brilliant. My hubby is the talented photographer in this house but he tends to take forever to set up a “project” and I know he doesn’t have the time just now.

P1050579Let’s start in my lovely new office. This was formerly the spare bedroom but, as it had probably been slept in for 6 nights over 3 years, I managed to win the battle to convert it to my writing space. Hubby finally put me some shelves up a few weeks ago. These play host to most of my paperbacks (and one or two hardbacks). I’m pretty anal and, whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to colour organise them (my clothes are colour-organised!), I have some logic to my organisation. Naturally multiple books by the same author appear together but I’ve tried to group genre together. The top shelf, bottom shelf and half of the middle shelf are predominantly romcoms or similar (except the Harry Potter ones, of course) whereas the right-hand side of the middle shelf is a bit of a mix of other genres. My triplet teddies guard them – Toffee, Fudge and Caramel. It’s not a very extensive paperback collection. Two years ago, it was double the size and I realised I was going to have to part company with half the collection or I’d be forever tripping over boxes of books. It was with a heavy heart that I freegled a stack of books I’d read and loved – Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes and many other favourites – hoping that someone else would get the joy I’d received from reading them. I regret it now but needs must!

P1050581Also in my office, under the bookshelves, I have another collection of books on top of a cupboard. These are my writing-related books. “How to” books/guides, The Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook, Baby Name book (invaluable for character names) and my Writer’s Bureau course nestle there. Really must finish my course one day soon!!! Oh, and some teddy bears. The big boy is a Charlie Bear called Asia. He’s gorgeous. I got made redundant last summer and really struggled to find a job. I finally managed to secure some minimum-wage seasonal work in a local garden centre. They sold Charlie Bears and, as I got a staff discount, I indulged when I managed to secure a permanent position (my current role). The little fella is a Thank You Me to You bear from my lovely writing friend Jay Bartlett for supporting her with the edits on her debut novel.

P1050582The books don’t finish there. I have one more stand-alone bookshelf in the office which houses an assortment of books, a stack of notepads (I have another cupboard full of them too) and books relating to one of my other passions and a former hobby. The passion is one you can probably spot from looking at the other pictures; teddy bears. I collect bears and will write a blog one day soon about my collectible ones. The books on the bottom left are all about the history of teddy bears and/or how to make bears. I can make them but it’s very time-consuming. The other hobby is flower-arranging. I took a night class about 8 years ago and got my first stage qualification. I signed up for the next stage but it all went wrong and ended up being cancelled. I’ve never bothered again since. Every year I make some arrangements at Christmas using the skills I’ve remembered but I probably won’t take it further.

P1050668Let’s leave the office and poddle across the landing into the bedroom. Not many books in there due to lack of space but we have a custom-made shelving unit by the bed that doubles up as a bedside table for my lamp, alarm clock and glass of water. This has a few hardbacks on it and, if you’re a fan, you’ll spot that four of them are Jill Mansell ones. I’m part-way through the Sophie Kinsella on the left but, of the remaining six, I’ve only read one so far. Must rectify that very soon.

The munchkin has a room absolutely packed with books, many of which are childhood classics I’ve enjoyed. She still loves her picture books even though she’s moved onto proper books with being in Year 3 now (juniors in old money!) The hubby doesn’t really do books so his shelves are pretty bare.

P1050585Downstairs, the dining room plays host to a couple of collections. When I met hubby, he was a member of something called The Folio Society. I’d not heard of them but they make gorgeous hardback books. You sign up for a membership and get a batch of books free then have a commitment to buy so many (four I think) across a 2-year period. Most of the books on the shelf here are Folio Society ones including a beautiful set of Fairy books (middle shelf) and a box set of Paddington ones (on the top of the cabinet). We’ve got an old set of Dickens classics (top shelf on the left). But, to my shame, I don’t think I’ve read a single book on this cabinet. You see, I love to own beautiful books but I seem to struggle to find time to read them. The TBR pile just grows and grows.

P1050584The other bookshelf in the dining room has more Folio books but is also home to a couple of shelves worth of recipe books and a bit of a mix of other stuff like guide books and dictionaries. Back to recipe books, herein lies another oddity. You see, I love to buy recipe books … but I don’t love to cook! It’s as though I love the idea of being able to flick through a recipe book and pull together an amazing dinner party menu … but the thought of actually doing it leaves me cold so I don’t have dinner parties and I never flick through the books. Am I strange? Don’t answer that! I used to have recipe books in the kitchen but I found they got sticky so my kitchen is a book-free zone.

P1050583The final book resting place is the lounge. We have a set of shelves on which we have a collection of “coffee table books” – those gorgeous factual books full of pictures and information which I buy thinking “I’d love to read this” but realistically just flick through the pictures instead. There’s a bit of a theme developing here, isn’t there? We’ve got some lovely books about bears (real ones as opposed to cuddly ones) from our honeymoon in Canada and lots of nature books. I will just point out that that the one that says “Joy of …” is “Joy of Nature” rather than “Joy of Sex”!!! But there are also books about forensics, the unexplained and Nostradamus. All things that fascinate me and I’d love to read about if only … yes, you’ve guessed it … if only I had the time!

I’d love to hear about you. Are you a compulsive book-purchaser like me? And do you actually read them??? Do you have books in one place or lots? I think the only places in our house without them are the bathroom/toilet/ensuite and kitchen as previously mentioned. But, if I was organised, the toilet would actually have books in. I’ve even sorted out the joke/comedy ones I’d put in there. Just need to put up a shelf. Just need to find time to put up a shelf …

Jessica xx