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

 

To script write or not to script write. That is the question

Last week, I blogged about a script writing workshop I’d attended on Valentine’s Day and explained that it was a bit of a taster for a six-week evening programme at The Stephen Joseph Theatre. My dilemma was whether I would want to join that programme after Easter. The plan was to attend ‘Plays & Pinot’ where some of the scripts would be showcased and then make a decision. So I attended last night.

And I still haven’t made a decision.

There were sixteen 20-minute plays put on over four nights and last night was the third such night. Four tables were laid out in a square in the middle of the restaurant with a reading lamp on each of them. Three or four actors per play would seat themselves at one of these tables and read through the script (in an acting voice, naturally, with accompanying facial expressions and the odd gesture) whilst a narrator set the scene and provided stage directions. The audience were seated round all four sides of the room.

_MG_0221All of the plays had been written around the theme of love using the same prompt pictures we’d been given on our Saturday workshop. There’s apparently a theme each year and they vary massively – last year’s was WWI – and they are always based on prompt pictures. The first play was about a single mum reacting to her son’s revelation that he was gay. The second was about a policeman who was seeing the 17-year-old daughter of his boss against a backdrop of drugs and club raids. We then had an interval before the next two plays. The first of these involved a wealthy student trying to befriend and support a prostitute working in the area, and the final one was an elderly couple and the revelation by the woman that she’d discovered her husband had fathered a child before they’d met. Very eclectic mix of subject matter!

P1060181My favourite play was the first one because it made me both laugh and cry and I really like books/plays/films that hit my emotions. I think the final play was probably inspired from the same picture I chose to write about.

Three of the four writers were present and they ran a Q&A session afterwards. I didn’t stay for that as I had an early morning for bootcamp this morning.

I had hoped that I’d leave Plays & Pinot with a clear decision that it’s either for me or not. But I didn’t. I enjoyed the evening, despite being there on my own, and I was impressed with what had been produced and brought to life by some amazing actors. I’m curious as to how much writing experience the writers had because, if it was none, then they’d done exceptionally well. I’d probably have found this out if I’d stayed.

I kept imaging how it must feel watching a piece of your work unfold. What an amazing experience that must be, particularly to observe the reaction of the audience (laughter, tears, applause etc). It’s not something an author will get unless their book is made into a film so it’s a pretty unique opportunity.

The tutor seems incredibly experienced and supportive and it sounds like there is great support as a whole cohort in developing each others’ plays.

So what’s stopping me signing up immediately? It’s that I’m chasing my tail at the moment, as reblogged a few days ago from a post I wrote on the Write Romantics blog. I honestly don’t know if I have the time to do it. Will working on a play detract me from my “core” work … or will the feedback and learning be invaluable and support me with my “core” work? Tricky. What do you think?

Maybe a compromise is to wait until September instead rather than sign up after Easter. It’s not like they’re never going to run another workshop.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as I’m torn at the moment.

Thanks

Jessica xx

Does a novelist only write novels?

I’m always keen to experience anything that will help me improve my writing. I’ve got a shelf full of ‘how to’ books about all aspects of writing that I dip in and out of from time to time, and I would absolutely love to go on a writing workshop but I simply don’t have the funds. However, when hubby spotted an advert for a one-day script-writing workshop at our local theatre for just £30, I immediately signed up.

As a novelist, I’ve never considered scriptwriting before, but my books are very dialogue-led and scripts for plays are all about the dialogue so I thought, ‘why not give it a try?’ Earlier this year, I challenged myself to write a short story for The Write Romantics charity anthology, ‘Winter Tales’ (still available on Amazon here in paperback and eBook formats) and I really enjoyed the experience of writing in a different way to the norm so I figured that scriptwriting could be another great diversion.

I had no idea what to expect. The blurb in the programme simply said: “…gain an insight into the way scriptwriting works … come along and discover how to create your very own original piece of drama.”

There were eleven of us on the workshop at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre. Two of the delegates were college students, then there was me in my early forties, and all the others were in their late fifties or older so that made for quite an eclectic mix.

The workshop started with a brief discussion on the difference between scriptwriting and novels, then we explored different types of scriptwriting: plays, TV and films. Our tutor explained that scripts were made up of three components – story, characters, setting – and that the day would focus round these.

P1060185Then we moved into a series of activities. I confess that I was a bit thrown by one of the morning activities because it involved working in pairs and, because there were odd numbers, I ended up working in a trio. I work in a team all the time in my day job but I’ve never tried writing with anyone else. It was really hard. I’d been asked to develop a character and the other two had a place each. Our task was to develop a story with that character and the two settings. Sounds like a fairly easy piece of teamwork but it wasn’t. You see, we’d been asked to pick images with which we had an emotional connection so we’d all developed and bought into a very clear idea of where we wanted the story to go. Combining all three ideas (the lady, open road with a figure on, and lighthouse shown in the picture) was a huge challenge and incredibly frustrating at first, especially as both my team-members had imagined characters in their settings and the three characters didn’t necessarily work in the same story. Quite a bit of discussion and compromise got us there in the end, though.

An interesting exercise we were asked to do was called ‘What’s in the bag?’ We were asked to imagine one of the characters from the story and think about what they might have in their bag or briefcase. This would help establish what was really important to that character and the sort of person they were. We had to be detailed e.g. if our character had some paracetamol, would it be a branded one or supermarket own-brand, would make-up be Clinique or Rimmel and what sort of condition would it be in. I actually found this a really helpful exercise and, as I pointed out to the group, I thought that what was missing from the bag was also very revealing. For example, I imagined that my character had hair bands with bits of hair still attached to them but no hairbrush which showed a lack of interest in her appearance.

We returned to our groups and completed a fun exercise where we were challenged on genre. We were asked to transpose our world into the wild west (history), the moon in the future (sci-fi), fairytale world (fantasy) or soap opera world (slice of life). It was really interesting seeing the changes this made to everyone’s stories as they shared them around the room.

P1060180The afternoon was all individual activity. We were given a new set of pictures all on the theme of love (well, it was Valentine’s Day) but we were told it didn’t have to be romantic love. We could be thinking about friendship or families when, as before, we selected an image that spoke to us and develop the character(s) in that image, then create a story, then write a script for a scene. What was fascinating was that, out of sixteen pictures and eleven delegates, seven of us were drawn to the same picture! This was an image of two old people ambling down a blossom-strewn lane (shown below).

I really loved my characters and the story I developed. When I gave the group the synopsis and read out my script, I got a fantastic reaction. This was incredibly flattering. It was a historic piece – not my usual genre – which reminded me of a piece I’d written on a creative writing workshop many years ago. I’ve always thought about returning to that piece and I’m thinking now that this would be a great piece of work alongside it that I would like to develop further.

P1060181Overall, it was an enjoyable and interesting workshop and, if I’d been a beginner, it would have been a great starting point for unlocking the imagination. What it didn’t really do is teach us how to write a script. But maybe I’m overcomplicating it. After all, isn’t a script in it’s simplest form just a list of names with dialogue and some stage directions? The challenging part is developing the story, characters and setting that our tutor said were the three components of a script. What I personally took from the workshop was a great premise for a story that I might develop, a useful exercise in the form of ‘What’s in the bag?’ and encouragement that I can very quickly and easily come up with characters and a plot that others love. As to whether I can imagine myself moving from novels to scripts, I’m not so sure. I’m already imagining my lovely old couple story as a novel rather than a script, but is that because that’s my default style?

I’m glad I attended. My next decision is whether to take this to the next step. The Stephen Joseph Theatre run scriptwriting workshops on a termly basis. They’re run in batches of six lessons every other week and I’m toying with whether to join one after Easter. As I understand it, delegates develop a script for a play across the time and enhance this through group discussion and the support of the tutor. Twice a year, the plays are performed at an event called ‘Plays and Pinot’. This is a fairly informal event where actors (and some of the writers I think) read out the plays while the audience enjoys a glass of Pinot. It must be exciting for the writers to hear their plays read out. As part of my workshop, I get a free ticket to attend a ‘Plays and Pinot’ performance in a weeks’ time. I’m going to see what that’s like and then make a decision on whether I join the post-Easter course and develop a play.

Can a novelist write more than novels? Absolutely, yes. But do they want to? Hmm. Watch this space!

It’s that marmite time of year again

_MG_0218It’s Valentine’s Day today. That marmite time of year. Do you love it? Or do you hate it?

As a romance writer, it might follow that I love Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, declarations of love, proposals. All fabulously romantic and lovely and just what a romance writer would adore, surely? Who wouldn’t love 14th February? Well, me actually.

Sorry to say it but I’m not a fan. I know that there are many people who hate it because they think it’s an overly commercial day designed just to make card companies, chocolatiers, and florists a wad of cash. They may have a point but retail is a tough business (she says having run her own shop) and I don’t begrudge them the opportunity.

There’s also the belief (sometimes held by the same people) that there shouldn’t be one day of the year set aside on which you must specifically show you love someone; if you love someone, you should demonstrate it all year round.

I can see both of these points but neither are the reason why I don’t love Valentine’s Day. I don’t love Valentine’s Day because Valentine’s Day doesn’t love me.

Let me explain…

_MG_7511My very first brush with Valentine’s Day was making a homemade card for a lad I fancied at primary school. I can’t remember whether there was a postbox set up or whether I sneaked it into his tray but I vividly remember him being unbelieveably disinterested in it. He made no enquiries to find out who’d sent it. He didn’t care. Boys eh? Needless to say, I didn’t get any cards that year. Or any other year at primary school.

When I was about fourteen, I was thrilled to receive a card and a heart-shaped chocolate in the post. My very first Valentine’s card. And it came with a gift! It was from a lad that I’d befriended on an adventure holiday the previous summer (I knew because he’d signed it). I went into school all excited… only to discover that he’d also sent one to my best friend who’d been on holiday with me and another girl we’d befriended there. It was a gesture of friendship. Nothing else.

I was eighteen before another card came my way. This time it was from my boyfriend in my first year at university. We’d been to the Halls of Residence bar on the evening of the 13th February with a couple of friends. One of them lived on the same floor as me and kept me up close to midnight, asking if I liked surprises. I thought this was a little strange. As midnight struck and Valentine’s Day arrived, the doors to the floor burst open and my boyfriend came running round the corridor dressed in nothing but boxer shorts covered in hearts, carrying a bottle of wine, a card, and a red rose. I’m going to sound so awful saying this, but my recall (many years later) was that it was a bit more embarrassing than romantic! Plus, I had lectures the next day and I was really, really tired! I didn’t want to drink wine and be romantic. I just wanted to go to sleep.

P1060175I had a free period later that morning and propped open my door and wandered into the kitchen to make a cuppa. When I came back, there was a card and a Sad Sam (remember those? Puppies with big, sad eyes that were all the rage in the late 80s/early 90s) sat on my bed. The lad in the room next-door (with whom I was friends) had put them there. Apparently he’d fallen for me and, even though he was also friends with my boyfriend, he seemed to think it was okay to share his feelings too. It was Valentine’s Day after all! I can’t remember whether I guessed it was him or whether he told me, but I somehow found myself sitting on my bed with him confessing his undying devotion to me and telling me that he’d be there for me if I ever wanted to ditch the boyfriend. Please keep remembering that the boyfriend and he were friends. Not so much after that. You see, the boyfriend knew I had a free period so came to see me and found me on the bed having a heart-to-heart and holding a card and a Sad Sam that he hadn’t given me. He understandably wasn’t too chuffed with my neighbour’s bold declaration of devotion. It was quite a fraught free period and I have never been so relieved to have an Economics lecture to attend as I was that morning; perfect opportunity to escape the tension!

The boyfriend and I went out for a romantic meal that evening. Only it wasn’t at all romantic. He was livid about the incident with the next-door neighbour and, even though he knew I didn’t feel anything for the lad, the betrayal of friendship hung in the air. Great.

P1060177In my final year at university, I was stunned and delighted to receive three Valentine’s cards, especially as I was single at the time. One was from a good friend who wanted to cheer me up, one was from a lad with whom I’d had one date but who’d made it clear that he didn’t want another date or a relationship as he was on the rebound from someone. Not really sure to this day why he sent me a card. The third was a mystery, though. It contained some song lyrics and I knew I recognised them but I absolutely couldn’t place them. These were the days before t’internet. I couldn’t just Google them. I was sure I knew who’d sent me it – a lad who I’d dated for about a week the term before – but he demanded to know why I thought it was him. I had to solve the clue in the lyrics. I finally sussed the song but I still couldn’t work out the connection to him. By the time I worked it out (the name of the band was connected to his name), it was a week or so later, and the moment was well and truly lost. He admitted that it had been him but I think he was annoyed that I hadn’t worked out why as, when we’d been dating, he’d told me that, if he ever sent someone a Valentine’s card, he’d put the lyrics of a song by this particular band in his card. Clearly I’d forgotten that conversation which suggested I’d never been listening to him in the first place and had therefore been a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Oops!

_MG_0221After that, I had years of being single and I seemed to go through a phase of being away with work on Valentine’s Day. I was exceedingly self-conscious about dining in the hotel alone as it was. Throw into the mix a restaurant full of couples gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes and it was excruciating.

I’ve now been with hubby for eleven Valentine’s Days. When we first met, we exchanged cards and a few silly gifts (I remember buying him some Purple Ronnie socks, for example) but I’ve never had any flowers, teddies, or anything particularly special from him on Valentine’s Day. Several years ago, I declared that I only wanted a card. I’ll admit this was more of a defence mechanism; declare that you only want a card and you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get anything else and will be pleasantly surprised if you do! I sometimes wish he’d surprise me and present me with some flowers. Or perhaps something that’s even more me… like a romantic novel, some heart-themed stationery, or a film. Or all three but that’s just greedy! But would I really want this on Valentine’s Day? When I see my Facebook feed later today full of friends and family declaring, “Look what I got” and posting pictures of bouquets, champagne, teddy bears holding hearts, posh meals out, and so on, I know I’ll get envious (because I do every year) and wish I was on the receiving end of all these lovely gifts. But then I remind myself that past experience has made me dislike this day because of the pressure and disappointment it brings, whether you’re single or not. Why, therefore, would I want to acknowledge this day?

Perhaps I am more with the school of thought that showing you care should happen all year round; not just on February 14th. The problem is, my husband isn’t romantic. He doesn’t buy me flowers. In nearly twelve years together, he’s never sent me a bouquet. He’s bought me some flowers home from the supermarket on a handful of occasions, along with the weekly shop. Not quite the same thing. The thing is that I don’t really want flowers on Valentine’s Day. I object to the inflated prices. But it would be nice to have some at another time of year. Perhaps.

Hubby doesn’t surprise me with romantic meals either. I can’t remember the last time we went out together, just the two of us. Or even as a group. To be fair to him, we were meant to go out between Christmas and New Year as a six. One of the group was ill so that couple pulled out but the other couple then cancelled as the plan had been to go out as a six. Hubby and I could have gone out as a two but I couldn’t be bothered. I’m not very good at dealing with changes to plans and a takeaway in front of the TV seemed so much easier than getting all dressed up and braving the cold.

P1060118So hubby doesn’t do meals and flowers but he does do other things that show he cares. He spends ages choosing the right cards with the right words in them and he always adds some of his own instead of just signing his name. He lets me lie in on a weekend and brings me a cup of tea and some breakfast in bed. He reads my bootcamp blog without fail and is really proud of me when I achieve my goals. He bought me a necklace one year (for birthday or Christmas) with a pendant of St Paul on it, the Patron Saint of Writers. I went on a girly trip to York last month with my mum and sisters-in-law and wasn’t going to buy anything because we’re trying to save some money. He insisted I treated myself to a teddy bear for my collection as I’d been really down about work last year when I thought I was going to lose my job yet again. And I mustn’t forget coming home from my shopping trip to discover that he’d been creative and designed a photo for the launch of my debut novel. I hadn’t asked him to. We’d never discussed it. He just did it.

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nIt’s not over the top displays of romance but, when I break it down, it’s all evidence that he’s thinking of me and he cares. Isn’t that what romance is? Especially the little things that he does regularly like reading my blog and making me breakfast in bed. Do I need bouquets of flowers when I have this? Hmm. Well, maybe not constantly but once in a while would be lovely 🙂

Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it brings you happiness, whether you’re in a great relationship, a relationship on the rocks, or single. Find something that makes you happy. For me, it’s a script-writing workshop at our local theatre and tea with hubby and the munchkin. What a fabulous way to spend a Saturday. Watch this space for a future blog about the script-writing workshop.

Happy weekend 🙂

Jessica xx