The one where the past two months have been crazy busy

Do you ever have months where there’s so much going on, you hardly get to pause for breath? I’ve just had two of them and there’s more still to come this month. But it’s (mainly) been wonderful.

I’ve met up with lots of friends, new and old…

Before I became a full-time author, my most recent role was as an HR Tutor – something I did for about five years. I marked assignments for students studying their HR professional qualification, CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development), and ran online workshops. However, when I first started in the role, the workshops were run in person on weekends and I met some wonderful students and also some amazing tutors.

One of my former (and favourite – but don’t tell the others!) students, Charlie, was holidaying in Whitby with his husband, Paul, and asked if I’d like to meet them in Robin Hood’s Bay. We worked out it had probably been about seven years since the workshop. It was so good to catch up with Charlie and to meet Paul. I never thought to take a photo but here’s a pic of Robin Hood’s Bay from a previous visit.

From my tutoring role, I also met up with my former colleague, Carol, for a day out in York. York’s my favourite city and so lovely for a wander, especially outside the school holidays on a weekday when it’s a bit quieter. We met at York Station where I spotted this gorgeous postbox topper and completely fell in love with the viking on the top – so perfect for York. Whoever made this is so talented.

I also had a catch-up with a blast from the past. An old friend from school dropped me a message recently on my author page and, as I write under a pen name, it was a bit of a mystery at first as to how she’d found me. It turned out that she’d seen me on the re-run of my appearance on ITV’s The Chase and had recognised me from school. She couldn’t find me on Facebook under my maiden name but couldn’t remember my author name. Then, spookily, she was running a workshop and a delegate mentioned that she was reading one of my books! So she found me and it was so good to meet up, although the memory was certainly tested as it’s 34 years since we left school. We’ll hopefully catch up again before Christmas.

I had several writing-related get-togethers too. My first was with Sharon Booth and Eliza J Scott which was several hours of wonderful chat. There’s a cafe and farm shop on the outskirts of Scarborough which is a great central location as Sharon and Eliza live in different directions and I’m in the middle.

I indulged in the most amazing hot chocolate before lunch and we had a quick look at a few of the animals before we left – and I mean quick because it started raining!

A second writerly meet-up was with author Lizzie Lamb who was also holidaying in Whitby. Sharon and I have both met Lizzie on several occasions at RNA events (Romantic Novelists’ Association) but, with so much happening and so many people to talk to, conversation has always been brief so it was fabulous to have a full afternoon together.

We exchanged signed books, which was lovely. Thank you, Lizzie, for my copy of Scotch on the Rocks and the accompanying bar of chocolate – nom nom!

My next writing-related meet-up was with four of the five-strong admin team on the amazing Facebook group, The Friendly Book Community. If you’re interested in sharing the love for books, this is such a happy, friendly place to be. I was thrilled to be invited to join the group right at the start and watch them grow to a whopping 2.7k members so far.

They’d come to Scarborough for a weekend and I met them for lunch. It was amazing to meet (from L-R in the pic) Sarah, Marie, Louise and Hazel in person (I’m in the middle), having got to know them virtually over the past 18 months or so, and they were just as warm and welcoming in real life. I stayed with them all afternoon and wish I could have stayed longer, but I had a deadline to get home to (more on that later). Love to Adrienne who was unable to join them for the weekend.

Our only disappointment is that we nipped to The Works where they hoped to get a photo of me next to my books on the shelves but the shelves were pretty empty at that point and all my books had sold through.

I have a final writerly catch-up today which I’m really looking forward to. Sharon and I are having lunch with authors Joy Wood and Sylvia Broady. Sylvia is in the same RNA Chapter as us so we have seen her recently but the last time I saw Joy was last September at the RNA’s York Tea. I’m excited to hear all their news.

There’ve been writing events…

I had three writing events lined up for September but only one of them actually went ahead. The first would have been the RNA’s annual York Tea but it was being held a little earlier in September than usual and, unfortunately, the date clashed with a few other events so there weren’t enough tickets sold and that got cancelled. It’s my favourite RNA event so hopefully all will be back to normal next year.

The next cancelled event was to be my first ever festival appearance. I was so excited about appearing as a speaker on the Richmond Walking & Book Festival but my slot was scheduled for 11am on 19th September – the same time and day of the Queen’s funeral – so it couldn’t go ahead. Hopefully I’ll appear next year instead. It was the only day that was cancelled so such a shame that I was booked for that day. What a sad time that was, losing our Queen, and it feeling so sudden too.

What did go ahead in September was a library talk. Stockton Libraries had kindly invited me to speak one evening so I went along to Norton Library and was thrilled to have an audience of roughly twenty there. They’d created an amazing display of my books and a local library user had made the most stunning (and delicious) cupcakes. Mmmm.

I completely fell in love with the kissing hedgehogs in the display and was told they were from Next. I couldn’t find them online but we have a Next Home on a small retail park near us so I nipped there the following day and was thrilled to find one on display so I bagged it!

A huge thank you to Ruth for arranging the evening and the amazing team at the library for being such welcoming hosts. Thank you to all those who attended including a few members of my Facebook group Redland’s Readers who it was lovely to meet in person. I am, however, mortified, as a member of my group came along and I didn’t register who she was. For some reason, I had it into my head that she was coming to my Richmond talk and couldn’t make it to the library. When she said her name, I misheard it too and made no connection at first. Even though we’ve messaged and it’s all sorted, I still feel really bad as I know she was disappointed that I didn’t click who she was. All I can plead is brain drain. There’s so much going on in my head at an event like this and my brain can’t always hold everything.

My friend and amazingly gifted artist Lucy Pittaway came along to support – an extra surprise for some audience members who love her work – and we went for a quick drink afterwards with her and her colleague, Vicki, which rounded off a perfect evening.

I’m excited to announce that, although I hope to speak at the Richmond Walking & Book Festival next year, I will definitely be appearing at a festival. Stockton Libraries collaborate with the Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland districts to put on an event called Crossing the Tees (genius name – the River Tees running through the area alongside the literary meaning of the phrase). A date for your diary is Sunday 10th June 2023 at 2.00-3.30pm at Ormesby Library, on the outskirts of Middlesbrough. I’ll be on a panel of authors talking about the romance genre. Jane Lovering, a fellow-Boldwood Books author, will be joining me and I’m in the process of securing another author too.

If anyone is an aspiring writer, I’m also going to be running a beginner’s writing workshop on the afternoon of Saturday 9th June. The details of the workshop and the venue will be confirmed later but I’m really looking forward to that.

It was my wedding anniversary in late September (17 years) and we had a family trip up to Whitby and a delicious meal on the way home. I was excited to see a whopping FOUR of my books in Great Reads Whitby (a discount bookstore) including one in the window.

It was a beautiful day, but very windy as you can see from the photos. That sea was definitely wild… and so was my hair!

There was a publication day…

Already looking pretty busy? There’s more! Around all this, I had publication day of Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow and a separate audio publication day on this occasion as we couldn’t secure the main narrator for the original publication date. Publication day is always busy with announcements, responding to congratulations messages, having the blog tour start, and eagerly watching the chart.

The hedgehogs have been dipping in and out of the Top 100 since publication day and, at the time of writing, they’re currently at #90 which is exciting (they have been higher – woo hoo!). This week, a day shy of 6 weeks since release, they had their 1,000th review/rating on Amazon and I’m so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to share their thoughts.

And some special offers on my Hedgehog Hollow series…

Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (book 1) and Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow (book 6) both went into Prime Reading so are free to Prime Reading subscribers. Finding Love is currently 99p on Kindle.

Although not in Prime reading, book 5 – Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow – is also currently on a 99p offer so do grab that if you haven’t already done so.

I mentioned writing deadlines a couple of times. These two months have also been deadline-filled. Book 18 is out on 24th January 2023 and is called Healing Hearts at Bumblebee Barn. It’s available to pre-order for Kindle right now (click the title to get to it) although the cover and blurb won’t appear until early November. It will be available to pre-order on other eBook platforms and on Audible nearer the time. It will also be out in all the print formats from publication day too.

I had a deadline to get the first draft in to my editor which I had to extend as I contracted conjunctivitis and had to spend a few days away from the screen. I’m really squeamish with my eyes. You know that episode of Friends where Rachel needs eye drops and the others have to quite literally pin her to the sofa? That was me! I swear the hubby took far too much delight in putting those drops in my eyes!

I made it to the revised deadline but knew my manuscript was a bit of a mess and that I wanted to change one part of the plot and the ending. My editor, Nia, is amazing and she typically agrees with what I’ve already identified is wrong with the story (but didn’t have time to fix) and comes up with some invaluable suggestions of her own. I then had deadlines for getting the 1st round of edits back and the 2nd, which were returned at the weekend. In between those rounds of edits, I came down with Covid for the second time!

Fortunately it was reasonably mild – bad cold, tired – and I’m so thankful it hit me between edits instead of during them as working was too exhausting. I watched lots of films but had hoped to do lots of catching-up on my admin so that all had to be put on hold.

I’ve seen the gorgeous cover and have had the blurb finalised too and can’t wait to share them with readers.

And as if all that wasn’t busy enough, I’ve had a flu jab, hair appointment, physio sessions (I have back/neck/shoulder problems – typical for an author spending too much time hunched over their keyboard!), a tour round the local sixth form ready for my daughter applying there for next September, and an open evening at her school about GCSE revision tips. Phew! Exhausted thinking about it all!

So today I’m off to meet Sharon, Sylvia and Joy as mentioned and then I’m off on my holidays over half-term – a much earned (and needed) rest after a couple of busy months.

Hope September and October have treated you well and hope you’ve enjoyed my photos. Do grab yourself those Hedgehog Hollows on offer if you haven’t already done so. And spread the word!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I’ve had a very busy week

You know how you can have weeks with very little in the diary then suddenly you hit a week where everything happens? I had one of those last week…

It started with a talk at Scarborough Soroptimists on Monday. Months back the chairperson, Angela, asked whether I might be interested in joining them. I did a careers talk at my daughter’s school recently but this is the first time I’ve spoken to adults in real life since I was an indie author so it all felt very new.

I confess I wasn’t familiar with the organisation so was surprised to discover that Soroptimists International had celebrated their centenary last year. They’re about ensuring women and girls have a voice and you can read more about their great work here. The Scarborough branch meet at Ganton Village Hall which is a small village between Scarborough and Malton.

The talk seemed to go well and it was great to have questions afterwards. A huge thank you to the group for hosting me.

On Wednesday, I met author Rowan Coleman on Scarborough seafront for a cuppa and a doughnut (nom nom). It was a gorgeous sunny day (sunnier than the photos might look!) with a gentle breeze – lovely.

When I arrived, there were loads of primary school children emerging from ‘Aquarium Top’ to queue for an ice cream. I knew that the area that was formerly an aquarium had been painted so I took a quick look when the space was clear. How pretty is this?

On Friday, we were meant to be going to Castle Howard to see Duran Duran. This was advertised as a picnic-style gig where you take food and drink in and enjoy relaxing in a foldaway chair in front of the beautiful stately home. We’ve been to gigs there before and it’s fabulous. However, the promoters – Senbla – sent everyone an email at the start of the week with some ‘additional information’ which changed everything we’d expected. The gig was being held in a field away from the home so there wouldn’t the stunning backdrop with which we’re familiar, food and drink could not be taken in, chairs weren’t permitted, picnic blankets were an option but you might be asked to stand up when the gig started, and it was £10.20 to book parking (this being at a venue in the middle of nowhere to which you pretty much have to drive) or £15 cash on the night if you didn’t book 24 hours before. Wow! This was NOT what we signed up to!

I contacted Ticketmaster who claimed nothing had changed – it had! – and said it was the promotor’s issue, not theirs. I contacted Castle Howard and Senbla via both Facebook and Twitter to ask for an explanation and a refund and also emailed Senbla. All contact has been ignored. I’m not impressed at all.

This had been a gift for my 50th birthday but we had to give it a miss because I can’t stand for several hours and it would have ruined it attempting to do so. Sitting on a picnic blanket for ages wouldn’t be an option either – I’d struggle to get down and up again!

I’m extremely disappointed at the change to what we booked with no responsibility taken from any of the parties. So we’ve had to walk away from the money. We took a drive up to Whitby instead, got a chippy tea and went for a wander. It was strange seeing Whitby so deserted!

As we climbed back up to the car on the north side, there was the most beautiful light with the approaching sunset.

On Saturday night, I was invited over to see my friends at Wolds Hedgehog Rescue – the ‘real’ Hedgehog Hollow – for a catch-up. Nanny Angela needed to bring three hoglets over to be fed during the meeting and I had the honour of having a go at feeding one of them – first time I’ve ever done this. Awww!

Then on Sunday, I topped the week off with a visit into Scarborough. Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow went into The Works a few weeks back but I missed the Scarborough ones as they arrived and sold out really quickly. I was delighted to see they’d had another delivery so had a chance to sign them. As always, the staff in there were so lovely.

I actually hadn’t expected to see the book in there so I’d thrown on the same clothes from the night before (as I’d only worn them for 3 hours) and hadn’t put any make-up on or brushed my hair. So this is the natural look 🙂

I’ve just been on to the website at The Works but Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow appears to have sold through but you will probably still find copies in your local branch.

So overall a very busy week and I’ll finish it with a photo of a garden ornament I spotted in the window of The Gift Company which I absolutely neeeeeeed, and a photo of my gorgeous Eleanor Tomlinson print of Her Majesty the Queen with Paddington Bear. I’m cheating a bit as that actually arrived yesterday – not last week – but I thought I’d sneak it in here. My Steiff Paddington (a gift from my husband on our wedding day) couldn’t resist posing with it. The print went viral after the Jubilee and the signed edition sold out really quickly but Eleanor has printed an open edition (which is how I got mine) and you can get that and check out her other gorgeous artwork here.

This week is shaping up to be really busy too – hair appointment, dentist for a filling (argh!) and also a Facebook Live at lunchtime today. So if you read this post this morning and you’re free at 12noon, you might like to join us on Book and Tonic’s Facebook page. The Live will be Jo Bartlett, Helen Rolfe and me chatting about building our communities.

Have a fabulous week.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where it’s publication day for Spring Tides at The Starfish Café

Happy publication day to me! Spring Tides at The Starfish Café – book 2 in the series – is out today. Yay!

A huge thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered it on eBook or audio formats, or has purchased it today. That’s so kind of you. Happy reading/listening!

I love this story and hope readers and listeners will too. Anyone who read the acknowledgements in the back of book 1 – Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café – will know that part of this story was originally in that book. I submitted it thinking something wasn’t quite right but couldn’t pinpoint what. Thankfully my amazing editor, Nia, could and it was that I had two stories in one book but didn’t have the word count to do justice to either of them. So Snowflakes focuses purely on Hollie and Jake meeting and their tragic backstories, and Spring Tides is about their developing relationship with the storyline removed from Snowflakes and a couple of new characters.

Spring Tides at The Starfish Café embarks on a 15-day / 45 stop blog tour from today. That’s epic! Thank you so much to the amazing bloggers/reviewers who’ve signed up and the amazing Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for organising it. Thanks also to the reviewers who aren’t on the tour but have already or will share their reviews.

One of my Boldwood buddies, the lovely crime author Mary Grand, asked me this week whether I still get nervous about publication day now that I’ve written so many books. The answer is yes! This is my 15th release through Boldwood Books but it’s actually my 28th publication day, having had nine indie release days and four with my original publisher. I’m into more of a rhythm about what to expect but the nerves are always there, bubbling away beneath the surface, typically triggered by my pesky imposter syndrome: What if this is the book readers/listeners hate? What if this is the one where they realise I can’t write?

I’ve been working hard on my imposter syndrome and I don’t feel quite so worried with this release. It helps that there’ve been so many lovely reviews from ARCs (Advance Reader Copies). There have, of course, been some who haven’t enjoyed it – there always are – but it’s overwhelmingly been positively received.

Today I’ll be mostly sharing on social media and responding to the lovely comments that come through. The lovely Fiona Jenkins and Sue Baker are hosting a publication party over on Heidi Swain and Friends – A Facebook Book Club – which is very kind and generous of them. My friends over on The Friendly Book Community have a publication day interview with me and there’s lots more going on. Thank you to everyone who gets involved and makes this day so special.

On Thursday this week, I have a very exciting event planned. I’m going to be joined by members of the RNLI – specifically Scarborough Lifeboat Station – for a Facebook Live. It’s at 6pm on the Book and Tonic Facebook Page and will be available to watch afterwards if anyone can’t join us live. If you can join us live, though, there’ll be an opportunity to ask questions. The crew are so inspirational and I’m so looking forward to chatting with them.

In related news, I was so excited to see Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café reach a whopping review milestone yesterday of 4,000 reviews/ratings over on Amazon. This is my most-reviewed book now, despite it being one of the most recent releases. It hit 4k yesterday, just in time for publication day so what a lovely way to celebrate.

If you haven’t already read Snowflakes, you can grab it for free if you’re in Prime Reading or Kindle Unlimited globally, and it’s only 99p (or equivalent internationally) for the eBook so this is a great opportunity to discover Hollie and Jake’s origin stories before reading Spring Tides. You can read Spring Tides as a standalone book and I do inject some of the backstory so readers aren’t lost but you’ll get a much richer experience if you’ve read the full series.

And, finally, I’m delighted to announce that book 3 – Summer Nights at The Starfish Café – is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Please don’t get annoyed with me but there’s a year to wait for this one. It’s out on 3rd April 2023 and you can pre-order it for Kindle here. The reason for the year is I have the Hedgehog Hollow series to finish first (two books out in June and September) and there’s either going to be a Castle Street standalone book out in January or the start of a new series. Spring Tides doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, though, so hopefully readers/listeners will forgive me for the year and remember that many authors only write one book a year and some even write one every two years.

Big publication day hugs
Jessica xx

The one with the Whitsborough Bay tour round Scarborough’s North Bay

We made a decision to aim for one family day out each weekend but couldn’t go very far this weekend just gone. The munchkin was on a Duke of Edinburgh practise walk from one end to the other of Scarborough’s sea front (about 4 miles) on Saturday afternoon and we were expecting a plumber to quote for some work on Sunday.

As we needed to pick the munchkin up at the end of her walk, we decided to go early and have a wander round North Bay. It was a very cold and windy day – preparing for Storm Malik – and I took quite a few pics to show different parts of North Bay from my books.

STANLEY MOFFATT

Freddie Gilroy is an oversized statue of a former soldier who sits on his giant bench overlooking the sea at South Bay. You can read more about who he is and the story of the statue on this Wiki page.

He’s so iconic that he had to feature in my Whitsborough Bay stories but, as Whitsborough Bay is fictional, I needed to change his identity.

In my stories, he’s Stanley Moffatt, a fisherman who was saved by the RNLI. He’s first mentioned in The Secret to Happiness and features in Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café and the forthcoming Spring Tides at The Starfish Café.

As you can see, Freddie’s (or Stanley’s) bench looks a bit wet. It hadn’t been raining. This was from the earlier overtopping caused by the high tide and the wind so I took these photos very quickly while keeping an eye on the sea just in case.

You see the buildings on the top of the cliff? That’s where Danniella rents her flat from Aidan in The Secret to Happiness, although her flat would be a smidge further round off camera.

THE SEA

The dangers of dodging waves is one of the themes I explore in The Starfish Café series. In Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café, I talk about bollards being put up on the slipway after several tragedies. Although the details have been changed slightly on one of these, it is based on a true story from 2005 which resulted in the slipway near Freddie being permanently closed. Signs remind the public of the dangers of the sea yet people still take chances.

When we were down on the seafront on Saturday, it was a couple of hours after high tide. There were a few high waves and some spray but we stayed well back because we’re not daft.

The photo above shows the slipway that is permanently closed. Without giving spoilers, this is where an incident in Jake’s childhood occurs in Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café.

THE BEACH HUTS

Scarborough’s North Bay beach huts are gorgeous. Painted lime green, sky blue, red, orange and yellow, I decided not to change any aspect of them and they appear in my books exactly as they appear on North Bay.

They feature in loads of my books. In The Secret to Happiness, Karen’s bootcamp often takes place on the promenade in front of the huts which was inspired by my own experiences of doing two different bootcamps at 6am three mornings a week for a few years. Couldn’t do that now!

Clare walks along here on a visit to Whitsborough Bay in Coming Home to Seashell Cottage and they feature a few times in All You Need Is Love. And I’m sure you can see why.

SEA RESCUE SANCTUARY

Although I haven’t set a story there (yet), I do mention the Sea Rescue Sanctuary in several books, especially The Starfish Café series. In Scarborough, it’s really the Sealife Centre and it’s the pyramid shaped building in the background here (which I’ve changed to domes in my books).

HEARNSHAW PARK

Near Scarborough’s North Bay is the fabulous Peasholm Park, re-named as Hearnshaw Park in my books. Again, it features in several stories, perhaps most notably in Making Wishes at Bay View when Callie walks round the lake with Ruby and discovers the secrets from Ruby’s past.

Dusk was approaching so the pics aren’t the best as it wasn’t quite bright enough to pick out the colour but not quite dark enough to pick out the illuminations. But here you go…

Hope you enjoyed your little tour round Whitsborough Bay.

It’s February tomorrow – how did that happen?! Wishing you an amazing second month of the year.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where we escaped the fog to visit Sandsend and Whitby

I learned a new phrase about the weather on Saturday from watching Celebrity Catchphrase of all things and it was spookily appropriate to describe the weather in Scarborough that day – a ‘pea-souper’. I am familiar with the phrase ‘the fog’s as thick as pea soup’ to describe particularly thick fog, but I’ve never heard of the shorter version ‘pea-souper’.

The munchkin had planned a day out with her friends so hubby and I had decided to take a trip up the coast to Whitby. We were a little apprehensive looking at the thick fog but hoped it would clear by the time we got to Whitby. It actually cleared as soon as we were out of Scarborough and what a contrast just a short distance up the coast with blue skies and sunshine!

We started with a trip to Sandsend just north of Whitby. I thought I was familiar with Sandsend but it appears I’m not as there’s a whole section of village I’ve never explored before as I usually park on the south side and explore the area round the beach there.

Transected by a river, half of this unfamiliar part of the village was bathed in bright sunshine but the other half was still covered in frost so it’s amazing to think that these photos were taken minutes apart of houses on the opposite side of the river!

From what we could tell, this part of the village mainly seemed to be holiday cottages owned by an estate but they were some sympathetically-build new builds nestling among very pretty old period cottages and a church.

We moved onto Whitby for a chippy lunch (rude not to) and caught the swing bridge opening for a couple of yachts to come through. Although the geography of Whitsborough Bay is predominantly modelled on Scarborough, I do have a river with a swing bridge which brings in this aspect of Whitby.

Whitby has always been one of my favourite places and I love being there on days like Saturday where it’s cold and crisp and there’s a buzz but it’s not heaving with people.

We spotted the most fabulous aeroplane trail which looked like it was coming straight out of the 199 steps up to St Mary’s Church!

I wish I’d thought to take a photo of Scarborough as, when we got back, it was still a pea-souper and it would have been great to compare the two. But I didn’t so here’s a few more pictures of Whitby looking fabulous…

It’s Blue Monday today – allegedly the most ‘depressing’ day of the year because of the combination of post-Christmas, cold days/dark nights and time since last payday – so I hope these help bring a smile to your face instead.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where Whitsborough Bay Harbour looks so pretty

On Monday night we took our dog, Ella, for a walk along Scarborough’s South Bay. The less commercial of the two bays – North Bay – is actually my favourite but South Bay has the pull of the harbour and the lighthouse and both of these look so pretty lit up at Christmas.

So I won’t witter. I’ll just show you some photos of Scarborough aka Whitsborough Bay looking all Christmassy and gorgeous. They’re not the best photos in the world – still haven’t mastered taking them on my phone despite having had the same phone for years – but it should give you a feel anyway…

Big hugs
Jessica xx

For the Whitsborough Bay fans, you see the shops/cafes/pubs all lit up? Behind that is the Old Town which is mentioned in several of my books. Seashell Cottage which appears in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series is in the Old Town and Jake from Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café lives in Lighthouse View there.

The large building above left is The Grand which is The Ramparts Hotel in my books (and very much a 5-star hotel which The Grand hasn’t been for a long time). The arcade next to it with the red lights is The Olympia which appears in my second Starfish Café book, Spring Tides at The Starfish Café (out 5th April) renamed as the Golden Galleon.

The one where I travelled to Narnia

When I was little, one of my favourite books was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. I read it stacks of times and was completely captivated by the idea of four evacuees entering the land of Narnia through a wardrobe. So magical! I was therefore very excited that this year’s theme for Christmas at Castle Howard was ‘Christmas in Narnia.’

Each year, Castle Howard – a gorgeous stately home between Scarborough and York – is dressed for Christmas and it’s seriously impressive.

Castle Howard in the summer

In 2019, when we had no idea that a global pandemic was about to change the world beyond recognition, I visited with my bestie and fellow author Sharon Booth. The theme was ‘Masquerade’ and you can read about it/see my photos in a blog post I wrote at the time here. On the back of that, I knew Narnia would be pretty special.

Castle Howard last night

We were originally booked to go to ‘Christmas in Narnia’ a few Saturdays back but Storm Arwen hit and Castle Howard made the decision to close for safety. There are so many trees in the grounds that there was too great a risk with the high winds. Worried that we couldn’t go, I panicked and re-booked pretty much the only slots available – an after-school visit last night – but received an email later saying to bear with them as they would be squeezing in some extra slots for those who’d had theirs cancelled so we could probably have done a weekend after all.

The imagination and attention to detail that goes into creating these Christmas themes is quite astonishing. There’s actually a Channel 4 series running at the moment called ‘Christmas at…’ which documents how various stately homes transform for Christmas. It started with the ‘real Downton Abbey’ – Highclere Castle, then Warwick Castle and, spookily enough, Castle Howard was aired last night. My in-laws mentioned this when we collected the dog from theirs … and I promptly forgot. I need to watch it on catch-up.

Visitors need to book and there are 15-minute time slots to keep a steady flow moving through the house. Some whizz through and others pause to take in all the detail and there are no staff moving you on; the flow happens naturally.

Four of the bedrooms were dressed for each of the four siblings, Susan, Lucy, Edmund and Peter. Susan’s room was clamorous, Lucy’s full of toys, Edmund’s as a ‘war camp’ and Peter’s grand and representing courage.

Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom aka Susan’s Room
Lady Georgiana’s Dressing Room aka Lucy’s Room (photo credit Mark Heslington)
Castle Howard Dressing Room aka Edmund’s Room (photo credit Mark Heslington)
Castle Howard Bedroom aka Peter’s Room

I absolutely loved the move down the old passageways with all the snowy-looking flowers, candles and lights.

Antique Passage through Narnia (photo credit Mark Heslington)

Then we reached the wardrobe of fur coats through which Lucy first enters Narnia, and the lamppost where she meets Mr Tumnus. Note the fawn’s red scarf tied around it – lovely detail – and his packages on the ground.

We soon arrived in the Great Hall with the most enormous Christmas tree – 28 feet high – which is frozen in time awaiting Christmas returning to Narnia. Wouldn’t have liked the job of dressing that!

As we passed through the Great Hall, we reached the Garden Hall where the White Witch is on her sleigh and there’s a box of Turkish Delight waiting to tempt Edmund.

(photo credit Mark Heslington)

The Music Room was an imagining of Mr Tumnus’s home where Lucy enjoys tea with the fawn. There was so much to look at here and I loved the detail of the undecorated trees symbolising the forest coming into his home (although they’re not in my photo).

The next room had even more detail. The Crimson Dining Room showed the woodland animals celebrating as they sensed victory for good over evil. There were animals everywhere and toadstools under the table. Absolutely gorgeous.

(photo credit Mark Heslington)

The Museum Room becomes the Professor’s study

When we visited the Masquerade decorations, the Long Gallery was packed full of figures and bridges and a ‘river’ but it was more understated this time with the colours of the Northern Lights now that Aslan is back and triumphant. Before we meet the great lion himself…

(photo credit Mark Heslington)
(photo credit Mark Heslington)
Christmas has returned to Narnia (photo credit Mark Heslington)

In the courtyard near the visitor’s entrance, there was a fire pit. Hubby had a coffee and the munchkin and I had a couple of giant marshmallows to toast. They were absolutely amazing.

I really enjoyed our evening. I’d loved to have lingered in some of the rooms for even longer to catch all the detail and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year as the two times I’ve attended have been brilliant.

Hope you enjoyed the pics as much as I enjoyed my marshmallow!

Big lion hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I signed New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow in The Works

I posted over the weekend to say that New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – the second book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – had appeared online at The Works and also in stores but I hadn’t seen copies in my local branch.

The munchkin stays for drama club after school on a Monday so I need to pick her up and it’s on the other side of town. I arrived early today but she’d got out early which gave us just enough time to nip into town on the way home and scoot to The Works to see if my book was in. And it was!

The lovely manager Jamie was there and she’d been hoping I’d appear. The books were placed on the shelves on Saturday and half of them have already sold which was exciting so I only had a pile of five to sign but I’ve now done that.

Please excuse the state of me in these photos! This was an impromptu visit prompted by the munchkin being early so I have no make-up on, haven’t run a brush through my hair, and have my super-casual jogging pants on. But that didn’t detract from the excitement of signing copies of my paperbacks in a real shop. This is the fifth book of mine in there and the fourth time I’ve signed copies (never entered my head to ask the first time) and I don’t think it will ever get boring!

It was lovely to hear Jamie telling me that Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot had sold out really quickly and that they’ve had customers in really excited to get their hands on New Arrivals, hence half of them selling already. I also massively appreciate that they always place my books in the eye line buy line position in the middle of the shelves.

Thank you to Jamie and all the staff in The Works Scarborough who are always so welcoming and friendly.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The hedgehogs are back in The Works

I was delighted to get the news a couple of months ago that a fourth title of mine – Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Café – was going into The Works so I absolutely wasn’t expecting to have another title in there but I have exciting news…

I have another book available on The Works right now – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow.

I was planning to share this news as soon as the book appeared online but it hasn’t appeared on the website yet. However, my great friend and fellow author Jo Bartlett, spotted a copy in her local branch of The Works today in Broadstairs, Kent so it’s out there in some stores and will hopefully appear online really soon.

A Jessica sandwich of book my books with fellow Boldwood authors Lisa Hobman and Rosie Clarke in Broadstairs, Kent

New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow is the second book in the Hedgehog Hollow series. The first book – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – went in during the summer so it’s fabulous having book two following its lead.

New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow can be read as a standalone book and I know plenty of readers who’ve loved it and followed the story well without reading the first book, especially as I provide a handy ‘story so far’ at the beginning. But I personally think that readers will enjoy a much richer reading experience and get to know the characters so much better by starting with Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow and reading the series in order.

As I’m with a small (but rapidly growing) independent publisher, you won’t find my books in supermarkets or book shops so it’s a real thrill to see them on the shelves of The Works. I nipped into Scarborough’s branch on Thursday and the hedgehogs weren’t there and I was in the Beverley branch today and they weren’t there either so I’ll try Scarborough again next week and hopefully be able sign copies again.

If you spot either book in your local branch, please do share a photo with me on Facebook or Twitter. I love seeing them in the wild (no pun intended for the hedgehogs!)

Starry Skies Over the Chocolate Pot Café appears to have completely sold out online but there should still be copies in store. I think they’re also selling through quickly in store. There are none left in the Scarborough branch, there was one left in Beverley today and any other selfies I’ve seen only seem to have 1 or 2 copies on the photo which is exciting (I put the one copy below in front of someone else’s books for the photo opp!)

Go hedgehogs go!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

One copy of Starry Skies left in Beverley The Works (East Yorkshire)

An amazing visit to Scarborough Lifeboat Station

Anyone who has read my latest release, Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café, will be aware that there is a very strong connection to the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) in the story. It isn’t mentioned in the blurb because it’s all part of how the story unfolds and explaining the connection would give spoilers.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I originally had the idea for this book back in 2017 and had planned to release it as a Christmas novella that year. I visited Scarborough’s lifeboat station over the summer to undertake some vital research but, when I started writing the story, it soon became apparent it was much bigger than a novella so I parked it and returned to it this year.

A photo opportunity with some of the crew before they changed for launch

I am in awe of the amazing work that all the staff and volunteers at the RNLI undertake. Living on the coast, I am very much aware of the danger of the sea and how quickly things can change. The town has been affected by many tragedies over the years, some of which have inspired aspects of this book.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Scarborough Lifeboat Station as a special guest. Covid-based restrictions are gradually easing but the stations aren’t yet open again to the public, so I was very honoured to have a special invite and the chance to meet some crew, bombard the Lifeboat Chairman – a lovely man called Colin – with a million questions, and watch a launch.

Me with the ILB. Check out my starfish-themed Popsy dress to match my book!

Actually, I got to watch three launches. It was their training evening and the ALB – the Shannon-class All Weather lifeboat (the big one) was going out to see to practice anchoring. The ILB – the D-class inshore lifeboat (the little one) was out for practicing capsizing and righting the craft. Scarborough’s ILB is brand new so they also had its predecessor in the water and it was that boat they were capsizing, not wanting to risk damaging the brand new one.

It started raining shortly after I arrived and it was absolutely bucketing it down by the time the ALB and ILB were launched so I watched from inside, hence some blurry pics a bit later as I took them through a rain-battered window! The fabulous side-on ones are from my husband who was waiting for me on the pier.

The Shannon-class ALB being pushed by the tractor ready for launch
The shore crew are there to ensure a safe launch and to keep the public back – although that wasn’t so much of an issue in the torrential rain!
The kit room before the crew arrived

The boats and equipment they have are seriously impressive. There’s a large tractor (right below) and trailer for the ALB and a smaller version for the ILB (left below) and there are crew whose specific role it is to drive the tractors.

The ALB pre-launch beside the old ILB
All 3 boats and the door open to the ramp
The ramp. At high tide, this will be partially under water
The tractor returning to the beach after launching the ALB
The ILB being taken down the ramp with the ALB in the background
Both ILBs in the water ready for the capsizing practice

I’ve selected Scarborough Lifeboat Station as my charity for this year and will be making a donation in the New Year to thank the crew for their help and support and the amazing work they do to save lives at sea.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the photos. Apologies for the grey grainy ones but I firmly blame the weather for those! A huge thank you to all the crew at Scarborough Lifeboat Station for this amazing opportunity which has given me loads of inspiration for the second book in the series, Summer Nights at The Starfish Café, out on 5th April 2022 and available for pre-order now.

I’ve delayed posting this as I was hoping that our local paper would be running an article but there’ve been two editions since my visit and nothing has appeared so far. Hopefully it will still be covered at a later date but I didn’t want to not share the photos in case it doesn’t, especially when I was granted special permission to visit the lifeboat station for this photo opportunity.

For more information about the RNLI, please click here.

Big hugs
Jessica xx