An Author-ly Good Couple of Days

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Happy weekend! I’ve had an incredible end to the week, thanks to three amazing things that have happened.

1. My Very First Author Talk!

I’ve received wonderful support from my local libraries. A year ago, before I knew I had a publishing contract, I met a woman called Sharon at a works careers fair. She works for North Yorkshire Libraries. We got chatting between conversations with job-seekers and I told her I was a writer. I also explained that I was a Brown Owl and that I’d be interested in bringing my Brownie Pack to our local library (her base) at some point to complete our Booklover Badge. Earlier this year, I was able to get in touch to organise the Brownie night … and to tell her that I had a publishing deal. Sharon was thrilled to bits about this. My husband also has a contact at the library through his photography and, between both contacts, we organised for me to talk at Scarborough Library and also a smaller library on the outskirts of the town. The latter one isn’t until September, but Scarborough Library was on Thursday night. Eek!

10945679_10153485965344073_4084184173099668412_nI was a little nervous about it. A lot of writer friends are very nervous about the idea of speaking to an audience but I’ve been a Trainer for years so this doesn’t phase me at all, although it’s a little different presenting about me instead of work-based subjects. What made me nervous was the thought of nobody turning up. Or, even worse, a couple of people turning up, realising I’m a romantic comedy writer, turning round and walking out in disgust! I was stunned and delighted when I had an audience of twelve, plus Sharon, and the presentation was incredibly well received. I really enjoyed delivering it and got some great questions afterwards. Four attendees even bought a copy of my book and a couple said they’d download it onto their Kindles.

Thank you so much to Scarborough Library for hosting the event. Sharon also confirmed a great piece of news. I submitted Steven to be considered for the library stock and she was able to confirm that they’ll definitely be stocking it at all the libraries in North Yorkshire. Wow! Not only that but, as a local author, I’ll appear twice: in the main section and in the local author section. Very excited about this. I love the idea that my writing can be enjoyed by more and more people by being available in so many different places.

2. Riding High in the Charts

11401501_432174206971006_984189043329891591_nSearching for Steven was selected for a BookBub promotion on Thursday. BookBub are a US company who promote quality books when they’re at significantly reduced prices. Publishers have to apply to appear on this and they’re very selective about who they pick so I was thrilled when my publisher’s application for Steven was accepted. People join mailing lists, picking their preferred genres of books, and BookBub email them with the books they’ve accepted for promo each day. This can boost sales but nothing quite prepared me for how significantly it boosted mine. There are over 400,000 books registered on the UK Amazon charts and, today, I reached number 399! I also peaked at number 25 in the romantic comedy chart which is an incredibly competitive one.

With being a US promotion, Steven has also shot up the Amazon.com chart to number 143,990. I have no idea how many books are registered on there but, if there are over 400,000 on .co.uk, we’re probably talking millions on .com!

To participate in the promotion, Steven was reduced to a 99p download and is going to be available at that price for a short time longer so, if you haven’t already bagged yourself a bargain, now’s your chance!

3. Local Support

Spurred on by the success of Steven today, I decided to visit Waterstones to see if they’ll stock my book. I spoke to a lovely manager and she was exceedingly complimentary about Steven, telling me it was the most professional cover she’d ever seen on one of the local author books they’d stocked and that it would likely sell very well as romcoms are very popular, especially one that’s set in a fictional version of Scarborough like mine is.  I would imagine that it will take a while before they go through their process and obtain the stock, but I’m so thrilled that they’re going to stock it.

Thank you so much to everyone who came along to my talk, to everyone who has downloaded Steven whilst on promotion, and to Waterstones for being so lovely today. And thank you to my lovely hubby for a couple more amazing promo photos 🙂

Have a great weekend everyone xxx

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I’m so excited! I just can’t hide it …

Two weeks ago today, I was sitting at home, surrounded by soggy tissues, reeling in the news that I’d just been made redundant. Despite that little black cloud, this last two weeks has been absolutely amazing. To quote the Sister Sledge song, I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it …

_MG_5012For many years now, I’ve dreamed of becoming a published writer. I’ve dreamed of holding a paperback in my hands that I’ve written. I’ve dreamed of reading five-star reviews written by people I don’t know rather than friends and family. And all of those dreams have come true. Eek!

Other than the slight hiccup I mentioned in the last blog post where my books didn’t materialize in time for my launch party, I’ve loved every minute of the experience.

Some highlights I’d like to pick out include:

  • My 8-year-old walking into my bedroom on launch day and singing “Happy Launch Day to you …” (to the tune of Happy Birthday to You). She’s been so proud and excited, it’s quite touching to observe
  • My novella, Raving About Rhys, peaking at number 249 in the free Kindle chart and number 34 in romantic comedy. I never imagined getting that high. I know it was down to a free promotion, but it was still an exciting moment
  • The amazing messages of support I received from friends and family on Facebook when I was really upset about my books not being sent in time for the launch party, reassuring me that they were just so thrilled and excited for me and didn’t mind the lack of book. I’m so grateful to each and every one of them
  • _MG_4988Some amazing four and five star reviews from people I don’t know. Here’s a selection of quotes from Searching for Steven reviews:
    • “I am now officially a fan of Jessica Redland and can compare her with authors like Sophie Kinsella, Jenny Colgan and Claudia Carroll. Here’s to another great women’s fiction writer on the block…” Bleachhouselibrary. Wow! To be compared to some of my favourite authors … I’m lost for words!
    • “This book has a narrative that flows and keeps the reader intrigued, you feel for the characters in a way that they feel like your family and your there beside there with them. Fantastic Debut” Em
    • “I liked this book so much. It’s a wonderful, heartwarming story … Searching for Steven is a book that will put a smile on your face and happiness in your heart. It’s a definite must-read, because of the original story, the sympathetic characters, the beautiful setting and most of all the magical feeling of true love. I liked the creative aspect and the quest to find the one. This is a lovely feel-good book and one of the best romantic stories I’ve read in quite a while. It’s a light, cheerful quality read that I enjoyed very much” Suzanne Lavender
    • “Perfect for the beach of for fans of a Jill Mansell style” Miss S A Coles. Jill Mansell was my inspiration for writing romantic comedy as she was the first romcom writer whose work I read. Again, wow!
  • Raving About Rhys has gathered a phenomenal seventeen five-star reviews and three four-star ones which makes me smile so much. Here’s one of my favourites by Nic, although there are loads of other wonderful ones I could easily have chosen: “Loved this! Loved the style of writing and can easily relate to the characters. I couldn’t put it down. I ordered the next book Searching for Steven and I’m loving that too! Can’t wait for the next one! I’m thinking I have a new favourite authoress 🙂 Thank you Jessica!” Awwww. That’s just so lovely! I’m so thrilled that people I don’t know are reading my writing and loving it. And they care enough about it to take the time to write a review. It really is touching.
  • Having my box of books arrive a couple of days ago. Hubby is a talented photographer and he set up a little photo shoot in the conservatory which was fun. What an amazing feeling to be surrounded by piles of my books!

_MG_5008The one thing that has surprised me about the whole experience is how relaxed I am about sales figures and chart positions. I check on Amazon every day or so, out of curiosity, to see my chart positions but I’m not obsessed with it. I know from other writing friends that it can be easy to get fixated on them, but I’ve realised there’s no point. Sometimes a book can be at position number 12,000 and, the next day, it’s dropped 35,000 places. One bit of advice from my lovely writing pal, Jo Bartlett, has really stuck with me throughout the process and I think this is what makes me so calm about it: It’s long-haul. Those who appear to become an overnight success probably aren’t really an overnight success and they’re few and far between. For most of us, it will take several books and several years before we can make a full-time career out of writing … if at all. And that’s fine. Why? Because I write for the love of it; not because I want to be rich and famous. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a bestseller (or several!) but I write because I love it and I have stories I want to share. I couldn’t imagine life without writing. As far as sales figures go, I can’t obsess about these because I don’t have direct access to that information. This is probably a good thing.

It’s my last day in the day job tomorrow as my company have granted me gardening leave. I’m looking forward to having a couple of weeks off to edit book 2, work a bit more on book 3, and probably do some gardening too as there’s a serious dandelion situation going on out there! I’m expecting positive job news so I’m not worried about the loss of the day job so I’m in a good place work-wise. I’m in an even better place book-wise. I really am living the dream and want to enjoy every single moment of this. I read an interesting article the other day about how it’s really easy for writers to forget to celebrate their successes under the pressure of sales figures, chart positions, editing and so on and we should really take a moment to celebrate the many little successes, whether that be writing a great scene, finishing a chapter, getting a great review, or writing a well-structured blog post. Raise that metaphorical glass of champers and smile because, fellow writers, you’ve achieved your dreams and that’s a truly amazing thing 🙂

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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Let’s Be British & Talk About the Weather!

I’m going to cheat a bit with my posting as it was my turn to pen the Saturday Spotlight on The Write Romantics blog yesterday so I’m using the same post with apologies to anyone who follows both sites!

 

Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Never has a BBC adaptation caused so much controversy. Complaints of mumbling, bad accents, incoherent speech etc. were rife. The BBC claimed “technical sound difficulties” on night one. Can’t say I noticed any difference by night two. I found myself faced with two choices – give up or put the subtitles on. I settled for the subtitles. I usually put Film4 on while drying my daughter’s with subtitles on because I can’t hear over the noise of the hairdryer. Having them on without the hairdryer was definitely a first.

But the purpose of my post today is not to discuss poor sound quality. I want to be extremely British and talk about the weather. I promise you that there’s a point to the Jamaica Inn reference. You see, the other thing that slapped me across the chops whilst watching the three episodes was the weather. Darkness enveloped the bleak moors, wet mud caked the bottoms of dresses (except in the continuity error when Mary Yellan ran across the moors at one point and her dress was miraculously clean but let’s not go there), dark clouds flew across grey skies and rain lashed down. Then, at the very end, we saw our first glimpse of blue sky and fluffy clouds.

I haven’t read Jamaica Inn (sorry, such a pleb) but I wonder if the weather in the dramatization matches the book. As it’s described as a “dark, gothic novel”, I’m imagining it does. The dark skies, fog, rain and mud all helped absorb the viewer in the remoteness, desolation and desperation of the cast stuck in a bleak place where smuggling and murder had become a way of life.

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The use of weather in writing is a subject that’s particularly close to me at the moment as it was one of the things that was flagged up in my disappointing NWS report for book 2, Getting Over Gary.

I’m very conscious that my natural style of writing is dialogue-heavy/description-light so I specifically spent time during an edit of book 1 making sure I covered all five senses, described my settings, and captured the weather. I thought I’d done this well and my reader of book 1 clearly agreed: “you describe things in just the right amount of detail, so that there’s enough to give an idea of the place, but not so much that it’s noticeable. I was very impressed. The setting is easy to picture (and quite stunning in location)”.

So how come book 2 got: “The North Yorkshire coast is beautiful, potentially forbidding and romantic all at the same time. A really excellent place to set this sort of story. So why not make more of it?” Oops! As soon as I read that, I smiled wryly to myself as I’d completely forgot to do my special edit to add in the stuff I know I leave out. Thankfully, it’s not tricky to do this and I know I did it well in book 1 so I can apply that same approach to book 2.

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The use of weather in books is fascinating. There’s the obvious idea that it helps us capture the seasons and therefore move the book through the passage of time but it’s even more powerful in that it can really help set moods and emotions. In book 1, I have quite a traumatic opening scene for my protagonist and the emotion is heightened in this scene through a thunderstorm. Throughout the book, heavy rain or storms make an appearance at various other points of turmoil to the point that the protagonist actually fears storms because they create such a sense of foreboding for her. In book 2, the protagonist’s “challenges” are in the height of summer; not so many thunderstorms around. And I didn’t want to repeat myself with the same storm technique to create mood so, instead, the fun and laughter enjoyed by families during the summertime at the seaside act as a stark contrast to her sorrow.

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As well as heightening emotion, weather can be the catalyst for something to happen. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that one of my favourite romcoms is 27 Dresses. In a key scene in this film, the two leads have a heated argument whilst she’s driving. Rain pelts the car (good mood-building weather) and then the car aquaplanes, leaves the road and gets stuck in the mud. This means the leads have no choice but to spend the night together and this is the catalyst for their relationship developing. The argument wouldn’t have been nearly so dramatic if there’d been sunshine and the accident wouldn’t have happened.

Another way of using weather is to trigger something e.g. flood-waters carry a dead body downstream which would have remained hidden otherwise or a ship is wrecked at sea in a storm and the survivors are washed up on a strange island. My imagination was particularly captured recently when I read an article in the Huffington Post. Two 17-year old girls went missing in 1971 in South Dakota. What happened to them had remained an absolute mystery until last autumn when high spring waters followed by a drought revealed the wheels of a car upside down at the bottom of a creek. It was the car they’d last been seen in and skeletons were found in the front seats. It would appear to have been a tragic accident rather than foul-play. Those poor girls in their watery grave and their poor parents not knowing if they were alive or dead for 42 years. I don’t write about murders or mysteries but still story massively triggered my “what if …” reaction. What if they’d never been found? What if they’d been found with bullet holes in them? What if the car had been found but the bodies inside weren’t theirs? What if one of them had been pregnant? What if other cars were found in the same creek? What if something sinister was found in the boot (sorry, trunk; this was in the USA)? And suddenly I had a load of plots for a different genre forming in my head which is not good because I already have book 3 in my trilogy and the outline of another 3-4 books of the same genre already in my head. Too many characters. Too much to think about. I feel a storm brewing in my head! And that brings us nicely back to the weather.

ImageI thought I’d finish this blog post with some more of my husband’s fabulous photographs (all the earlier ones are his) which are potentially really evocative of mood. This first one is a picture I absolutely adore. It was taken at the Armed Forces Day in Scarborough in summer 2013. My 6-year-old (at the time) was dressed in patriotic colours and we’d taken a break from the crowds. She wandered away to look at the fairground and hubby captured this shot:

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If you were to write a story about this image, what would it be? When would it be set? Would the mood be one of a happy childhood or is there something a little spooky or sinister about this? It generated a lot of debate when hubby first posted it on Facebook. Whilst everyone loved it, the jury was out as to whether there were dark undertones. I personally think it’s just very atmospheric and don’t feel the need to label it happy or dark.

 

 

 

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What about this one? Clearly it’s a very different time of year. This was taken round the corner from where we live in the winter of 2012/13. Excitement and anticipation of first-footing in the snow or something a little more eerie? I have this image of a dark shadow appearing under the lamppost …

 

 

 

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Here’s another completely different one. Same time of year but a very different feel. Is it a calm feeling or is it one of loneliness? Who is that man in the middle of the field and what’s he doing there? He was actually a dog-walker and you can see the dog in another shot but, without the dog, why is there a man stood in the middle of a field early one morning. Who’s he watching?

 

 

Finally, I’ll leave you with three contrasting photos of the incredible power and beauty of the sea on the North Yorkshire Coast. You can create your own stories from these…

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Thanks for reading. Thanks for looking. And thanks to the very talented Mark Heslington for allowing me to use his photos. Right, I’m off to inject more weather and scenery into book 2. Feeling pretty inspired after looking at these. I can bring that beauty to life. Or at least I hope I can! I’d love to hear your stories of great books or films where you think the weather has been used to good effect.

Julie xx