Happy Yorkshire Day 2021

It’s 1st August which means it’s Yorkshire Day. Happy Yorkshire Day 2021 to everyone who who was born in Yorkshire, lives here now or has ever lived here, to all those who’ve visited this beautiful part of the country or would love to do so, to those who write about it/read about it/watch it on TV, those who drink Yorkshire Tea and anyone who has any connection to or fondness for Yorkshire.

I love Yorkshire. I was actually born in Teesside but was raised in a market town called Guisborough which borders the North Yorkshire Moors so I very much think of myself as a Yorkshire lass. And I’ve lived in North Yorkshire since 2003 and Scarborough since 2004; the longest time I’ve lived anywhere.

All my books (so far) are set in Yorkshire. North Yorkshire alone is the largest county in England. Add in East, West and South Yorkshire and we’re massive. So it’s no surprise that an area this size has so many inspiring settings from coast to country to city.

I’m delighted to present some of our local scenery and the books that are inspired by it…

The ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, a location inspired by Scarborough, Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay
The Hedgehog Hollow series (so far) set in the stunning Yorkshire Wolds
Take a trip to Castle Street, inspired by Scarborough’s Bar Street and the cobbled streets of Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, full of independent shops and cafes
Whitsborough Bay’s North Bay (heavily inspired by Scarborough’s North Bay) features in many of my books but especially All You Need is Love and The Secret to Happiness
Scarborough Spa at the far end of South Bay is the inspiration behind The Bay Pavilion which features in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café
The views over Scarborough’s South Bay are stunning. This is one of the first views Tara sees when she moves to Whitsborough Bay in Starry Skies and, in new release Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café, it’s an area called Sea Cliff where heroine Hollie lives
The Starfish Café is the setting for a new series. The location is completely fictional but the beach below – Starfish Point – is a colony to 200 grey and common seals, inspired by the beach at Ravenscar
Scarborough’s harbour aka Whitsborough Bay harbour is mentioned in several books and there’s a key scene set there in Christmas at Carly’s Cupakes

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little glimpse into the real Yorkshire inspiration behind Whitsborough Bay and Hedgehog Hollow.

Do you love Yorkshire? Do you live here/have connections here/have fond memories of holidays here? I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you do.

Big Yorkshire hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I visit the ‘real’ Castle Street at Christmas

A theme that comes through in reviews of my Whitsborough Bay books, particularly my Christmas ones, is how much readers would love to visit Castle Street and I sometimes get asked if it’s real.

Castle Street is not real. Sorry. But it is definitely inspired by real places and I see it as a blend of three, which I’ll come to in a moment.

Whitsborough Bay is a fictional North Yorkshire seaside town but it’s predominantly inspired by my hometown of Scarborough. It has the same geographical set-up as Scarborough: North Bay and South Bay separated by a headland with a castle on it, and the town up the cliff from South Bay. The large image below is a view of South Bay and the castle on the cliff from an area called South Cliff.

In my books, I’ve even called these areas North Bay and South Bay. I originally called them North Beach and South Beach to be different but decided ‘beach’ didn’t make sense when the town was called Whitsborough BAY so I stuck with bays.

There are many much-loved locations and landmarks in Scarborough that appear in my Whitsborough Bay stories but with different names:

  • The Sea Life Centre in North Bay becomes the Sea Rescue Sanctuary (bottom left above)
  • Peasholm Park, also in North Bay, is Hearnshaw Park in my books
  • The colourful beach huts in Whitsborough Bay’s North Bay (top right above) are a direct match to those in Scarborough but the shops and cafés nearby take on different identities
  • In Scarborough’s South Bay, there’s a lighthouse and harbour and I have the same in Whitsborough Bay but the lighthouse is red and white striped in my books instead of white (bottom right above), and the approach to it is different

The main difference geographically between Scarborough and Whitsborough Bay is that Whitsborough Bay has a river which runs through the Old Town and along the South Bay side of the castle. It is crossed by a swing bridge. This is very much inspired by Whitby up the coast from Scarborough; a place I’ve adored since childhood.

Back to Castle Street, it is fictional but, as I said before, it is inspired by a blend of three places:

  • Bar Street in Scarborough (which is a narrow street housing independent shops and cafés)
  • The cobbled streets of Whitby’s south side
  • The cobbled streets of Robin Hood’s Bay (which is between Scarborough and Whitby but closer to Whitby)

I imagine Castle Street to be wider than any of these streets (more the width of Huntriss Row if anyone is familiar with Scarborough) and with old-fashioned grey cobbles, more like these ones in this photo of Whitby at the bottom of the famous 199 steps up to St Mary’s Church and Whitby Abbey.

I love Bar Street at Christmas. It has waves of simple white lights running down the street from one end to the other and I describe these in my Christmas books but have them connecting between the buildings instead.

Last week, hubby, munchkin and I took our sprocker spaniel, Ella, for a wander round the lights just as the shops were closing (so we could capture the lights in the shops but visit when there weren’t many folk about).

The large picture below is looking down Bar Street with our backs to the town. The shops are Steampuss Cat Lounge (which I visited with the munchkin a few months back) and a bridal shop which is partial inspiration for The Wedding Emporium which I mention in a few books. In Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Bethany gets her wedding dress and the bridesmaid dresses for her Christmas wedding from there.

I’d been eager to get a photo of the giant illuminated teddy bear on the main precinct when I spotted him in town last month but the lights didn’t show very well during the day. So much better at night. I love him!

On Boxing Day evening, we took Ella down to the harbour where many of the boats were lit up, as was the viewing wheel along the seafront. Very pretty. But very cold!

I think I might need to make more of the harbour in future books as it really is beautiful with all the lights on the masts and sails. My pretty poor phone photography doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. On the top row, the lit-up building on the top left pic which is bigger on top right (at the far left of the pic) is The Grand Hotel. Owned by Britannia Group it has changed a lot over the years but it was once one of the largest and most impressive hotels in Europe. You can see it in daylight in the top set of images, bottom middle.

In my stories, The Grand is The Ramparts Hotel (Alison works there in The Secret to Happiness and Callie has a meal there near the end of Making Wishes at Bay View) and I position it as Whitsborough’s only 5-star hotel and very luxurious.

In the top middle photo, you can just about make out Scarborough’s Lighthouse. If you look above the boat lit by red lights, there’s a bright light. Move along to the boat behind it and there’s another light and just to the right of that is a triangle shape of light. That’s the lighthouse. Hubby took a better pic of it, though, looking back over the Old Town. What looks to be a strip of lights above the Old Town in his photo is the castle walls illuminated.

Hope you enjoyed your trip to Whitsborough Bay’s Castle Street and harbour at Christmas. If you’d like to read about it, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café are both still only 99p but act quickly as Starry Skies will probably have a price increase in the not too distant future. They’re best read in that order as Starry Skies is set after Carly’s Cupcakes and the two businesses are next door and run by friends Carly and Tara so we find out what happens to Carly after her story finishes when Tara picks up the reins.

You can find all my books for Kindle here although they’re also available as eBooks for Kobo and Apple and a gazillion other formats depending on your reading or listening preferences.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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 met up with an old friend

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Friendships fascinate me. I’m intrigued by friendships that last a lifetime v those that are short and intense, having a big group of friends v one special person, friends who are there no matter what v fair-weather friends, and I’m particularly interested in toxic and one-sided friendships. It probably therefore isn’t a surprise that this is a big theme within my books, and the main theme of the latest release, The Secret to Happiness.

Today I spent a fabulous afternoon in the gorgeous North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby with a lifetime friend. It’s been 15 years since I last saw Graham, yet we picked up where we’d left off and barely paused for breath for five hours! It was absolutely lovely.

67671359_1082040972003609_7127664636219883520_nGraham and I were brought up in Guisborough, a market town between Middlesbrough and Whitby. We actually went to the same primary school but weren’t in the same class. I knew who he was but we weren’t friends.

This changed at senior school. We were in the same form class for our 2nd and 3rd year (year 8 and 9 in new money) and were streamed into most of our subjects together too. A friendship quickly formed, helped by us living at the same side of town and therefore being able to easily see each other outside of school. We also started walking to school – a little over two miles away – and would chat incessantly the whole way.

All of my happy memories of my school days involve Graham. I remember laughing until IMG_6745my sides screamed in pain as we tried to make cassette-recordings of conversations for our French homework. It wasn’t so much the French conversation that was funny but the decision to add in sound effects like water pouring and cutlery clinking. A three-minute conversation could take hours to record.

Laughter was such a strong feature in our friendship and I often think that I might not have been able to cope with being bullied at a school if Graham hadn’t been there to joke with and chat to about anything and everything.

Guisborough is flanked on one side by hills and forests and we’d often take off on weekends for a long walk up the forest trails, taking the Cleveland Way across the hills to Roseberry Topping; a couple of hours’ walk each way. Usually we were joined by others on our treks and I look back on those days with such fond memories. In a world before social media and only a handful of channels on TV, walking and talking was how we spent our time and it was lovely.

IMG_6755When school finished, Graham went to the local sixth form and I travelled through to Redcar to study business studies at the technical college. We both went away to university but we stayed in touch, visiting each other at uni and writing to each other (again, in the days before mobile phones, personal email addresses or social media). We stayed in touch after graduation but didn’t see much of each other over the next few years until I moved back to the north and opened my teddy bear shop. Graham was teaching in Leeds and would occasionally come through and visit me in the shop during school holidays. Despite having not seen each other for years, we always picked up where we left off.

So if the friendship was so good, why haven’t we seen each other for 15 years? It’s a good question without a good answer. I suppose life just got in the way. I got married, had a baby, changed job a few times, moved house a couple of times and never seemed to have any time or money to travel to see friends. I’d start each New Year determined that I would make more of an effort to see people, including my family, but the years just seemed to fly past. Then Graham moved to Hong Kong and has been there for the past five years. It made me really appreciate how I should have made much more of an effort to travel to Leeds when he was only a couple of hours away because Hong Kong isn’t quite so handy for a cuppa and cake!

IMG_6757But, today, we met up and it was so great to see him. As I knew we would, we just picked up where we left off. There was so much to catch up on and, of course, we had to do some reminiscing about our school days and the different people we’re still in touch with. All too soon, it was time to go but we’ve promised not to leave it so long next time. He’s back staying with his parents again at Christmas so hopefully we can meet then.

It’s scary to think that we’ve been friends for about 35 years. During that time, so many other friendships have come and gone, some of which have been upsetting to lose, some of whom I still miss. Yet my friendship with Graham has always remained and, although I’m certain it won’t be 15 years before I see him again, I know that, if it was, we’d just pick up where we left off. And that makes me very happy.

Is there someone you haven’t seen in ages? Why not get in touch and see if you can sort something out. You’ll be glad you did. Especially if you can arrange to meet up somewhere as stunning as Whitby. Look at that sky!

Jessica xx

Putting the Whitby in Whitsborough Bay

Yesterday was a great day for me for two reasons. One was that it was Pancake Day and I just love pancakes. The sight and smell of them takes me back to childhood when my older brother and I used to wolf down pancakes quicker than mum could cook them in an effort to be the one to eat the most. I have butter and sugar on them. Yes, I know there probably couldn’t be much more of an unhealthy topping than that, but if you’re going to pig out, you might as well do it in style! Oink!

IMG_0814The other reason yesterday was a great day was a far more important one. After work, I travelled half an hour up the stunning North Yorkshire Coast to Whitby Library where I attended the final of four talks that I booked through North Yorkshire Libraries last year after the launch of my debut novel, Searching for Steven.

Whilst I don’t get nervous about speaking in front of an audience thanks to years of being a Trainer, there’s always a sense of trepidation as to how many people might actually turn up. And what if nobody does? I was delighted to have an audience of eleven last night, plus library staff.

There’d been a couple of writers in the audience for my very first talk at Scarborough Library last June, but there were several members of the local writing group who attended last night and it was a real treat to have a mix of readers and writers. One of the writers was incredibly supportive. On arrival, she immediately told me that she’d bought a ticket as she loves to hear writers speak, then she’d spotted my book on display so immediately borrowed it, read it, and loved it. Awww. How very kind of her.

IMG_1557I have a standard presentation that I deliver, giving a little bit of background about me (day job, family etc.), why I write under a pseudonym, what got me into writing, where the idea for Steven came from, how I developed the story, the road to publication, and launch day. However, I tweak it every time and am always open to questions. The group had lots of questions ranging from whether I was local, whether I used any software to write on (e.g. Scrivener) and, “What’s the difference between romantic comedy and chick-lit?”

My generous audience then bought six copies of Steven and four copies of Raving About Rhys. This isn’t available to buy as a paperback, but I had a number of copies printed as an exclusive for events such as this.

Whitby was a library I was particularly pleased to speak at because Whitby’s a very special place. I was brought up in a market town about forty minutes inland and north of Whitby and often visited there in my childhood. I have wonderful memories of being there with my late grandparents, of trips into the town as a Guide and Ranger (there’s a Girlguiding House in the nearby village of Egton), and more recently visits with my own family.

P1050480My very first published writing was inspired by Whitby: a short story appearing in the English Heritage anthology Whitby Abbey Pure Inspiration featuring short stories set at or inspired by Whitby Abbey and sold in aid of the Abbey itself.

And, finally, Whitby part of the inspiration for my Whitsborough Bay series of books. Whitsborough Bay is a fictional North Yorkshire seaside town, but it’s pretty much my hometown of Scarborough with a bit of Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay mixed in there (see where I got the name?)

The lovely writer who’d read Steven said she actually pictured Sarah’s shop, Flowers & Gifts, as being a particular florists in Whitby, with other settings in and around the town. I loved the idea that there was enough detail for her to picture the setting but not so much that she couldn’t create her own sense of place.

IMG_1213.JPGA huge thanks need to go to Chrys, Heather, Sharon and all the other staff at North Yorkshire Libraries who’ve organised such professional, welcoming events for me. I felt particularly honoured last night that there was a banner outside announcing the event. Made me feel quite famous and important! Hee hee! Thanks also to Sainsbury’s who provided a couple of raffle prizes and some chocolates which was very kind of them, and The Whitby Gazette who sent a photographer round and who are going to cover the event in the paper. Exciting!

I don’t have any more talks booked in just yet at the libraries, but I’m sure I’ll do more as the year progresses. My next talk is at the Scarborough Writer’s Circle next month which I’m really looking forward to.

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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I don’t feel like a published writer … but maybe there isn’t a “feeling” to feel

Has it really been that long since I posted? Oops! To be fair, I’ve been on holiday and, even though I was only away for a week, I feel like I’ve only just got back into the swing of things because life had been so hectic just before holiday and immediately afterwards with one major activity taking a lot of my time: the launch of the first Write Romantics anthology!

I can now officially say I am a published writer with both an e-Book AND a paperback to my name. But when I first said that to my husband on the launch of ‘Winter Tales’ on 8th November, he frowned and said, “But you’re already a published writer.” And he was absolutely right. Because, in 2010, an anthology was launched that also featured a short story I’d written.

IMG_1558Back in 2009 when I entered the English Heritage competition to feature in an anthology of short stories set at or inspired by local landmark Whitby Abbey, I had no expectations of winning. Short stories aren’t really my thing, either as a reader or a writer and, but I felt drawn to the competition. I live just down the coast from Whitby and it’s a place I’ve visited since childhood and have always loved. I have fond memories of visiting there with my parents, my grandparents, as a Brownie, Guide and Ranger, and more recently with my own family. The other pull was that one of the judging panel was G P Taylor whose kind words about my work during his creative writing course had made me believe I could write. The entries were anonymous so this certainly wouldn’t have any bearing on my winning or not but it felt like there were two strong draws that I couldn’t ignore.

An idea formed but I absolutely left it until the 11th hour to get it right, submitting it at 2 minutes before the deadline. I knew it wasn’t perfect but I also knew that having a three-year-old, a full-time job and a long commute to work meant I’d had no time to make it any better. The winner was announced and, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t me. An email several months later had me shaking with excitement, though. Fifty other entries had been selected to feature in an anthology that would be sold in aid of Whitby Abbey and my story was one of them! I vividly remember the day I heard. I was at a team meeting in Croydon and we’d taken a break during which I’d checked my emails. I had to share my news with the team the moment we reconvened. I’m not sure anyone quite got it but I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face because, for me, this was the first step: an official confirmation that I could write because I’d been selected as one of the best.

IMG_1557It took an eternity for the book to be pulled together and it was late 2010 before it was launched. It was available on Amazon but, as Whitby Abbey is just up the coast, I had this vision of us making a day trip of it. I felt a bit silly suggesting this to my husband as I felt like I was making a big deal out of something really minor. I kept hoping that he’d suggest it himself. Isn’t that what the hero would do in a romance novel? He’d suggest a day out but drive to the Abbey instead and have a bottle of champagne and a cake discretely tucked away in a backpack to be whipped out at the appropriate moment. I won’t go into what did happen but it wasn’t that and the whole experience felt pretty flat and unreal. I had the book in my hands but I didn’t feel like a published writer at all.

Roll forward four years and, on 8th November this year, we launched the e-Book of the Write Romantics charity anthology: Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart. We had an online Facebook party which seemed to go well. We even had guests who weren’t anthology contributors attending! I still didn’t feel like a published writer, though. I reasoned it was because I didn’t have a physical book to hold this time and I’d had to download the anthology onto my Kindle as a test so it wasn’t like I’d had the chance to download it as a buyer and have it suddenly appear on my Kindle.

_MG_6911This Saturday the CreateSpace proof copy of our paperback arrived. I’d been out for the day with the munchkin as Santa had arrived in the harbour for a parade to his grotto (don’t ask) so I didn’t get the Amazon package until late in the afternoon. Hubby nonchalantly drifted down the stairs while I removed my coat and said, “This arrived for you.” Eek! The proof! I actually felt quite nervous about opening it, especially as hubby was also dying to see it so was hovering.

How did I feel on actually opening it and taking it out its packaging? A bit numb really. Yes, it was exciting to see it, but not quite as exciting as I’d expected. Maybe it’s because it was a “proof” copy so not quite the “real thing”. Maybe it was because it’s an anthology so my name isn’t specifically on the front. Or maybe it simply hasn’t sunk in. You see, I can say I’m now a twice-published writer but I’m not a twice-published writer who can write full-time or even part-time. I’m a twice-published writer who still needs to work because neither of these projects are about earning money; they’re about charity and rightly so. I’m a twice-published writer who’ll go back to work in a frozen foods factory tomorrow, not knowing if I’m about to lose my job as a result of some imminent restructuring in the HR function. I’m a twice-published writer who is hoping that the saying “third time lucky” does apply to me and that my third opportunity for publication – the release of my debut next year – will lead me a step closer to the dream of writing full-time. Fingers crossed.

_MG_6896Don’t get me wrong, I’m exceptionally excited. I just don’t feel different. But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps there is no different feeling. Hmmm.

While I ponder on that one, I’d love it if you could bob on over to Amazon to order Winter Tales. It’s available as an e-Book here and paperback here. All proceeds are split equally between Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust and the book would make a fabulous stocking filler. Go on, you know you want to …

Jessica xx