The one where I talk about my lovely London trip

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At the end of last week, I had a very busy and very exciting few days in London. There were so many highlights but I nearly didn’t make it, thanks to our delightful train network.

Hubby dropped me off at Scarborough Train Station on Wednesday morning to catch the train to York where I’d connect to London. I was confronted with this…

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Whilst the new trains are lovely and the staff are delightful and often full of good humour, the actual service run by Transpennine Express is shocking. So many of the journeys I have made lately have been cancelled or running late. Apparently there was no conductor for the service so it was simply cancelled and no alternative provided other than the next train an hour later; far too late to make my connecting train to London.

I’m very lucky in that hubby works from home and I knew he wasn’t working on a deadline so I called him on the car hands-free and he had to turn around and come back to collect me. Our dog was in the car so we had to arrange to drop her off with his parents rather than dragging her to York and back (an hour each way). Just as well we did this because, whilst my London train was thankfully running on time, it took hubby nearly three hours to get home again. There’d been an accident on the main York to Scarborough road and both lanes were shut so there was a massive diversion in place. I actually made it to London fifteen minutes after he got home which is ridiculous.

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Me with my editor, Nia. No idea why I’m leaning like that!

I had a lovely afternoon in London, meeting my editor, Nia, and the CEO and Founder of Boldwood Books, Amanda. I’ve spoken to Nia on the phone several times and have had a Skype conversation with Amanda and Nia but nothing beats meeting them face to face. What a lovely lunch we had, talking about the first few months of The Secret to Happiness being out there, and marketing plans for 2020 and beyond. Every day, I am so very grateful that I submitted to Boldwood and my manuscript was chosen for representation because they really are an absolute joy to work with.

My hotel had a room with a view, ha ha ha! I posted this image showing Fenchurch Street station on Facebook and one of the Write Romantics, Deirdre, really made me laugh by asking “what’s that on the roof – ectoplasm?” Certainly looks like it!

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On Thursday morning, I had a very quick swim, jacuzzi and steam room before wandering over to The Tower of London and Tower Bridge, five minutes’ walk from the hotel.

I’ve been to London many times over the years and this is the second time I’ve been to this area but I don’t think the sights of London will ever bore me. I love all the history amongst the modern. It was a bit chilly by the river, mind.

Usually I find London several degrees warmer than the north but not last week. Brr.

After my walk, I took the tube to Kings Cross to collect my very good friend and fellow Write Romantic, Sharon Booth. I was early but Sharon’s train was running late so that gave me a great excuse to wander around the shops at Kings Cross and the ones at St Pancras over the road. How gorgeous is this Lancome Christmas tree? When you get up close, each light is shining through a bottle of perfume. That’s a heck of a lot of bottles of perfume!

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As well as meeting Boldwood, a massive highlight for me was having seven out of ten of the Write Romantics in the same place at the same time. I think we’ve managed six before so maybe one day all ten of us will get together. (From left-right on the 2nd picture below, it’s Jackie Ladbury, Jo Bartlett, Helen Phifer and Sharon Booth). Helen J Rolfe is in later pictures and I’m afraid I didn’t manage to get a picture with Deirdre Palmer as we weren’t sat together.

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We joined RNA members for a talk with bestselling author, Sophie Kinsella, who has just released another book in her shopaholic series after several years’ break. It was interesting to hear how she became a writer and more about her stories. Sorry about the poor pic but we were on the back row!

I love the Confessions of a Shopaholic film and am looking forward to Can You Keep a Secret? released soon. I’ve read several of Sophie’s books including that one.

After the talk finished, all but one of the Write Romantics gathered in my room for Prosecco and I grabbed a quick drink with them before changing and heading to a drinks reception with Boldwood.

This was an opportunity to see Amanda and Nia again but also a third team member, Megan, who is the Publishing Executive. Several of the Boldwood authors were gathered and it was so wonderful to meet them in person.

(L-R is Beth Moran, Amanda Ridout (BW), Lucy Coleman, Emma Murray, Diane Saxon, Jessica redland, Nia Beynon BW) and Fay Keenan). Megan (BW) was taking the pic.

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Next was the RNA’s Winter Party and Industry Awards. I’ve never been to one of the RNA’s London parties so this was a first. I had been looking forward to catching up with a few people I knew on social media but had never actually met but it was busier than I expected and, despite doing a few rounds of the room after the awards ceremony, I couldn’t see them! It doesn’t help that I’m vertically-challenged so trying to spot people in a roomful of people isn’t easy at the best of times but, when the lighting is dim and the room packed, I don’t think I stood much chance.

IMG_7344The highlight of the party for me was seeing two wonderful bloggers – Anne Williams and Rachel Gilbey – being nominated for the Best Blogger Award. Rachel reviewed my very first book and has read everything I’ve written since. I’ve been on several blog tours arranged via her Rachel’s Random Resources role. Anne has been a wonderful supporter of my work too more recently and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her a few times before. Anne won and I was pleased to be able to congratulate both of them and get a photo of them together.

One of the Write Romantics was heading off home soon but the remaining six of us decamped to Pizza Express and had a lovely evening, catching up on all things writing and non-writing. Helen J Rolfe is the one on the right on the 1st image above. And I had to show my pizza because, whilst you may not be able to see, it had potatoes on it. Yes, that’s right, potatoes on a pizza! And it was delicious.

It was pouring when we left but that didn’t stop us getting a couple of photos outside The Four Seasons Hotel.

Isn’t that a lamppost gorgeous? It’s like something out of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I kept expecting Mr Tumnus to appear at any moment!

A huge thank you to everyone who organised the Sophie Kinsella talk and the Winter Party as I know how much time and effort goes into coordinating events like this. Thank you so much to Boldwood for organising the pre-event drinks and to all the Boldwood authors. I’m sorry I didn’t get to chat individually to everyone during our short time together and then for not being able to find you to say goodbye.

My journey home was a bit fraught. I only had six minutes to make my connection in York and we were about 25 minutes late. However, so was my connecting train so I did manage to catch it. One time when I’m grateful for the poor service!

IMG_7295Have an amazing week.

Jessica xx

 

Some useful links:

The Romantic Novelists’ Association

Boldwood Books

Anne Williams’s ‘Being Anne’ Blog  

Rachel Gilbey’s ‘Rachel’s Random Reads’ Blog

 

The Write Romantics’ Amazon Pages (including those not in London):

Jo Bartlett

Sharon Booth

Jackie Ladbury

Deirdre Palmer (also writes as Zara Thorne)

Lynne Pardoe

Helen Phifer

Jessica Redland

Helen J Rolfe

Rachael Thomas

Alys West

 

 

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 🙂

Books, books, everywhere

I like big books and I cannot lie … Hmm, that sounds like the start of a rather dodgy song so I’ll leave it there! I like books. I like to own them. I love my Kindle (despite battling against getting one) but I will always love the physical look and feel of books. All books. I love books with pictures in them, books full of facts, and proper reading books. The problem is storage. We don’t have a big enough property to be able to devote a whole wall in the lounge to books or a wide enough hall to have bookshelves down one side. Shame. The consequence is that I have pockets of books everywhere so this is a walk-through them. Apologies that the photos aren’t brilliant. My hubby is the talented photographer in this house but he tends to take forever to set up a “project” and I know he doesn’t have the time just now.

P1050579Let’s start in my lovely new office. This was formerly the spare bedroom but, as it had probably been slept in for 6 nights over 3 years, I managed to win the battle to convert it to my writing space. Hubby finally put me some shelves up a few weeks ago. These play host to most of my paperbacks (and one or two hardbacks). I’m pretty anal and, whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to colour organise them (my clothes are colour-organised!), I have some logic to my organisation. Naturally multiple books by the same author appear together but I’ve tried to group genre together. The top shelf, bottom shelf and half of the middle shelf are predominantly romcoms or similar (except the Harry Potter ones, of course) whereas the right-hand side of the middle shelf is a bit of a mix of other genres. My triplet teddies guard them – Toffee, Fudge and Caramel. It’s not a very extensive paperback collection. Two years ago, it was double the size and I realised I was going to have to part company with half the collection or I’d be forever tripping over boxes of books. It was with a heavy heart that I freegled a stack of books I’d read and loved – Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes and many other favourites – hoping that someone else would get the joy I’d received from reading them. I regret it now but needs must!

P1050581Also in my office, under the bookshelves, I have another collection of books on top of a cupboard. These are my writing-related books. “How to” books/guides, The Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook, Baby Name book (invaluable for character names) and my Writer’s Bureau course nestle there. Really must finish my course one day soon!!! Oh, and some teddy bears. The big boy is a Charlie Bear called Asia. He’s gorgeous. I got made redundant last summer and really struggled to find a job. I finally managed to secure some minimum-wage seasonal work in a local garden centre. They sold Charlie Bears and, as I got a staff discount, I indulged when I managed to secure a permanent position (my current role). The little fella is a Thank You Me to You bear from my lovely writing friend Jay Bartlett for supporting her with the edits on her debut novel.

P1050582The books don’t finish there. I have one more stand-alone bookshelf in the office which houses an assortment of books, a stack of notepads (I have another cupboard full of them too) and books relating to one of my other passions and a former hobby. The passion is one you can probably spot from looking at the other pictures; teddy bears. I collect bears and will write a blog one day soon about my collectible ones. The books on the bottom left are all about the history of teddy bears and/or how to make bears. I can make them but it’s very time-consuming. The other hobby is flower-arranging. I took a night class about 8 years ago and got my first stage qualification. I signed up for the next stage but it all went wrong and ended up being cancelled. I’ve never bothered again since. Every year I make some arrangements at Christmas using the skills I’ve remembered but I probably won’t take it further.

P1050668Let’s leave the office and poddle across the landing into the bedroom. Not many books in there due to lack of space but we have a custom-made shelving unit by the bed that doubles up as a bedside table for my lamp, alarm clock and glass of water. This has a few hardbacks on it and, if you’re a fan, you’ll spot that four of them are Jill Mansell ones. I’m part-way through the Sophie Kinsella on the left but, of the remaining six, I’ve only read one so far. Must rectify that very soon.

The munchkin has a room absolutely packed with books, many of which are childhood classics I’ve enjoyed. She still loves her picture books even though she’s moved onto proper books with being in Year 3 now (juniors in old money!) The hubby doesn’t really do books so his shelves are pretty bare.

P1050585Downstairs, the dining room plays host to a couple of collections. When I met hubby, he was a member of something called The Folio Society. I’d not heard of them but they make gorgeous hardback books. You sign up for a membership and get a batch of books free then have a commitment to buy so many (four I think) across a 2-year period. Most of the books on the shelf here are Folio Society ones including a beautiful set of Fairy books (middle shelf) and a box set of Paddington ones (on the top of the cabinet). We’ve got an old set of Dickens classics (top shelf on the left). But, to my shame, I don’t think I’ve read a single book on this cabinet. You see, I love to own beautiful books but I seem to struggle to find time to read them. The TBR pile just grows and grows.

P1050584The other bookshelf in the dining room has more Folio books but is also home to a couple of shelves worth of recipe books and a bit of a mix of other stuff like guide books and dictionaries. Back to recipe books, herein lies another oddity. You see, I love to buy recipe books … but I don’t love to cook! It’s as though I love the idea of being able to flick through a recipe book and pull together an amazing dinner party menu … but the thought of actually doing it leaves me cold so I don’t have dinner parties and I never flick through the books. Am I strange? Don’t answer that! I used to have recipe books in the kitchen but I found they got sticky so my kitchen is a book-free zone.

P1050583The final book resting place is the lounge. We have a set of shelves on which we have a collection of “coffee table books” – those gorgeous factual books full of pictures and information which I buy thinking “I’d love to read this” but realistically just flick through the pictures instead. There’s a bit of a theme developing here, isn’t there? We’ve got some lovely books about bears (real ones as opposed to cuddly ones) from our honeymoon in Canada and lots of nature books. I will just point out that that the one that says “Joy of …” is “Joy of Nature” rather than “Joy of Sex”!!! But there are also books about forensics, the unexplained and Nostradamus. All things that fascinate me and I’d love to read about if only … yes, you’ve guessed it … if only I had the time!

I’d love to hear about you. Are you a compulsive book-purchaser like me? And do you actually read them??? Do you have books in one place or lots? I think the only places in our house without them are the bathroom/toilet/ensuite and kitchen as previously mentioned. But, if I was organised, the toilet would actually have books in. I’ve even sorted out the joke/comedy ones I’d put in there. Just need to put up a shelf. Just need to find time to put up a shelf …

Jessica xx

What’s in a name? Quite a lot!

Shakespeare famously wrote: “What’s in a name?” I say, ‘Quite a lot actually. And it’s got me confused!’ Let me tell you why …

This weekend I’ve been to the Romantic Novelists’ Association Annual Conference. Looking down the attendee list, I was struck by how many of my fellow romance writers use a pen name. Some of them were completely different names (NWS organiser Melanie Hilton writes as Louise Allen), some were same first name but different surname or vice versa, some were slight changes (e.g. Write Romantic Alex Weston writes as Alys West) and some were just a change of spelling (e.g. Lynne to Linn).

I found myself wondering why all these writers choose a pen name. Three of The Write Romantics use pen names but for different reasons. One wanted to distance her writing persona from her professional persona and have a name that felt more closely aligned to the type of book she writes, one changed hers because there’s already a writer with the same name, and another wanted to use her maiden name.

P1050384My maiden name is Williams and in the days before eBooks, I always knew I wanted to use a different surname because Williams would feature at the bottom of the bookshelf! Fortunately I married a Heslington and moved right up to a prime eye-level position. Except my book is more likely to be an eBook so the bookshelf-browsing scenario isn’t really an issue anymore.

In the early days of my writing, when I fantasised about one of the big publishers taking me on, I imagined a scenario where they asked me to change from Heslington because people couldn’t spell or pronounce it. (Personally I think it’s easy to pronounce but when it comes to spelling, we’ve had post addressed to allsorts – Heslerton, Hesletine, Hessington and even Heffalump!) I toyed with an alternative name and the one I kept coming back to was the name I’d given to the munchkin: Ashleigh Brooke. I adore that name (obviously or I wouldn’t have picked it!) But I dismissed it and decided I’d fight for my right to be myself and write as Julie Heslington. Only now I’m having doubts …

P1050385Pen names have been around for centuries. Anyone heard of Sieur Louis de Conte? No? Me neither. I bet you know his other name though: Mark Twain. But neither of them are his real name. He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Lewis Carroll was really Charles Dodgson and George Orwell was Eric Blair. CS Lewis was his real name but he also used Clive Hamilton and NW Clark for his writing. Crikey! That’s a lot of pseudonyms floating around.

So why use a pen name? There are a stack of reasons. Many years ago, females found it difficult to be taken seriously in the publishing world so Mary Ann Adams brought her books to the world as George Eliot and all of the Bronte sisters wrote under male names. This reason hasn’t gone away today. It’s widely known that JK Rowling used her initials to make her book appeal to a wider audience as males are typically less likely to pick up a book penned by a female than they are by a male. Female crime or horror writers often go for male names or initials too for this exact same reason ☹

P1050383The “right name for the right audience” is a key one that goes beyond gender too. Names can age a writer and a woman in her mid-twenties looking for some romantic comedy is more likely to be attracted to a writer with a young-sounding name like Sophie Kinsella than an older-sounding name like Mavis Winterbottom (apologies if there is a Mavis Winterbottom out there writing rom-coms aimed at twenty-somethings!) Speaking of Sophie Kinsella, she was born as Madeleine Sophie Townley, married to a Wickham and brought out her original books as Madeleine Wickham but then changed to a lighter style of writing with her Shopaholic series and, with this, used her middle name and a new surname to launch a new identity and appeal.

So changing genre is another reason for having a pen name and why several writers such as CS Lewis have more than one. Hiding one’s identity, writing something controversial, writing as a pair or a team but presenting the work as one author identity are all other reasons. So is being such a prolific writer that not all books are released under the same name due to a worry that readers would perceive more than 1-2 books being launched in a year as being poor quality. Don’t think I’ll struggle with that one given that it took me ten years to write my first!

These are all great reasons and, until now, I thought the only reason I had to use a pen name was that my surname is a little unusual. But then it struck me that my first name ages me. I like the name Julie. I’ve always liked it. Unfortunately, it’s dying out. In the 1960s, there were 4,307 Julies for every 1 million babies born in the UK. Whilst it’s currently the number five most popular name in Belgium and Switzerland, hardly anyone in the UK names their baby Julie anymore. Which now ages me as someone in my forties or fifties. Not someone currently in their mid-late twenties experiencing the relationship traumas I write about. Hmmmm.

Something else that struck me recently is social media. I’ve had my own Facebook page for several years which, like most people, I use to share family photos, news and pictures of cats in funny poses. Linked to this is my Julie Heslington Writer page. However, (and please shout if I’m wrong here) in order for me to invite fellow writers to like my writer page, I need to friend them on my own Facebook page first which means they get to see my family photos, news and pictures of cats in funny poses. Do I want them to? Maybe not. Do they want to see these? Almost definitely not. I’ve always had a strict policy of only accepting friend requests from people I actually know well with a few exceptions of people I have encountered, find interesting, and would like to keep in touch with. I’d rather build my writing relationships elsewhere and, let’s face it, me rabbiting on about writing is probably dull as a dull thing for my family and friends who aren’t into writing so do they really want their newsfeeds filled with my writing exchanges. Solution: develop a whole new persona, have a FB author page off that for when (!!!) I get published and keep my own FB page for what I always intended it to be: a way of keeping up with family and friends who I don’t get to see very often.

P1050382The other thought floating around my head is around the idea of going indie. As readers of this blog will know, this is the way I anticipate going. I have a few more subs in although I don’t anticipate any of them leading anywhere so I’m getting myself ready. I feel that the success of being indie will be in me viewing myself (and therefore my writing) as a product that I’m taking to market rather than thinking of it being me. In my mind, I find it easier to take a business approach to the idea of marketing “Pen Name” as a product rather than trying to promote myself. Promoting myself gives me the fear. Promoting Pen Name is a little daunting but not nearly as much so – after all, I’ve worked in recruitment on and off for twenty years and have promoted many companies and graduate schemes. This would be the same principle; different scenario.

I’m there aren’t I? I want a pen name. But do I go for Ashleigh Brooke or something else. Eek! What would the something else be? Time to dig out the baby name dictionary. Any suggestions? Watch this space!!!