Happy Women’s (also read by men) Fiction Day 2021

Today is Women’s Fiction Day, a day set up two years ago by USA-based WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association) “to celebrate the authors, stories, readers, bookstores, and fans of the women’s fiction genre.” You can read more about them here.

When a reader sent me a lovely message earlier today wishing me Happy Women’s Fiction Day and thanking me for my stories, I was touched and delighted and nearly penned a blog post immediately to celebrate the day.

But then I didn’t.

And I wondered why I’d paused. I realised it was the label ‘women’s fiction’ that had stopped me.

I’m not the sort of person who gets precious about labels because I know I work in an industry that is rife with them. Two decades ago before I ever entertained the idea of being an author, I used the term ‘chick-lit’ for what I read. When I became an author many years later, there was a definite move away from this and many authors felt it was a derogatory term. I can see why but I’ve never felt upset by it, although it’s not a term I tend to use these days, much preferring ‘romcom’.

I sometimes say I write romance or contemporary romance. I more often use a tagline – stories of love, friendship, family and community – but I’ve never applied the term ‘women’s fiction’ to my work and I think that’s because I struggle with the suggestion that the stories I tell are only suitable for women. Because they’re not.

Before anyone shouts at their computer, I know that the term doesn’t mean that but, to me, it implies it.

I love how the WFWA describe women’s fiction and they have this amazing visual on their website. They also make the point that women’s fiction may or may not have a romance :

This is definitely what I write. Although there is always a romance in my books, it doesn’t always take centre stage. Even when the romance is a major plot point, the driver of the story is more about the journey the protagonist is going on and their emotional growth.

Despite reading – and agreeing with – all the above, I still struggle with using the term ‘women’s fiction’. I am certain that women make up the largest percentage of my readership and my social media following, reviews, and membership of my Facebook Readers Group would back this up, but I know for a fact that I have male readers. Some message me, some engage on social media and others make it clear they’re male in their reviews and I love that.

We don’t have a genre called men’s fiction so why do we have women’s fiction? What else would we call it though, especially if it doesn’t include a romance? Contemporary fiction is far too broad as anything set in modern times would fall into that. I don’t know what the answer is.

So I think I’ll create a new label for the purpose of this post called ‘Women’s fiction (also read by men)’ and leave it there for the moment.

To all the authors of this wonderful genre and all those who love to read it, sending my love and thanks.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day feels a little strange this year because I’m used to being out and about and seeing the build-up in all the shops: pink, white and red flowers and hearts everywhere, flowers, chocolates and soft toys. But, like so many, I don’t leave the house these days and, even if I did, so many of the retailers are closed so the big build-up wouldn’t have been there. Just one of the many things about the past year that has been different.

Hubby and I don’t buy each other gifts and I’m not sure we’ve ever gone out for a Valentine’s Day meal but we always exchange cards … and he does often get me a little treat.

This year, hubby had to buy his own card from me from the local supermarket. I don’t know if he was planning to get me a gift but I emailed him a link of something I’d really like hee hee! The link was for a gorgeous soft Jellycat notepad. I’ve become a bit obsessed with Jellycat recently. My original publisher bought me a soft bear when my first book was published and I treated myself to a panda a couple of years ago but I’ve discovered they do a hedgehog and ocean creatures range and they look so good in promo pictures of my books that I have made a few purchases. It’s all strictly business, of course 😉


Anyway, back to the Valentine’s gift, hubby ordered me my Jellycat notepad but he also surprised me with the cutest, softest pair of otters cuddling. They’re actually hotties but I don’t think I could bring myself to put them in the microwave. I’d imagine them screaming!

I was really flattered a few weeks back to be asked by my contact at our local newspaper if I’d write an article entitled ‘Why I Love Valentine’s Day’. She figured that, as a romance author, I’d be well placed to put something together. Even better, it would be offered out to all the newspapers in the group – over 170 local newspapers. Wow!

Disappointingly and ironically my local newspaper didn’t print it. And neither did the other three most local ones to me. Eek! My contact said most of the papers in the group did take it which is fantastic news but I’ll need to be content with the pdf. If anyone spots it, please comment as I’d love to have a copy for my scrapbook. The media group is JPI Media (with coverage UK-wide) and the article could have appeared across the weekend or last week in a section branded with the ‘Your Time’ logo you can see top left below.

The big focus of the article is about love and friendship today whatever your relationship status. Valentine’s Day doesn’t just have to be about being all loved up in a happy relationship; it can be about love for others, pets, yourself. Or books! I’m suffering with vertigo at the moment. It’s the first time I’ve had it but it’s been bugging me for a month now so I’m trying to relax this weekend and I’ll be spending this afternoon watching a romcom with my 14-year-old daughter while hubby watches the football. I also plan to finish the book I’m currently reading. Lovely way to spend Valentine’s Day. If a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows materialises at some point, I’ll be a very happy bear.

And I also got a very special Valentine’s Day gift from my lovely readers. A little over a week ago, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow went into Prime Reading and had a lovely boost up the charts but it didn’t look like it was going to break the Top 100. Yesterday it did and this morning it hit its highest position at #86 in the overall Kindle chart which is so exciting. It hit the same number back in August, about six weeks after release, so I’m hoping the hedgehogs might climb even higher. Go hedgehogs go! The first two books in the series – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow and New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – are both only 99p for ebook at the moment on Kindle, Apple and Kobo.

However you’re spending it, whether with loved ones or apart, I’m wishing you a restful Valentine’s Day full of love and friendship. Could you find it in the pages of a book? Could the love of your life be a fictional character? Here’s a couple of my fictional leading men to tempt you…

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

It’s time to start Getting Over Gary

I’m very excited to announce that my second full-length novel, Getting Over Gary, is now available for pre-order on Kindle! (Just click the title to take you straight through to Amazon).

Set in the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay (a fictional version of Scarborough), this is a sequel to Searching for Steven. Steven was Sarah’s story and introduced her two best friends, Elise and Clare. Gary picks up where Steven left off but is Elise’s story (and book 3 which is out in summer 2016 is Clare’s story).

I’m thrilled to be able to reveal Gary’s cover and would like to thank all the lovely readers who’ve already pre-ordered him. He’ll be on your Kindles on 3rd March 2016.

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Here’s the blurb:

It was supposed to be the perfect fairy-tale. Elise married her childhood sweetheart, Gary, straight out of college, and they’ve been happy together for over twelve years. Elise is now desperate to start a family, but Gary doesn’t seem to share her enthusiasm anymore. Arriving home early from a party, she discovers why: Gary’s been keeping a secret from her. A very big secret. 

While her own marriage appears to be falling apart, being a supportive bridesmaid for her best friend, Sarah, isn’t easy. Especially not when Clare, her nemesis from day one, is one of the other bridesmaids. If she’s going to get through it, she needs to put her own feelings aside, find herself again, and get over Gary. Fast. 

Could recently-divorced Daniel be the tonic Elise needs, or is he full of secrets and lies too? Is his hostile, but strangely attractive brother, Michael, the genuine article instead? And why do the good guys like Stevie turn her down? 

But then Elise discovers she has a secret of her own and getting over Gary suddenly becomes the least of her worries…

Have you missed me?

Oh my. Is it really two months since I last posted on my blog? That’s quite shocking. It’s been a crazy busy couple of months. Let’s face it, though, it’s been a crazy busy year … several years … decade. I guess that’s how it is when you have a full time job and try to write as well.

Writing-wise, I feel like I’ve hardly put fingers to keyboard recently although I’ve had a few key moments:
1. I attended another library talk. This one was at Filey Library down the coast from my home in Scarborough. There were 12 attendees plus library staff which was a great turn-out and I sold several copies of ‘Searching for Steven‘ which was a huge bonus

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2. I met a lovely new writing friend called Helen Reynolds. Helen is writing a historical series which sounds very exciting. She’s also a social media expert and gave me some great tips and advice

3. I finished my final edits on book 2 of the Whitsborough Bay series – ‘Getting Over Gary’. This was a big thing for me. I’d had very few edits to make for Steven but there were several for Gary including a massive re-think about the way I’d written it. I’d originally told the story from two points of view but it’s now from only one. I fought against changing it at first but am now glad that I have because I think the book is better for it

4. I’ve agreed a revised launch date with my publishers for ‘Getting Over Gary’. Instead of June 2016, it’s going to be launched on 3rd March 2016 with the final book in the trilogy coming out in late summer the same year instead of June 2017 like originally planned. Very exciting. We’re working on the final edits for the cover right now so I’m looking forward to doing a reveal soon

I’ll make this a short one and hopefully find some time for a bit more blogging soon. Thanks for bearing with me xx

My Crazy Week of Job Loss & Book Launch

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Jessica Redland - Searching for Steven - Front Cover LOW RESOh my goodness, what a roller coaster of a week I’ve had full of highs and lows, twists and turns!

Morning of Monday 1st June – LOW – I work flexible hours in the day job and normally take a Monday off, working the rest of my full time hours across longer days for the rest of the week. As I had Wed-Fri booked off as holiday to enjoy my book launch, my manager suggested I came in on Monday instead and took my flex day on the Tuesday, giving me four days off on the trot. I’d been out the previous week running a training workshop and she’d been on holiday so I was expecting our 10am meeting to be a catch-up and handover while I had the rest of the week off. Instead, I got made redundant! I completely and utterly had not seen that one coming! Last year, there’d been a bit of a cost savings and restructuring exercise and we’d been assured that HR weren’t being looked at and there’d been no redundancies. Hmm. I got really upset in the meeting because of the shock of it. Thankfully I was allowed to go home to come to terms with the news.

P1060369Afternoon of Monday 1st June – HIGH – Hubby picked me up from work and took me into town to collect a parcel we’d missed. I expected this to be my box of books which seemed very ‘one door closes and another opens’ but it wasn’t books. It was something equally fabulous, though – my very own Steven Bear from lovely writing friends Jo, Sharon and Alys. I love him.

Evening of Monday 1st June – HIGH – I’m a Brown Owl and, to celebrate the launch, we’d decided to complete our Booklover and Writer badges as a pack this term. I’d pulled together a short PowerPoint presentation for the Brownies followed by a creative writing workshop. I wasn’t sure how well this would work but it went down a storm with lots of questions and the creative juices flowing.

Tuesday 2nd June – LOW – Reality hit that I was out of work yet again and I felt so hurt at the timing. It was meant to be the week of my life and my employer had started it by making me redundant. I’d wanted to spend the Tuesday feeling all excited as it was, after all, book launch eve. Instead, I was job hunting.

CoversWednesday 3rd June – HIGH – Searching for Steven was launched (buy it here)! What an incredibly exciting day. I seemed to spend it solidly on social media, thanking people for supporting me, and grinning from ear to ear. I had a well attended Facebook launch party on the evening and I went to bed very, very happy

Thursday 4th June – HIGH – The high continued with more excitement around Steven but also around my novella. To celebrate Steven‘s launch, Raving About Rhys (buy it here) went on a three-day free promotion and was climbing the charts as well as gathering some amazing reviews. By the end of the promotion, I’d got to number 203 in the free Kindle chart on Amazon and number 26 in the romantic comedy chart. I was thrilled about it.

P1060374Another fabulous thing that happened that day was that hubby disappeared out and then returned with a set of three canvasses for me – the cover of each book, and a dedication canvas including a quote he’d recently seen in a film: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” by Mark Twain. It feels so apt for me and my writing. It made me cry!

Friday 5th June – LOW – I received the devastating news that our printers had let us down. Despite expecting a box of books earlier in the week, it turns out they’d had problems with their binding equipment and hadn’t even printed my books. I was having a launch party the next day with nearly 100 guests, many of whom would have travelled long distances, and they weren’t going to get a copy of my book. I have to say, I was absolutely distraught. At one point, I even wanted to cancel the party, but my lovely hubby gave me lots of hugs and encouragement. I posted a private message on Facebook to  friends and family explaining what had happened and the outpouring of support and understanding was really quite overwhelming. I was genuinely touched at how proud people were of me and how excited they were to be coming to the book launch, with or without the inclusion of books!

11401385_10206847816496801_2560504648333263427_nSaturday 6th June – HIGH – Launch party day had arrived and what an amazing day it was. My publisher had managed to send me their two sample books by special delivery. These had a page missing and a few errors but it was a thrilling moment opening the box and putting my paws on a copy of my paperback for the first time. I’d have captured it on film but I was still in my PJs with no make-up on so that wouldn’t have been a good look!

The party was fabulous. The only downside is that I needed it to go on about ten times as long as I tried my best but it was impossible to get round everyone. I had family, old friends, new friends, former work colleagues, writing friends and it was so lovely to have everyone together to celebrate this unique occasion.

I have so many people to thank for making the day so special: hubby and munchkin, my sister-in-law Vanessa for the amazing cupcakes and cake (which I completely forgot to cut and hand out!), my mum for the scones, biscuits and caramel shortbread (nom nom), The Scarborough Anglers Social Club for such a friendly/flexible venue, Jon Mancrief for a delicious buffet, and everyone for coming. I got cards, flowers and gifts which was very unexpected. And people paid for books too! I really appreciate all your support and your positive comments. You’ve helped make a horrendous start to the week with a few dips along the way, end on a high xxx

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Three more sleeps till launch day. Eek!

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I’m watching the final of Britain’s Got Talent as I’m writing this. It’s one of the few TV programmes I watch as limiting my time in front of the TV is the only way I can fit in writing alongside my full-time day job. The thing I love about BGT is that it’s all about dreams coming true and that’s something I can personally relate to right now because I’ve achieved my dream of being a published author.

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CoversMy debut novella Raving About Rhys has been available on eBook for a few weeks now and my debut novel Searching for Steven comes out on Wednesday. As my protagonist Sarah would say: EEEEEKKKKKK!!!!

I couldn’t stop grinning on the day that Rhys was released. I’ve started to get reviews through for it as well as messages on Facebook from friends and family which have been incredibly touching. I’ve got 9 x 5-star and 3 x 4-star reviews already which I’m absolutely thrilled about, including some from book reviewers and bloggers. These individuals read constantly so to get a four or five star review from them is incredibly flattering.

Jessica Redland - Searching for Steven - Front Cover LOW RESI’m at work tomorrow, but I have the rest of the week off. I haven’t decided how I’m going to spend Steven’s launch day (Wednesday). For me, just having the day off work is exciting enough! I think I’d quite like to go out for lunch with the hubby but I haven’t mentioned that yet so we’ll see. I’d actually be just as happy spending the day writing! I’m having a launch party on Saturday afternoon/evening for family and close friends and I’m really excited about that. Time off this week will give me a chance to prepare for that. I need to sort out a playlist for the background music, bake some cakes/biscuits etc. and various other party-related activities.

What feels completely surreal is having so many people asking for signed copies of my book. I can’t believe it! My mum has been incredible, bless her. She’s drummed up business in the village where she lives and has lined up 10 requests for signed copies amongst her friends and a few more have downloaded it or ordered it from their local Waterstones instead. I think I might need to give her commission! What feels extra special about her village friends wanting a copy is that I lived in her village for a month and sang in the choir for months after that when I moved back to the north, opened my own business, and started writing Steven.

11154996_865249320181036_5952108081538780600_oMy sister-in-law, Clare, is using it as her choice for her book group and so is a friend from bootcamp, Leigh. I’m so incredibly touched and flattered by this. How amazing to think that people will be discussing my book and hopefully loving it. My ears may be burning those evenings!

10402456_808549962517639_1313868131826001955_nHubby has been incredibly supportive, Tweeting about it and sharing links with all his Linked In connections and work contacts. He’s also made my fabulous promotion photos as well as taking some new author pictures which I absolutely love.

I’ll come back on Wednesday and talk about launch day so watch this space. In the meantime, you can download Raving About Rhys here and Searching for Steven can be ordered via Amazon here or direct from my publisher here. Thank you sooooo very much 🙂 xxx

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It’s that marmite time of year again

_MG_0218It’s Valentine’s Day today. That marmite time of year. Do you love it? Or do you hate it?

As a romance writer, it might follow that I love Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, declarations of love, proposals. All fabulously romantic and lovely and just what a romance writer would adore, surely? Who wouldn’t love 14th February? Well, me actually.

Sorry to say it but I’m not a fan. I know that there are many people who hate it because they think it’s an overly commercial day designed just to make card companies, chocolatiers, and florists a wad of cash. They may have a point but retail is a tough business (she says having run her own shop) and I don’t begrudge them the opportunity.

There’s also the belief (sometimes held by the same people) that there shouldn’t be one day of the year set aside on which you must specifically show you love someone; if you love someone, you should demonstrate it all year round.

I can see both of these points but neither are the reason why I don’t love Valentine’s Day. I don’t love Valentine’s Day because Valentine’s Day doesn’t love me.

Let me explain…

_MG_7511My very first brush with Valentine’s Day was making a homemade card for a lad I fancied at primary school. I can’t remember whether there was a postbox set up or whether I sneaked it into his tray but I vividly remember him being unbelieveably disinterested in it. He made no enquiries to find out who’d sent it. He didn’t care. Boys eh? Needless to say, I didn’t get any cards that year. Or any other year at primary school.

When I was about fourteen, I was thrilled to receive a card and a heart-shaped chocolate in the post. My very first Valentine’s card. And it came with a gift! It was from a lad that I’d befriended on an adventure holiday the previous summer (I knew because he’d signed it). I went into school all excited… only to discover that he’d also sent one to my best friend who’d been on holiday with me and another girl we’d befriended there. It was a gesture of friendship. Nothing else.

I was eighteen before another card came my way. This time it was from my boyfriend in my first year at university. We’d been to the Halls of Residence bar on the evening of the 13th February with a couple of friends. One of them lived on the same floor as me and kept me up close to midnight, asking if I liked surprises. I thought this was a little strange. As midnight struck and Valentine’s Day arrived, the doors to the floor burst open and my boyfriend came running round the corridor dressed in nothing but boxer shorts covered in hearts, carrying a bottle of wine, a card, and a red rose. I’m going to sound so awful saying this, but my recall (many years later) was that it was a bit more embarrassing than romantic! Plus, I had lectures the next day and I was really, really tired! I didn’t want to drink wine and be romantic. I just wanted to go to sleep.

P1060175I had a free period later that morning and propped open my door and wandered into the kitchen to make a cuppa. When I came back, there was a card and a Sad Sam (remember those? Puppies with big, sad eyes that were all the rage in the late 80s/early 90s) sat on my bed. The lad in the room next-door (with whom I was friends) had put them there. Apparently he’d fallen for me and, even though he was also friends with my boyfriend, he seemed to think it was okay to share his feelings too. It was Valentine’s Day after all! I can’t remember whether I guessed it was him or whether he told me, but I somehow found myself sitting on my bed with him confessing his undying devotion to me and telling me that he’d be there for me if I ever wanted to ditch the boyfriend. Please keep remembering that the boyfriend and he were friends. Not so much after that. You see, the boyfriend knew I had a free period so came to see me and found me on the bed having a heart-to-heart and holding a card and a Sad Sam that he hadn’t given me. He understandably wasn’t too chuffed with my neighbour’s bold declaration of devotion. It was quite a fraught free period and I have never been so relieved to have an Economics lecture to attend as I was that morning; perfect opportunity to escape the tension!

The boyfriend and I went out for a romantic meal that evening. Only it wasn’t at all romantic. He was livid about the incident with the next-door neighbour and, even though he knew I didn’t feel anything for the lad, the betrayal of friendship hung in the air. Great.

P1060177In my final year at university, I was stunned and delighted to receive three Valentine’s cards, especially as I was single at the time. One was from a good friend who wanted to cheer me up, one was from a lad with whom I’d had one date but who’d made it clear that he didn’t want another date or a relationship as he was on the rebound from someone. Not really sure to this day why he sent me a card. The third was a mystery, though. It contained some song lyrics and I knew I recognised them but I absolutely couldn’t place them. These were the days before t’internet. I couldn’t just Google them. I was sure I knew who’d sent me it – a lad who I’d dated for about a week the term before – but he demanded to know why I thought it was him. I had to solve the clue in the lyrics. I finally sussed the song but I still couldn’t work out the connection to him. By the time I worked it out (the name of the band was connected to his name), it was a week or so later, and the moment was well and truly lost. He admitted that it had been him but I think he was annoyed that I hadn’t worked out why as, when we’d been dating, he’d told me that, if he ever sent someone a Valentine’s card, he’d put the lyrics of a song by this particular band in his card. Clearly I’d forgotten that conversation which suggested I’d never been listening to him in the first place and had therefore been a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Oops!

_MG_0221After that, I had years of being single and I seemed to go through a phase of being away with work on Valentine’s Day. I was exceedingly self-conscious about dining in the hotel alone as it was. Throw into the mix a restaurant full of couples gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes and it was excruciating.

I’ve now been with hubby for eleven Valentine’s Days. When we first met, we exchanged cards and a few silly gifts (I remember buying him some Purple Ronnie socks, for example) but I’ve never had any flowers, teddies, or anything particularly special from him on Valentine’s Day. Several years ago, I declared that I only wanted a card. I’ll admit this was more of a defence mechanism; declare that you only want a card and you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get anything else and will be pleasantly surprised if you do! I sometimes wish he’d surprise me and present me with some flowers. Or perhaps something that’s even more me… like a romantic novel, some heart-themed stationery, or a film. Or all three but that’s just greedy! But would I really want this on Valentine’s Day? When I see my Facebook feed later today full of friends and family declaring, “Look what I got” and posting pictures of bouquets, champagne, teddy bears holding hearts, posh meals out, and so on, I know I’ll get envious (because I do every year) and wish I was on the receiving end of all these lovely gifts. But then I remind myself that past experience has made me dislike this day because of the pressure and disappointment it brings, whether you’re single or not. Why, therefore, would I want to acknowledge this day?

Perhaps I am more with the school of thought that showing you care should happen all year round; not just on February 14th. The problem is, my husband isn’t romantic. He doesn’t buy me flowers. In nearly twelve years together, he’s never sent me a bouquet. He’s bought me some flowers home from the supermarket on a handful of occasions, along with the weekly shop. Not quite the same thing. The thing is that I don’t really want flowers on Valentine’s Day. I object to the inflated prices. But it would be nice to have some at another time of year. Perhaps.

Hubby doesn’t surprise me with romantic meals either. I can’t remember the last time we went out together, just the two of us. Or even as a group. To be fair to him, we were meant to go out between Christmas and New Year as a six. One of the group was ill so that couple pulled out but the other couple then cancelled as the plan had been to go out as a six. Hubby and I could have gone out as a two but I couldn’t be bothered. I’m not very good at dealing with changes to plans and a takeaway in front of the TV seemed so much easier than getting all dressed up and braving the cold.

P1060118So hubby doesn’t do meals and flowers but he does do other things that show he cares. He spends ages choosing the right cards with the right words in them and he always adds some of his own instead of just signing his name. He lets me lie in on a weekend and brings me a cup of tea and some breakfast in bed. He reads my bootcamp blog without fail and is really proud of me when I achieve my goals. He bought me a necklace one year (for birthday or Christmas) with a pendant of St Paul on it, the Patron Saint of Writers. I went on a girly trip to York last month with my mum and sisters-in-law and wasn’t going to buy anything because we’re trying to save some money. He insisted I treated myself to a teddy bear for my collection as I’d been really down about work last year when I thought I was going to lose my job yet again. And I mustn’t forget coming home from my shopping trip to discover that he’d been creative and designed a photo for the launch of my debut novel. I hadn’t asked him to. We’d never discussed it. He just did it.

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nIt’s not over the top displays of romance but, when I break it down, it’s all evidence that he’s thinking of me and he cares. Isn’t that what romance is? Especially the little things that he does regularly like reading my blog and making me breakfast in bed. Do I need bouquets of flowers when I have this? Hmm. Well, maybe not constantly but once in a while would be lovely 🙂

Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it brings you happiness, whether you’re in a great relationship, a relationship on the rocks, or single. Find something that makes you happy. For me, it’s a script-writing workshop at our local theatre and tea with hubby and the munchkin. What a fabulous way to spend a Saturday. Watch this space for a future blog about the script-writing workshop.

Happy weekend 🙂

Jessica xx

Back to the start again

A week or so ago, I was given the launch day for my debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’. I knew it was going to be June but I’d got it into my head it would probably be late June. It’s Wednesday June 3rd! Eek! That’s only just over four months away!

PhotoFunia-6aa56c2Things are starting to happen. I’ve had my marketing plan from my lovely publishers, So Vain Books, and I’ve had a first draft of my book cover to check I like the concept. Either late next week or early the week after, I should receive my line edits. I have no idea what this will entail. I’ve been very lucky because my structural edits which I received in October last year required very little work. I was asked to address two points in the book where it seemed like the action didn’t quite end. This required an additional sentence in each case so very easy. I was also asked to tone down a chapter where a character was a bit under the influence. When I re-read it, I could see it was a bit over the top and my publishers suggested a slight tweak that I was able to run with. I think the chapter is much better as a result. The challenging part was the start. I thought I’d already blogged about this but I’ve looked back over my posts and I can’t see one. Please forgive me if I have covered this already and am just not seeing it!

Going back and re-writing the start of ‘Steven’ was my worst nightmare because it has been my nemesis in the decade I’ve been working on the book. I am not exaggerating when I say there have been about 40-50 different starts. In ‘Steven’, my protagonist Sarah moves back to her seaside hometown of Whitsborough Bay in North Yorkshire to take over her Auntie Kay’s florist shop. In early versions of the book, this was because Auntie Kay had died and Sarah had inherited the shop. I therefore had the book starting at a funeral, a will-reading, sitting in a cafe with her best friend reflecting on the loss, getting a phone call at home with the news of the death and about six or seven other variations around this theme. Then a writing friend read one of the variations and cried, ‘No! You can’t kill Auntie Kay!’ And I suddenly realised she was right. Although Auntie Kay was dead in my book, she’d become a real character in my head and I’d grown to really like her. But why else would Sarah move back home and take over the florists if her Auntie hadn’t died. Then it struck me: she could decide to retire and travel the world. Perfect. Auntie Kay was very happy to receive this news instead of a death certificate! Great news for her but not so great for me. How would I start the book now?

The answer was pretty much anywhere. I had Sarah at work missing out on a promotion, at home ending a rubbish relationship, travelling home to Whitsborough Bay after she’d split up with the boyfriend, or being in Auntie Kay’s shop and being told the news that she wanted to give the shop to Sarah to name just a few. I started the story when she was in primary school. I started the story when she was in senior school. I started the story in so many different guises that my head was spinning!

In summer 2013, I attended the RNA’s annual conference and pitched the book to two publishers. They both loved the premise and my voice which was incredibly flattering. They also both wanted to see the full manuscript. At this point, it started with Sarah travelling home to see Auntie Kay and getting the news about the shop. The MS had been way too long so I’d cut out a lot of what went before around ending a rubbish relationship in order to get on with the main story. One editor liked it but wanted to see a bit more action e.g. splitting up with the boyfriend (the chapter I’d cut) before going home. The other wanted more of a motivation as to why she was so keen to meet The One (it is a romance story, after all). Both their comments triggered a lightbulb moment and I came up with a start to the book that got the action and the motivation. Yippee!

PhotoFunia-6aa69bcProblem was, although So Vain Books loved it, they were concerned that it might set the wrong tone for the book with anyone dipping into the first chapter before buying. They were absolutely right. The book is fairly light-hearted and the beginning wasn’t.

I emailed them to say I’d be delighted to make a change to the start but HELP!!!!! I explained my million variations. At one point, I’d written a chapter that I did really love and I still had it. I felt it might be what they were looking for. I edited it a bit as some of the points made in it were no longer relevant to the rest of the story and sent it over. They loved it. Phew!

So now I wait to see what the final editing stage will bring. In the meantime, I’ve pretty much written the first draft of book 3. It needs a lot of editing as I’ve made a major change to it which I’ll talk about in another post but it’s been really timely because, as a result of finishing the trilogy, I know there are some minor tweaks I want to make to ‘Steven’. I want to change the job of a minor character in book 1 who’s a major character in book 3. I want to change the name of a village because I’ve really gone off my original choice of name. I need to change someone’s age. Little things like that. The great thing is that I have the opportunity to still do that. But there will hit a point when I can no longer tinker. Very scary!

I’m now really pleased with the start of ‘Steven’. It’s been a very painful process but I’ve got there. Funnily enough, the start to the two sequels has caused me no problems at all. I tinkered a bit with book 2 and book 3 hasn’t changed at all. Whether I planned it better because I didn’t want to go through the pain of book 1 again or whether it was easier to know where to start when the book’s a sequel, I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I don’t have to go through it again. Unless, of course, my publisher doesn’t like the start of either book. But we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

Happy reading and writing 🙂 xx

A romantic Christmas tradition that never quite started

1522851_784506671588635_6474462348225739404_oOn The Write Romantics blog yesterday, I posed a Wednesday Wondering around favourite Christmas decorations. As always, it was fascinating to read the responses from my fellow-WRs but it struck me that quite a lot of them talked about sentimental reasons behind their favourite decorations whereas I just talked about ones I liked. I’m actually a fairly sentimental person so it got me thinking about why I don’t have sentimental decorations.

And a memory surfaced.

As a teenager, I had very little success with boys but things improved when I got to university. In the 2nd term of my first year, I met Ben (name has been changed just in case!) We’d been friends during the first term but it moved on from friendship the following term. The Easter break was really tough because I lived in Teesside and he lived on the south coast. Not very close. I’d planned to visit him over Easter but he contracted glandular fever and was very ill with it so we had to cancel. We knew summer would be even tougher with more than 2 months apart. We both had summer jobs and needed the money so any time together needed to be at the start or the end of the holidays. I went down to stay with him at the start and we had a short holiday on The Isle of Wight and he came to visit me at the end of the summer holidays. I’d been so excited about it after weeks apart full of soppy cards and long, romantic letters (neither of us liked the phone and it was long before email).

_MG_7508When I picked him up at Middlesbrough Coach Station, he seemed a bit distant but I put it down to tiredness after an incredibly long journey. We took a trip to Whitby and the distance was there again and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. I’d planned a day out in York. I figured that maybe a day by the coast hadn’t been very exciting for someone who lived close to the sea anyway but surely he’d be impressed by the beauty of York.

I’d schemed something over the summer. In York, there’s an amazing shop called Christmas Angels. It sells collectible teddy bears, toys, and and Christmas decorations. The main room at the back of the shop is absolutely full of Christmas stuff from nativity scenes to intricate advent candles to basic baubles. My plan was to take him there to buy a decoration that would be our first joint decoration and a habit we’d repeat each year because I’d believed I’d met “the one” and we’d be together always. But, as I looked round at the decorations, and he questioned why we were in a Christmas shop in the summer, I realised I couldn’t confess the real reason for taking him there. I made some excuse about thinking he’d like to look around because it’s a lovely shop. Then we left. I knew at that point that something had changed in our relationship for whatever reason – time apart and distance perhaps – and that we wouldn’t have joint Christmases. It was quite a sad realisation.

_MG_7511We made it through one more Christmas (spent apart again) but split up the following spring. We remained friends but drifted apart for good about fifteen years ago.

I’m not someone who likes to repeat things I’ve done with one partner with a new one because it feels false and cringe-worthy. I’ve therefore never wanted to repeat this sentiment with my hubby of buying one special bauble a year. We did actually start our own thing. We bought an illuminated house one year and he suggested we bought one each year until we built up a collection. We added another one to it. Then a train. Then we didn’t see any more we liked and we also realised that we’d quickly run out of space for them. The collection stopped at two properties and a vehicle!

_MG_7513He does add to our Christmas collection most years, though. Last year he bought me the most stunning lit cone-shaped structure that looks like it’s snow-covered twigs with berries on, weaved to form the shape. There’s a section of it in this picture. This year, I spotted a gorgeous soft reindeer in our local garden centre and he bought me that which was very sweet.

My favourite aspect of Christmas decorations has to be the fairy lights. There’s something so warm and romantic about being in a room with twinkling fairy lights all around. I love candles too although I tend to light them most of the year round. Speaking of which, I think it’s time I headed downstairs and wrapped a few more gifts while the lights tinkle and the candles flicker. Lovely.

Night night xx

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