The one where I look back on 2022

It’s Christmas Eve! We’ve been up to Whitby for a wander around this morning. I predicted quiet, hubby predicted packed and I was right although it was getting busier as we left at about 1pm. Perhaps everyone had been braving the food shopping this morning and had ventured out for a wander this afternoon. Look at that gorgeous blue sky! I’d wrapped up warmly in a blanket scarf and my new coat, affectionately nicknamed ‘the duvet’ because it is quilted and just like wearing a duvet. It’s just from Sainsbury’s but it’s probably the warmest, most gorgeous coat I’ve ever owned. Anyway, it was welcome in the shadows but I was a tad on the warm side in the sun.

How adorable is that whale in the bottom photo? It’s made out of recycled plastic bottles and is for depositing your plastic drinks bottles. He looks very happy.

This is my last post of the year and I’m going to have a little look back over some of the extra special moments across 2022. If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, you’ll have had some insight into this already with a special Merry Christmas newsletter this morning. If you’re not a subscriber, you can sign up here.

I’m going to do my reflection mainly in photo format.

NEW BOOKS

In 2022, I’ve had four brand new releases out and completed the six-book Hedgehog Hollow series…

THE WORKS

Three of my books have gone into The Works, bringing the total up to eight books going into branches of The Works and online. What an honour! A huge thank you to the staff in all branches of The Works who are always exceptionally friendly and in particular the manager Jamie and the staff at the Scarborough branch who love me going in to sign copies.

It’s always a thrill to see my books when out and about. This year, I’ve spotted them in other branches of The Works, Irton Garden Centre near Scarborough, the Helmsley Bookshop, Beverley Bookshop, Barter Books in Hawes, Good Reads Discount Bookshop in Whitby, Slightly Foxed in Berwick-Upon-Tweed and the Scarborough and York branches of Waterstones (not all shown here).

AWARDS AND MILESTONES

I was thrilled have Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café shortlisted as a finalist in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Romantic Novel of the Year Christmas/Festive category. I went down to the Awards ceremony in London in March and, although I didn’t win, it was a fabulous event.

In the summer, I celebrated a sales milestone of 750,000 units sold since joining Boldwood Books – a number I never thought I’d have a hope of reaching.

Also in the summer, Boldwood Books celebrated their third birthday and I hit the third anniversary of my debut release – The Secret to Happiness.

There’ve been some amazing milestones with reviews/ratings, all of my books currently having at least 1,500 reviews/ratings on Amazon alone, including the most recent release. Several of my audiobooks have stormed the Top 20 of the Audible chart but my absolute highlight was this month when Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop made it to #4 in the overall Audible chart.

I didn’t think that could be topped but, this week, I discovered that the Hedgehog Hollow series is in Audible’s Top 20 of the best trending series of 2022 and Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow is in the Romantic Comedy Top 20 too. Wow! I was not expecting that and the company those hedgehogs are keeping is phenomenal. I can’t get over those big names we’re alongside!

If you want to check out the full listing, you can find it here.

FOREIGN TRANSLATIONS

Two of my books – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow and New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – have been translated into Swedish through Lavender Lit. The third one – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – has also been acquired by them and will be out in spring 2023. I’m hoping they’ll take the final three too but they hadn’t been written at the time the deal was made.

It’s lovely seeing foreign translations and I adore the covers from Lavender Lit. I love the way they have kept the colours and themes of the English versions but put their own spin on them.

I also had an offer from Serbia to take two Hedgehog Hollow books which was really exciting, but I had to decline it because the offer was actually for book one and six and, although each book is a complete story, the characters are consistent and there are themes that build across the series. I didn’t feel right agreeing to a deal where book six wouldn’t make sense read after book one. Hopefully 2023 will bring other offers.

EVENTS

I trained on a one-month workshop in March through RNA Learning which I loved and for which I had incredible feedback and was invited back again for 2023.

Boldwood held their first face-to-face party in May which was a lovely event and I attended the RNA’s summer conference which I really enjoyed.

Stockton Libraries invited me to speak at Norton Library and it was wonderful to have such a big audience. I had been looking forward to speaking at the Richmond Walking & Book Festival too – my very first festival – but my slot clashed with our Queen’s funeral so had to be cancelled. Fingers crossed for next year.

I’ve had lots of get togethers with my bestie, talented author Sharon Booth who I’m thrilled to say has secured a publishing deal with Storm Publishing with a new series out through them starting next year, and with author Eliza J Scott.

Sharon and I both met up with Lizzie Lamb when she was on holiday in the area, I met four of the amazing five admins of The Friendly Book Community on Facebook when they came to Whitsborough Bay (aka Scarborough) for a weekend, and Sharon and I had a few days in York with our writing friend Jackie Ladbury. I do love spending time with book people as there’s never a shortage of things to talk about!

I spoke at a meeting of the Scarborough Soroptimists and spent some time with my friends at Wolds Hedgehog rescue – the real Hedgehog Hollow – with an amazing chance to feed a hoglet. I also went on a needlefelting workshop to make a robin in honour of the Hedgehog Hollow series (if you know, you know).

AND PERSONALLY…

I celebrated turning fifty in May. I don’t feel anywhere near my age, although my creaking knees do!

As a family, we’ve had a few holidays, making up for the pandemic years. We spent Easter in the Lake District which was partly a research trip as I’m, setting a new series in the Lakes next year. We had a week in Hawes in Northumberland in August, deferred from February half term when the hubby and I both came down with Covid. And we had a week in Lanzarote over the October half term break which was our first trip abroad since the start of the pandemic. It was lovely to be away again.

It’s been a busy old year but a lovely one too.

If you’re thinking it all sounds very rosy, there have been some tough moments too. I’ve had Covid twice – although thankfully not too seriously – and the downside of the first time was missing a gig and a holiday. My mum was poorly earlier this year which was a worrying time. I’ve struggled with some deadlines and suffered with conjunctivitis on a couple of occasions, making deadlines even harder. There’ve been other challenges too but I’d rather end the year focusing on all the positives and hope you can too for your 2022 as, even in the darkest years, there’ll always be chinks of light.

Wishing you and yours an amazing Christmas. I hope the final week of the year brings you happiness, hope and positivity. Thank you to all the readers/ listeners/ authors/ bloggers/ friends and family members who have championed my work this year and the amazing Team Boldwood. Your support means the world to me and gives me the motivation to keep doing what I’m doing, especially in those dark moments where I think I lack the talent/am incapable of writing another book.

Big festive hugs to you all
Jessica xx 

The one with the robin, the fairytales and all the snow

November and early December have passed me by in a blur. I started writing Summer Nights at The Starfish Café on 4th November and submitted it to my editor on 5th December but over two thirds of that were written in the last ten days. I returned from a few days away in York with some of my author friends, panicking that I’d written just shy of 30k words so, considering my novels are usually about 100k words, I had a long way to go in a very short space of time. Eek!

Somehow I pulled it out of the bag and wrote a whopping 68,569 words during that last ten days. Unfortunately, I had to cancel going to a family event which fell on Saturday 3rd Dec as I absolutely needed that time (over 8k words were written that day). With 10,141 words written on the Sunday and 10,662 on the Monday, I finally submitted at 10.30pm with an apology email to my poor editor that the story was there but the manuscript was a mess. It’s the first time ever that I haven’t been able to go back through and do any editing. I hate submitting sub-standard work but I’ve been playing catch-up all year and after a few tough edits and illness and this book was a victim of that.

I now have the edits back and thankfully my editor loves the story so it’s a case of developing the two main characters a bit more, smoothing out the action, clarifying a few points here and there… basically a huge amount of work but nothing I didn’t expect. I’m hoping to get some good in-roads into that before Christmas. The magic happens in the editing stage, turning a good story into a great book.

Despite the intensity of the writing, I have managed to get out and about a bit as well. I’ve already written a blog post about my few days away in York but, before that, I went on a crafting workshop. Quite a few of the characters I write about have some impressive creative skills – chocolatier, cake decorator, crafter – so you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m a creative myself and put a little of me into those characters. I wish I was but my creative talents relate to writing and I’m more of a trier with varying degrees of success with any other types of craft.

A few years ago, I made a needlefelted stag at a one-day workshop with local crafting studio Ebberston Studios (Ebberston being a village between Scarborough and Pickering). I was really proud of it so, when I saw them advertising a robin workshop this year, I had to sign up, especially as robins have a special relevance for me in my Hedgehog Hollow series.

I’m really pleased with the result. What do you think? Here’s how he started and how he finished. I did, of course, need to wear a ‘Rudy’ robin dress from Poppy Clothing for the occasion which you can find here although, if you search on ‘robin’, you’ll find it comes in two different dress designs.

I’ve signed up for a wet felting workshop in February to make some hearts. Really looking forward to having a go at a different craft.

Last Thursday, hubby and I picked up our daughter after school and went to Castle Howard to see their ‘Into the Woods – A Fairytale Christmas’ event. This is the third time I’ve visited this stately home decorated at Christmas. Each year there’s a theme and a trail to follow round the house. The first year I went during the day but we had to go on an evening last year after our weekend booking got canceled due to a horrendous storm. It was lovely on the evening as the lights showed better, it was quieter and it had a lovely atmosphere.

This year was a little disappointing. I really liked the installation. There was some amazing detail as always although I will admit it perhaps wasn’t quite as impressive as Narnia last year. There’s a corridor you go along, for example, which was full of Christmas trees as though walking through a forest. Last year, in Narnia, there was an atmosphere in this corridor with wind whistling and moving lights which was lacking for this year which was a shame, although realistically Narnia is so magical and perfect for Christmas that it was always going to be a tough act to follow.

The part that disappointed me was therefore not the installation itself but what happened afterwards. Last time, we came out into the courtyard, explored the gift shop, hubby had a coffee and the daughter and I toasted giant marshmallows over a fire pit. It was lovely. This year, we came out and the gift shop and cafe were closed and the fire pit had been extinguished! We felt like we were being rushed out of the place and it put a dampener on the visit. Hubby and daughter have said they won’t return next year as it took us longer to drive there than we actually spent there which isn’t right. So I either give it a miss next year or go on my own. What a shame. Anyway, here’s some pics from it. They’re not amazing as you can’t use flash but hopefully they give you a feel for what it was like. Spot the hedgehog!

On Saturday, the daughter and I went to Northallerton to meet with my side of the family for a pub lunch. We nipped across early so we could go to Strikes, the local garden centre, and I was thrilled to spot my books in there.

They were in The Works too. I always look for books by friends when I visit The Works and it’s a special moment if we’ve been positioned alongside mine, just like they were here. Jo Bartlett, Helen Rolfe and I are all with the same publisher, Boldwood Books, and we started out our journey together a decade ago as a collective called The Write Romantics so it’s lovely to share shelf space with them.

I posed with a nutcracker outside a lovely furniture/gift shop and the tree was in the coffee lounge of the hotel. Love all the elves on it.

I’ve had a meet-up with authors Sharon Booth and Eliza J Scott too – always a good excuse for a yummy hot chocolate. Eliza and I were both wearing the same Christmas jumper and were meant to get a photo of us together but completely forgot. I did take a pic of the drink, though. I’ve also been enjoying my Lindt advent calendar. Mmmm.

Finally for this post, we’ve had snow in Scarborough. Lots of it! It came down on Wednesday night/Thursday morning with a good covering but, when we went to Castle Howard that evening, we were surprised to see it ended not that far outside Scarborough and there was none inland. It’s been so cold here that the snow has never gone and we’ve had more. We’re probably only talking a couple of inches but, because what was already there hadn’t melted, it’s very icy out there.

It’s causing chaos with lots of things being cancelled and moved around. I’ve just had a phone call this morning cancelling my optician appointment for the second time, both because the snow is stopping the optician getting in. I’ve also had my hairdresser needing to shift next week’s appointment to this evening because her son’s nativity has been moved to next week due to the snow, clashing with my original appointment. It’s all fun! However, as I write this, the rain has started. This will either wash the snow away … or leave more ice. Eek!

The super talented photographer hubby has taken advantage of the snow and captured some amazing photos in Wykeham Forest just outside Scarborough. If you want to follow him on Instagram, you can see his full range of pics – @MarkHeslington – but here are a couple of the ones that made me smile as a certain dog photobombed them! Let’s play spot the sprocker!

He also got these gorgeous photos of Whitsborough Bay (aka Scarborough) this morning after dropping our daughter off at school. So pretty although I feel sooo cold looking at them. He said it was -3 when he got out of the car. Brr!

I’d say I’d rather stay inside where it’s warm but that would be a lie. I’m nithered! I’ve got a long-sleeved T-shirt, a Christmas jumper and a fleecy oodie on, leggings and a long skirt and I’m still chilly. Might need another blast of the heater.

I’ll be back again before Christmas as I have a post about my Christmas decorations to do but bye for now. Stay safe, stay warm and hope the last nine days of prep go well.

Big snowy hugs
Jessica xx

The one where the Write Romantics went to York

I’m part of a writing collective called the Write Romantics. Started by myself and fellow Boldwood author, Jo Bartlett in late 2012 with a plan to blog together, we realised that we had very little to blog about – both approaching but not quite being at the submissions point – so we opened it up in spring 2013 and asked if anyone else wanted to join us. Two became ten. We’re based all over the country from as far south as Brighton and as far north as Cumbria so there isn’t a lot of opportunity to get together. I’ve met everyone – most on several occasions – but we’ve never all been in the same place at the same time. Smaller numbers of us have done our best to meet up at RNA events over the years or catch up when we’ve been on holiday or working near one or more of the others.

Last November, six of us went to Stratford Upon Avon and had such a lovely time that we decided to arrange another get together for this November in York and had a whopping seven takers – the biggest number we’d have ever had in one place. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against us and numbers dropped and only three of us were able to make it – Sharon Booth, Jackie Ladbury and me. We missed the others loads but still had a lovely few days away together.

My parents take their caravan to a site just outside York each year to visit the Christmas markets and celebrate my mum’s birthday and it struck me we’d be there at the same time. My mum’s a voracious reader and has read most of the books the Write Romantics have written and has loved them all so she was very excited at the idea of meeting some of the group. As we couldn’t check in to our hotel until 3pm but had all planned to arrive earlier, we met her for lunch while my dad did a walk round the city walls.

After checking in, we had a little bit of writing downtime then met for tea. I didn’t think to take a photo but I had the most delicious meal. My ‘festive burger’ had turkey slices, stuffing, bacon, a sausage and cranberry sauce with a pig in blanket on the top, served with roast potatoes and gravy. Mmmm.

The forecast for Wednesday – our full day – was looking pretty dire for the morning so we decided there was no point traipsing into the city centre, getting wet and miserable, when it was meant to be clear in the afternoon. We loitered over breakfast and had been told we were fine to do so but felt a bit guilty when they started vacuuming round us so we returned to our rooms for a bit more writing time.

As forecast, the rain lifted at noon and we walked into the city, pausing on one of the bridges to take some photos of a very swollen River Ouse, although it wasn’t as high as it had been over the weekend.

None of us were planning on doing much in the way of Christmas shopping. It was more of a chance to wander round the market stalls, soak in the atmosphere and catch up. I still haven’t quite mastered the art of the selfie as I always find my eyes straying to the button I need to press so please excuse my dodgy gazing!

Here, we have the Christmas Markets, The Shambles, a nutcracker outside the Christmas shop on The Shambles, and York Minster. I had to pop into The Works to get a shelfie which included another couple of Write Romantics – Jo Bartlett and Helen Rolfe – in our trip, albeit in book format.

Speaking of books, I had an amazing surprise in Waterstones. I’d already been to York on Saturday to take my mum out for a birthday meal and my daughter and I had dived into a few shops. I love to go into branches of Waterstones and look at the R shelf, imagining seeing my books there so imagine my surprise when York Waterstones had a copy of Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow in stock! They don’t stock my books so I’m assuming it was ordered in for a customer who failed to collect. Very exciting to see it there, even if that was the reason!

This is actually me on Saturday. I took Sharon over to the shelf yesterday and pretended it was a surprise to spot it there but I’m a rubbish liar and admitted pretty much straight away that I’d seen it at the weekend. She took a photo of me holding it which I was going to include here but then I realised it was on Sharon’s phone so I’ll get that off her and post it on social media instead.

Back to the Write Romantics trip, there were several nutcrackers around the city centre but I hadn’t noticed at first that they all had names on them. It seems there’s a nutcracker trail which would be a really lovely thing to do but we were nearly done with our wandering at this point. We’d paused on a bench next to a white one and I spotted that his name was Stephen so I had to take a picture. In my book New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, Sarah goes searching for the man of her dreams called Steven and I’d just found him for her in nutcracker format!

Sharon had a gift voucher for tea for two at Patisserie Valerie so we went in there for a late lunch. I’ve never been in before but have always thought the cakes looked delicious. The afternoon tea looked impressive and we even managed to eat the scones without our usual debate as to how to pronounce the word so we must all have been tired! However, we were extremely unimpressed that there were no toilets in working order. There was a sign on the door saying no toilets and we assumed that was a deterrent for the general public but it was genuinely the case that the toilets were out of order. I’m pretty sure that’s actually illegal and not great when a food stop usually includes a toilet stop.

Sharon and Jackie headed back to the hotel and I stayed in the city centre for a little longer so I could grab a couple of Christmas gifts and catch the lights. My photos really don’t do justice to how pretty York looked as dusk turned to dark but hopefully they give you some flavour of it.

Today, we had breakfast, some writing time, then met for lunch before all heading home. I’ve got a very busy ten days ahead of me to finish writing Summer Nights at The Starfish Cafe. I’ve only written a third of it so far so that’s definitely going to be a challenge but I’ll get there.

We missed our other Write Romantics buddies but did have a lovely few days of writerly and family chat and hope it’s not too long before we can see the others. Thank you, Sharon and Jackie, for the fabulous company.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I travelled to Narnia

When I was little, one of my favourite books was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. I read it stacks of times and was completely captivated by the idea of four evacuees entering the land of Narnia through a wardrobe. So magical! I was therefore very excited that this year’s theme for Christmas at Castle Howard was ‘Christmas in Narnia.’

Each year, Castle Howard – a gorgeous stately home between Scarborough and York – is dressed for Christmas and it’s seriously impressive.

Castle Howard in the summer

In 2019, when we had no idea that a global pandemic was about to change the world beyond recognition, I visited with my bestie and fellow author Sharon Booth. The theme was ‘Masquerade’ and you can read about it/see my photos in a blog post I wrote at the time here. On the back of that, I knew Narnia would be pretty special.

Castle Howard last night

We were originally booked to go to ‘Christmas in Narnia’ a few Saturdays back but Storm Arwen hit and Castle Howard made the decision to close for safety. There are so many trees in the grounds that there was too great a risk with the high winds. Worried that we couldn’t go, I panicked and re-booked pretty much the only slots available – an after-school visit last night – but received an email later saying to bear with them as they would be squeezing in some extra slots for those who’d had theirs cancelled so we could probably have done a weekend after all.

The imagination and attention to detail that goes into creating these Christmas themes is quite astonishing. There’s actually a Channel 4 series running at the moment called ‘Christmas at…’ which documents how various stately homes transform for Christmas. It started with the ‘real Downton Abbey’ – Highclere Castle, then Warwick Castle and, spookily enough, Castle Howard was aired last night. My in-laws mentioned this when we collected the dog from theirs … and I promptly forgot. I need to watch it on catch-up.

Visitors need to book and there are 15-minute time slots to keep a steady flow moving through the house. Some whizz through and others pause to take in all the detail and there are no staff moving you on; the flow happens naturally.

Four of the bedrooms were dressed for each of the four siblings, Susan, Lucy, Edmund and Peter. Susan’s room was clamorous, Lucy’s full of toys, Edmund’s as a ‘war camp’ and Peter’s grand and representing courage.

Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom aka Susan’s Room
Lady Georgiana’s Dressing Room aka Lucy’s Room (photo credit Mark Heslington)
Castle Howard Dressing Room aka Edmund’s Room (photo credit Mark Heslington)
Castle Howard Bedroom aka Peter’s Room

I absolutely loved the move down the old passageways with all the snowy-looking flowers, candles and lights.

Antique Passage through Narnia (photo credit Mark Heslington)

Then we reached the wardrobe of fur coats through which Lucy first enters Narnia, and the lamppost where she meets Mr Tumnus. Note the fawn’s red scarf tied around it – lovely detail – and his packages on the ground.

We soon arrived in the Great Hall with the most enormous Christmas tree – 28 feet high – which is frozen in time awaiting Christmas returning to Narnia. Wouldn’t have liked the job of dressing that!

As we passed through the Great Hall, we reached the Garden Hall where the White Witch is on her sleigh and there’s a box of Turkish Delight waiting to tempt Edmund.

(photo credit Mark Heslington)

The Music Room was an imagining of Mr Tumnus’s home where Lucy enjoys tea with the fawn. There was so much to look at here and I loved the detail of the undecorated trees symbolising the forest coming into his home (although they’re not in my photo).

The next room had even more detail. The Crimson Dining Room showed the woodland animals celebrating as they sensed victory for good over evil. There were animals everywhere and toadstools under the table. Absolutely gorgeous.

(photo credit Mark Heslington)

The Museum Room becomes the Professor’s study

When we visited the Masquerade decorations, the Long Gallery was packed full of figures and bridges and a ‘river’ but it was more understated this time with the colours of the Northern Lights now that Aslan is back and triumphant. Before we meet the great lion himself…

(photo credit Mark Heslington)
(photo credit Mark Heslington)
Christmas has returned to Narnia (photo credit Mark Heslington)

In the courtyard near the visitor’s entrance, there was a fire pit. Hubby had a coffee and the munchkin and I had a couple of giant marshmallows to toast. They were absolutely amazing.

I really enjoyed our evening. I’d loved to have lingered in some of the rooms for even longer to catch all the detail and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year as the two times I’ve attended have been brilliant.

Hope you enjoyed the pics as much as I enjoyed my marshmallow!

Big lion hugs
Jessica xx

Why I absolutely loved, loved, LOVED Bridgerton

I’ve been working flat out recently – evenings and weekends – working on the first round of edits for the third book in my Hedgehog Hollow series: Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow. With them emailed to my editor on Sunday evening and the second round due back within a week, it didn’t make sense to get into my next book – only to have to dip out of it soon after – so I decided to take this week off to catch up on a combination of housework and admin. And perhaps a rare bit of relaxation.

Last night, conscious I was quite late to the party as friends have been raving about it for a while, I decided to try the first episode of Netflix’s new eight-strong series: Bridgerton. Four episodes later, I had to force myself to stop watching and go to bed. Today I caught up on the remaining four. Wow! What a series!

I do love a period drama but I dragged my heels on watching this one and nearly didn’t bother last night because I was disappointed with a couple of period films I’d watched over Christmas and was reluctant to invest my time in Bridgerton in case it left me with the same feeling of disappointment. It absolutely didn’t.

The two films in question were Emma and Little Women. Both really good films and I am sure that many will have loved them but I’m afraid I personally preferred previous adaptations of both. I love the 1994 version of Little Women starring Winona Ryder and Emma was always going to have tough boots to fill for me as the 1996 version starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Toni Collette and Ewan McGregor is one of my all-time favourite films.

I confess I haven’t read either of the books so I have no idea which version of the film is the closest representation of Austen’s/Alcott’s classics but the 90s films definitely did it for me.

It’s always hard, isn’t it, when there’s a remake of a film you love? I can’t think of any occasions where I’ve preferred the version I’ve seen second time around. Miracle on 34th Street is my all-time favourite Christmas film but it’s the 1994 version I love. I’ve never seen the 1947 original as I know I will be constantly comparing it, even though I know most who saw that first will probably say it’s the best.

Anyway, back to Bridgerton. Set in 1813 Regency England, why did I love it so much?

The Costumes

Oh my goodness, how simply divine were the costumes? Tiaras? Jewellery? Apparently a whopping 7,500 pieces were made for the series with the lead female character having a whopping 104 costume changes. Eek! And the make-up and hairstyles were fabulous too. Stunning. I loved how the two main families – Bridgerton and Featheringtons – had a colour palette. And the final ball is a visual delight of different shades of blue.

The Music

Set across one debutante season, Bridgerton is packed full of balls so there’s lots of music courtesy of string quartets. As I listened, I thought, ‘I recognise this song!’ and I don’t mean familiarity with a classical piece. You see, the music is contemporary but played by a string quartet in the regency style. I specifically recognised ‘In My Blood’ by Shawn Mendes (the munchkin is a huge fan of his so I know that song well) and ‘Wildest Dreams’ by Taylor Swift (although I confess to only confirming that one after I Googled it as I didn’t quite get there and it was bugging me!) I loved this contemporary edge on a period piece.

The Settings

As with any period drama involving society, there are some sumptuous properties. Much of the series was filmed in London and Bath but there were various settings used around the country and I was particularly thrilled to spot that The Duke of Hastings’s fictional home was Castle Howard. Deep in the countryside off the A64 between Scarborough and York, I love Castle Howard. I visited it with my good friend and fellow author, Sharon Booth, in Christmas 2019 where the decorations were masquerade-themed. We’d have returned in 2020 if we could but hopefully will be able to return in 2021. I’ve put a few pics below although the sunny one was not from Christmas 2019!

Incidentally, Castle Howard makes an appearance in one of my books – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – under the guise of Denbury Castle where protagonist Sarah has a hot air balloon flight.

The Story

But my absolute favourite part was the story itself. It was fast-paced, gripping, full of intriguing characters. It was about love, family and friendships and all the challenges that come with that. It explored how relationships change as character circumstances change. It made me laugh out loud and it made me cry. In short, it was everything a good book should be and these are the elements I endeavour to include in all my stories as they are what excite me.

Ultimately, this was a beautiful love story about someone whose past has left them damaged and how they find their way through that. Again, a bit of a theme for my own writing.

I loved the idea that the narrator, voiced by Julie Andrews, is the person who pens the society gossip pages – Lady Whistledown – whose identity is a mystery but whose narrative certainly causes a few problems for everyone. This added a level of intrigue throughout the series which was fun. I made several wrong guesses in the first couple of episodes before guessing correctly. Not that guessing spoilt my enjoyment of the rest as I did change my mind a couple of times after that before the final reveal!

I adored all the comments about the place of women and could feel the frustration of the characters who wanted more from their lives than what society expected of them. I felt invested in them all and hoped they’d manage to achieve their dreams in the future.

And I love that this beautiful story has not been out of the Top 10 on Netflix since its release on Christmas Day proving that romance stories are alive and loved. As they should be!

I don’t want to say too much more as I don’t want to give any spoilers but I’m delighted to see the author of the books – Julia Quinn – riding high in the Amazon and Apple charts (screen shot from Apple as there were more of her books together at the time of writing).

I’d love to read the books and I can’t wait for season 2 of the series (had been planned but filming coudln’t go ahead due to the pandemic). Netflix haven’t confirmed a second season but, after the success of this one, surely there’s no question that they will.

Congratulations to Julia Quinn, Netflix, and absolutely everyone involved in this production. My faith in period dramas has been restored.

Have you seen it? If so, what did you think? Had you perhaps read the books first? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I went to a Christmas Masquerade at a Castle … sort of

IMG_7545I had a lovely day out yesterday with my good friend and fellow author, Sharon Booth, visiting the Christmas installation at Castle Howard. We’ve started an annual tradition (does twice count as a tradition?) of visiting a stately home each Christmas. Last year we went to Burton Agnes Hall near Bridlington which was beautifully-decorated and very impressive, but Castle Howard – a much bigger stately home – exceeded all expectations. Wow! Just wow! I think we may be back next year. Or maybe do both????

Castle Howard is a grand estate in North Yorkshire situated off the A64 between York and Scarborough and, given the size and grandeur, it’s not surprising that it took over 100 years to be built, starting in 1699. With 1,000 acres of rolling gardens and parkland, there’s plenty to explore on full-day visit. As it was bucketing it down and blowing a gale, Sharon and I did not explore the grounds but we did enjoy our wander around the house. The photos above were taken on a much nicer day a couple of years ago!

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I’ve been to Castle Howard before, several times, but have only explored the house once at Christmas and that was many years ago when the munchkin was small and we took her to their Father Christmas experience (highly recommended and very magical but you need to book as soon as the dates are released in September each year). This was before they did the installations so it was lots of flowers, candles and dressed trees but nothing like the Christmas Masquerade.

I cannot recommend the Christmas installation enough. It is absolutely stunning. Every room offered a new treat and, as we moved along corridors and up staircases between rooms, the statues were adorned with colourful masks and vases displayed baubles, feathers, birds and more masks so there was always something to look at related to the theme.

I was worried that, without flash, I wouldn’t take any decent photos (photography is allowed but flash-free). However, I was quite pleased with what I managed to get.

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Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom

The first room elicited a huge “oooh” and we just continued with the “ooohs” and “aahhhs” every step we took. What imagination the team have to have pulled this together. Apparently plans start about a year in advance, although they had less than two weeks to actually build the installation. That’s quite astonishing when you see it as you’d think it would take months to put it up. It takes me more than a full day to put up my Christmas decorations at home so two weeks to achieve this? Serious respect to everyone involved.

Rooms carried the theme of a famous masquerade character such as Harlequin, Pierrot  and Colombine whilst others carried the general masquerade theme. There were costumes, masks, and wigs all cleverly displayed with lighting. And the colours! Wow!

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The New Library

Sharon and I both adored Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom and dressing room but our favourite room was The New Library which is used as an office. We’d both have happily stepped over the rope, grabbed a book from the shelves, and settled in front of the fire until security forcefully removed us. Despite the high ceilings and large dimensions of the room, it managed to feel so cosy and welcoming.

I loved the upside-down Christmas tree – such imagination – and marvelled at the 25-foot one in the Great Hall.

I was super impressed with the river and bridge in The Long Gallery and had to stop to pose on the bridge. Beautifully-dresses masked mannequins showed off their finery.

We ended our tour with a visit to the chapel which is very ornate and lovely for a rest and some contemplation.

IMG_7558When we’d finished contemplating (and resting our feet), it was time for lunch and, of course, cake. Nom nom. I had the last slice of lemon sponge and Sharon chose a Victoria sponge. It was very delicious and … dare I use that word that so many people hate? …. moist!!!! As you can see, I was halfway through it before I even thought to take a photo.

All too soon, it was time to head home and we were just in time to catch the land-train back to the entrance. We had the entire two-carriage train to ourselves and, my goodness, was it cold. With open sides, a gale blew right through it but it was still a lovely journey. We were also only just in time for Sharon to catch her train from my local station. Seriously, the poor woman was dashing across the tracks on one side as the train was pulling in the other! Far too close for comfort!

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If anyone is thinking of visiting Christmas Masquerade at Castle Howard, then definitely do. They are open until 23rd December and again before New Year.

You can find out more about the installation, dates, and prices here.

It’s got great access for anyone with mobility challenges and we saw several visitors moving around in wheelchairs so don’t let any mobility issues put you off as most of the exhibits can still be accessed.

IMG_7513Oh, and I found a bear! Unfortunately he was part of the installation so I had to leave him where he was.

I’m already curious as to what next year’s theme will be. Hopefully if we do go back, we’ll manage a less blustery day. And apparently it’s good to avoid Tuesdays as that’s when they get most of their coach trips. Good to know!

Have a great week and good luck with any final Christmas preparations.

Jessica xx

 

The one where I talk about my lovely London trip

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At the end of last week, I had a very busy and very exciting few days in London. There were so many highlights but I nearly didn’t make it, thanks to our delightful train network.

Hubby dropped me off at Scarborough Train Station on Wednesday morning to catch the train to York where I’d connect to London. I was confronted with this…

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Whilst the new trains are lovely and the staff are delightful and often full of good humour, the actual service run by Transpennine Express is shocking. So many of the journeys I have made lately have been cancelled or running late. Apparently there was no conductor for the service so it was simply cancelled and no alternative provided other than the next train an hour later; far too late to make my connecting train to London.

I’m very lucky in that hubby works from home and I knew he wasn’t working on a deadline so I called him on the car hands-free and he had to turn around and come back to collect me. Our dog was in the car so we had to arrange to drop her off with his parents rather than dragging her to York and back (an hour each way). Just as well we did this because, whilst my London train was thankfully running on time, it took hubby nearly three hours to get home again. There’d been an accident on the main York to Scarborough road and both lanes were shut so there was a massive diversion in place. I actually made it to London fifteen minutes after he got home which is ridiculous.

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Me with my editor, Nia. No idea why I’m leaning like that!

I had a lovely afternoon in London, meeting my editor, Nia, and the CEO and Founder of Boldwood Books, Amanda. I’ve spoken to Nia on the phone several times and have had a Skype conversation with Amanda and Nia but nothing beats meeting them face to face. What a lovely lunch we had, talking about the first few months of The Secret to Happiness being out there, and marketing plans for 2020 and beyond. Every day, I am so very grateful that I submitted to Boldwood and my manuscript was chosen for representation because they really are an absolute joy to work with.

My hotel had a room with a view, ha ha ha! I posted this image showing Fenchurch Street station on Facebook and one of the Write Romantics, Deirdre, really made me laugh by asking “what’s that on the roof – ectoplasm?” Certainly looks like it!

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On Thursday morning, I had a very quick swim, jacuzzi and steam room before wandering over to The Tower of London and Tower Bridge, five minutes’ walk from the hotel.

I’ve been to London many times over the years and this is the second time I’ve been to this area but I don’t think the sights of London will ever bore me. I love all the history amongst the modern. It was a bit chilly by the river, mind.

Usually I find London several degrees warmer than the north but not last week. Brr.

After my walk, I took the tube to Kings Cross to collect my very good friend and fellow Write Romantic, Sharon Booth. I was early but Sharon’s train was running late so that gave me a great excuse to wander around the shops at Kings Cross and the ones at St Pancras over the road. How gorgeous is this Lancome Christmas tree? When you get up close, each light is shining through a bottle of perfume. That’s a heck of a lot of bottles of perfume!

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As well as meeting Boldwood, a massive highlight for me was having seven out of ten of the Write Romantics in the same place at the same time. I think we’ve managed six before so maybe one day all ten of us will get together. (From left-right on the 2nd picture below, it’s Jackie Ladbury, Jo Bartlett, Helen Phifer and Sharon Booth). Helen J Rolfe is in later pictures and I’m afraid I didn’t manage to get a picture with Deirdre Palmer as we weren’t sat together.

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We joined RNA members for a talk with bestselling author, Sophie Kinsella, who has just released another book in her shopaholic series after several years’ break. It was interesting to hear how she became a writer and more about her stories. Sorry about the poor pic but we were on the back row!

I love the Confessions of a Shopaholic film and am looking forward to Can You Keep a Secret? released soon. I’ve read several of Sophie’s books including that one.

After the talk finished, all but one of the Write Romantics gathered in my room for Prosecco and I grabbed a quick drink with them before changing and heading to a drinks reception with Boldwood.

This was an opportunity to see Amanda and Nia again but also a third team member, Megan, who is the Publishing Executive. Several of the Boldwood authors were gathered and it was so wonderful to meet them in person.

(L-R is Beth Moran, Amanda Ridout (BW), Lucy Coleman, Emma Murray, Diane Saxon, Jessica redland, Nia Beynon BW) and Fay Keenan). Megan (BW) was taking the pic.

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Next was the RNA’s Winter Party and Industry Awards. I’ve never been to one of the RNA’s London parties so this was a first. I had been looking forward to catching up with a few people I knew on social media but had never actually met but it was busier than I expected and, despite doing a few rounds of the room after the awards ceremony, I couldn’t see them! It doesn’t help that I’m vertically-challenged so trying to spot people in a roomful of people isn’t easy at the best of times but, when the lighting is dim and the room packed, I don’t think I stood much chance.

IMG_7344The highlight of the party for me was seeing two wonderful bloggers – Anne Williams and Rachel Gilbey – being nominated for the Best Blogger Award. Rachel reviewed my very first book and has read everything I’ve written since. I’ve been on several blog tours arranged via her Rachel’s Random Resources role. Anne has been a wonderful supporter of my work too more recently and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her a few times before. Anne won and I was pleased to be able to congratulate both of them and get a photo of them together.

One of the Write Romantics was heading off home soon but the remaining six of us decamped to Pizza Express and had a lovely evening, catching up on all things writing and non-writing. Helen J Rolfe is the one on the right on the 1st image above. And I had to show my pizza because, whilst you may not be able to see, it had potatoes on it. Yes, that’s right, potatoes on a pizza! And it was delicious.

It was pouring when we left but that didn’t stop us getting a couple of photos outside The Four Seasons Hotel.

Isn’t that a lamppost gorgeous? It’s like something out of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I kept expecting Mr Tumnus to appear at any moment!

A huge thank you to everyone who organised the Sophie Kinsella talk and the Winter Party as I know how much time and effort goes into coordinating events like this. Thank you so much to Boldwood for organising the pre-event drinks and to all the Boldwood authors. I’m sorry I didn’t get to chat individually to everyone during our short time together and then for not being able to find you to say goodbye.

My journey home was a bit fraught. I only had six minutes to make my connection in York and we were about 25 minutes late. However, so was my connecting train so I did manage to catch it. One time when I’m grateful for the poor service!

IMG_7295Have an amazing week.

Jessica xx

 

Some useful links:

The Romantic Novelists’ Association

Boldwood Books

Anne Williams’s ‘Being Anne’ Blog  

Rachel Gilbey’s ‘Rachel’s Random Reads’ Blog

 

The Write Romantics’ Amazon Pages (including those not in London):

Jo Bartlett

Sharon Booth

Jackie Ladbury

Deirdre Palmer (also writes as Zara Thorne)

Lynne Pardoe

Helen Phifer

Jessica Redland

Helen J Rolfe

Rachael Thomas

Alys West

 

 

The one where I talk about lightbulb moments and shifting goalposts

70339176_1400040106821488_6280215439226175488_nI had a lovely writing-related day on Saturday. It was the RNA’s annual York Tea and, as that didn’t start until 1pm, I arranged to meet a York-based writing friend on the morning. The last time we met was before the same event last year so we had a lot to catch up on. It was lovely to hear all about the next steps in her journey towards hopefully securing agent representation for her debut historical novel and she was keen to learn all about my publishing deal.

Then, on the afternoon, the event itself was fabulous and it was great to catch up with writing friends and chat to virtual friends for the first time face to face.

70641082_1400040126821486_3027867912644853760_nI could write loads about the York Tea but that’s not the purpose of this post which, instead, is about a lightbulb moment and a reminder of a poem I wrote a couple of years back.

When I was talking to my writing friend on the morning, she was keen to explore what made me move from being a “successful indie writer” to seeking a publishing deal. That made me laugh. Successful? Me? I explained that part of the reason for seeking a publishing deal was that I didn’t see myself as being successful at all. I talked about low chart positions and limited sales and she was genuinely astonished that I didn’t view myself as a successful writer. We talked quite a bit about this and it was illuminating to see myself through her eyes; the eyes of a new writer.

70928445_1400040553488110_2584542097021337600_nFor over six years, I’ve been part of a writing collective who provide support and encouragement to each other, celebrate successes, and offer sympathy during low periods. This is invaluable but, because we’re all published writers now, it’s easy to forget about the early days when typing ‘the end’ was a huge achievement and being published was the holy grail. I know that comparing yourself to others is the worst thing possible but it’s also a natural human inclination. When I compare myself to the other talented authors within my writing family who write for a similar market as me, I have always been bottom of the class. I’ve only vicariously experienced high chart positions, volume sales, Amazon Prime deals, and bonuses for pages read. Whilst thrilled for my friends and cheering on their success, the question has always haunted me: What am I doing wrong? I therefore wanted to work with a publishing expert who would get me the visibility/sales that have evaded me as an indie writer, despite great reviews.

My writing friend listened to all of this and she understood where I was coming from but she listed all the things I had achieved and how in awe of this she was as someone starting out on her writing journey. As I say, it was illuminating to see myself through the eyes of a new writer.

70455697_1400040296821469_3810547224698421248_nAt the RNA Tea, I was sat next to my fabulous author friend, Sharon Booth, and a wonderful RNA member we’ve met before had a conversation with us and expressed her admiration for how well we were both doing. A friend of hers who we’d only previously ‘met’ virtually came over and said the same thing. In fact, she called us both “inspiring”. You know those cartoons where a question mark circles round the character’s head? That was us. We were hearing all these words like impressive, inspiring, role-model, aspirational and felt such a disconnect. It’s absolutely not how we view ourselves so it was astonishing to hear others describe us both in this way.

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Why don’t we see ourselves the way others see us? It goes back to a poem I wrote a couple of years ago which I posted on my blog at the time but I’ve posted below again. IMG_6926I’m no poet (as you can see) but the sentiment is there. As writers, we’re so busy shifting the goalposts that we can easily forget to focus on everything that we’ve achieved so far. I’m doing it again at the moment. So far, Boldwood Books have released six books and mine was the fourth of these but the only one out of the six not to break the top 1,000 on release date. Several have actually broken into the top 300 which is beyond amazing and I am so thrilled for them because that is such a wonderful achievement and must be such a buzz. I still haven’t broken the 2,000 mark. When I should be doing a happy dance because this is way better than the positions of any of my other books, I’m worrying that I’ve let my publisher and me down. When did I become such an over-thinker?

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So, I’m trying to focus on the successes and the goals achieved instead of the ones that are (currently) out of reach. At the time of publishing this, I have:

  1. 16 reviews on Amazon and they are all 5-star and they are all amazing reviews full of wonderful words that make me cry for joy
  2. The number 1 slot in the ‘Hot New Releases’ category on Amazon
  3. 10 books published and have written 11, with another 3 part-written
  4. 49 reviews on NetGalley, 94% of which are 4 or 5 star (59% 5 star and 35% 4 star)
  5. Been offered 3 x publishing deals, the one from Boldwood Books being a dream of a deal that I still can’t believe I was fortunate enough to secure
  6. Amazing reviews on Amazon of all my other books: 395 reviews, 98% of which are 4 or 5 star (81% 5 star and 17% 4 star)

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And that’s just the facts and figures. Add to that a supportive family and a writing family and I really am very lucky. If somebody had tapped me on the shoulder when I was working on my debut novel, Searching for Steven, and told me that I would achieve all of the above, I wouldn’t have believed them because it sounded so awesome.

IMG_6925A few weeks ago, I arranged for all the females on my side of the family to meet for lunch in York. I met up with my mum, one of my cousins and my two sisters-in-law for a mooch around the shops first. One of my SILs told me how much she was looking forward to reading The Secret to Happiness and how proud she was of everything I’d achieved. I was really touched by that. Then, at the meal, Mum got everyone to sign a card for me and I was asked to give a speech about my new publishing deal. My family were so proud and keen to know more which made me feel like I had actually done something special.

Why haven’t I felt this way before? I think that, like so many writers, I’ve struggled over the years to admit that I’m an author because the response is either:

  • IMG_6927‘I’d love to write a book … if only I had the time’ accompanied by a clear judgement that I obviously have loads of spare time
  • Genuine disinterest/change of subject
  • ‘Would I have heard of you?’ and then disinterest when I’m not in The Times Top 100
  • ‘I don’t read’ accompanied by a change of subject

So it’s easier to stay quiet than face this sort of reaction. I don’t get why people behave like this because, by saying we’re authors, we’re not saying we’re special or better than others; we’re simply declaring our career choice. I have friends who will ask me about how my day job is going (I’m a freelance HR Tutor) and be happy to chat about my work and theirs but they never, ever ask me about writing. Why not? Writing is also my day job and one day I hope it will be my full-time day job. It upsets me and, as a result, I’ve  repeatedly put myself back in my box and stopped seeing any achievements as being special, focusing on the negative aspects instead. Not anymore.

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Perhaps it’s time for a different type of goal. Instead of focusing on the chart positions and sales figures, my goal is to do with the title of my book and what it is that makes me happy. Writing makes me happy. Creating characters and putting them in challenging situations makes me feel alive. As long as I still feel that way, then I have achieved success at being a writer. With a sprinkle of hope and luck, maybe the other things will start happening when I stop worrying about them. And, if they don’t, then I need to focus on what I’ve achieved and remember how I felt when an idea for a story was all I wanted and everything else wasn’t even a dream; never mind a reality.

I’ll stop wittering now and leave you with the poem which is just as relevant to me now as it was when I wrote it a couple of years ago. The only bit I’ve changed is how many books I’ve written. It was six before.

Have a fabulous week.

Jessica xx

 

Never Enough by Jessica Redland

All I want is one idea

How difficult could that be?

A plot that has some mileage

That would be enough for me

All I want is to write a book

What an achievement that would be

300 pages, a brand new world

That would be enough for me

All I want is for someone to read it

A friend or family

If they said it was good; that I could write

That would be enough for me

All I want is an eBook publisher

How amazing would that be?

To believe in my story and share my work

That would be enough for me

All I want is to make some sales

Just one, or two, or three

A handful of readers to download to Kindle

That would be enough for me

All I want is some good reviews

How flattering would it be

For strangers to say they love my work?

That would be enough for me

All I want is to climb the charts

It would make me so happy

To see my ‘baby’ go up and up

That would be enough for me

All I want is a bestseller tag

In some obscure category

That orange flag would scream success

That would be enough for me

All I want is to break the top hundred

I know there’s no guarantee

But then I’d know I’ve got some talent

That would be enough for me

All I want is to be top ten

Can anyone hear my plea?

Side by side with my favourite authors

That would be enough for me

All I want is a number one

I’d barely contain my glee

That coveted slot and all those sales

That would be enough for me

All I want is a paperback

Something I can hold and see

To say “I wrote this”, oh my word

That would be enough for me

All I want is to write full time

A lady that lunches? So me!

Full days in my office, creating away

That would be enough for me

All I want is an audio deal

Listening while sipping my tea

Those accents, those sounds, my world brought to life

That would be enough for me

All I want is my books on the shelves

Of a supermarket: big four. Or three

The sales, the success would remove all the stress

That would be enough for me

All I want is a top five publisher

The validation? My pants I would pee!

I’d finally know that I really can write

That would be enough for me

All I want is to make foreign sales

Australia? France? Germany?

Translations galore, the world at my door

That would be enough for me

All I want is the film to be made

The big screen for everyone to see

Amazing reviews, the compliments ooze

That would be enough for me

All I want is an Oscar win

I’d really be top of the tree

Best screenplay? Oh my, I think I would cry

That would be enough for me

All I want is some book two success

And the same for book number three

Doing even better than first out the grid

That would be enough for me

All I wanted was one idea

To write a book, just for me

But the goalposts kept changing, my life rearranging

And it’s never enough for me

It’s easy to feel so overwhelmed

When sales aren’t what I’d hoped

And reviews are mean and personal

And very unprovoked

When all the writers that I know

Seem to do so great

And the day job takes priority

So my writing has to wait

So it’s back to the start to recapture that feeling

When first I typed “the end”

When someone said, “I loved it!”

Even though they were a friend

When I sat at my keyboard and laughed and cried

As my characters found their voices

When the publishing world was unexplored

But filled with exciting choices

The task once seemed impossible:

To write a full-length story

A big fat tick against that goal

I should bask in the glory

That I achieved what many don’t

And repeated it eleven-fold

I am a writer BECAUSE I WRITE;

Not for how many I’ve sold

The one where I talk about my dedication to my dad

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Authors usually dedicate their books to someone. My first was for my husband and my second for my daughter and my subsequent ones were dedicated to someone whose relationship with me had some connection to the book. For example, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes features two sisters so that book was dedicated to my four sisters-in-law (as I couldn’t have chosen between them or I’d have started a war, especially as my SILs on my husband’s side of the family are twins!)

The Secret to Happiness was launched today and I dedicated it to my dad, Peter. There’s no specific link to fathers in the book but, having previously dedicated one to my mum, I felt that it was dad’s turn.

When my debut novel, Searching for Steven, was released, I had a launch party for friends and family. They spoilt me with bottles of wine and flowers and one friend bought me a Troll Beads bracelet with a book charm on it. This started a tradition of buying a charm each time I released a new book and, along with a few other charms representing my life and writing, the bracelet is now full.

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I wanted to mark the launch of The Secret to Happiness in some way. On a recent trip to York, I visited my favourite shop – Stonegate Teddy Bears – and an artist bear by J&P Mohair Bears spoke to me. Well, not literally as that would be a little weird, but I connected with him. I’m an arctophile – collector/friend of teddy bears – and I have built up quite a collection over the years. The bear is adorable and he was definitely the perfect launch day gift to myself.

It was only when I got home that I looked at the bear’s name tag. Guess what he’s called? Peter. Same as my dad to whom I’d dedicated the book. How spooky is that? Clearly it was meant to be.

Jessica xx

The one where I have a very bad day

Do you ever have one of those days that start off full of excitement and high expectations, but go horribly wrong? I had one of those days today.

My 12-year-old daughter is going to a Girlguiding festival over August bank holiday weekend and the theme is ‘Disney’. I promised her I’d take her to Primark to get some cheap Disney clothes.

We drove an hour to the retail park just outside of York. She complained of a headache when we got there and then, when we were inside Primark, she said she felt sick. Primark is the opposite end of the retail park to the toilet block so it was a bit of a dash. She wasn’t sick but felt it and looked pale.

Leaving her in the seated area outside the toilets, I bought water, Calpol, and a Poundland bucket for the journey home, just in case. Just as well because she was sick on the way home. When you have a phobia about people being sick, like I do, this is a pretty traumatic incident.

Halfway home, we discovered that the main road was closed due to an accident and we had to turn back on ourselves and take a diversion. With so many vehicles on the alternative route, there were parts of the journey that were stop/start and others that were stationary. We tried a shortcut that would have bypassed the accident but were stopped by the police because the shortcut was a narrow-is country lane and they didn’t want loads of traffic using it, risking further collisions. Fair enough. We ended up having to rejoin the traffic we’d left, much further behind than we’d been before, and stuck behind a combine harvester which held us up even more.

It took nearly two hours to get home, instead of one. We finally made it home, our only purchases of the day being the water, some Calpol and a sick bucket but thank goodness for the sick bucket!

A song I absolutely hate played on the radio en route and I didn’t have the energy to try to change station. It’s a standing joke how much I hate this song and how, despite it being from the early 90s, the local radio station seem to constantly play it. When I got home, I discovered I had been wearing odd earrings. A minor point but it seemed to add to the ‘rubbishness’ of the day.

I work freelance marking HR assignments and they’d piled up while I was gone. Some of them take a lot longer to mark than others and my inbox seemed to be full of those ones so each one took an eternity to plough through. The quality was very poor and none of them passed which is always disappointing. Then my right shoulder started aching really badly, undoubtedly from hunching over the steering wheel for two hours, rigid as a board, trying to ignore my sickness phobia and then feeling tense still as I desperately tried to catch up on my work and stop my day being a complete write-off.

But then I looked up the accident online and suddenly my bad day paled into significance. My shopping trip had been a disaster, my daughter had been sick, and we’d been stuck in traffic but this was all trivial stuff because it turns out that, in that RTA, someone died.

According to the report on the York Press website (you can read it here) “a 61-year-old man from the Sheffield area, suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene”. Two children in the car, aged 9 and 10, were taken to hospital, one of them by road and one by air ambulance “with injuries not believed to be life-threatening”. There are no details about how the accident happened other than that it involved the man’s car, a car transporter and an HGV. I’m not going to speculate what might have happened as that would be unfair but, if a car was up against a transporter and HGV, it’s probably a bit of a miracle that those two poor children weren’t killed too.

Given the ages, I’m guessing this might have been a grandfather out with their grandchildren. Again, the article doesn’t say. Could have been their dad, an uncle, or perhaps just a friend. Whatever the relationships, how traumatic must that have been? Those two children are at an age where they’ll likely always remember that accident, and their lives will change forever from today.

My thoughts are with the poor children and all the families involved as well as the two drivers of the other vehicles as their lives will have now changed forever too. And my thoughts with the emergency services who deal with tragic incidents like this every day. Hats off to you. I’m not sure I could do that.

I’m sure there were many fed-up and irate people stuck in the traffic today but give me two-hours of traffic any day instead of what those involved in the accident have been through and will go through going forwards. Scary stuff.

Stay safe out there.

Jessica xx