Strictly-speaking, it’s still spring but I can’t bring myself to put ‘out and about – spring’ as the header after the gorgeous weather we’ve had this weekend, so I’ve declared summer!
I went out this weekend. Proper out. Among people! Eek!
It was Scarborough’s Books by the Beach Festival this weekend – a slightly shorter (and later in the year) event than usual. When the line-up was announced, I was excited to see that Rowan Coleman would be speaking. What made Rowan’s presence extra special is that many of the events this year were in a change of venue: St Mary’s Church in Scarborough’s old town near the castle. Anne Brontë died in Scarborough and is buried in the churchyard there and Rowan is both passionate and extremely knowledgeable about the Brontë family. She is two books into a series called The Brontë mysteries under the pen name Bella Ellis imagining that, before the sisters became authors, they were sleuths. Isn’t that a delightful idea? So where better for Rowan to speak about this series than in the resting place of one of the sisters?
I took my fourteen-year-old along for company (with the bribe of an ice cream afterwards). She doesn’t know anything about the Brontës but she enjoyed hearing about the mysteries and, after reading the blurb on the back of the couple of books I bought and had signed, she declared she may well snaffle them for a read. The hour-long talk and Q&A session was really interesting and Rowan was, as always, exceptionally engaging.
It was lovely to spot another writing friend outside, albeit briefly, before going in and it was lovely to be out, even if being at an event meant wearing masks and being socially distanced in the church. I couldn’t take any photos during it as we were struggling to find somewhere to sit that wouldn’t be too close to anyone and ended up off to a side with a column partly blocking our view. We could still hear perfectly, though.
Congratulations to the team at the Books by the Beach Festival for organising a safe, enjoyable event. I’d imagine that there’s a lot of work goes into organising an event like this anyway but even more so when trying to make it Covid-safe.
The munchkin and I went for our ice cream afterwards. Scarborough’s South Bay was absolutely heaving. Wandering along the seafront, it would be so easy to believe that life is back to normal with no masks in sight and very little social distancing. I thought I’d feel a bit more anxious than I did. I think being double-jabbed probably helped with that.
We had an ice cream and leaned on the railings above the heaving beach, took a walk along the pier, past the harbour, then walked back up to town. It was great to be out in that sunshine but I was relieved to be away from the crowds. That wasn’t just pandemic-related. I’m okay with crowds but I don’t enjoy being in places that are heaving. I much prefer peace and quiet.
On the way back up to town, we had a chance to pay a visit to my favourite shop – White Beach Designs – and maybe make a couple of purchases.
I went out again on the evening. I know! Get me! I know Rowan, having attended a writing retreat she ran in West Yorkshire a little over three years ago. She gave me some really helpful advice about my writing career for which I’m very grateful. As she was staying over in Scarborough, she’d asked if I fancied meeting up outside of her talk so we’d booked to go for dinner. I really enjoyed the chance to have a catch-up. It is so long since I’ve spoken face to face to someone who isn’t family and it was great to feel some sort of normality. Thank you so much, Rowan, for the wonderful company xxx
As we walked to the restaurant, Rowan asked how come I hadn’t been speaking at the festival. It would be an absolute dream come true – Scarborough author who writes about Scarborough on the bill of a Scarborough-based festival – and I did put my name forward. Maybe one day.
Hope you enjoy the pics of Scarborough aka Whitsborough Bay looking resplendent in the sunshine. Ooh, and I’m going out again tomorrow! There’s no stopping me. I’m off to Beverley to meet my bestie and fellow author Sharon Booth. We used to meet up a couple of times a month but obviously haven’t been able to for a long time and video chat isn’t the same. Really looking forward to seeing her face to face again.
If you’re venturing out and about again, hope it’s going well for you. It certainly helps that the nice weather means we can be outside seeing the people we love.
I cancelled my birthday last year. We were only a few weeks into lockdown when I was asked the ‘what would you like for your birthday?’ question and I had a mini-meltdown. Even though I’ve never really made a huge thing out of my birthday in previous years, I didn’t like the idea that I couldn’t even if I wanted to so I told hubby and the munchkin not to bother with gifts and we’d do a birthday later in the year. Then I found a couple of Lucy Pittaway prints which I ordered for the office so I did get a gift after all even if there was no celebration 😉
This year, we’re not in lockdown but restrictions are only just easing so it we still couldn’t plan much. I did, however, lift the ‘no presents’ thing and was spoilt with some lovely gifts.
There was a bit of a hedgehog theme with the most adorable plush Steiff hedgehog from the hubby, a sewing project for a hedgehog and hoglet and a cute pen holder with a hedgehog reading a book in it.
Loving my new lighthouse and looking forward to featuring it on some photos with my books soon.
A huge thank you to my amazing friend Sharon for the gorgeous flowers, candle, bear and chocolates and to my lovely friend Jo for the hedgehog and bear scarves.
Sharon also sent me the most amazing card. It’s a card containing cake. I never knew such a thing existed and, being the huge fan of cake that I am, it made me very happy. I can’t wait to dive in and would have had a piece today but my in-laws dropped round surprise afternoon tea so we ditched our plans for a takeaway and had that instead and I am now full of cake. It was sooooo yummy. But there’s always tomorrow. Nom nom. And I have a birthday cake too!
Thank you to everyone who has sent me lovely messages on social media. Very much appreciated.
Back to editing tomorrow but it’s been nice to have a rare day off today.
It’s a new month so I thought I’d have a look back over February. I confess that I’ve also just signed up to a free trial of Canva Pro so it’s a good excuse to create a few more graphics!
I’ve read some great books this month and have managed to read more than I usually do as I’ve been making a concerted effort to try to read a bit each night before bed. They’re all 5-star reads for me and you can click onto my Goodreads review if you want to know more:
Dreaming Under an Island Skye by Lisa Hobman – Goodreads review here The House by the Sea by Louise Douglas – Goodreads review here The Secrets of Meadow Farmhouse by Katie Ginger (available for pre-order) – Goodreads review here The Juggle by Emma Murray – Goodreads review here
I’ve also read a fabulous novella called The Other Half by my good friend Sharon Booth. This was available exclusively to newsletter subscribers and introduced us to the families who will be the focus of a new series she’s bringing out later this year. You can find out more about subscribing and getting your free copy of the novella here.
I’ve just started Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage by Samantha Tonge and I’m only three chapters in but I’m gripped by it already so very excited to see where that goes.
I don’t watch a huge amount of TV but hubby and I do try to get a film night in occasionally. At the start of this month we watched The Help which I’ve been meaning to watch for years. By sheer coincidence, it was the third film in a row we’d seen featuring people of colour during the last century (the others being Hidden Figures and Green Book – both brilliant) and the segregation broke my heart.
On my parents’ recommendation, we watched a Netflix film called The Fundamentals of Caring. Knowing Paul Rudd was in it, I was sold on it already but it’s a fabulous film and highly recommended. Funny, poignant and just lovely.
We also watched The Dig on Netflix which we both loved. It was slow and gentle yet somehow completely mesmerising.
Last weekend we watched To Olivia which is a Sky Original about Roald Dahl’s family. Jim Broadbent and Keeley Hawes were amazing as the main characters and it was a really good film but I think I went into it with expectations that it would feel a bit like the brilliant Miss Potter with elements of magic among the darker moments. There were a few but not quite enough for me personally to make it feel like an uplifting film. As I say, I thought it was really good but it was very sad.
That’s a lot of films so I think I might have dipped into January there!
On TV, we’ve started watching Bloodlands which is a BBC1 drama starring James Nesbitt. The first part was brilliant. The second part last night was a little confusing and hubby isn’t so sure but I’m really enjoying the twists and turns of it.
I adore Dancing on Ice and have watched every single series since it started but, my goodness, has this series been plagued with injury and illness. They’ve had to skip a week as they lost so many celebrities early on but have still lost another since then. The poor producers must be tearing their hair out as they probably expected some Covid challenges but not so many injuries. It’s good but I think all the drop-outs have massively impacted on the contestants as I think some have left who might not have done otherwise.
And, finally, the addition of Star to Disney Plus means that I have been able to introduce the munchkin to the brilliant Castle. This US series stars the gorgeous Nathan Fillion as a crime author who shadows detective Kate Beckett who provides the inspiration for the lead character in his new series of books. It’s clever and funny but I had previously only watched a couple of seasons. We thought the munchkin (now 14) might like it and it may stop her binge-watching Pretty Little Liars for the third time. She loves it but isn’t impressed that she can’t binge it and needs to wait for me to have time to watch. We’re going to be working our way through that over the next few months. If you’ve never tried Castle, I highly recommend it.
I’m working on a brand new Christmas novel which will be out on 31st August. It’s a story I originally started writing four years ago to be my first ever Christmas novella but I realised that it was a longer story than that so I parked it. I thought it would be easy returning to something with 10k words already written. It wasn’t. I’ve actually found it my hardest book to write so far. Eek!
Last week I had a catch-up phone call with my editor and we discussed why I was struggling. Part of it is that what I’d written is four years old. My writing has developed since then and I don’t remember where some of the ideas I’d planted were going. But the biggest challenge is that, because it’s several years old, I have been thinking about this book for a long time and have therefore developed so much of the plot in my head. And that goes against my natural style. I am a pantser. I know my main characters really well, I know the premise of the story and I know how it’s going to end but I let the story unfold as I go. I really love seeing where the characters take me but, with this book, I haven’t had quite the same freedom and I’ve found it stifling.
Having said that, now that I’ve worked out why I was struggling, I’m finding it easier and am now up to 45k words. I have five weeks to double that and knock it into shape but I’m really good with deadlines (she says writing a blog post instead of getting on with it) so I’m confident it’ll all come together at the eleventh hour.
It’s been an exciting month with a few amazing achievements for my books:
It was a book birthday for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove which were both released on 20th February last year and continue to do me proud with sales and reviews
Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow was accepted for Prime Reading and, just yesterday, got to its highest ever UK Kindle chart position of #31. I’d seen it previously at #34 and have a screenshot of that but it was lovely to see on Author Central (a tracker that shows authors their historic chart positions) that it rose a little higher. It also hit #8 in the Prime Reading chart
New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow was on a BookBub promotion which peaked at #77 in the UK Kindle chart making it my fifth book to crack the UK Top 100. Woo hoo!
Finding Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow entered the Top 400 at #383 and it’s not even out until 4th May so this is based on pre-orders alone. Woo hoo! It was also trending on Kobo as one of the most popular pre-orders. That’s some pretty big names the hedgehogs are partying beside! And it has already eclipsed my own personal record for pre-orders set by New Arrivals with two months still to go. Thank you so much to everyone who has pre-ordered it. I’m so very grateful
I’ve been out and about this month more than I have been for the past few months…
I had my first dental check-up in eighteen months which was a combined appointment with the munchkin. I’ve been suffering from vertigo since mid-January and, although it’s really mild, I didn’t want to risk driving so hubby drove us. Our dental practice is right by Sainsbury’s so hubby did the weekly shop while we had our appointment. When he returned to the car, it had a flat battery and Green Flag would be at least two hours so we needed to get a local garage out to jumpstart us then fit a new battery. Glad hubby was with me as I’m more than capable of sorting that out but prefer to leave car-related stuff to him.
I also left the house to get my first Covid vaccination. I’m not in the age group but I have underlying health conditions. I was so impressed with the efficiency of the set-up of the whole thing. I’m relieved to have had my first jab but will feel more relaxed when hubby’s had his. I’ve heard about the side effects some friends have had and count myself very fortunate that mine were very limited. About an hour or so afterwards, I felt very fluey for about half an hour – sweats, shivers, headachy – but it soon went. My arm ached and felt heavy and I struggled to sleep that night but it was fine by the end of the next day.
I’ve also been out for a couple of walks to stop me being welded to the office chair. We’re lucky that we have the coast right on our doorstep but what used to be a quiet coastal walk where you’d only see the occasional dog-walker has become a phenomenally popular walk and extremely people-y. And many of those people seem to struggle with the concept of social distancing despite having a road rather than a path to walk along (the road was blocked off for vehicles years ago). Being in a higher-risk group (but not one high enough to self-isolate), it puts me on edge which is why I barely leave the house.
As the Government guidelines permit travel within the local area and of a short distance to find an open space, we went to the south part of South Bay in Scarborough yesterday (usually not too people-y as there aren’t many amenities at that end) and to a forest just outside Scarborough the Sunday before. There was quite a difference in temperature between the two weekends, as you can see by me being bundled up in my hat and scarf in the forest!
Wishing you a fabulous start to March and another step closer to being able to meet with friends and family again. Right, really must get some more of this novel written…
A theme that comes through in reviews of my Whitsborough Bay books, particularly my Christmas ones, is how much readers would love to visit Castle Street and I sometimes get asked if it’s real.
Castle Street is not real. Sorry. But it is definitely inspired by real places and I see it as a blend of three, which I’ll come to in a moment.
Whitsborough Bay is a fictional North Yorkshire seaside town but it’s predominantly inspired by my hometown of Scarborough. It has the same geographical set-up as Scarborough: North Bay and South Bay separated by a headland with a castle on it, and the town up the cliff from South Bay. The large image below is a view of South Bay and the castle on the cliff from an area called South Cliff.
In my books, I’ve even called these areas North Bay and South Bay. I originally called them North Beach and South Beach to be different but decided ‘beach’ didn’t make sense when the town was called Whitsborough BAY so I stuck with bays.
There are many much-loved locations and landmarks in Scarborough that appear in my Whitsborough Bay stories but with different names:
The Sea Life Centre in North Bay becomes the Sea Rescue Sanctuary (bottom left above)
Peasholm Park, also in North Bay, is Hearnshaw Park in my books
The colourful beach huts in Whitsborough Bay’s North Bay (top right above) are a direct match to those in Scarborough but the shops and cafés nearby take on different identities
In Scarborough’s South Bay, there’s a lighthouse and harbour and I have the same in Whitsborough Bay but the lighthouse is red and white striped in my books instead of white (bottom right above), and the approach to it is different
The main difference geographically between Scarborough and Whitsborough Bay is that Whitsborough Bay has a river which runs through the Old Town and along the South Bay side of the castle. It is crossed by a swing bridge. This is very much inspired by Whitby up the coast from Scarborough; a place I’ve adored since childhood.
Back to Castle Street, it is fictional but, as I said before, it is inspired by a blend of three places:
Bar Street in Scarborough (which is a narrow street housing independent shops and cafés)
The cobbled streets of Whitby’s south side
The cobbled streets of Robin Hood’s Bay (which is between Scarborough and Whitby but closer to Whitby)
I imagine Castle Street to be wider than any of these streets (more the width of Huntriss Row if anyone is familiar with Scarborough) and with old-fashioned grey cobbles, more like these ones in this photo of Whitby at the bottom of the famous 199 steps up to St Mary’s Church and Whitby Abbey.
I love Bar Street at Christmas. It has waves of simple white lights running down the street from one end to the other and I describe these in my Christmas books but have them connecting between the buildings instead.
Last week, hubby, munchkin and I took our sprocker spaniel, Ella, for a wander round the lights just as the shops were closing (so we could capture the lights in the shops but visit when there weren’t many folk about).
The large picture below is looking down Bar Street with our backs to the town. The shops are Steampuss Cat Lounge (which I visited with the munchkin a few months back) and a bridal shop which is partial inspiration for The Wedding Emporium which I mention in a few books. In Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Bethany gets her wedding dress and the bridesmaid dresses for her Christmas wedding from there.
I’d been eager to get a photo of the giant illuminated teddy bear on the main precinct when I spotted him in town last month but the lights didn’t show very well during the day. So much better at night. I love him!
On Boxing Day evening, we took Ella down to the harbour where many of the boats were lit up, as was the viewing wheel along the seafront. Very pretty. But very cold!
I think I might need to make more of the harbour in future books as it really is beautiful with all the lights on the masts and sails. My pretty poor phone photography doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. On the top row, the lit-up building on the top left pic which is bigger on top right (at the far left of the pic) is The Grand Hotel. Owned by Britannia Group it has changed a lot over the years but it was once one of the largest and most impressive hotels in Europe. You can see it in daylight in the top set of images, bottom middle.
In my stories, The Grand is The Ramparts Hotel (Alison works there in The Secret to Happiness and Callie has a meal there near the end of MakingWishes at Bay View) and I position it as Whitsborough’s only 5-star hotel and very luxurious.
In the top middle photo, you can just about make out Scarborough’s Lighthouse. If you look above the boat lit by red lights, there’s a bright light. Move along to the boat behind it and there’s another light and just to the right of that is a triangle shape of light. That’s the lighthouse. Hubby took a better pic of it, though, looking back over the Old Town. What looks to be a strip of lights above the Old Town in his photo is the castle walls illuminated.
Hope you enjoyed your trip to Whitsborough Bay’s Castle Street and harbour at Christmas. If you’d like to read about it, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café are both still only 99p but act quickly as Starry Skies will probably have a price increase in the not too distant future. They’re best read in that order as Starry Skies is set after Carly’s Cupcakes and the two businesses are next door and run by friends Carly and Tara so we find out what happens to Carly after her story finishes when Tara picks up the reins.
You can find all my books for Kindle here although they’re also available as eBooks for Kobo and Apple and a gazillion other formats depending on your reading or listening preferences.
Dolphins are frequently sighted along the North Yorkshire Coast so we decided to take a little drive to Scarborough seafront last night, take a walk around Marine Drive, and hopefully spot them.
Typically, they weren’t around last night but Scarborough was looking mighty fine so I thought I’d share some lovely photos.
Here’s our 4-year-old sprocker spaniel, Ella, who wanted to have a go at walking along the sea wall (safely on a lead, of course!)
These are all taken in Scarborough’s South Bay harbour. Isn’t it pretty?
The sun was setting over North Bay on our way back…
But the sky was still brilliant blue looking back towards Scarborough Castle…
Hope you enjoyed a little flavour of Scarborough. I’m so proud of living in this beautiful town and you can probably see from these photos why it’s such an inspiration for the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay in my books.