The one with the chart neighbours who make me smile

I love watching the chart positions of my books. I’m probably a little more obsessed about it than I should be but there are a few reasons for this:

  1. It’s such a thrill to see my books doing so well after all the years of struggling and I find I need to look just to reassure myself that I’m not just dreaming
  2. My mum keeps a watch (thank you, Mum) so I need to be on the ball too!
  3. There are certain moments that really make me smile which I’d miss if I didn’t keep an eye out

What do I mean by the moments that make me smile? It’s those snapshots in time where my book appears in the chart next to:

  • An author friend
  • One of #TeamBoldwood (my publishing buddies) who are, of course, also friends but most are only virtual friends as Boldwood have mainly existed during a pandemic world so we’ve never met
  • An exceptionally famous author / an author I’m in awe of
  • A non-fiction author who is an expert in a subject connected to my books
  • An author who has a connection to my past

This first instance I can remember of this happening was before I joined Boldwood. In the year I released Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop (called Charlee and the Chocolate Shop at the time) and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes (title unchanged), I put them in relevant category charts where they toppled experts from the #1 spot. Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop appeared in a chart about cooking ingredients (chocolate), knocking Jamie Oliver into the #2 position and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes was in cake-making and did the same to Mary Berry. I probably do have the screenshots somewhere but no idea where I’ve filed them!

Of course, Jamie Oliver and Mary Berry will have sold absolutely monster quantities of their books as hardbacks but this brief snapshot of time where I was next to these experts in the charts was a special (and amusing) moment.

There were many occasions after that where I was chart buddies with my writing family, The Write Romantics, including when the Top 10 in the Christmas category chart was dominated by our Christmas releases. Aww.

Yesterday, I checked the UK Kindle Top 100 first thing and was greeted by this lovely sight:

As you can see, A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow is at #58 in this screenshot but positions #54 to #57 are all held by Boldwood authors! Jo Bartlett, Alex Stone and Alison Sherlock are all publishing buddies and Jo is also the co-founder of the Write Romantics with me so what a special moment this was. Not quite sure who invited Kazuo Ishiguro to the party but he was welcome to join us as long as he’d brought cake with him!

The past few days have also brought some special moments over on Audible but before I share those, I have to share a special moment of a different kind because the hedgehogs surpassed themselves in the Audible Top 100 yesterday…

I casually checked the Audible chart first thing, wondering if they were even still in the Top 100 as they’d been at the lower end over the past couple of days so I was astonished to see that they’d made a huge leap into the Top 40. Only just – at #40 itself – but that’s still Top 40 so I’m claiming that status! Book 4 had also finally hit the #1 position in the Romance chart which was thrilling.

But back to the special chart neighbours moments… The first was on Thursday when, as I said before, the Audible position of A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow was a little lower. When I was at university, many moons ago, I studied Banking & Finance with the intention of becoming a bank manager. Except I hated the finance part of it which was a bit of a problem. Thankfully, among the dreaded accountancy, economics and quantitative analysis modules, there were interesting subjects I did understand like HR, marketing, management, strategy and banking law.

In our management module, we studied the work of an American management guru called Stephen Covey. First published in 1989, it was a huge bestseller. Sitting in lectures discussing Covey’s principles, I could never have imagined there’d be a day where I’d be an author sitting beside that man in the charts. I literally couldn’t have imagined it because the audiobook wasn’t invented then – although the precursor of listening to books on cassettes and CDs had been – and being an author wasn’t even close to being on my radar then. I’d already sussed that being a bank manager wasn’t for me either but writing was an idea that emerged about a decade later.

After graduating, I followed a career in HR, specialising in recruitment, training, coaching and mentoring, and Covey’s work frequently popped up.

Then this morning, I had another blast from the past moment with another management guru. I was sponsored to go to university by TSB which basically meant I received a book grant each year (and text books were expensive so it was very much needed!), did a year out with them in my third year, and undertook holiday work in a local branch. I knew I wanted to work in HR or marketing at this point and managed to secure a placement in their Head Office in Birmingham for my year out.

One of my roles was organising and managing the Learning Resource Centre (LRC) which was a room full of books, cassettes, CDs and videos relating to leadership and management. I loved working in there. It was like being in charge of my own little library. There were workstations where staff would work their way through interactive videos – huge laserdiscs (the size of a vinyl album) where they could watch a scenario, make a decision on how they’d handle it, and watch that good or bad decision play out.

Anyway, one of the resources was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People and who should I be next to in the Audible UK chart this morning but Mr Carnegie himself? In the LRC, it was such a popular book that it had a waiting list and I frequently had to chase staff to return it. Again, who’d have thought that when I was working in my own little library that books I’d written would one day appear in libraries? Or that I’d be one step ahead in the charts of the book that was the most popular when I ran that little library?

So there you go. A few moments that have really made me smile. I hope there are many things that make you smile across the weekend. Have a good one!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

A pick-me-up playlist as part of Boldwood’s #BoldDailyThoughts

As we’re in the third lockdown in the UK and it’s all a bit scary and meh right now, Boldwood wanted to share some positivity through their #BoldDailyThoughts. Authors were asked if they’d be happy to contribute something positive to share with our readers. This could be anything such as a picture, a quote, a blog post, a video. When I’m feeling down, music is my ultimate pick-me-up so I’ve come up with a playlist of thirty songs that make me (and hopefully you) smile.

Over on Boldwood’s blog, I’ve talked about what music means to me and why I went for a playlist. You can find that post here.

Here’s a link to my playlist over on Spotify. If you’re not a subscriber, you can still register and access this playlist for free but there’ll be an advert every few songs. Subscribers can listen without adverts.

The reason I have this special extension post is that, when I pulled together the playlist, I found I wanted to explain what memories each song evoked in me and why each makes me happy. For thirty songs, that’s a pretty long explanation and too big for the usual length of our blog posts on Boldwood. But it might be of interest to some so here you go. Happy reading/listening!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Why have I chosen this playlist?

‘Reach’ by S Club 7

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t love this song from 2000. It’s so happy! Nuff said! Get on your feet and reach for those stars!

‘C’est La Vie’ by B*witched

Ah, the double-denim class Irish pop princesses. This was their debut single in 1998 and it’s full of crazy lyrics and melodic delights. If you’re of a certain age, I can pretty much guarantee you’ve attempted some Riverdance moves to the instrumental break in this track! I know I have

‘Waterloo’ by Abba

Anything by Abba transports me immediately to my childhood and it was a tough choice as there are so many uplifting songs I could have chosen. They’re the first band I loved and I’ve remained true to them ever since. I’m sure you’re already aware that ‘Waterloo’ was the winning song for Sweden in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. In the fabulous film Muriel’s Wedding, Muriel is desperately unhappy and escapes her troubled life by listening to Abba songs. When she leaves home and finally finds herself, she stops listening to Abba because her own life is “as good as an Abba song”. That speaks volumes to me. 

Abba also remind me of so many other fabulous points in my life with friends. Before heading off on our separate ways to university, my good friends Susan and Graham spent an evening at my house dancing to Abba songs. Cider may also have been consumed. Many years later, I took several holidays with another great friend, Catryn. In Turkey one year, we stumbled across a club at the hotel where an Abba tribute were playing. Nobody was dancing but how can you not dance to Abba and specifically how can you not enact the Knowing Me Knowing You video where Agnetha and Anni-Frid face in different directions? The tribute band absolutely loved it! Good times.

‘Be With You’ by Atomic Kitten

Sampling ‘Last Train to London’ by the fabulous ELO, this is such a feel-good track. Out in 2003, this is the year I moved back to the north where my family were based and opened my teddy bear shop. I remember having a night at my younger brother’s with my older brother and the three of us were listening to this and trying desperately to work out where the sample came from. That’s the last night I ever had with just my two brothers (Mike and Chris) and, as I haven’t seen them for over a year now, it feels right to have something that reminds me of them. Although my little brother Chris would probably want pointing out that he likes ELO but not so much Atomic Kitten; not quite his taste

‘Tragedy’ by Steps

I really agonised over which Steps track to pick before settling on this one from 1999. I know the words aren’t exactly uplifting but the dance moves are. The raising of the hands to the head? The shoulder wiggle? You’re doing it now, aren’t you? I couldn’t have been happier when Steps re-formed. One of my all-time favourite bands ever and a gig booked for later this year which might be about my fifth time seeing Steps live

‘The One and Only’ by Chesney Hawkes

This one-hit-wonder is one of my all-time favourite songs. It’s so uplifting. Does anyone else think of it as an 80s classic? It was actually released in March 1991 but I think the 80s vibe might be something to do with being penned by 80s legend Nik Kershaw (bit of pop trivia for you there). So many memories of being on the dance floor to this one at university and beyond. What a floor-filler!

‘Relight My Fire’ by Take That

With so many huge hits in the early 1990s, Take That were the soundtrack to my university days (1990-1994) and I was spoilt for choice but this 1993 collaboration with Lulu is simply fabulous and steps up to a new level when Lulu’s husky vocals kick in

‘Believe’ by Cher

It was the best-selling UK single of 1998 and I know it might have been absolutely played to death that year but I never got bored of this come-back single from Cher. Single and having recently bought my first house in Birmingham, it reminds me of a happy time in my life where I really believed (see what I did there?) that I could have it all in the future. As it happens, I had a few duff years before life finally came together

‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’ by Bryan Adams

Ooh, I love Bryan Adams. I’ve seen him in concert four times and am seeing him again this summer (I hope!) So many amazing up-beat songs to choose from and ‘Summer of ‘69’ might be the most obvious but this one from 1991 has such a rousing chorus that I made a controversial choice. Plus, ‘Summer of ‘69’ is about looking back and regrets. This one isn’t

‘New Beginning (Mamba Seyra)’ by Bucks Fizz

Unless you’re a fan of Bucks Fizz – or The Fizz as Mike, Jay and Cheryl are collectively known now – you might not necessarily remember this one but it was a big hit back in the day (1986). It is such a rousing song. Listen to those drums and harmonies. Gorgeous. Best enjoyed really loud! Bucks Fizz were the very first band I ever saw in concert at Middlesbrough Town Hall for my thirteenth birthday. I’ve seen them a couple of times since and still love them. And, let’s face it, we’re all waiting for our new beginning right now!

‘Mustang Sally’ by The Commitments

You’re singing ‘Ride Sally ride’ aren’t you? You can’t not. I was just into my second year in at university when this film came out in late 1991. I’d never really heard soul music before. Absolutely loved the music and it’s a great film too

‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ by The Communards

For the evening do on my wedding day, I wanted 80s music. The DJ was really young and, bless him, he didn’t have any and wasn’t even familiar with the 80s! Eek! So I had to take my CD collection in with a playlist. He absolutely loved it and the dance floor was crowded all night. He said it was the best wedding he’d ever done so I think it’s safe to say I’d converted him. I can picture everyone bouncing up and down to the chorus on this 1986 classic. Did you try to hit the long high note near the end? 

‘Real Gone Kid’ by Deacon Blue

Sticking with the 1980s here (1989) and another band who I absolutely adore who are amazing in concert. A Deacon Blue gig was the very first one I went to without my parents at Whitley Bay Ice-rink in Co Durham. They’re even better live than on their albums. You just have to jump up and down to the piano break in this and sing along to this chorus, arms in the air

‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO

Back to the 1970s now. I mentioned ELO earlier being samples on the Atomic Kitten track and now they have their own happy entry. This 1977 song has featured on loads of movie soundtracks and quite right too as it’s simply fabulous. How can you not feel uplifted when listening to this? I remember my dad playing this a lot when we were younger and, when I was on my year out from university, I bought myself ELO’s Greatest Hits and it really reminded me of home. I love Baby Groot dancing to it at the start of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Brilliant!

‘Up’ by Olly Murs feat Demi Lovato

Jumping forward a whopping thirty-six years to 2013 here for my next choice. Another fabulously uplifting tune. I’ve seen Olly Murs twice at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre and will (hopefully) be seeing him again this summer. It goes without saying that we’ve missed friends and family this past year but who has missed live music and theatre too? Can’t wait to make up for lost time

‘Roar’ by Katy Perry

Sticking with 2013 here although this could easily have been ‘Firework’ as I think both these Katy Perry tracks about believing in yourself are so uplifting. I’ve settled for this one as I remember it being in my bootcamp era. I used to rise at 5.15am and go to a bootcamp on the Yorkshire coast with my sisters-in-law and this was out at that time. For about a year, it was a very special time in my life. Let’s hear you roar!

‘Love Machine’ by Girls Aloud

There’s a fabulous 60s-sounding vibe here with this fun 2004 release from the Pop Stars: The Rivals winners Girls Aloud. I’m no dancer but I cannot help doing a little shimmy to this one. I had my teddy bear shop between 2003-2005 and I often used to listen to this track. If the shop was empty, I *might* have been known to dance to it while dusting the shelves!

‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ by Tiffany

Another of my all-time favourites and back to the 1980s for this absolute corker from Tiffany. She was only fifteen when this was released in 1987. Did you know that 1987 was also the year Scott and Charlene (Kylie and Jason) married on Neighbours. What a cracking year! Doing the ‘Tiffany-dance’ used to be one of my party-tricks

‘Love Revolution’ by Will Young

Since I first saw him on Pop Idol, I’ve been a massive Will Young fan. I have all his albums and have seen him a couple of times in concert. This 2015 60s-vibe song just makes me want to clap along. Love it

‘Beautiful Stranger’ by Madonna

Oh behave! From the 1999 Austin Powers film, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, this takes me back to my single days in my late-twenties living in Birmingham. I had such a busy social life then and a big circle of friends and have very fond memories of those times. I saw the Austin Powers films with my great friend, Catryn and we met another friend, Jackie, on a diving holiday in the late-90s and frequently quoted Austin Powers to each other (and still do on social media) 

‘Friday I’m In Love’ by The Cure

Another one from my university days, this is such a lovely song. In fact, so many of The Cure’s songs are gorgeously uplifting which might perhaps be surprising given the appearance of the band. Just shows that you should never judge on appearances. I don’t think it’s possible to listen to this 1992 song without your heart soaring with happiness

‘Stop Me From Falling’ by Kylie

So many Kylie songs I could have picked but I’ve gone for this lovely one from 2018 which describes one of my favourite romantic tropes in books/films: friends to lovers. This song makes me want to pop my cowboy boots on and do a bit of line-dancing

‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen

Queen are amazing. They have songs from such a variety of genres yet a completely distinctive sound. I don’t remember this back in the day (1979) but, over the years, this has become one of my favourite uplifting tracks. And can I just pause to mention how amazing Brian May is for all the work he does rescuing hedgehogs?

‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ by Starship

Sticking with the theme of nothing stopping us, the beat slows a bit here but the message remains just as uplifting. This 1987 track features on the soundtrack of the Kim Cattrall/Andrew McCarthy film Mannequin which was an absolute must-watch when I was at college

‘Somewhere in my Heart’ by Aztec Camera

More 80s music here and another of my all-time favourite tracks. I was at college when this was released in 1987 but it reminds me more of recent years out and about with my family on day trips. There’s a standing joke that I think I can sing all the words. I can’t. I also make a few up! Looking forward to days out again

‘ME!’ by Taylor Swift feat Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco

The most recent choice on my list, this 2019 song just makes me smile and even more if watched with the visually stunning video. Those outfits! Those colours! I love Taylor Swift and have been listening a lot to her fabulous more chilled Folklore and Evermore albums recently which are simply gorgeous but, for feeling alive, you can’t beat this one

‘Groove Is In The Heart’ by Deee-Lite

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of this song. From the summer of 1990, it reminds me of finishing college and preparing to start university – friendships pausing and new friendships starting. I instantly think of my friends Susan and Graham whenever I hear this song and love that we may not live close but the positive side of social media has meant we’ve been able to keep our friendships going over the decades. This one’s for you two!

‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by Rednex

Possibly a bizarre choice but, oh my word, I LOVE this 1995 song! I’d graduated from university and was on a graduate trainee programme when this came out. I was in a house-share with another graduate with whom I’ve sadly lost touch but it brings back good memories of a great friendship

‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba

A couple of years after Cotton Eye Joe, this came out in the summer of 1997. It evokes a very specific memory of spontaneously going on a gorge-walking adventure weekend in Wales with a work colleague of mine. We ended up joining two stag dos and had such a laugh with them that we were invited to join them raft-building the following day. This song was constantly played on the radio that weekend and, every time I hear it, I’m instantly transported to Wales

‘The Logical Song’ by Scooter (radio edit)

Yes, I know, things are getting a bit weird now with a bit of early noughties electronica sampling Supertramp on helium which is why I’ve put this last on the list. Scooter makes me think of my big brother, Mike, who loves him. This 2002 song was a huge hit and just makes me smile, especially when Scooter spouts his random musings! I could just have easily selected ‘Posse’ which I also love. Hands in the air like you just don’t care!

The one where it’s Hallowe’en

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It’s Hallowe’en today. If I was a horror or crime writer, I’d be using the day to the maximum to promote my books. Uplifting stores of love and friendship aren’t exactly the natural partner to all things spooky and nothing I write has ever featured Hallowe’en. Didn’t stop me buying a couple of gorgeous Squishmallows to pose with my books, though. Have you felt one? They are soooo soft, it’s an effort for me to put them down and get on with some work!

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When I was little, I loved dressing up on Hallowe’en – usually as a witch – and going door to door with my older brother, Michael. There were loads of families living nearby so the streets were busy with friends and neighbours. Pumpkins weren’t around back then so Dad would have carved us a scary face in a large turnip and we’d carry that using a string handle, with a small torch inside it. Oh my goodness, those turnips reeked! I don’t particularly remember being given sweets either, although we must have been. A handful of copper coins sticks in my mind instead.

P1040134I have a younger brother too – Chris – and he started accompanying us until an incident completely put us off. He must only have been about six so I’d have been twelve and we went out without Michael. We called round at a house on the next street. It was a family we knew and who we called on each year, as were all the families we visited, and the son (who was a couple of years younger than me) answered the door. We said our usual greeting of ‘trick or treat’ and he cried ‘trick’ and threw a bucket of water over us. It was the first time that anyone had ever tricked us and, until that moment, I’d never even thought about the meaning of our greeting; it was just something you said instead of ‘hello, give me some sweets’. And weren’t the visitors meant to be the ones doing the tricks? Anyway, there we were, wet, frozen, our costumes ruined, and we had to go home in tears. It was unexpected and completely unnecessary but there you go. As I say, it ruined it for us. Never went out again.

IMG_2572In my second year at university, I had another Hallowe’en-based trauma. I was appointed social secretary for my halls of residence and had organised a trip to a Hallowe’en night at a nightclub in the next city which meant hiring a coach to transport everyone. Normally a popular event, only a handful of people from the 300-ish living in that hall had bought a ticket and it looked like the event was going to run at a massive loss and wipe out all the committee’s funds. I was mortified. Thankfully my fellow-social secretary saved the day and did some negotiating with a nearby hall for discounted tickets. My boyfriend at the time turned up in my room dressed as a vampire and offered to come with me but we weren’t going to know anyone there and our relationship was on the rocks so I really couldn’t face it. I childishly sulked in my bedroom that evening, cursing Hallowe’en!

P1040101I had a couple of good Hallowe’ens in my twenties. I went to a hen do for a work colleague at a big hotel event and, a couple of years later, hosted a fabulous Hallowe’en party two years in a row in my first house in Birmingham. My favourite part was dressing up and seeing the imagination that went into friends’ costumes.

Work and home changed, the group of friends from those parties drifted out of my life, and Hallowe’en became just another day. I’ll admit to being a bit bah humbug about it. I don’t believe that children should knock on doors of people they don’t know because it’s not safe for them. I used to put the lights out, hide at the back of the house, and ignore the door.

My daughter has only ever been trick or treating once. There aren’t many families where we live and the few there are, we don’t really know, so we’ve (perhaps meanly) refused for her to go out because it goes back to my must-not-call-on-strangers rule. We’ve also been abroad for a few October half-terms meaning we’ve been away for Hallowe’en anyway. The one time she did go out was when we visited friends in another village maybe four or five years ago. They knew loads of people and one unknown child with their two daughters and a couple of friends wasn’t a problem. She didn’t like the dark or everyone being dressed up. Can’t win, can you? She hasn’t missed out completely, though, as she dressed up for primary school and at out of school clubs.

When I was a Brown Owl, we often held Hallowe’en events at my Brownie pack. Most of the girls – and the leaders – embraced the opportunity to dress up and we’d have spooky games and food. I was particularly proud of a pink witches hat I bought one year in Clintons, a donation from which went to breast cancer research. I made a black cloak with a pink lining and, one year, had the chance to wear it at Brownies and then at a bootcamp Hallowe’en party a few days later.

Then I left Brownies and I left bootcamp and I’ve never dressed up for Hallowe’en since.

On Sunday, we went to Burton Agnes Hall near Bridlington where they have a lovely woodland walk. For half-term, they decorate it with spooky displays. We’ve been three or now and it was great to see a fresh set of displays this time.

Up the coast in Whitby, it was Goth weekend. It’s quite a spectacle with the most amazing costumes. We took Ashleigh several years ago and she was desperate to dress up. It was only a supermarket costume but she looked fabulous in front of Whitby Abbey and in St Mary’s graveyard. A few years back, we visited again but it had become a bit too popular and there were photographers everywhere, like the paparazzi, so it was hard to move around and even harder to get any photos of the costumes.

As for today, Ashleigh is now twelve and a Thursday night is her piano lesson. She made some comments about trick or treating and we had the usual discussion about not being allowed to call on people she doesn’t know and, besides, it’s piano. I’ve (reluctantly) agreed to take her to a spooky theatre tour after piano at the YMCA where she attends classes on a Saturday. I don’t know what to expect. I have a horrible feeling it may be one of those set-ups where actors jump out on you. I can’t bear things like that and it’s going to go one of two ways with Ashleigh; she’ll either love or she’ll end up sobbing. Even though she likes reading spooky stories and is showing a love for (tame) horror films, my money’s on the sobbing. Or maybe it’ll be me who’s sobbing. Or both. Argh!

Happy Hallowe’en, whatever you have planned.

Jessica xx

The one where I reflect on my lovely trip to London

I’ve been on a little road-trip (or train-trip to be precise) this weekend, down to London. As Joey from Friends would say: London baby!

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IMG_5952Sporting my brand new hair colour – time to go a bit lighter again in an effort to reduce the impact of that pesky white badger streak that insists on appearing after a few weeks – I caught the train down on Friday morning and returned on Sunday afternoon, feeling somewhat shattered, having had a very busy and very lovely weekend.

The purpose of the trip was to attend an RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) meeting on Saturday afternoon. I don’t normally go to the London-based events because it’s so expensive to get down to London from oop north, even when booked well in advance, but I had an added incentive this time. Sara-Jade Virtue, Special Sales Director and Brand Director at Simon & Schuster was the guest speaker and I was really keen to meet her.

IMG_5954You see, each year, on 15th July, S&S run an un-agented submissions day: #OneDay. Last year, I decided to submit but, because the MS had to be finished, I couldn’t submit my work-in-progress, Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye. They were happy to accept previously-released works providing the author owned the rights, so I submitted the first chapter and synopsis of Bear With Me. I was thrilled, two weeks later, to be asked to submit the full MS. Woohoo! Bear With Me ended up being a pass but I had some amazing feedback about my writing and was encouraged to submit any other manuscripts outside of #OneDay so I submitted Wish… in December with fingers crossed and a little prayer.

I knew that the trip would be expensive, particularly when adding in hotel costs and meals, but I decided to go to the meeting to hear what Sara-Jade had to say and hopefully speak with her in person. I figured that, whilst meeting someone in person isn’t going to make them like my manuscript any more, it’s always great to have that personal contact. Even if Wish… is also a pass, I’d have more of a relationship than I would via email only.

dragon-253539_640The thing is, I’m not very good at networking. And by not very good, I mean terrible. I don’t have a problem talking to strangers. In my day job in HR, I’m a recruiter and trainer so I’m used to engaging strangers in conversation all the time but the big difference is that I’m the one they’re there to see so they need to talk back to me! When I’m not the “person in charge”, I have a huge problem in being the one to approach a stranger to to start a conversation. All sorts of worries and doubts fill me: Why would they even want to speak to me? What if I start talking and they walk off? What if they start yawning or looking at their watch? What if I turn into a jibbering mess, especially when I want to impress them? What if they turn into a dragon and start breathing fire on me? Okay, that last one might have been an exaggeration but the others are very real. Lots of people I know are terrified of public speaking and that’s how I feel about networking. Scary stuff. Even though I’d made the journey, I had a feeling I’d bottle it.

fear-2019930_640Sara-Jade gave us a fascinating insight into the world of publishing. I had no idea how many people and how many steps there in the process from reading a manuscript to getting (and keeping) a book out there. I was hanging on every single word and also to her responses to the many questions the group asked. I was quite proud of myself because I asked a question and got a detailed answer so, if I did bottle introducing myself, at least I’d drawn myself to Sara-Jade’s attention in some small way.

The good news is that I was brave and introduced myself afterwards. She didn’t ignore me, walk off or yawn and I didn’t make a mess of it. She was absolutely lovely, knew who I was, and said she’d be in touch in a few weeks’ time. She even followed this up with an email afterwards which absolutely made my day. A moment’s courage and all that …

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Before the meeting, I had a chance to meet two of my Write Romantic writing friends, Jo Bartlett and Jackie Ladbury. We met at Victoria and had the most amazing lunch in the Market Hall there. It’s like a food hall but with independent stalls rather than chain ones (or at least, if they were chains, I certainly wasn’t familiar with them) and it had a really relaxed atmosphere.

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Jo was unable to join us for the RNA meeting so Jackie and I caught the tube back to Tower Hill for the RNA meeting and met another Write Romantic, Helen Rolfe, for a drink first. The three of us then went out for a meal and drinks afterwards. We went to All Bar One and had the most amazing sharing platter and nachos although we were all starving and dived in so I didn’t get a picture of those!

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I have to say that it was a wonderful day from start to finish. One of the most valuable things I can ever do as a writer is to meet with other writers and talk about all things writing. It’s motivating, inspiring and incredibly helpful.

I’d decided to stay over on the Friday as well, giving me a chance to catch up with a university friend who lives in London so I had a chance to reminisce about our uni days and catch up on the latest news with him too. And I got to have a brief explore around a part of London I’ve never visited. I now want to visit The Tower of London for a proper explore and I’d like to walk across Tower Bridge too.

Wishing you a great week

Jessica xx

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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

A romantic Christmas tradition that never quite started

1522851_784506671588635_6474462348225739404_oOn The Write Romantics blog yesterday, I posed a Wednesday Wondering around favourite Christmas decorations. As always, it was fascinating to read the responses from my fellow-WRs but it struck me that quite a lot of them talked about sentimental reasons behind their favourite decorations whereas I just talked about ones I liked. I’m actually a fairly sentimental person so it got me thinking about why I don’t have sentimental decorations.

And a memory surfaced.

As a teenager, I had very little success with boys but things improved when I got to university. In the 2nd term of my first year, I met Ben (name has been changed just in case!) We’d been friends during the first term but it moved on from friendship the following term. The Easter break was really tough because I lived in Teesside and he lived on the south coast. Not very close. I’d planned to visit him over Easter but he contracted glandular fever and was very ill with it so we had to cancel. We knew summer would be even tougher with more than 2 months apart. We both had summer jobs and needed the money so any time together needed to be at the start or the end of the holidays. I went down to stay with him at the start and we had a short holiday on The Isle of Wight and he came to visit me at the end of the summer holidays. I’d been so excited about it after weeks apart full of soppy cards and long, romantic letters (neither of us liked the phone and it was long before email).

_MG_7508When I picked him up at Middlesbrough Coach Station, he seemed a bit distant but I put it down to tiredness after an incredibly long journey. We took a trip to Whitby and the distance was there again and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. I’d planned a day out in York. I figured that maybe a day by the coast hadn’t been very exciting for someone who lived close to the sea anyway but surely he’d be impressed by the beauty of York.

I’d schemed something over the summer. In York, there’s an amazing shop called Christmas Angels. It sells collectible teddy bears, toys, and and Christmas decorations. The main room at the back of the shop is absolutely full of Christmas stuff from nativity scenes to intricate advent candles to basic baubles. My plan was to take him there to buy a decoration that would be our first joint decoration and a habit we’d repeat each year because I’d believed I’d met “the one” and we’d be together always. But, as I looked round at the decorations, and he questioned why we were in a Christmas shop in the summer, I realised I couldn’t confess the real reason for taking him there. I made some excuse about thinking he’d like to look around because it’s a lovely shop. Then we left. I knew at that point that something had changed in our relationship for whatever reason – time apart and distance perhaps – and that we wouldn’t have joint Christmases. It was quite a sad realisation.

_MG_7511We made it through one more Christmas (spent apart again) but split up the following spring. We remained friends but drifted apart for good about fifteen years ago.

I’m not someone who likes to repeat things I’ve done with one partner with a new one because it feels false and cringe-worthy. I’ve therefore never wanted to repeat this sentiment with my hubby of buying one special bauble a year. We did actually start our own thing. We bought an illuminated house one year and he suggested we bought one each year until we built up a collection. We added another one to it. Then a train. Then we didn’t see any more we liked and we also realised that we’d quickly run out of space for them. The collection stopped at two properties and a vehicle!

_MG_7513He does add to our Christmas collection most years, though. Last year he bought me the most stunning lit cone-shaped structure that looks like it’s snow-covered twigs with berries on, weaved to form the shape. There’s a section of it in this picture. This year, I spotted a gorgeous soft reindeer in our local garden centre and he bought me that which was very sweet.

My favourite aspect of Christmas decorations has to be the fairy lights. There’s something so warm and romantic about being in a room with twinkling fairy lights all around. I love candles too although I tend to light them most of the year round. Speaking of which, I think it’s time I headed downstairs and wrapped a few more gifts while the lights tinkle and the candles flicker. Lovely.

Night night xx

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