The one where I met up with an old friend

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Friendships fascinate me. I’m intrigued by friendships that last a lifetime v those that are short and intense, having a big group of friends v one special person, friends who are there no matter what v fair-weather friends, and I’m particularly interested in toxic and one-sided friendships. It probably therefore isn’t a surprise that this is a big theme within my books, and the main theme of the latest release, The Secret to Happiness.

Today I spent a fabulous afternoon in the gorgeous North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby with a lifetime friend. It’s been 15 years since I last saw Graham, yet we picked up where we’d left off and barely paused for breath for five hours! It was absolutely lovely.

67671359_1082040972003609_7127664636219883520_nGraham and I were brought up in Guisborough, a market town between Middlesbrough and Whitby. We actually went to the same primary school but weren’t in the same class. I knew who he was but we weren’t friends.

This changed at senior school. We were in the same form class for our 2nd and 3rd year (year 8 and 9 in new money) and were streamed into most of our subjects together too. A friendship quickly formed, helped by us living at the same side of town and therefore being able to easily see each other outside of school. We also started walking to school – a little over two miles away – and would chat incessantly the whole way.

All of my happy memories of my school days involve Graham. I remember laughing until IMG_6745my sides screamed in pain as we tried to make cassette-recordings of conversations for our French homework. It wasn’t so much the French conversation that was funny but the decision to add in sound effects like water pouring and cutlery clinking. A three-minute conversation could take hours to record.

Laughter was such a strong feature in our friendship and I often think that I might not have been able to cope with being bullied at a school if Graham hadn’t been there to joke with and chat to about anything and everything.

Guisborough is flanked on one side by hills and forests and we’d often take off on weekends for a long walk up the forest trails, taking the Cleveland Way across the hills to Roseberry Topping; a couple of hours’ walk each way. Usually we were joined by others on our treks and I look back on those days with such fond memories. In a world before social media and only a handful of channels on TV, walking and talking was how we spent our time and it was lovely.

IMG_6755When school finished, Graham went to the local sixth form and I travelled through to Redcar to study business studies at the technical college. We both went away to university but we stayed in touch, visiting each other at uni and writing to each other (again, in the days before mobile phones, personal email addresses or social media). We stayed in touch after graduation but didn’t see much of each other over the next few years until I moved back to the north and opened my teddy bear shop. Graham was teaching in Leeds and would occasionally come through and visit me in the shop during school holidays. Despite having not seen each other for years, we always picked up where we left off.

So if the friendship was so good, why haven’t we seen each other for 15 years? It’s a good question without a good answer. I suppose life just got in the way. I got married, had a baby, changed job a few times, moved house a couple of times and never seemed to have any time or money to travel to see friends. I’d start each New Year determined that I would make more of an effort to see people, including my family, but the years just seemed to fly past. Then Graham moved to Hong Kong and has been there for the past five years. It made me really appreciate how I should have made much more of an effort to travel to Leeds when he was only a couple of hours away because Hong Kong isn’t quite so handy for a cuppa and cake!

IMG_6757But, today, we met up and it was so great to see him. As I knew we would, we just picked up where we left off. There was so much to catch up on and, of course, we had to do some reminiscing about our school days and the different people we’re still in touch with. All too soon, it was time to go but we’ve promised not to leave it so long next time. He’s back staying with his parents again at Christmas so hopefully we can meet then.

It’s scary to think that we’ve been friends for about 35 years. During that time, so many other friendships have come and gone, some of which have been upsetting to lose, some of whom I still miss. Yet my friendship with Graham has always remained and, although I’m certain it won’t be 15 years before I see him again, I know that, if it was, we’d just pick up where we left off. And that makes me very happy.

Is there someone you haven’t seen in ages? Why not get in touch and see if you can sort something out. You’ll be glad you did. Especially if you can arrange to meet up somewhere as stunning as Whitby. Look at that sky!

Jessica xx

My Lovely Blog Hop

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

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

First Memory

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

Books

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

Libraries

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

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

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

What’s Your Passion?

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

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

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


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

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

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

Learning

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

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

Thanks again to Jo for nominating me xxx

What’s lurking in “The Tin?”

We had our first family holiday abroad in October which meant opening “The Tin”. I’m sure most households have something similar. “The Tin” is a long metal box from Ikea in which I store important stuff: passports, birth certificates, spare cheque books etc. But I also use it to store my old school reports. I have every report from the five years I spent at my local comprehensive and I have no idea why I’ve kept them. I suppose it’s one of those things where I’ve kept them this long, why chuck them, especially when The Tin has space to store them safely.

We often hear quotes from school reports cited in the media where a teacher has either predicted that someone will end up in the profession for which they’re famous (e.g. writer, actor, politician) or where their teacher tells them they’ll amount to nothing.

P1050081I haven’t read my school reports for years and years but, as I rifled through The Tin to retrieve our passports ready for our holiday, I wondered whether there were any clues in my English reports to suggest my teachers knew I had it in me to be a writer. I knew there wouldn’t be anything disparaging because I worked hard at English and enjoyed it so I was rewarded with good grades as a result.

Here’s what my reports had to say:

1st Year (age 11-12) – 69% – 8=/29 – “works very hard, is enthusiastic and presents her written work neatly and thoughtfully”

2nd Year (age 12-13) – 75% – 1=/29 – “well done! Work has been excellent this year. She works with imagination and enthusiasm and is a pleasant and helpful librarian” [I’d actually forgotten I’d been a school librarian!]

3rd Year (age 13-14) – 70% – 6/30 – “done very well this year” [There’d been lots of teaching strikes that year so the report was a much reduced affair!]

4th Year (age 14-15) – no exam results as I was doing my GCSEs and it was all coursework-based – “has worked steadily since September and I have been pleased with the quality of the work she has produced. It is always neatly presented and she seems to have grasped what is required in literature. Her oral work is also satisfying” [the use of the word “satisfying” makes me smile as I went on to speak in public as a career in my recruitment and training roles]

5th Year (age 15-16) – Language – “always works to the best of her ability and not only is her work of a high standard, it is beautifully presented. Her folder is a credit to her and I hope she receives the grade I feel she deserves”

Literature – “as with language, she has worked conscientiously on her literature folder. The result is a pleasing selection of work which is of a high standard”

_MG_1543There are some themes aren’t there? Good presentation and enthusiasm seem to be strong themes. Sadly, there are no spoutings of my literary brilliance [hee hee]. No suggestions that I had exceptional talent and would take the publishing world by storm [please know that I’m giggling as I’m writing this!]

In the end, I got a GCSE grade A in English Language and in Literature (A* didn’t exist as this was the first year of GCSEs) and was extremely proud of those results. I’d have gone on to study A Levels at college had our local college offered English Language at the time but they only offered Literature. I’d have added Psychology to that but I have no idea what other subject I’d have gone for so I went to technical college and studied a BTEC in Business & Finance instead. I wonder whether my road to publication would have been any quicker had our 6th Form offered English Language. Would I have then gone on to study English at university? Would I have become a teacher perhaps? We’ll never know. What I do know is that I’ve always loved English, always loved reading, and always loved writing. Long may it continue.