My morning with the seals

Those who have already read Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café will have discovered that the café is positioned on a cliff top and there’s a 200-strong seal colony on the beach and rocks below. The seals feature in this first book in the series although not heavily, and they’ll feature more in the second book out in April – Summer Nights at The Starfish Café.

I’d already undertaken a lot of research into common and grey seals – the types found in the Yorkshire Coast waters – but I decided that a visit to our local Sealife Sanctuary (Scarborough) where they have resident seals and a seal hospital may well be in order. Then, when I spotted they did a seal experience, I couldn’t resist.

Sealife Centres are run by Merlin Entertainments and they have 12 sites around the UK and many more overseas. You can click here to find out more. The focus is on education and conservation.

We arrived this morning 75 minutes before the general admission time of 10am and it was quite lovely having the centre to ourselves for so long. Our guides for the duration were Minnie and Tiegan and they were friendly and knowledgeable as they took us round.

First stop was Harris the sea otter. Awww. His partner in crime passed away at the grand old age of 16 a few weeks back. They are preparing for another female to keep him company, but he seemed more than content swimming about and playing with his pebble. (Apologies that the photo isn’t great – he kept moving!)

The seal hospital had one admission: a seal pup called Buzzard (apparently all recent admissions have been named after birds). Buzzard, a girl pup, was found abandoned in South Bay with cuts and a swollen muzzle. She has healed nicely and should be moved into the next stage of rehabilitation next which is a small pool.

Because she was abandoned, she’ll be released into a colony of seals, very likely at Ravenscar up the coast which was where I got the inspiration for my Starfish Point colony.

Isn’t Buzzard gorgeous? Look at those big eyes! There is some water in the ‘sick bay’ but she apparently isn’t so keen on swimming yet so they haven’t filled it. She’ll get used to that in the next stage of her programme.

We moved round to the main pool where there are four resident seals called Mando, Pendle, Boo and Ed. None of these seals could be released back into the wild because there are reasons why they wouldn’t survive there such as they were reared in captivity at other facilities or have had injuries or bad experiences which mean they wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves. They are, however, treated as though they are wild animals. They aren’t taught tricks and the staff don’t touch/handle them unless for medical reasons. They have a lovely pool and it gives them all the swimming space they need. In the wild, seals are known for lounging on rocks and beaches and not actually swimming very far.

We had a bucket of fish and all had a chance to feed them. Steven the Seagull is a regular visitor who tries (and sometimes succeeds) to get the fish first! You can see him swooping in at the top of the pic on the right!

Hubby captured a gorgeous pic of the munchkin and one of the seals through the underwater glass. He tried to capture something similar for me but he stood further back and caught my whole body in it. I actually look like a killer whale beached on the ledge so I’m not going to share that one!

There’s a section called Penguin Island were Humboldt penguins live. They’re endangered in their natural habitat (South America) so this is a breeding programme to ensure the survival of the species.

There weren’t many out of their beds when we went round but the newest chick was swimming while its dad watched from the doorway of its bedroom. Awww.

The only other one out and about was the only single penguin, Fred, who was on the noticeboard as ‘bad penguin of the month’. Apparently he’s got his eye on some of the other females and has been picking fights with their partners! Bad Fred!

Fred’s on the left grooming himself (it’s molting season so he’s looking a bit shabby just now) and the chick is the one on the right who managed to haul itself out of the pool right into where Fred had just evacuated his bowels. Yes, that is fresh penguin crap all over its chest!

I say ‘it’ rather than he or she for the chick because apparently you cannot tell what sex a penguin is from looking at it. When it’s older, a feather has to be sent off to an expert who will analyse it and confirm the sex. I did not know that!

There are several aquarium tanks with sharks, rays, fish, corals, seahorses, sea dragons, jelly fish and so on (not all in the same tank together, mind). They have an amazing jelly fish breeding programme and there was a new rainforest section which I’ve not visited before so that was lovely.

We were able to stroke some starfish and sea anemone and hold empty shark egg pouches and I managed to grab a quick starfish pic before we left in homage to The Starfish Café.

We were then dropped off for some breakfast and were free to wander round again at our leisure. We all loved our seal experience and would like to thank Minnie and Tiegan for the really great tour/helpful information. I bombarded them with research questions about seals although confess I didn’t tell them why I was asking. I meant to but I just didn’t see an opportunity to slip it in.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the pics. Apologies that WordPress seem to have stopped displaying the gallery ones (where there are 2 or more together) properly. I noticed this last week and thought it might sort itself out overnight but it appears not. Don’t have the technical expertise or time to resolve it just now but fingers crossed it will right itself.

Big seal-hugs
Jessica xx

Happy Yorkshire Day 2021

It’s 1st August which means it’s Yorkshire Day. Happy Yorkshire Day 2021 to everyone who who was born in Yorkshire, lives here now or has ever lived here, to all those who’ve visited this beautiful part of the country or would love to do so, to those who write about it/read about it/watch it on TV, those who drink Yorkshire Tea and anyone who has any connection to or fondness for Yorkshire.

I love Yorkshire. I was actually born in Teesside but was raised in a market town called Guisborough which borders the North Yorkshire Moors so I very much think of myself as a Yorkshire lass. And I’ve lived in North Yorkshire since 2003 and Scarborough since 2004; the longest time I’ve lived anywhere.

All my books (so far) are set in Yorkshire. North Yorkshire alone is the largest county in England. Add in East, West and South Yorkshire and we’re massive. So it’s no surprise that an area this size has so many inspiring settings from coast to country to city.

I’m delighted to present some of our local scenery and the books that are inspired by it…

The ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, a location inspired by Scarborough, Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay
The Hedgehog Hollow series (so far) set in the stunning Yorkshire Wolds
Take a trip to Castle Street, inspired by Scarborough’s Bar Street and the cobbled streets of Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, full of independent shops and cafes
Whitsborough Bay’s North Bay (heavily inspired by Scarborough’s North Bay) features in many of my books but especially All You Need is Love and The Secret to Happiness
Scarborough Spa at the far end of South Bay is the inspiration behind The Bay Pavilion which features in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café
The views over Scarborough’s South Bay are stunning. This is one of the first views Tara sees when she moves to Whitsborough Bay in Starry Skies and, in new release Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café, it’s an area called Sea Cliff where heroine Hollie lives
The Starfish Café is the setting for a new series. The location is completely fictional but the beach below – Starfish Point – is a colony to 200 grey and common seals, inspired by the beach at Ravenscar
Scarborough’s harbour aka Whitsborough Bay harbour is mentioned in several books and there’s a key scene set there in Christmas at Carly’s Cupakes

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little glimpse into the real Yorkshire inspiration behind Whitsborough Bay and Hedgehog Hollow.

Do you love Yorkshire? Do you live here/have connections here/have fond memories of holidays here? I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you do.

Big Yorkshire hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I look back at July

The end of July has been and gone, signalling that we’re halfway through the year already. Eek! That means we’re on the slope towards Christmas now, which is a bit scary.

So how was my July? Busy. Very busy.

thumbnail-4On 19th July, I was excited to reveal the cover for my new book, The Secret to Happiness, as part of me being Boldwood’s Author of the Day. The novel will be released on 3rd September but is available for pre-order on Kindle, for the bargain price of £1, right here. For any bloggers/reviewers, it’s also available on NetGalley.

Speaking of NetGalley, I went from excitement to disappointment a few days later when my first NetGalley review came through and it wasn’t good. With only a 2-star rating, the feedback was a little strange as the reviewer said she’d really enjoyed the main character’s story but, because it wasn’t the light summer read she was hoping for, she rated it a 2. I won’t even begin to try and understand the logic behind that. Yes, the cover is summery but the blurb doesn’t suggest light and fluffy. I know I have to be prepared for bad reviews but, because it was the first, this one really upset me. Thankfully the second one, a few days later, was 5-star and stated: “I loved this book … Overall brilliant writing, loved the plot, characters were well developed…” Phew!

Blue LogoMy good friend, author Sharon Booth, came through to Scarborough for a day and we loitered with intent in a couple of different coffee shops, having a good old writerly chat, which is always a fabulous way to while away the hours. We came to a difficult decision, though, to cease being ‘The Yorkshire Rose Writers’. Last year, we joined forces under this brand as we both live in Yorkshire, write about Yorkshire, and love Yorkshire. We thought this would be a great way to promote Sharon to my readers and vice versa, as well as have a stronger online presence. We put a huge time commitment in to blog, tweet, insta (is that a word?) and update content on the Facebook page, especially Sharon who is much better at these things than me, but we found it didn’t engage with any new readers as hoped. We also decided that, whilst we love Yorkshire, this is not our brand; our brand is us as individuals and as friends together. We therefore have a new idea that is in early stages of development but will be a little different. The blog has been deactivated and the social media activities have ceased with accounts deactivating shortly. It was short and sweet but these things are always worth a try. We’d probably have continued on Facebook but the imminent changes from pages to groups make us lose the will to live when it comes to that format so bye bye to The Yorkshire Rose Writers and thank you to those who did support our little venture.

During July, I completed a round of edits on book 11 and that’s now with my beta readers for comment. Early indications are good with one of them saying she’s struggling to put it down. I’m not sure whether Boldwood will take this one or not but it was about two thirds complete at the time I signed my publishing deal so there was no point in not finishing it.

My plan was to make some progress with book 12 and 13 but that hasn’t quite happened because I had my penultimate Masters submission due which took more time than I’d anticipated. It was a commentary about the process behind the final submission and the learnings we’ve had so far and I’ve struggled to score highly on these so far. I’ve just had the score through, though, and have achieved a distinction with 90% which is a relief. This puts my Year 2 work at 88% which is a distinction overall (distinction is 85% and above) so I’m thrilled about that. However, to come out with a distinction as my final grade, I have to score 85% or more on the final submission. I’ve done well on my fiction pieces so far, typically scoring in the 90s, but this is a much bigger piece. Fingers crossed.

IMG_6650Outside of writing, I had a short break in The Lake District with hubby, daughter and Ella, our Sprocker Spaniel. It didn’t go as planned. I managed to break my tooth about an hour into the journey eating a toffee. Oops! Thankfully it doesn’t hurt as it was a crown that I’ve snapped off a couple of times before … also by eating toffees. You’d think I’d have learned by now! I don’t think the dentist will be able to rebuild it again this time so I’ll see what he suggests next week.

The broken tooth was probably a bad omen for things to come. Our journey was horrendous. What would normally take about four hours took six including a patch of stationary traffic. We took a detour to get around that but then missed our planned lunch stop and ended up having lunch at teatime instead. The cottage wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for and it was in the middle of nowhere which we hadn’t expected either. Then the weather was poor, with torrential rain one day and storms forecast for our final day. We decided to come home a day early to sleep on a comfortable bed and to go out around home where the weather wasn’t expected to be so bad.

So, on Tuesday we visited a place called Ravenscar on the coast between Scarborough IMG_6732and Robin Hood’s Bay to see the seals. A year or two ago, we did attempt to see the seals but took the wrong path and still ended up on a cliff top with no way down to the beach, so we did the sensible thing and asked this time. The seals were sooooo adorable. The walk is very steep, though, and the journey back up was certainly hard work. I swear I’d shed about two stone in sweat but the scales laughed at me and told me otherwise!

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I went to the cinema just before our mini-break to see ‘Yesterday’. I’d seen the trailer on Facebook some time back and was really keen to see it, although I hadn’t realised at the time that it was a Richard Curtis film. We don’t have a decent cinema in Scarborough but the theatre does show some films so the munchkin so I went to see it there and thoroughly enjoyed it. You do need to suspend a bit of disbelief here and there and just take it for what it is which is a sweet, funny story with lots of Beatles songs.

My final bit of news is that the munchkin got her ears pierced last week (she’s 12) so that they have time to heal over the summer break. I’ve had mine done since I was 13 but I’ve always fancied having the top of my ear – my helix – pierced so I booked in for me to have that done at the same time. Ouch! My goodness, does that hurt! I’ve tried taking a photo but it’s just a stud and it barely shows so I will wait until the 12-week healing period has passed and I can put a pretty earring in it instead.

That’s my round-up of July. I’ve decided that my round-up posts are too long so I’m going to try to blog more frequently but with much shorter posts. Hmm. We’ll see how that goes. Still, the intention of the round-ups was to get me into blogging more regularly again and it has achieved that.

Wishing you a fabulous August.

Jessica xx