What’s on my wall (Part 4)? Monday Motivation

Happy Birthday AliceIt’s back to a motivational phrase for Part 4 of my ‘What’s on my wall?’ #MondayMotivation blog post.

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I’d never heard this phrase until my writing friend and fellow Write Romantic, Helen Phifer, mentioned that it was one of her favourite sayings shortly after the Write Romantics formed. Back then, we were all aspiring authors hoping that we’d get our break one day and it seemed very apt so the group adopted it.

In recent years, this phrase has become the subject of many humorous memes along the lines of ‘She believed she could but she was tired so she ate a giant bar of chocolate instead’ which have perhaps turned this phrase into a bit of a joke.

But I still love it.

Authors have to have a phenomenal amount of self-belief to write the book in the first place and then to put it out there in the publishing world. We face rejection from agents and/or publishers, criticism from bloggers and readers, poor sales and chart positions and can often question what the point is. Some will accept it isn’t going to happen. Others will hang onto the belief that they will get there – eventually – and keep going.

I believed I could write a book.

I believed I could create a series of books in a world with interconnected characters that readers would love.

I believed I could secure a publishing deal.

I believed that, one day, I could become successful enough to write full-time.

My journey to this point has been a rough ride, riddled with doubts but I kept going until I got there. I believed I could, so I did.

Now the sign sits above my window and I look at it and smile every day.

Have a great week.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where Boldwood Books are celebrating one year of publishing

Author Shareable Twitter

Boldwood Books, my amazing publishers, are celebrating the one-year anniversary of their first published book and what a year it’s been for Boldwood as a publisher and for me personally as one of their authors.

They shared a graphic on their social media this morning which I’ve shamelessly stolen, summarising an amazing year:

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I was the 5th author to be published with The Secret to Happiness released on 3rd September 2019. My re-edited ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series came out in the first quarter of the year and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – the start of a new series – came out last month. Six of those 59 titles published are therefore mine. Greedy, aren’t I?

I’ve had such an amazing first year as a Boldwood author.

I’ve gone from languishing in the charts and failing to make an impact to being a Top 10 international bestseller… Woo hoo!!!! All of my books have been in the UK Kindle Top 200 with two of them entering the Top 100. Just yesterday, New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (which has been in the Top 100 since the start of May, peaking at #14) and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow were in the Top 100 at the same time which was lovely. Five titles have been in the Top 30 on the AppleBooks chart and the other – Making Wishes at Bay View – only didn’t make it quite that high because it was on a free offer and #1 in the free chart.

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I’ve gone from days and days of zero sales to… well, watch this space as I should have an announcement about that next week when July’s sales figures are in. Eek! It’s something I could never, ever have dreamed I’d achieve until I joined Boldwood.

IMG_8440I’ve gone from having my titles in eBook only… to 9 formats. Wow! You’re going to ask me to name them all, aren’t you? Argh! I think it’s eBook on 3 platforms (Kindle, Kobo, AppleBooks), paperback, large print, audio MP3, audio CD, digital audio and one more format that I know about but there’s not been an official announcement yet so I’d better not say just yet). The Secret to Happiness has appeared in The Works stores around the UK and online and it is always a dream to hold (and sniff and stroke) your own paperback. It’s not just me. I promise. We all do it!

I’ve gone from having a demanding day job… to being a full-time author and I could not be happier to be able to spend my days chatting to my fictional friends and making stuff up. And procrastinating a bit on social media. Okay, procrastinating a lot! Although I did write 80k words of my second Hedgehog Hollow book since leaving the day job so I’ve got my head down too.

I’ve gone from feeling like a failure… to feeling like a real author who isn’t just wasting their time slapping a few words on a computer and hoping somebody will read them. If anyone asked me what I do, I’d always say I work in HR (true) and only occasionally add in an embarrassed voice that I also write books. Why? Because I dreaded the next question: Would I have heard of you? Cringe! Er, no. Only my mum has! Or the classic: I’d love to write a book… if only I had the time! (As if to suggest that I clearly had loads of spare time on my hands!) Or the glazed-over eyes/disinterest/disbelief and swift change of subject.

Now, I proudly declare I’m an author – or I did before Covid turned me into more of a hermit than usual – while trying to push that pain in the backside, Imposter Syndrome, back in his box. Ooh, he’s a little tinker.

Now, readers get in touch with me to say they’ve loved my work. Now, other authors ask me to read and endorse their books. I have to pinch myself every time these things happen and wonder if they’ve got the right person!

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So on Boldwood’s 1-year publication anniversary, my thanks go to so many people who have changed my life over the past year:

  • Boldwood Books for inviting me into their fold and believing in me – Amanda, Nia, Caroline, Sarah, Megan and Ellie (and welcome Emily!)
  • Our audio partners, Isis Audio, and Ulverscroft who run the uLibrary App and produce our large print books. Your work is fabulous and my audios, voiced by Lucy Brownhill and Emma Swan are brilliant
  • My superb, passionate, talented and lovely editor, Nia Beynon, whose support and advice I value so highly
  • My fellow Boldwood authors for being such a supportive community
  • My husband, Mark, and our daughter, Ashleigh, for being amazing and never moaning about the crazy hours I had to work trying to balance a day job with writing
  • My mum for being my number one fan!
  • The amazing book blogger community, some of whom have been with me since my debut release. You are such amazing champions of my work and I appreciate all your kind words and promotion so much
  • Any of my family and friends who’ve read/reviewed/promoted my books. You know who you are and I’m so very grateful
  • My writing bestie and super-talented fellow author, Sharon Booth, for tea, cake, advice, encouragement and sympathy
  • My other Write Romantic buddies for being there with virtual hugs during hard times and congratulations during the good
  • The Beverley Chapter of the RNA who are so much fun to be around. So glad we’ve managed to keep our meetings going virtually
  • A whole host of authors, some of whom I’ve met, some of whom I only ‘know’ virtually who’ve been so supportive and encouraging
  • And last, but absolutely not least, all you lovely readers. Boldwood say they’d be nothing without their authors and I’d be nothing without my readers. You are absolute stars, every one of you

If I had some cake, I’d be tucking into it right now but, instead, I’ll take a sip of Diet Pepsi (I so know how to party!) and toast Boldwood Books and their team of amazing authors.

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If you’re an author, Boldwood are currently closed for submissions but will be open again later in the year. I cannot recommend them enough as a home for your books so do follow them on social media and watch out for news.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

 

 

When will it ever be enough? A little poem for you

Followers of this blog will have noticed that I haven’t posted for a very long time. That’s not because I haven’t been blogging, but because I launched a new website a couple of years ago and I blog over there, albeit not nearly as often as I should. My website appears to be poorly, though, and while I’m waiting for it to be fixed at IT Hospital, I thought I’d take to my WordPress site because there’s something I want to say.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m part of a writing collective called The Write Romantics and we celebrated five years together in April. When we formed, a publishing deal was a very distant hope. For some of us, simply fiRaving About Rhys NEW COVERnishing our first book was the more immediate goal and we hadn’t thought much beyond that. Five years later with about 80 books released between us as a combination of indie releases and traditional publishing deals. We share our writing experiences – highs and lows – with each other and one of the things we’ve noticed recently is that we keep shifting the goalposts for ourselves. For example, that book we wanted to write became a book we wanted to have published by a small publisher which became a book that we wanted published by a big publisher. And cracking the top 100k in the Amazon charts became cracking the top 50k, then the top 10k, then … well, I think you get the picture. It can be so easy to keep chasing after the new goals that you forget how far you’ve come.

Yesterday morning, I was thinking about this as I loaded the washing machine (typical Saturday morning exciting task) and a poem started to form with these shifting goalposts in mind and I thought I’d share it…

Never Enough by Jessica Redland

Searching for Steven NEW COVERAll I want is one idea
How difficult could that be?
A plot that has some mileage
That would be enough for me

All I want is to write a book
What an achievement that would be
300 pages, a brand new world
That would be enough for me

All I want is for someone to read it
A friend or family
If they said it was good; that I could write
That would be enough for me

Getting Over Gary NEW COVERAll I want is an eBook publisher
How amazing would that be?
To believe in my story and share my work
That would be enough for me

All I want is to make some sales
Just one, or two, or three
A handful of readers to download to Kindle
That would be enough for me

All I want is some good reviews
How flattering would it be
For strangers to say they love my work?
That would be enough for me

Dreaming About Daran NEW COVERAll I want is to climb the charts
It would make me so happy
To see my ‘baby’ go up and up
That would be enough for me

All I want is a bestseller tag
In some obscure category
That orange flag would scream success
That would be enough for me

All I want is to break the top hundred
I know there’s no guarantee
But then I’d know I’ve got some talent
That would be enough for me

IMG_1212All I want is to be top ten
Can anyone hear my plea?
Side by side with my favourite authors
That would be enough for me

All I want is a number one
I’d barely contain my glee
That coveted slot and all those sales
That would be enough for me

All I want is a paperback
Something I can hold and see
To say “I wrote this”, oh my word
That would be enough for me

Searching for Steven (New Cover Design 3)All I want is to write full time
A lady that lunches? So me!
Full days in my office, creating away
That would be enough for me

All I want is an audio deal
Listening while sipping my tea
Those accents, those sounds, my world brought to life
That would be enough for me

All I want is my books on the shelves
Of a supermarket: big four. Or three
The sales, the success would remove all the stress
That would be enough for me

_MG_4712All I want is a top five publisher
The validation? My pants I would pee!
I’d finally know that I really can write
That would be enough for me

All I want is to make foreign sales
Australia? France? Germany?
Translations galore, the world at my door
That would be enough for me

All I want is the film to be made
The big screen for everyone to see
Amazing reviews, the compliments ooze
That would be enough for me

Charlee and the Chocolate Shop CoverAll I want is an Oscar win
I’d really be top of the tree
Best screenplay? Oh my, I think I would cry
That would be enough for me

All I want is some book two success
And the same for book number three
Doing even better than first out the grid
That would be enough for me

 

All I wanted was one idea
To write a book, just for me
But the goalposts kept changing, my life rearranging
And it’s never enough for me

11163942_10153485965149073_2015482777000081150_nIt’s easy to feel so overwhelmed
When sales aren’t what I’d hoped
And reviews are mean and personal
And very unprovoked
When all the writers that I know
Seem to do so great
And the day job takes priority
So my writing has to wait

 

So it’s back to the start to recapture that feeling
When first I typed “the end”
When someone said, “I loved it!”
Even though they were a friend
Christmas at Carlys Cupcakes CoverWhen I sat at my keyboard and laughed and cried
As my characters found their voices
When the publishing world was unexplored
But filled with exciting choices

The task once seemed impossible:
To write a full-length story
A big fat tick against that goal
I should bask in the glory
That I achieved what many don’t
And repeated it six-fold
I am a writer BECAUSE I WRITE;
Not for how many I’ve sold
I hope you enjoyed it. Granted, I’m no incredible poet (my novels are much better, I promise!) but I thought I’d share this as a reminder for anyone who keeps shifting their own goalposts to remember all the great things you’ve achieved so far – simply writing that first draft being one of them – and enjoy every moment of it instead of constantly reaching for the next goal.

I’m actually in a really good place with my writing at the minute. I’m coming to the end of the first draft of a new full-length novel and I have another shorter one nearly finished. Ideas are forming for a Christmas one and I have other works in progress. I had some successful meetings with editors at the recent RNA conference who are all interested in my latest WIP. Even if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s been a huge confidence boost.

So, what do you think? Does the poem resonate? Would love to hear your thoughts.

All the best

Jessica xx

If you’re interested in finding out more about my books (or making a sneaky purchase), you can find me on Amazon here.

My Lovely Blog Hop

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

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

First Memory

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

Books

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

Libraries

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

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

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

What’s Your Passion?

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

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

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


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

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

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

Learning

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

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

Thanks again to Jo for nominating me xxx

Sisters are doing it for themselves

My lovely writing friend and fellow Write Romantic, Sharon Booth, was recently passed the ‘Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award!’ baton where female bloggers answer questions set by the person who nominated them, then passes a new set of questions onto another female blogger.

sister-hood-awardI promised that I would accept the baton and answer Sharon’s questions, but a couple of weeks have passed and I’ve only just got round to it because I’m still chasing my tail as highlighted in an earlier post. I’m doing a half-effort, though, because I can’t think of anyone onto whom to pass the baton. There are plenty of blogs that I follow, but they’ve all either accepted this challenge or been invited to participate. So I’m going to have to stop it with me. Sorry. I feel quite selfish saying, ‘I’ll tell you about me, but I won’t pass it on!’ Hope you’ll forgive me!

Before I answer Sharon’s questions, I thought I’d comment on sisterhood. I don’t have a sister although I have two brothers who are married, and hubby has twin sisters so I’m lucky enough to have four sisters-in-law who are all absolutely lovely. Big shout out to Linda, Ness, Clare and Susan xx

My career to date (the day job) has mainly been in Human Resources, specialising in recruitment and/or learning & development. For me, this has been mainly female-dominated although quite a few managers have been male although I’m not going to pass comment on that today. I’ve often been asked, “What’s it like just working with females? Is it bitchy?” I’m pleased to be able to say that this hasn’t been the case in most of my jobs. I’ve found supportive, caring colleagues who are excited and inspired by the success of other females in the team. Sadly, I’ve also found jealousy, back-stabbling, taking credit for other people’s work and outright bitchiness. The latter qualities disappoint me so much. Why do that to each other? Why try to reach the top by clambering over other people? I could never do that. Unfortunately, that refusal to stamp on others has meant I never progressed as far in my career as I could have. Oh well.

Fortunately, The Write Romantics do demonstrate sisterhood. We’ve blogged together for two years now and we provide support, advice, and encouragement. We actively promote each other, and we are there for each other. Long may it continue!

Enough wittering. Onto Sharon’s questions…

P1060221What is your earliest memory?

Most of my childhood memories are set what I consider to be my childhood home; the place I lived from when I was almost four-years-old. However, my earliest memory traces back to the house I lived in before we moved. I remember going for a walk round the block with my pram and my dolls. It’s just a brief flash of a memory, but it’s definitely my earliest. About 12 years ago, my older brother bought a house round the corner from there and it was strange going to visit him for the first time, passing my first house, and looking at the path I remembered walking along.

What was your favourite Christmas present?

P1060219I love presents so I’m happy with most things! I’ve had some great gifts over the year. One of the best as a child was an ice-skating Sindy which I’d longed for. As an adult, one of the most thoughtful was when my hubby bought me a silver chain with three intertwined rings with my name, his name, and our daughter’s name on them. Lovely.

Who would you like to go on a date with? (Excluding current partners/spouses)

I’d probably go for the humour value and pick Ant and Dec. I reckon a night out with them would be great fun.

Which film would you choose if you could only ever watch one again?

Oh that’s mean! I love films and there are so many I’d watch again and again and again. I absolutely couldn’t name one. One of my favourite films is ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, but I don’t think I’d choose that as the only one I could watch. ‘Ever After’ perhaps? Or ‘The Wedding Singer’? Or maybe ‘The Proposal’? Ooh, I’ve got it! ‘The Holiday’. I absolutely adore that film and find myself drawn to it any time I flick TV channels and it’s on.

What are you most proud of?

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nAs a parent, the obvious answer would be my daughter and I am, of course. But isn’t every parent (I hope)? For me personally, the thing I’m most proud of is that I kept going with my writing and kept believing and it paid off with a publishing deal. The day I hold ‘Searching for Steven’ in my hands will be the most amazing moment ever.

Which woman in history do you most admire?

Very difficult question. I don’t really know much about history. I’d therefore turn to a writer from the fairly recent times – Catherine Cookson. She was a prolific writer with an incredible imagination and gripping voice. My mum is a massive fan and, in my twenties, I probably read the vast majority of Catherine’s books, all borrowed from my mum’s collection. I haven’t read her autobiography, but I understand she had a particularly challenging upbringing, which no doubt inspired many of her stories.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

It would be so easy to say The Harry Potter series, Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’, The Twilight Series, or ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ for the financial rewards – *dreams wistfully of a day without debt*. However, my answer is a book that probably still made the author very rich, but the reason I choose it is how it made me feel. Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews is my most favourite book ever. I’ve mentioned this before on my blog as the first big book I read and it blew me away. I couldn’t stop reading it, dying to know where it would lead. The rest of the series equally gripped me, but I read that first one so many times that the book actually fell apart. Imagine how incredible it must feel to have created a piece of fiction that can do that to someone. Wow!

What one thing do you think would surprise other people about you?

I can be really shy sometimes. Most people would view me as confident, talkative, and not afraid to speak up in front of a group. Just as well given my day job is as a Trainer! However, certain situations and certain people can intimidate the hell out of me and I can be very shy and wish the ground would swallow me up.

You’ve had an unexpected windfall of one thousand pounds. What would you spend it on?

I’d put it towards a holiday with my family. My little girl is eight and we saved like mad to take her abroad for the first time last October (half term). This year, we’re saving like mad again and are hoping to be able to do a special trip north while she still believes in Santa. Ssshhh. It’s a secret!

Thank you, Sharon, for inviting me to participate and sorry that I’m not passing it on.

Sharon’s debut novel, ‘There Must Be An Angel’ is available now in paperback and eBook formats. Find it on Amazon and you’re in for a treat!

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!

The End of an Era

Today is 2nd January. Unless you’re celebrating a birthday, this is probably a fairly insignificant date for you; the second day in a row where you write 2014 instead of 2015, the day you awake with a hangover after too many New Year’s Day drinkies, or perhaps even the return to work after a Christmas break. But for many aspiring writers, 2nd January is one of the most significant days in their writing journey because 2nd January is the day they can apply to the RNA’s New Writers Scheme (NWS).

_MG_1520I’d post a link for the benefit of anyone interested but there’s no point because all the places will already have gone. You see, there are only 250 places a year and priority goes to those already on the scheme. However, each year, there are many who dip out. There are those who are celebrating the amazing news of a publishing deal and graduating from the NWS, those who’ve decided to dip out the NWS due to other priorities, and even those who’ve called time on their writing dreams. Hopefully the former are far greater than the latter.

This time three years ago, my writing journey changed course forever when I received the best email in the world ever: the one that told me I’d managed to secure a place on the NWS. This was a big thing for me. HUGE! Because I’d applied the year before and had missed out. It was 2011 and applications were via snail mail. I printed off the application form the moment it appeared online, completed it and posted it first class in the first post of the day. Except it took four days to reach its destination due to heavy snow blanketing parts of the country. And, by that time, the places had already gone. I was devastated. It’s funny how things turn out because 2011 proved to be a very challenging year for me. I was unexpectedly restructured out of the job I loved into a job I’d done before and, because I was the only experienced person in a new team that had been assembled, I ended up doing four jobs and working 14-16 hour days for several months. I had no time to write. I declared that enough was enough and left that job in the November and started writing again around my new job (which didn’t consist of silly hours). I resolved to try for the NWS again. To my relief, they’d changed the application system to an online registration of interest opening at midnight on 2nd January.

P1050687After a scary moment involving our internet going down and me making provisional arrangements to go to my in-laws just in case, the system came back on and I prepared my email and waited. The countdown was excruciating. Seconds ticked by like minutes and minutes felt like hours. Then my computer screen indicated 00:00 and I clicked “send”. Then panicked. What if midnight on the dot wasn’t good enough and it needed to be after midnight i.e. 1 minute past? I sent another email just in case. The organisers probably thought I was a right numpty sending two emails a minute apart but all I cared about was securing my place. And when I received my email later that day to confirm my place, it was worth it.

I’ve submitted a full manuscript for three years: 2012 and 2013 saw the submission of the same MS, ‘Searching for Steven’ as I made significant tweaks to it based on my feedback from my 2012 critique. 2014 saw the submission of the sequel, ‘Getting Over Gary’. This year I won’t be submitting.

It feels a little strange knowing that the deadline for being part of 2015’s NWS has well and truly passed and that the new “class of 2015” will have (probably) heard already that they’ve secured a place (or not). Before today’s deadline, it didn’t feel quite so real that I’d decided to give up my place.

So why did I give up my place? Securing a three-book publishing deal would normally mean graduating from the NWS and becoming a full RNA member. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for me. The RNA have rules about membership and one of these is that a publishing company must have been in existence for two years to be recognised by them. My publisher is new so isn’t yet recognised for full membership. I could have remained with the RNA as an NWS member for another year and become a full member in 2016 when So Vain Books will have been round long enough to meet the criteria but I made the decision that I didn’t want to stay in the NWS for another year when (a) I could release that valuable place to somebody else and give them the same opportunities I’ve enjoyed, (b) I could save myself the membership fee and put it towards a writing workshop instead, and (c) I’d still have the valuable support network of The Write Romantics.

_MG_6896The NWS and RNA have given me so much over the three years I’ve been a member. I’ve set up The Write Romantics with fellow-NWS member Jo Bartlett and the support, knowledge and encouragement from that group has directly secured my publishing deal. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll recall I got two offers. The first was from a US company who Jo encouraged me to apply to when I was about to give up and So Vain Books, with whom I accepted a publishing deal, were highlighted to us by Alys who’d spotted an advert. Jo submitted to them and secured a deal but I didn’t submit as I wasn’t sure my book was a fit. Jo spoke with the publishing director about my book and I was invited to submit as a result. I would never have received either of these deals without the WRs and I’d never have met the WRs without the NWS. And I’d never have  been part of the Winter Tales charity anthology of which I’m incredibly proud.

Two of the three reports I’ve received (the two for ‘Searching for Steven’) have been incredibly helpful and have helped shape it into the book that it is today (the one that received two offers!) The review of ‘Getting Over Gary’ wasn’t so helpful but I wonder whether part of that was because it was a sequel and my reader really needed to have read Steven first. Although I could have paid the extra fee and stayed in the NWS this year, I didn’t really want to submit the 3rd book in the trilogy and receive a critique that suffered because the reader was trying to read book 3 as a stand-alone book when it’s designed not to be stand-alone.

Good luck to all those who are continuing with the NWS and all the best to those who have secured a place for the first time this year (or maybe re-joined after a break). I think it’s the right decision to have dipped out this year and given my place to someone else although it’s a shame that this means dipping out of the RNA too. This doesn’t need to be forever, though, as I may well re-join when I’m eligible for full membership.

Thank you to all my readers, the organisers, and the RNA for playing a vital part in making my publishing dreams come true. I can’t thank you enough xx

Something special to mark the occasion & new beginnings

P1050691Last week, I brought you the exciting news about two book deals in my post “A Tale of Two Contracts” Acts I and II. It’s been lovely receiving so many positive comments from excited friends, family, and fellow-Write Romantics. Some of them have even generously bought me gifts so I wanted to share a couple and thank the senders.

P1050673The first gift arrived in the post from my lovely writing friend and fellow-founder of The Write Romantics, Jay Bartlett. Meet Smithy, my gorgeously soft brown teddy (names as such because he’s exclusively made for WH Smith which feels like a very appropriate supplier for a writer who aspires to have their book on the shelves of WH Smith one day). He’s wearing a white t-shirt bearing the message “You got ‘the call’ Julie” (Julie being my real name rather than my pen name). Jay has been an invaluable source of support. She’s read Steven on two, possibly three occasions and provided feedback and support. She’s also been the voice of reason and encouragement through the inevitable moments of self-doubt every writer has. Thank you Jay xxx

P1050694I have a wonderful colleague at work called Joanna who makes me laugh so much. When I got my first publishing offer which was for eBook only, she was a bit gutted because she wanted to read the book so badly but didn’t have an eReader and wondered how she could acquire one without letting on to her dad who’s very anti-eReaders. When I got – and accepted – the second deal and she knew there was a paperback coming, she said “I’ll pay full price. I won’t even wait till it’s 3 for 2 in Asda!” Hee hee. Bless her. Anyway, Joanna bought me this fabulous pen with the engraving “Julie – Published Writer” especially for my first signings! How lovely is that? Thank you to you, Joanna, for always believing in me 🙂 xx

P1050692Fellow Write Romantic Alys met me for tea in York last week and she presented me with a gorjuss coaster. No, that’s not a typo – gorjuss is the make of these absolutely gorgeous characters. I love them. This one says “we can all shine” which feels such a positive message for someone whose dreams have come true. I have a couple already. I have one by my bedside of a girl standing on a pile of books and I have another on my desk that says “I found my family in a book”. I actually use two coasters on my desk; one for my water and one for my tea and now I can replace the Pooh-bear one with my new gorguss one. Alys, like the rest of the WRs, has been really encouraging and supportive throughout and also read Steven for me which was really lovely of her when it’s not her preferred genre of books. Thanks Alys. By the way, Alys also gave me a heart-shaped purple-foil-wrapped chocolate lolly. But I troughed it before I thought to take a photo. Oops!

P1050687I bought myself a little gift, too. I have a friend who makes beautiful hand-crafted signs and I’d previously asked her to make me one for my office with both my names on it. I asked her to produce a matching one with a wonderful quote introduced to me by Write Romantic Helen Phifer which I find incredibly apt.

P1050667

My final gift was my fabulous purchase at the weekend courtesy of my husband. I collect teddy bears. I love soft, plush bears and have many but I collect proper jointed teddy bears made by companies like Steiff, Hermann Teddy Original, Dean’s and Merrythought but I also love artist bears which are hand-crafted by people who simply love teddy bears. I told Mark that I’d love to have a collector bear to commemorate by book deal so he took me round the three bear shops in York at the weekend to look. It wasn’t looking good at first. I wanted the bear to have some connection to my writing although I didn’t know quite how I’d manage that. I hoped it would just “speak” to me. In the first two shops, I came across the same limited edition bear (15000 pieces I think it was) called “Jessica”. Perfect name but I wasn’t sure I loved her. She wore some pink pearls and I think it was them that were putting me off. She’d have been better without them. I resolved that I’d go to the third shop and if none of the bears grabbed me, I’d come back and have a good, long look at Jessica again to see if she was right. It wasn’t looking good in the third shop either. I saw a gorgeous artist bear that didn’t really have any relevance but I loved him. He was very expensive, though; four times what I’d planned to pay so there was just no way. Then, as we were leaving, I decided to study a glass cabinet with smaller bears in it and that’s when I spotted Kasimir. He’s an Astridbear; an artist from Germany and I have two fabulous Astridbears already. The word “love” on his dungarees just spoke to me. As a romance writer, I’d found my meaningful bear and he’s settled into life in the bear cabinet very well.

P1050693Thank you everyone for your cards (mum & dad, Joanna and Norma), gifts, and well wishes. I actually signed my contract on Monday so it is 100% official that I’m a So Vain Books author. I’ve come to terms with referring to myself as a “writer” for a long time (as opposed to an “aspiring writer”) but I think it will take me a long time to get used to referring to myself as an “author”!

I’ve managed to negotiate a flexible working contract at work. I’ve been toying with putting in a request since the law changed in the summer allowing anyone to request the right to flexible work (although the company doesn’t have to accept). I liked the idea of working my normal hours across four longer days and having a day off to write but I never got round to submitting it. The book deal was the push I needed and I was eternally grateful to have my request accepted immediately. It’s a trial until the end of the year to make sure it meets the needs of the business but I can’t see it being a problem. I had my first Monday off this week and it was amazing to sit at my desk and feel like an author, working for a solid day on writing-related activities.

Something else lovely happened this week at work which made me feel like a real author too. I got a phone call from our HR Manager on a completely non-work-related issue. She said that she was delighted to hear the news of my writing deal and said that she was part of a reading group and that they all take turns in choosing books. She said that, when my book was published, she’d like to choose mine to read and would I mind going along and talking to the group? Wow! How flattered was I? Naturally I said yes. It feels like things are really starting to happen.

I’d better sign off or this could go on forever! Thanks to everyone who has been part of my journey so far and to all of those who’ll join us along the way.

Jessica xx

 

Welcome to my world: The one where I hear voices … but that’s normal. Apparently!

Thankfully the voices in my head don’t tell me to steal or kill or anything sinister like that. Typically they tell me nice things like how they want to fall in love and with whom. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m a romance writer.

I’ve been writing in one shape or form for as long as I can remember. English was my favourite subject at school, I was drawn towards essay-based subjects at college and university, then my subsequent career in HR was most satisfying when it involved writing. That could mean designing an interview script, job advert, training materials or a staff handbook because, to me, it was all writing. Strangely enough, though, I’d never imagined making a career out of it. Until 2002. I was working as a Graduate Recruitment & Development Manager for Thames Water and the manager who’d recruited me would often comment that my business reports would benefit from being a little more, well, business-ey instead of reading like a story. “You should write a book,” he’d say. Nice idea. Lovely idea. But what the hell would I write about? The genre was easy; romantic comedy. But the storyline? Eek! Where would I even begin?

It’s a well-used phrase “write what you know” so I pondered on my relationships to date. I was single with some good and several disastrous relationships behind me but nothing interesting or juicy enough to form a plot-line for a book. And then something happened. Something quite unexpected and, for me, life-changing. I was at a bit of a crossroads in my personal life. I’d split up with my partner of two years although we still shared a house that we were trying to sell (hmm, that was fun!), I wasn’t happy at work, and I had a dream of moving back home to the north to set up a teddy bear shop but I’d been turned down for redundancy and, of course, I couldn’t do anything unless the house sold. It felt like everything was out of my control. I couldn’t plan. I couldn’t hope. A friend who is very into new-age thinking gave me a gift voucher for a clairvoyant telephone helpline. I can remember smiling politely and telling her I’d ring it at some point soon … then dumping it in a drawer. But one evening alone in the house in late 2002, something made me take that gift voucher out of the drawer and dial that number. What that clairvoyant said sparked an idea for a novel and, once it took hold, it was like the boulder in front of the cave of creativity had been rolled back and the glittering gems of ideas were all there for my taking.

You’re going to hate me now because I can’t share exactly what the clairvoyant said. Not yet. Why not? Quite simply, it’s because there’s no copyright on ideas and I’m an aspiring writer at the moment; not a published one. I think I’ve got quite a unique premise for my story and, whilst I will share the full back-story if (when) I get my big break, I need to keep it safe for the moment. Hope you understand.

So I’m not a published writer but I said this idea came to me in 2002. It’s 2014 now. What the heck have I been doing with the last 12 years! Truth be told, I did nothing about it other than bat the idea around my head until summer 2003 but, by that time, I had left my job, sold the house, said a permanent goodbye to the ex, moved back to the north and opened a teddy bear shop (dreams can come true!) I bought an old PC for the shop and, on quiet days, I started to write my book. Straight into the PC. No planning. No preparation. No idea on what I was doing! I met my husband Mark and shared my writing aspirations with him. He suggested I sign up to The Writer’s Bureau. So I did. And I realised I knew nothing about writing. Show don’t tell? What’s that?! I got some great feedback from my first few assignments explaining I clearly had a talent but it just needed honing with the “rules” of writing. So that’s what I spent the next decade doing.

Novel 1 was a painful process in many ways because I changed from 1st to 3rd person and back again, dabbled in present tense before reverting to past, ditched a major character, unexpectedly developed two major characters (and with them, the prospect of a trilogy of books), and basically had no clear idea of how to get from point A to point B. But I got there in 2012 and took a huge leap in my writing journey by joining the Romantic Novelist Association’s New Writer’s Scheme (NWS). It was with great trepidation that I submitted my manuscript (MS) as this was the first time anyone was going to read my work. The feedback was really encouraging but the biggie was that it was a biggie … far too many words! I managed to cut about 20k words but developing a couple of unclear plot points ended up back where I started. In 2013, I re-submitted the same novel to NWS and got even better feedback and some very clear direction as to what I could cut. I hadn’t been ready to make the cut before but I felt ready last year.

Summer 2013 saw another major step when I pitched to two editors at the RNA Conference and both asked to see my full MS. How incredibly exciting!

Since then, I’ve submitted my MS to both of those editors, some agents, and some other publishers. I’ve had some rejections, I’ve had a “near miss” (which I may talk about on another post) but it feels close. I’ve had a note from one publisher to say my work is very much under consideration and I know that I must be well into a process with another two because I have writing friends who’ve submitted later than me and have already heard that it’s a no. Assuming MSs are looked at in the order they arrive (it’s possible they aren’t), then that would mean I’m progressing … for now!

Other than the critique and the invaluable advice from the RNA online community, one of the biggest benefits I’ve had through the RNA is meeting other writers. I’ve been extremely fortunate to join forces with eight wonderful writers who cover a range of genres from Mills & Boon to supernatural to crime/thriller. We run a blog together http://www.thewriteromantics.wordpress.com and provide support and guidance to each other on all things writing (and often non-writing). I love being part of that blog but wanted to continue to increase my social media presence by running my own. I’ll talk about books, writing and life in general and, hopefully, one day share some amazing news that I can call myself an author!

Thank you for joining me today. Are you a reader or writer? What would you like me to blog about? Would be great to hear from you.

Julie

Mum, Wife, Writer, Brown Owl, Arctophile, Chocoholic