What’s on my wall (Part 2)? Monday Motivation

Happy Birthday Alice

Last Monday, I started a weekly #MondayMotivation blog post about what inspires me in my office and here’s the second post in the series.

In the UK, it’s evening now but the late posting is not because I’d forgotten (although with my sieve for a brain, that was very likely). I’ve actually been on a book deadline so needed to prioritise getting the manuscript for my second book in the Hedgehog Hollow series to my editor. Which I’ve now done. Eek! The anxious wait for the verdict starts now.

So, onto my wall and today’s choices is…

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I picked up the picture in a gorgeous independent gift shop in Derby in November 2017. I’d love to give the shop a plug but remember that thing I said just now about having a sieve for a brain????

I’m part of a writing collective of ten authors called The Write Romantics who were all members of the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) when we met virtually. Seven years later and we’re all either independently published, traditionally published or hybrid with well over 100 books between us. We’re spread around the country so meeting up is a challenge but, a few years ago, half of us managed to coordinate diaries for a weekend away. None of us were familiar with Derby but it seemed like a pretty central point to meet.

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Half of the Write Romantics – L-R Me, Jackie Ladbury, Sharon Booth, Jo Bartlett, Helen Phifer

Being a huge fan of bears, the image immediately drew me in but the words were what made me buy the picture. BE BRAVE. Because, as authors, there are so many points in our writing journey when bravery is needed:

  • When we first ask someone – a friend or family member – to read our manuscript (MS) and prepare to receive their honest verdict … which may not be the positive response we’d have hoped for
  • When we submit our MS to a publisher or agent … which may result in rejection
  • When it’s publication day … and our book may fail to make an impact on the charts
  • When a negative review comes in … and we have to keep telling ourselves it’s only one person’s opinion/it’s not personal when it really feels like the world hates our work and it’s very personal
  • When we speak at an event … and hope someone turns up!
  • When we finish our next book … and worry it may not be as well received as the one before
  • And a whole lot more

At the time of our Derby meet-up, I was particularly trying to be brave about writing. I’d been indie for about a year after my original publisher ceased trading and it wasn’t going particularly well. Battling self doubt about my ability to make it as an author thanks to poor sales and weak chart positions, the bear spoke to me. Loudly. Yet gently.

The picture hangs above my desk and I look at it several times a day and draw strength from it. Be brave. Keep being brave. And sometimes that bravery will pay off and great things can happen. They did for me.

Wishing you a fabulous week.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where I’m a bit pleased to say goodbye to 2018

I wasn’t sure whether to do an end-of-year round-up but I read a couple of posts from writing friends of mine today and really enjoyed reading them so I decided to go ahead and do mine.

I wondered how to approach this: month by month, season by season, highs v lows, the good/bad/ugly … then I decided to approach it in a slightly different way, taking inspiration from my absolute favourite film of the year which hurled itself into the number two slot on my most favourite films ever (Shawshank Redemption is still my very favourite): The Greatest Showman. Have you seen it? If you haven’t, you really must, even if you’re not usually a fan of musicals. Hugh Jackman. Zac Efron. Need I say more?

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Please note that the songs aren’t presented in the same order as they appear in the film. Ooh, and on that subject, I must add that the soundtrack is my favourite movie soundtrack of all time. I play it every single day and was delighted to add the reimagined version to my CD collection (yes, I’m old school and still like to own CDs) this Christmas. I can even play A Million Dreams on the piano. Well, part of it. Badly. But it’s getting there.

The Greatest Show

Being an author is an amazing thing. For me, it really is ‘the greatest show’. Thinking up plot ideas, developing characters, and having their stories unfold is like creating a show for people to read, as opposed to watch. Sometimes the show receives a standing ovation, but sometimes things don’t quite go to plan …

A Million Dreams

Chill Logo READERS' AWARD 2018A few writing-related dreams came true this year and a few special things happened:

  • I passed Year 1 of my MA in Creative Writing with distinction
  • I received not one but two awards for Bear With Me: A Chill With a Book Readers’ Award and a Cover of the Month Award
  • Several of my books achieved that little orange bestseller tag for achieving the number 1 position in a category on Amazon. For some, this lasted days and, for others, it was only an hour or two but each was still a proud moment
  • Searching for Steven secured an audio deal and so did Bear With Me. I had to walk away from the one for Bear With Me as it had been shortlisted by a major publisher on a non-agented submissions day and I didn’t want to blow my chances of a publishing deal with them by tying it up in an audio deal. Unfortunately, it became a no from the publisher too so I could have had the audio deal after all, but it was one of those decisions I had to make. In the meantime, Searching for Steven is out now on audio format which is very exciting. You can get it here
  • Cover of the Month Award. MAYI completed 5 x blog tours organised by the fabulous Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources. Rachel makes me laugh because she talks about the ‘fans’ I have in the blogger community who can’t wait to read my work. Fans? My fans? I still find that a little astonishing
  • At the point of writing, three separate books have appeared in ‘Best of 2018’ Top 20 lists (actually a Top 18, Top 20 and Top 21) which wasn’t even a dream I’d had but would have been on my wish list if I’d dared to hope such a thing could happen
  • Blue LogoI joined forces with my very good friend, Sharon Booth, to create the Yorkshire Rose Writers, building on our brand as Yorkshire-based writers who write about Yorkshire
  • I attended some great writing-related events: the RNA Conference, the RNA’s York Tea, a bloggers/writers event in York, a social media workshop run my Anita Chapman and a Writer’s Retreat in Bronte country run by author Rowan Coleman. Through these, I met some very special and talented individuals and am very grateful for this

Come Alive

8. Callies Christmas Wish COVERThree books came alive for me this year. I released Callie’s Christmas Wish in October and Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe in November.

I also wrote another novel which will be released in 2019 (see ‘The Other Side’). I’m very proud of all three of them. Callie and Choc Pot both went on blog tours and received some amazing reviews which came at a time when I really needed the encouragement to keep going because giving up was becoming very tempting (see ‘Tightrope’).

Choc Pot v1

The Other Side

IMG_5346.jpegI took another foray into ‘the other side’ this year: exploring traditional publishing. I wrote a novel called ‘Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye’. Told from three perspectives, it was a challenge to write and I was very excited about the story. My beta readers told me it was the best thing I’d ever written and I used various chapters for my MA in Creative Writing, securing a distinction each time. I pitched it at the RNA Conference and 4 publishers were eager to see the full MS. They all turned me down. I’ve had rejections before, when I sent my debut novel out for publication, but these rejections – and a few others – completely floored me. There were tears, there was massive self-doubt and, yes, there was a lot of consolation cake eaten.

Rewrite The Stars

Amazon decided to ‘rewrite the star’ ratings for a lot of authors this year. In spring/summer, there was an outcry on social media when Amazon’s algorithms were altered, resulting in a lot of individuals having all their reviews unceremoniously removed because they allegedly knew the authors. For a very successful writer who has hundreds of reviews for each book, this is annoying but for a struggling indie writer who doesn’t have anywhere near that number, this is pretty devastating. I don’t have an exact figure but I lost approaching 20 reviews and, typically, they were nearly all 5-star ones. Why couldn’t Amazon take one 2-star one? Meanies!

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Tightrope

During the later part of the year, I feel like I’ve been balancing on a ‘tightrope’ when it comes to my writing, with no safety net, no bar to balance me, and a long way to fall. The ‘stolen’ reviews were the start of it and, at about the same time, sales massively dipped and so did pages read on Kindle Unlimited, pretty much overnight. I stopped receiving emails promoting my books too. It felt as though Amazon’s changing algorithms weren’t favouring me. I reached out to them for some guidance on why I never got promoted anymore or selected for a Prime deal. They responded … with a standard email suggesting I might like to promote myself by setting up a Facebook profile, a website, a blog, Twitter and so on. Really? Wish I’d thought of all that!!!

Then I lost my footing on my tightrope. I woke up one Monday morning to a Facebook message from a very successful author telling me that her publishers were threatening legal action against me because one of my book covers was too similar to hers and I needed to change it. Turns out her designer and mine had used the same Shutterstock image; something that happens all the time and is a risk that all designers know they face when using stock images. The case was dropped when we shared Shutterstock’s stance on this but it was a horrible and scary experience and I’m still licking my wounds.

I clambered back on that tightrope and sent my MS out to be considered for traditional publication (see ‘The Other Side’) but the ‘audience’ didn’t like what I did and pelted me with rejections.

Searching for Steven NEW COVERPulling myself together, I tried to cross that tightrope once more and this time it was Amazon determined to make me fall. An email came out of the blue a week before Christmas accusing me of engaging in activities designed to manipulate sales of Searching for Steven in the USA. They rank-stripped me for that book in all markets (which means it can’t be found unless someone specifically searches for the title or for books by me) and have threatened further action. I have a separate blog post prepared about this which I’ll release when – if – the matter gets resolved.

On top of everything else that had happened in the second half of 2018, this left me emotionally and mentally defeated. I’ve never felt so low and, sadly, it ruined my Christmas.

Never Enough

As I continue on my writing journey, I’m a bit like Barnum in The Greatest Showman because each goal achieved just leaves me wanting more. I wrote a poem about it earlier this year which you can read here.

I am very lucky to be part of two writing collectives. The incredibly talented Sharon Booth and I have started a partnership as the Yorkshire Rose Writers, but I’ve also been part of the ten-strong Write Romantics for 5.5 years.

Being surrounded by writers is a double-edged sword because on the one hand it is such a joy to have regular dialogue with like-minded individuals who understand the highs and lows of being a writer and can support you through the lows, as well as it being inspiring to observe their successes and live vicariously through those. On the other hand, it’s very hard not to compare your success (or otherwise) with those around you, especially when everyone else seems to be doing so much better (more sales, higher chart positions, Prime deals, Amazon bonuses etc) and I’m the one with the weakest sales, being threatened with legal action, and being rank-stripped.

 

And so we move into 2019 and I turn to the final two songs in this amazing film.

This Is Me

Throughout my writing journey, I’ve always remained true to myself, writing the stories that I want to write and that my readers seem to want to read. When I sent my debut novel out to publishers, I was fortunate enough (after many rejections) to have two publishing offers on the table. The first, which I’d verbally accepted, wanted to make a lot of changes to the trilogy: more heat, shorter, focus on the romance and not the friendships. I was on the verge of walking away from it and going indie because it was no longer going to be the story I wanted to write, when the other offer came through. Sadly, that publisher ceased trading so it didn’t work out but it was still the right decision for me at the time to have chosen them.

IMG_5466This year, I have had publishers and other authors advising me to take my writing in a particular more cosy direction if I want to secure a new publishing deal … but that style isn’t me. It was when I started but my writing has changed over time. I would have called myself a romcom writer but I now write contemporary women’s fiction where the romance is not always the central thread. THIS IS ME! It’s my style and my voice and I don’t want to change it. I wouldn’t hesitate to do so if readers and bloggers didn’t rate it but they do … I just don’t reach enough of them as an indie writer.

I’m not giving up on the hope of securing a traditional publishing deal again because I do feel I need that step to get greater exposure. However, I’m not going to change the type of book I write just to secure a publishing deal. If it’s meant to be, the right publisher will like my approach. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I can’t learn from a publisher and don’t want my work editing because I think I’m perfect. Far from it. What I’m saying is that I write a certain type of emotional story and I get a buzz from that so that’s what I’ll continue to do, even if that means I remain an indie writer because it’s not what publishers are seeking.

From Now On

IMG_5716From now on, I need to re-focus and, just like Barnum in the film, remember the important things in life: my family, my health, and why I started writing in the first place. This year has taken its toll on me in more ways than a loss of confidence. I’ve worked too many long hours trying to fit writing and studying alongside my day job as an HR Tutor. This has meant that my lardy backside has been pretty much welded to my office chair from rise til bedtime. I’ve not slept well for most of the year because I’ve not given myself any time to switch-off, which means I’m permanently tired and feel pretty grumpy. My diet has always been bad (I’ve battled with my weight since I was 10) but its been the worst ever this year and I don’t exercise at all. I daren’t get on the scales. I know I returned to my heaviest ever earlier this year, but my clothes still fit so, if I’ve gone over that, it can only be by a couple of lb. Lack of daylight has left me with a vitamin D deficiency (I’m turning into a vampire!) and bad diet has left me with a lack of iron and folic acid so I’m on medication for those as well as high blood pressure. When I returned from my holidays during the October half term, I started having heart palpitations but various tests and an ECG revealed (perhaps surprisingly given my weight) there’s nothing wrong with my heart and the palpitations were actually stress-related anxiety attacks. Eek!

IMG_5766Nobody starts a diet at Christmas but, by mid-January, I need to be back at the gym, eating healthily and spending some time each day outside instead of permanently sealed in my office. I need to organise my time better so that I get more writing done but also have more time with my family. And I need to shut down the computer and read or watch TV on an evening to give myself time to switch-off and hopefully get a good nights’ sleep.

And I need to be kinder to myself, accepting that everyone is on a different path towards their writing goals and mine appears to be the one that meanders, backtracks, and has a few dead ends along the way rather than being a direct route. But quite often a path that meanders has really stunning views so I need to stop and take those in.

From now on, it will be different. From now on, this is me, balancing on a tightrope where it may feel like what I do is never enough but I still have a million dreams and can rewrite the stars to achieve each one. 2018 was a tough year but I made it out the other side and will come alive again in 2019 because writing really is THE GREATEST SHOW!

Happy New Year to you all. I hope 2019 is kind to you and that you’re kind to yourself too. I’m going to try to be.

Jessica xx

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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!

Line edits are in. It’s getting closer …

Last week I explained how my structural edits on my debut novel made me face my nemesis: the dreaded first chapter. I said that my next stage of editing – the line edits – would be just around the corner. Well, they arrived on Tuesday evening. Ooh. Next stage!

I’m pretty new to this being published malarkey. Before I got a publishing deal, I had no idea that there were two stages of edits or what they entailed. If I were to Google it, I’m sure there’d be a stack of information explaining the differences but, as I didn’t know they existed, I didn’t know to Google them. A classic case of you don’t know what you don’t know! For those who aren’t sure, here’s my take on it and apologies if it isn’t a perfect definition; it’s what it means from my experiences:

STRUCTURAL EDITS – As the name suggests, these are changes to the structure of your novel. These can be minor (like the couple I had where it was suggested the action at a couple of points didn’t seem to come to a close) or major like removing a sub-plot, changing the first chapter, making a character more likeable or villainous or changing the order of events.

LINE EDITS – Once the structural edits have been completed (which could involve some back and forth between author and editor), the line edits kick in. These are quite simply the editor working his or her way through the novel line by line, checking for typos, consistency, clunky sentences, grammatical errors and so on.

There should also be a proof-reading stage after this to correct any final typos and grammatical errors that may have slipped through the net.

I didn’t really know what I expected. My publisher had written me a covering email saying that there were very few changes in there and a lot of them were stylistic. I was therefore a little shocked when I opened the document to find the pages seemed to be littered with track changes. Panic! Had I really done that many things wrong? But as I started to systematically work my way through them, it wasn’t quite so bad as the same offenders kept cropping up again and again. For example, a … shouldn’t (for my publisher) have a space between the word and the dots … like I’ve just put there… when I should have done it like that. Actually, this may be an industry standard. My husband is a typesetter and I vaguely recall him saying something about this before… but I wasn’t really listening!

The thing that surprised me was commas. I always thought that I had a pretty good command of commas and it seems that I do… except when used in a sentence that contains the word ‘but’. Oops. I now wonder whether I’ve been taught incorrectly. Or is it that I’ve remembered incorrectly? I wanted to learn from my line edits and ensure that I wouldn’t submit my second MS with the same mistakes so I decided to use Mr Google to help me understand why my commas were in the wrong places. Sadly, the answers he gave confused me even more and we had a bit of a falling out (Mr Google and me; not my editor and me!) I will take some time out and see if I can understand it but not just yet as I know it’s going to give me brain-ache.

Another thing that has surprised me is that there are still typos in my MS! How? It’s been read and re-read so many times by so many people that I can’t believe they’ve still snuck in there! No wonder it’s so common to pick up or download a book these days and spot one or two that have slipped through the net. Mind you, I’ve read some books recently that are littered with them and feel so sorry for the author as that should surely have been picked up before publication. The most random one had been spotted by one of The Write Romantics who kindly read Steven for me recently. She spotted the mention of ‘predicative text’. PredicAtive? Where on earth had that come from? Neither my editor nor I had spotted it but, thanks to Sharon, it’s now corrected. I must have read the MS dozens of times yet I’ve never, ever noticed it. Mind you, had Sharon not picked it up, it would have been spotted at the proof-reading stage.

My line edits took me longer than I expected, but this is because I made the decision to properly read it again, line for line. Searching for Steven is book one in a trilogy and I’ve finished the first draft of the third book. Whilst writing the second and third part in the trilogy, characters and plot points have developed but in ways that I need to reflect in book 1. Mainly these are little things e.g. I needed to change the job of a character slightly to fit with something that happens in book 3, and I’ve decided I don’t like the name of the village that my hero in book 2 lives in so I wanted to change that. He’s meant to live in a pretty chocolate-box village and the name I’d given it – South Edgeton – sounded anything but cute village.

Last night I sent my edits and comments back to my publishers. There’ll be a bit of back and forth as I’ve raised a few questions but, once this is finalised, I’m really on my way. The book will get typeset and versions will be available for reviewers which is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time!

That’s it for now. If anyone knows a great source of information about use of commas in a sentence containing ‘but’, please shout!

Jessica xx

PS Apologies for the lack of pictures but I couldn’t think of any relevant pictures for this post!

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

A Little Christmas Reading

Every Christmas I take time off work. Typically I like to have Christmas Eve off right through to New Year and, if there’s only a day or two after New Year’s Day (like this year), I like to add them to the end of my break. A week and a half off work. Perfect. What a lot of time to spend relaxing and reading.

Except that never really happens.

P1050958I have visions of spending a relaxing family Christmas Eve watching festive films and eating chocolate. I wish! Typically there’s some last minute Christmas card distribution, a trip down to the market to buy the Christmas dinner vege, and the 4.00pm Christingle Service with my Brownie Pack. I take the munchkin with me and the girls are asked to dress as kings, shepherds or angels which is lovely. Only the munchkin never seems to get ready on time, or has a last-minute costume change, or we can’t find something so it’s a fraught panic to get out of the house and arrive before the Brownies. But, once we’re there, it’s fabulous. We have a good turn-out from the Brownies each year with around 15 or so of my pack of 24 joining us. There’s something very magical about being surrounded by excited 7-10 year olds, dressed in their Christmas costumes, singing carols by candlelight on Christmas Eve. Despite the getting-out-the-house annual panic, it’s one of my favourite events of the year. I’m wondering if the nativity can top last year’s. I can’t remember exactly what happened but it pretty much descended into disorganised chaos and I got the giggles. I often get the giggles. I know I shouldn’t when trying to be the role model for a group of children but, hey, if you can’t laugh at Christmas, when can you?

I’d best return to the point of this blog post which was about reading. So, every year I have these great intentions of doing a stack of reading. I’ve noticed more and more Christmassy books appearing over the last decade or so and they always look so enticing on the shelves (or the virtual shelves on Amazon). I’d never, ever bought a Christmas novel but I was drawn to one six years ago. The snowy cover enticed me, the blurb assured me it was my kind of story and, although I wasn’t familiar with the author, I made the purchase. But here’s what happened:

_MG_6905Year 1 – the book came home from the bookstore, got put on the shelf, got forgotten about

Year 2 – I picked the book up and read one chapter but Christmas chaos ruled and, by the time I picked up the book again three months later, I’d forgotten what happened in chapter 1 and I decided it was no longer the time of year to read about Christmas so it went back on the shelf

Year 3 – Exactly the same as Year 2 except I think I managed two chapters this time!

Year 4 – I had gritty determination to conquer my Christmas novel and, although I struggled to find time during the day to relax and read, I made sure I read some each evening. I actually finished the book before the end of January but, unfortunately, I didn’t like it! What an anti-climax! I was absolutely determined to plough through it because of the epic number of attempts to read it but I didn’t warm to the heroine, I didn’t really believe the story, and I was hugely disappointed by the ending. Needless to say, I’m not going to share the name of the book or author. Perhaps it was just me. Perhaps my battle to read it had already clouded my feelings and I was never going to enjoy it. Poor book

Year 5 – I was excited to discover a Christmas book in my RNA Conference goody bag. I decided I’d start this one much earlier so that I’d be well into it by the time Christmas itself hit and I’d make myself find a few snatched moments across the holidays to bury my nose in it. I managed about three chapters but then Christmas hit and we dug out a Christmas jigsaw we’d bought the year before but never opened. The munchkin likes jigsaws and I’ve helped her complete children’s ones over the years but I haven’t done a complicated jigsaw since I was a child and, here we were, presented with a 1000-piece scene from a toy shop at Christmas. We lay it out on the coffee table and all joined in. I had no idea that it would be so hard or that it would become an addiction; one that caused hours to whizz by without me noticing. The Christmas book is still on my bedside shelf with the marker in at the start of chapter 4. And, guess what? Yep, I can’t remember what’s happened so far.

This year, however, I’m already ahead of myself. Because this year, I’ve discovered the wonder of the novella. If I’m honest, I hadn’t actually heard of a novella until last summer. In my mind, there were novels and there were short stories and I had no idea of a concept that existed in-between and may I say what a wonderful concept it is.

As a writer, I should read. I know I should. It’s research. It’s enjoyment. But as a writer who also has a full-time job, a Brownie pack to run, goes to bootcamp 3 mornings a week, and has a family, time really is a struggle. I hardly ever watch TV as evenings are my writing time. I’m trying to get into the habit of going to bed a smidge earlier and reading before sleep, even if only a chapter. The novella has helped massively because these are stories that are long enough to develop characters, make you care about them, and tell a decent story, yet they’re short enough to be read across just a few evenings. Perfect for the person with no time.

The fact that I’ve read three Christmas-themed novellas already and we’re still a few days off Christmas Day speaks volumes. Ok, so I cheated and I actually read one of them over half term in October whilst on my holidays, but it was still a novella set at Christmas and I did go on to read the other two in the series.

So, here’s my lowdown:

The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come by Jo Bartlett

51RNIeU+KiL._AA160_Even if Jo wasn’t a fellow-Write Romantic and great friend, I would still be raving about this book because it’s gorgeous. Set in the fictional St Nicholas Bay (where I want to move right now!), it spans across a whole year, starting and ending with Christmas, and leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. I can’t recommend this novella enough. And it seems I’m not the only one; 15 x 5-star reviews agree!

Here’s the blurb:

The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come is a novella that spans two Christmases and one woman’s quest to complete a family with a missing piece.

School-teacher Kate Harris is about to turn thirty-four and suddenly the tick-tock of her biological clock is almost deafening. Facing another Christmas without a longed for child in her life, it’s time to take action.

With the support of her closest friends, in the close-knit small town of St Nicholas Bay, she decides to go it alone. But in a town where Christmas is big business all year round, and it’s rumoured that Charles Dickens wrote some of A Christmas Carol, it turns out Santa Claus isn’t the only one with mysterious powers.

Should Kate listen to a voice from beyond the grave telling her to slow down and wait for her real fate to be revealed, or follow her heart and find the missing pieces of her family in a way she’d never imagined?

Holly’s Christmas Kiss by Alison May

61JIt0EQtvL._AA160_This Christmas Kisses novella was out last Christmas but I only downloaded it this year and I’m glad I did. From a wedding to an airport to snowy Scotland, this is another warm and fuzzy read that will leave you smiling. I’m off to download the second Christmas Kisses novella right now, Cora’s Christmas Kiss, as I think I’ve time to squeeze in one more before Christmas Day!

Here’s the blurb:

Happy Holidays? Not for Michelle…

Holly Michelle Jolly hates Christmas and she has a good reason to. Apart from her ridiculously festive name which made her the brunt of jokes at school, tragic and unfortunate events have a habit of happening to her around the holiday season. And this year is no different.

After the flight to her once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination is cancelled, Michelle faces the prospect of a cold and lonely Christmas. That is, until she meets Sean Munro. Sean loves Christmas, and he wants to share the magic with Michelle.

With Sean’s help, can Michelle experience her first happy Christmas, or will their meeting just result in another year of memories that she’d rather forget?

Christmas at The Gingerbread Café by Rebecca Raisin

51JIuTL6nPL._AA160_This is the first in a series of novellas set in Ashford, Connecticut; a small town with lots of small businesses including Lily’s Gingerbread Café. I gobbled up the first three novellas whilst on holiday over half term and am about to download the fourth which is set at Christmas too. Perhaps that’s one for after Alison’s?

Here’s the blurb:

Christmas is the season the Gingerbread Café in Ashford, Connecticut was made for…but owner Lily couldn’t be feeling less merry if she tried. She’s spent another year dreaming of being whisked away on a sleigh-ride for two, but she’s facing festive season alone – again. And, just to give her another reason to feel anything other than candy-cane perky, a new shop across the road has opened… Not only is it selling baked goods, but the owner, with his seriously charming smile, has every girl in town swooning.

But Lily isn’t about to let her business crumble — the Gingerbread Café is the heart of the community, and she’s going to fight for it! This could be the Christmas that maybe, just maybe, all her dreams – even the someone-to-decorate-the-Christmas-tree-with ones – really do come true!

P1060064Of course, there are a stack of other novellas and novels out there. These are just three that I have read and loved and therefore recommend if you want something quick that will make you smile and make you care.

Oh, and Winter Tales: Stories to Warm Your Heart is still available, of course, with all proceeds going to Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust.

Happy reading and Happy Christmas!

Jessica xxx

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

_MG_7516

My first book signing! Eek!!!!

My post last week was all about not feeling like an author but something happened this weekend that, just for a moment, made me feel like one! Actually, it was two things but related to the same thing. Confused? Let me explain …

10293614_780707265301909_2387185453293878276_oThe Write Romantics anthology, ‘Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart’ was released at the start of November in e-Book format with the paperback following a week or so later. Several family members and friends have purchased a copy. On Friday, my daughter’s childminder handed me two copies (one for her and one for her daughter) and asked me to sign them over the weekend. I was very flattered that (a) she’d bought two and (b) she wanted me to sign them.

Then, on Saturday, we visited my mum to celebrate her 70th birthday. She had three copies for me to sign; hers and two she’d bought as Christmas presents for friends. I felt very special sat at the table with my little pile in front of me and my pen poised.

I’d signed her copy of the Whitby Abbey Anthology and also one bought by my best friend from school, Susan, but there was something about signing the Winter Tales Anthology that felt more special. Maybe it’s because I’d been actively involved in pulling it together, maybe it’s because it is written in my pen name, or maybe it’s simply because, with a publishing deal under my belt, it finally is starting to sink in.

At the time of writing, we have 6 reviews on the book – 3 x 5-star and 3 x 4-star which is amazing. I’d expect that, as we have different genres and types of stories, it would be a struggle to get 5-star reviews so I’m thrilled we have three! Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far and, in doing so, given money to two brilliant causes (Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Cancer Research Trust).

Jessica xx

PS Short post – miracle or what?!

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.

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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