5 things that have surprised me about being a published writer by Jessica Redland

jessica-close-up-stripesWhen I started submitting my manuscript to publishers and agents back in 2013/2014, I have to admit that my only focus was on getting “the call” (or email) to say that someone loved my book and wanted to represent me. What I didn’t think about at any point during that process – or even at any point after I did receive “the email” – was what would happen next. Obviously I thought about my book being edited, a cover coming to life, and my ‘baby’ making his way into the world, but I didn’t really think beyond that. Therefore, there were some things took me by surprise and I thought I’d share them with you.

 

Surprise 1: Reviews

The surprise wasn’t that I would get reviews; the surprise was the content of the reviews. Before I became published, I confess that I never, ever read a review of a book as part of _MG_9715my purchasing decision. Quite simply, if I liked the sound of the blurb or the book was recommended by someone I knew with similar reading tastes to me, I’d buy it. Therefore, I had no idea that there are readers out there who will take the time and trouble to write an essay about a book they’ve loved. They’ll explain the plot in their own words, they’ll talk about the things they loved, they’ll share their emotional journey (laughter/tears) and there are even some who give their favourite quotes. Wow! That’s serious dedication. Book bloggers do this as part of their more detailed review process but it’s non-bloggers I’m talking about here. How amazing and incredibly flattering. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The downside is negative reviews, but let’s not dwell on those 😉

 

Surprise 2: Reactions of friends & family

My mum and a small core of friends have been absolutely amazing. They’ve provided Printbeta-reading services, have promoted the book to other friends and family, and regularly ask how the writing is going, desperate to get their hands on my next release. This is lovely. And some friends who I didn’t expect to be enthusiastic have been. I’m a Brown Owl and some of my leadership team aren’t big readers but they bought my first novel and sent me texts raving about it, begging for the subsequent books. Another wow moment!

 

Surprise 3: The valuable support from other writers

When the Write Romantics was established 4.5 years ago, only one of the ten of us had a publishing deal. Now we are all either traditionally or indie published which is conf 2014 10incredible. As we’re based all over the country, we have a closed Facebook group where we chat to each other about the ups and downs of writing. I have to say, I had no idea that this group would be so valuable. Advice is shared, encouragement is given, and there are lots of virtual hugs when things aren’t going so well. I’m not sure where I’d be without my writing friends.

 

Surprise 4: How the goalposts have changed

When I first started writing, my goal was simply to write a book. Then it became to write a trilogy because my story lent itself to that. Then it became to get a publishing deal. I achieved all of these things but the goalposts kept shifting which I suppose is inevitable; you achieve your dreams so you create new ones.

P1070015I wanted to break the Top 10,000 on Amazon and, when I did that, I wanted to crack the top 1,000, then the Top 100 … Actually, that one still remains a goal for me and, if I’m really honest (which I always am), breaking the top 10,000 is still a goal most days for my books.

For a while, I became quite obsessed with sales figures and chart positions and it started to really get me down so I’ve stopped looking. Okay, you’ve got me, I haven’t stopped looking but I don’t look very often and I don’t obsess about it because I’ve accepted that there’s not a lot I can do about it. I’ve changed my covers, I’ve changed my categories, I’ve run promotions (free and 99p), and I’ve gone all out on social media yet nothing seems to make any lasting impact. Yes, a 99p deal and particularly a free deal will get a flurry of downloads, but it drops back to ‘normal’ after that and, as ‘normal’ is nothing to write home about, the only way I’m going to shift more copies is to permanently make my work free. Hmmm. And this nicely brings me onto the final surprise…

 

Surprise 5: I still have absolutely no idea what makes a book sell

I’ve had a successful career and have always prided myself at being really good at my day job. I’ve managed large budgets, sizeable teams, and huge workloads successfully. I therefore thought that I’d be able to emulate the same success as a writer. *Pauses to roll eyes and shake head at extreme naivety.* It hasn’t quite worked like that.

Ad3 (2017)The more I read and the more I chat to other writers, the more it becomes apparent that most writers can’t pinpoint why their books sell when other equally good books don’t. Is it the covers? The blurb? The title? The setting? The categories on Amazon? The length of the book? The number of reviews? Social media presence? Promotions? Who knows! Nobody can seem to put their finger on what specifically has led to success.

This is linked to the previous surprise and, therefore, you won’t be surprised to hear that I became quite down to the point where I thought about giving up. This thought circulated my mind for probably about five minutes because, let’s face it, I couldn’t not write. It’s who I am and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t spend hours with my fictional friends, creating problems for them and then making it all better by giving them their happy ever after. However, I do think that I’m one of those writers for whom it’s not going to happen. Those who read my books and take the time to leave a review seem to love them so I’m obviously doing something right as far as the stories go. It’s just obviously everything else that I’m doing wrong! I’ll keep trying, though, and maybe one day I will be one of those who does achieve that chart-topping success and can’t pinpoint how or why I achieved it. Is it too early to ask Santa for this?

 

What about you? If you’re a writer, do you agree with my five surprises? What else has surprised you about becoming published? Even better, do you know the secret to why books sell? Please tell me. I promise I won’t tell anyone else! 😉

If you’re a reader, what makes you buy a book because I’d welcome any tips?

Thanks for reading my ramblings. Hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.

Jessica xx

You can access Jessica’s books on Kindle here.

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Jessica is Dreaming About Daran

What started out as a snippet of an idea thirteen years ago grew into something bigger. I had a protagonist, Sarah, who needed two best friends for her story to work. One of them needed to support her in her ‘quest’ and the other needed to think that the ‘quest’ was a “pile of bollocks”.

Whilst I loved Sarah and her supportive friend, Elise, her not-quite-so-supportive friend, Clare, really captured my imagination. Feisty and full of fun, she was a friend with a past and, as the words to my debut novel Searching for Steven poured out, it became apparent that both Elise and Clare had their own stories to tell. Stories that could not possibly be justified as a sub plot in Steven. They needed novels of their own! (Greedy characters!)

Dreaming About Daran CoverElise’s story  – Getting Over Gary – naturally needed to be told as the first sequel because I knew hers was going to be a bit gentler. Clare’s would be more explosive and bring a fitting climax to the trilogy.

Today is the launch day and I’m delighted to release Dreaming About Daran into the world to join my other boys. It’s my favourite cover of the three stories, my favourite character, and my favourite story… although don’t tell Sarah and Elise as I love them too and don’t want to upset them.  It’s also a bit deeper and darker that the two before so be warned!

I’ve had a few technical issues with my paperbacks so can’t include any pictures here of me dressed in blue to match the cover (I have colour coordinated myself for both of the other ones – does that make me a bit sad?) but I can put a picture of what they look like together before Daran got boxed up again and sent back to the printer.

I’m thrilled to hear that there are already three 5-star reviews on Amazon from reviewers who obtained a copy early for an honest opinion. And I mean honest opinion. If these reviewers don’t like a book, they will say so. Therefore, getting 5-star reviews from them is a dream-like thing!

Here’s the blurb about Daran:

Sometimes, you can run from the past, but you can’t hide. Since the age of sixteen, Clare O’Connell has lived her life by four strict rules:

  1. Don’t talk about Ireland
  2. Don’t think about Ireland
  3. Don’t go to Ireland
  4. Never let anyone in

And so far, it’s worked well. She’s got a great career, some amazing friends, and she’s really happy. The future’s all that counts, isn’t it?

However, when her boss insists she travels to Ireland to repair a damaged relationship with a key client, Clare finds herself drawn back to the small village of Ballykielty where she comes face to face with the one person she’d hoped never, ever to see again.

With the door to her past now wide open, the first three rules have gone out of the window. Can Clare stick to rule number four?

Happy reading!

Jessica xx

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Wednesday Wondering – The Ex Factor

Well, that’s it, summer is over and the darker nights are creeping in. We hope you’ve had a good summer and, if you’ve been away, that you’ve had lots of opportunity for reading. As the days turn colder and the nights turn darker, it’s the perfect opportunity to do even more reading, snuggled up on the sofa with the fire on, or hidden under the duvet.

I’ve recently started a new job which sees me doing a short commute by bus. The brief time on the bus and the wait at the bus stop have given me an opportunity to read far more regularly than I’ve been able to recently and it’s been lovely. I’m getting through roughly two books every three weeks so will hopefully start to conquer my TBR pile soon!

Of course, reading a lot means I meet more characters and, as my preferred genre is romance, I encounter more relationships. Sometimes the hero and heroine are strangers, sometimes they are friends, and sometimes they are blasts from the past, which is what prompted this month’s Wednesday Wondering:

It’s impossible to stay friends with your ex boyfriend. Discuss

I don’t think I’ve inspired the Write Romantics with my question this month. Either that or post-holiday season and back-to-school/work craziness has got on top of us all as I’ve only got one taker this month. Thanks, Jo, because it might have been a lonely WW this month!

Jo says …

Sam horse pic 1I think it’s definitely possible to stay friends with your ex, but there has to be enough beyond a romantic relationship to keep you together in a friendship after that last kiss.  My sister went out with a guy when she was between the ages of about 20 and 25 and she absolutely adored him. I’m going to call him Greg, to protect the innocent.  My sister’s now married to Greg’s childhood (and current) best friend, and Greg’s wife is now one of my sister’s best friends… are you still following?!  They all share a passion for show- jumping and my sister, her husband and the ex-boyfriend have a huge shared history too, having been friends for over thirty years now.  As for me, I’ve only had two really serious boyfriends and I married them both! Whilst I wouldn’t say I’d stayed ‘friends’ with my ex-husband, we’ve been able to sit together at our daughter’s school productions and sports days and she won’t have to worry about us not being able to sit on the top table together at her wedding. I’m don’t know how I’d feel about my current husband being friends with an ex, though.  I like to think I’d be cool about it, but I’m not so sure!

As for me, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to stay friends, but I’d suggest it’s difficult. But it depends on the circumstances of how the relationship started and also how it ended. When I started university, I had a boyfriend who I’ll call Steve. Steve and I met at uni and were friends who became something more partway through the first term of our first year. For a multitude of reasons that seem very trivial now, we split up in our second year but we remained friends. Well, we tried to remain friends. It was a bit tempestuous because I knew he still wanted more so there was always an undercurrent when we were together which made things a bit awkward. Then he met someone else. She didn’t like me (because I was the ex) and made it clear that she didn’t want me hanging around him which made it hard to continue our friendship. He continued to do his final year but I did a year out and we stayed in touch. In fact, we stayed in touch for many years afterwards and visited each other from time to time, but it became too difficult any time one of us met someone else. Eventually we lost touch completely.

In my final year at university, I made another friend who we’ll call Richard. Richard and I were great friends for a year, then got together in the summer after I graduated. It was a distance relationship and it suited us both because he could concentrate on his studies and going out with his mates while I settled into my new job and established my friendships too. There was only a 75 minute drive between us so we could still see each other fairly easily. I liked him a heck of a lot, but it wasn’t love. He claimed he felt the same way and that I should just enjoy the here and now. When he graduated and secured a job in Birmingham where I was based, I had to keep getting his assurance that he really wanted that job; not that he was taking it to be near me. He assured me it was just the job, but it wasn’t. Now that we were living in the same place at the same time, it was obvious that the relationship needed to step up a level … or fall apart. I ended it and we said we’d stay friends. I met someone else. It didn’t lead anywhere but he didn’t like it. He met someone else and didn’t tell me. I’d made it very clear when we agreed to stay friends that honesty was essential and that, if he met someone, he had to tell me because it would be awkward finding out by mistake. I found out by mistake. He’d repeatedly cancelled arrangements to go out (as friends) and I’d asked him outright on many occasions if he’d met someone else, but he was adamant he hadn’t. Then a friend of his accidentally dropped him in it. I wanted to stay friends but it was hard to trust him. Then he admitted that the new girlfriend didn’t like him spending time with me and, sadly, it became me or her. He chose her and they’re married now with two kids (we still have some mutual friends) so it was absolutely the right decision, but I lost a good friend.

Other relationships I’ve had haven’t ended well so there’s never been an option to stay friends. From my two experiences of staying friends, it hasn’t worked out. In both cases, new girlfriends didn’t like having the ex on the scene and I think this is one of the main sticking points. Putting myself in their shoes, I don’t think I’d like an ex hanging around all the time so I’m not surprised at how these women have reacted towards me. I was never a threat in that I was never going to get back with Steve or Richard, but perhaps the shared history was the threat and they wanted to create their own without me.

What do you think? Is it possible to remain friends with your ex boyfriend or ex husband? Do you have personal experiences of this? We’d love to hear from you. There’s a ‘comments’ tab at the end of the words below. Click on that and you can join in the conversation.

Jessica xxx

Tears, tombstones and tittle-tattle

1174820_10201404510706309_1859499988_nI went *fake* camping the other day – I highly recommend it, by the way, it has all the benefits of meeting up with your friends who are sleeping under canvas, drinking wine and talking, but you get to go home and sleep in a warm, comfortable bed when they head off to their tents! My friend and her sister had both read my first full-length novel over the summer and we raised a glass or three to the new four-book deal I’d been offered a couple of weeks before. They asked me, though, if I was at all worried about having enough ideas to fulfil the contract. All I could do was smile and hope the red wine hadn’t stained my teeth too much.

Time is probably my biggest writing issue, fitting it around the rest of life’s commitments; ideas on the other hand crowd my brain and pop up at every turn. Some of them spark plots for full-length novels, novellas or even a series, and others for short stories for women’s magazines – a competitive market which I’ve finally managed to crack.

Everyone loves people watching, right? But my husband certainly thinks it’s a bit weird when we’re watching people inSS102271 a coffee shop and I start guessing what they do for a living, what their backgrounds are and giving each of them a life story. My mum tells me that even when I was tiny, she’d constantly lose me in supermarkets and shops and find me standing between groups of other mothers, listening to their conversations and asking them extremely nosey questions. Now, when my husband discreetly taps the side of his nose, to let me know that my eavesdropping is getting just a little bit too obvious, I tell him that I’m not just being nosey, I’m working!

SS102290Ideas can come from anywhere, take this past week for instance. Last Monday, I took the children to London and, standing-up on the tube, we noticed two impeccably dressed and made-up women with tears silently streaming down their faces. They weren’t talking to each other or wearing black, like they were on their way to a funeral, and they didn’t appear to have just received bad news on their phones. If it had been one woman, I might have imagined a relationship break-up but, with the silent tears and the two of them sitting side-by-side, my imagination was working overtime, trying to work out what scenario that had led to this point. Even the fact that everyone noticed, but no-one said anything, sparked an idea for characterisation – why we act the way we do? Maybe it was because if felt wrong to intrude on their grief, to check they were okay, or because there were two of them, but we all obeyed the unwritten rule of the tube… don’t talk to a stranger, whatever the circumstance.

Later in the week, my husband and I set off for a rare weekend away without the children and we spent a lot of time inAAA IMG_0226 restaurants and pubs, leisurely reading the papers over breakfast and avidly eavesdropping over bottles of Prosecco come the evening. Listening-in to the pub conversations of others is like sprinkling glitter on your imagination and the heated discussion one couple were having, about how there was no way they were letting their son borrow their camera for his trip to Paris with his girlfriend, who they clearly couldn’t stand, left me imagining another host of scenarios. Maybe he’d propose out there, then what would happen to the family dynamic? Or perhaps the girlfriend would prove to be as obnoxious as the parents clearly thought she was and the city of Paris would be anything but romantic! Of course, I’ll never know how the story panned out, but it sparked off an idea for a possible story about what happens when a family member brings someone new into the fold who just doesn’t fit it. Torn between your first love and your family, who would you choose?

IMG_0222Taking a break from eating and drinking, we decided to have a walk up to the Epsom Downs and, on the way back down, the phone’s sat nav directed us through a cemetery. It was quiet and leafy and, as I can never help doing when I find myself in one of those places, I just had to read the grave stones. There was one that really struck a cord – the burial plot of Luke and his Lily. He’d been killed out in Italy in the last year of World War II, she’d died some forty years later, clearly not having remarried. There was a whole life story on that stone, particularly as their three children had left a touching dedication, and she’d obviously raised them alone during a time when being a single mother was even more of a challenge than it is now. There’s definitely a novel in that.

For me, inspiration can be found anywhere and, whilst none of my characters are based on real people, conversations with friends definitely spark off ideas too. If they make a really funny comment, there’s a chance it might appear in some form or another somewhere along the line. So, as the sign says, be careful what you say or you might just find yourself in an eavesdropping writer’s next story!

Jo x

How to Catch a (Rock) Star…

Today we’re delighted to welcome the lovely Gabrielle Aquilina to the blog, to tell us all about her fabulous debut.  Over to you Gabrielle…

Gabby cover 2First of all, I’d really like to thank the Write Romantics for having me – it’s a real pleasure and I’m thrilled to be publisher buddies with two of them!

So, I have my first book, ‘How To Catch A (Rock) Star’ coming out in a few days which is incredibly exciting but also really, really scary. Pretty much everyone I know has said they are going to buy a copy and read it and that is, quite frankly, terrifying. Great but terrifying.

I’ve been really busy writing guest posts for various blogs as well as getting together a short story for my website but, for this guest post, I want to tell you how ‘How To Catch A (Rock) Star’ came to be.

As with most authors, I’ve pretty much always written – picture stories when I was a kid, awful poetry when I was a teenager, mostly journals, diaries and letters (I know – old school!) when I was in my twenties and, finally, a novel when I hit my thirties.

Actually, ‘How To Catch A (Rock) Star’ started out life as a completely different story to the one it ended up being. Originally, it was going to be a story about a group of friends and the dynamics of those all important female relationships. I wanted to explore what happens when one friend amongst a group of close friends becomes envious of another friend and how that impacts on the entire group.

But once I wrote Jed in, he wouldn’t leave the story and it became a novel of love, lust, mistrust and betrayal set against a backdrop of rock music! And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good love story? Especially one that involves super hot rock stars, relatable heroines and some good old drama and tension…

The drama in ‘How To Catch A (Rock) Star’ comes from people keeping secrets and the fallout that happens when that secret explodes. I’ve experienced this myself in a relationship although it wasn’t quite as dramatic as either of the secrets Married Matt or Jed are keeping, thank God!

I hope a lot of readers will be able to relate to Lillie’s reaction and her subsequent downwards spiral. I’ve tried to make her a realistic heroine, one who makes mistakes and has flaws but, ultimately, is strong and picks herself up in the end.

I’m sure she’s frustrating at times, but isn’t everyone? Even my most favourite people annoy me sometimes and I try to write characters who are as real as possible because I prefer to read books where the protagonists are less than perfect. I find that makes for a more compelling and interesting story than perfection!

I enjoyed writing the characters from ‘How To Catch A (Rock) Star’ so much (and quite honestly, they just will not leaveGabby 2 me alone!), that I’m currently writing a follow-on novel, which will star Johnny, Jed’s best friend, and I plan on writing a third which will be all about Lillie’s best friend, Kate. So, if you read and like ‘How To Catch A (Rock) Star’, then keep an eye out for the next two books!

If you do read ‘How To Catch A (Rock) Star’, then first of all, thank you very much, I hope you enjoyed it! And secondly, if you have the time, please leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon…

Thanks for having me on your wonderful blog, Write Romantics! x

Wednesday Wondering – You’re My Inspiration

On this day, 11th February, twenty-five years ago, Nelson Mandela was released after twenty-seven years of imprisonment. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was a source of inspiration to millions around the world. So the theme for today’s Wednesday Wondering is around inspiration. I asked The Write Romantics:

Who or what inspires you?

I told them that it was up to them how they interpreted this question. Inspiration could come from a person, a place, an event or something else. It could be something/someone who inspires them to write through to how they live your life or want to live their life.

I love it when I ask a question that can be open for interpretation because the responses are so varied. Today’s question didn’t let me down.

Jessica xx

Deirdre says …

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was walking around a National Trust estate the summer before last and a friend I was with asked me if I could imagine writing a story set there.  I could see what he meant – the ancient trees, the secret valleys filled with exotic plants – but I had to tell him, no, I wasn’t inspired.  I could see he was surprised, disappointed even, but on that particular day at that particular time I’d have found more inspiration in a grimy back street suggesting dubious goings-on after dark.  And I don’t write thrillers.

So, what I think is that inspiration, whether for something creative like writing or simply how to live your life, depends on mood and circumstance; a fluid thing, not easy to pin down or explain.  Which is probably why I took so long to come up with an answer to this question…

There are things, and people, who are more likely to inspire me than others.  For instance, I don’t look at super-achievers and think ‘I could do that’.  I mean the kind of person who home-schools three children, runs a successful business, jogs three times round the park before breakfast and writes best-sellers under cover of darkness, and all without breaking a nail.  That kind of thing leaves me cold.  But when I hear somebody talking, a woman around my age, say, and discover she has same problems, insecurities and crazy thoughts as I do, that will throw a switch inside me and I know I’m doing fine just as I am.  I suppose that’s validation rather inspiration but the two go hand in hand.  If you accept who you are now I think you’re more likely to be receptive to new ideas and have the vision to carry them forward.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s the complicated answer, so now I’ll try to give the simple one.  I have a lovely friend who is very successful at writing stories for women’s magazines.  In fact she’s just sold her hundredth story!  I’m not saying I could reach that dizzy height but she’s definitely inspired me to have a go.  Brilliant writing of any kind will always inspire me, particularly with the novels.  My art teacher inspires me to keep on trying with the drawing and painting.  It’s her job, I know, but not all teachers have the knack.  Friends who have faced great challenges with strength and bravery are always inspiring.

On a lower level, watching property and gardening programmes makes me want to improve my own little patch, and magazines have great ideas that I can’t wait to follow – if only I had the time and the energy.  On the other hand I might just persuade somebody else to do it for me.

Helen R says …

My love of reading is what initially inspired me to become a writer. It took many years of loving books to be brave enough to tackle writing my own, and there were failed attempts as I continued to learn and wrote something that was together enough to submit to agents and publishers.

My other inspiration has always been my family and friends, including The Write Romantics. From the encouragement to get started and put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to the much needed persuasion not to give up, I think that the people in my life have inspired me to follow this career path, which, let’s face it, can be pretty lonely sometimes.

Rachael says …

Anthology coverInspiration is everywhere for everything, if you just look for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a story idea or the motivation to do something. People, places, or events – past or present, are inspirational.

On a small scale, I find inspiration for my writing all over the place, watching TV, listening to the lyrics of a song, an overheard snippet of conversation. It’s all there for the taking if you open your mind to it.

But there is much bigger inspiration around us. It’s there in people who have risen to the challenge of life and achieved their ambitions, sometimes never letting go of their hopes and dreams for many years. These are the people I look to for inspiration, which in turn gives me motivation. People like the local unsung heroes of our communities, people who have faced illness and bravely shared their story, often raising huge sums of money for charity.

A perfect example of this is Stephen Sutton who inspired The Write Romantics to produce our first anthology, raising funds for charity. Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart is available in paperback and eBook formats via Amazon.

Jo says …

PaulaThe most inspirational person I know in real life is a friend of mine, called Paula. She has a wicked sense of humour, has the sharpest put-downs of anyone I’ve ever met and could probably drink the England rugby union squad under the table.  Our birthdays are one day – and, as she wouldn’t fail to let you know, four years – apart, so maybe that’s why we’re on the same wave length in so many ways.

When we worked together, they called us Trinny and Susannah and we weren’t afraid to tell the world how we saw things.  We were younger then, of course, with that feeling of indestructibility that comes with youth… and, of course, Paula’s muscular dystrophy was less evident than it is now.  She’s always been as tenacious as hell, refusing to have any special allowance made for her condition and working her proverbial off to climb the career ladder, attain a degree whilst working full time and achieve awards for her outstanding commitment to teaching.

Paula and Jo NYE2014Paula has never allowed her condition to define her and whilst many, with far less to contend with, proclaim themselves too ill to work, she’s been out there grabbing life by both hands. After a horrific fall and a six month stint in hospital, she’s finally decided it’s time to ease off the full-time workload, but she’s still willing to volunteer to support her fellow teachers and is thinking about setting up an advice service for others who find themselves in a similar position to hers. Paula also indirectly introduced me to my husband – although that’s another story altogether – hence my son having Paul as his middle name – she beta reads for me, being the first person to ever set eyes upon ‘Among A Thousand Stars’ and was the main inspiration for my Winter Tales’ story.

She never whinges about the hand that life has dealt her – and she’s had more than just being born with MD to contend with – she gets on with things, living independently and wringing as much out of life as it’s possible to do.  I wish I had an ounce of her courage and that I could truly appreciate what I’ve got when I look at what she has to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  I know I don’t, but, still, she’s the definition of inspirational.  We usually like to insult each other – it’s a sign of affection, don’t you know – but, let me say, here and now, Paula, you’re a star and an inspiration and I’m lucky to call you a friend. I know all this will make her uncomfortable, so, as Andrew Lincoln put it in Love Actually, and before Paula has to reach for the sick bucket or a bitingly sarcastic response, “Enough now, enough”.

Alys says …

DSC01339My key inspiration seems to come from places. Beltane was inspired by Glastonbury and my current work in progress, Lughnasa, is inspired by Orkney. I seem to need a strong sense of place in my writing and I find that visiting the location sparks ideas for the plot.  I had so many ideas from visiting Orkney that I couldn’t fit them all into the one book.  So maybe that will keep me going back there and writing about it again.

Sharon says …

When I was in my forties, I decided to do an Open University degree. This took me six years, and it was a long and difficult process. There were many times, when life was particularly tricky, that I felt like quitting, convinced I would fail.

In my spare time (ha!) I was researching my family tree. I’d sent for the marriage certificate of my great-great-grandparents. As I perused the details on the document, one thing leapt out at me immediately. The two witnesses to the marriage, and my great-great-grandfather, George, had all made their mark with a cross. Emma had written her own name.

When I was a little girl, my grandad had given me the memorial plaque awarded in memory of his father, who had been killed in the First World War. I’ve kept it with me ever since. I call it “The Big Penny”, because that’s what it resembles. Emma was that fallen soldier’s mother, which I hadn’t realised before starting my research.

Over thirty years ago, a clairvoyant told me that I had a guardian angel, an ancestor of mine, who watched over me and protected me, and that her name began with the letter E. After discovering my great-grandad’s mum was Emma, and finding that amazing signature on the marriage certificate, I’m absolutely convinced that she meant Emma. The thought of that young woman signing the register fills me with pride to this day. It was the hope that she’d be proud of me that inspired me to finish my degree, and spurred me on to finish my novel, in spite of my self-doubt. Emma is my angel and my inspiration, and I have a lot to thank her for.

And finally …

_MG_0003As for me, my response is similar to Rachael’s. My inspiration comes from all around me. I’m lucky enough to live on the beautiful North Yorkshire Coast. Three mornings a week, I rise at 5.20am and venture down to the seafront to take part in a bootcamp. I completed my very first bootcamp in February 2013, continued for about a year, then took eight months off before getting back into it but with a different company. Sadly, eight months was enough time to put all the weight back on that I’d lost and completely lose my fitness levels again so I had to start from scratch. It’s hard work, particularly when you’re in your forties and very overweight, but the setting is so inspiring. The mornings are starting to get a little lighter and we’ll soon hit the point where the sun rises while we’re working out. Who can fail to be inspired as the sun rises over the sea, casting its first rays on Scarborough Castle. Absolutely stunning.

bootcamps-headerI started to blog about my bootcamp experiences from Day 1 and the really strange thing for me is that friends, family and even strangers have cited me as their inspiration. I personally don’t think I’m very inspiring at all, especially as I’ve been doing this for two years and still have nearly all the weight to lose that I wanted to lose back at the start. But I still do it and I’ve massively increased my fitness. I guess it’s my determination to crack this thing – even if it takes a heck of a long time – that people find inspiring. And it’s those people who do crack it that I find inspiring. My second cousin, Lisa, decided enough was enough the same year I started Bootcamp and joined Slimming World. She lost about seven stone in that year. I lost three and put it back on again. I’m so inspired by her determination so I keep chipping away at it.

For my writing, settings inspire me, like Alys. So do songs. I will often hear a line in a song and think that it’s a great title for a book and, suddenly, I have an idea for a premise for a book.

What do you think? What inspires you? We’d love to hear from you. Please click on the comments tag at the end of all the words below.

Thank you

Jessica xx

Wednesday Wondering – Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Back to School We Go!

Schools went back last month and anyone with school-aged children or relatives will hopefully find that they’ve settled nicely into the new term and are probably already counting down the weeks (maybe even days) till half term.

My question to The Write Romantics this month is therefore school related:
 School days: love or hate? What are your fondest and/or worst memories of school?

For me personally, school days were mixed. I have vivid memories of certain parts of primary school: bad moments such as throwing up all over the carpet in reception class before the older kids came in for singing practice, constantly being told off and made to stand in the corner of the room in top infants, being asked to sing Abba’s ‘Super Trouper’ in a class talent show while my friends danced to it then completely blanking on the words and sobbing my eyes out (we won; sympathy vote!), and the boy over the road pinching my hat on a winter’s walk home and making me cry. I also have positive memories like winning a pencil case in the school raffle, building a fort on the playing fields in heavy snow, being fascinated by The Plague and The Great Fire of London, and acting in a school play about The Palace of Versailles. I’d probably say that infants wasn’t good and juniors was.

P1050711My comprehensive days weren’t good at all although I did have a small group of very good friends, some of whom I’m still good friends with although we don’t live close so thank goodness for Facebook. I enjoyed the variety of subjects, especially when we got to pick our options, but I hated the other kids 😦 I was bullied. I was the fat kid (although looking back at photos, I wasn’t really that fat which makes me so mad because it’s been a life-long issue for me thanks to those school days) and I was bright. We were streamed so I got bullied by students in the lower streams for being in one of the top sets and bullied by everyone else for my weight. A nasty rumour went round school about me too which wasn’t true but it haunted me for three years and made my life hell. I couldn’t wait to leave. (The picture is my form in 5th Year. I’m front right. As you can see, I’m far from fat but I believed I was enormous).

College was OK. I went to a technical college to study a BTEC instead of sixth form to do A Levels. I loved the subject, I didn’t love the commute to another town, and I was a bit lonely as none of my friends went there and I felt a bit left out when I’d hear about their exciting time at sixth form. If I could do it all again, though, I’d still do the same thing.

P1050712University was mixed too. My first year was pretty good. I could just about do the subjects and I made a few friends but it all fell apart in my second year. I couldn’t do some of the compulsory subjects so had to spend hours pouring over books trying to understand the basics. I’d also made the mistake of staying in Halls with a close friend but he got in with a clique who rejected me because I spent so much time studying and all my friends who’d moved out had moved on with their lives and didn’t need me. I’ve never felt so surrounded by people yet so incredibly alone. Thankfully I had a year out and it was the making of me. I loved my job, had two great house-mates (pictured either side of me in my graduation photo) and a great social life with the other sponsored students and graduate trainees. I returned to uni with a fresh approach to learning and friendships and I had an amazing time. I just wish I’d known at the start of uni what I’d known in my final year as things could have been very different.

Over to the others …

Harriet says …

I was a painfully shy child, and as an only child who had never mixed with more than two or three other children at a time, school was far more traumatic than it should have been, especially at the start.  Things didn’t improve much as time went on.  I remember crossing the junior school playground with my mother one afternoon when all the others had gone – why we were still there I don’t know – and the headmistress, a tyrant if ever there was one, came over and spoke to my mother.  She then spoke to me, and I froze.  I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, and no matter how much Mum urged me to say something, anything, I just couldn’t. I got a telling-off for it, but that was my mother all over.  She was embarrassed I suppose.

Being the way I was, I was desperate to melt into the background and be the same as everyone else.  When it came to reading lessons, I could already read fluently and had been able to since before I started school but when it was my turn to read I would stumble over a few words on purpose so that I didn’t appear different from the others.  And another daft thing, for some reason I had trouble identifying my own possessions and when a scarf which had been found in the playground was held up in front of the class, I didn’t recognise it.  It was only when I went to put my coat on later that I realised it was missing, then had to confess, red-faced, to my teacher face that it was indeed my scarf.

I was lucky enough to go to an old-style grammar school where the teachers were dedicated and passionate about their subjects, and I still recall vividly many of the actual lessons.  I remember our English teacher, Miss Egan, leaping in her lace-ups from one side of the dais to the other to demonstrate parts of a sentence; the smelly Biology lesson when we, pointlessly, dissected a herring; the fruit salad I made in Domestic Science using plain tap water as I hadn’t been listening when we were told to boil it with sugar.  I remember it all, which goes to show what a wonderful education we had.  None of us appreciated that at the time, of course.

The highlight of my entire schooldays has to be meeting my three friends, Val, Angie and Marion, in the second year of grammar school.  They were my soul-mates, my saviours, the sisters I never had, and we’re still friends now.  Last time we were together, we realised it was fifty years since we left school.  Fifty! We toasted the occasion with a bottle of Prosecco on top of the wine we’d already had.  Any excuse!

 

Jackie says …

The lesson I liked most in school was art. it was not because I was any good at art, in fact I am embarissingly bad at it, I can only do Noddy cars and seahorses. But our art teacher, Mrs James, was really cool and loved her art so much that she painted her own canvass’s when she was teaching us, leaving us mostly to our own devices. The art shed was at the bottom of the school garden and this particular summer, we were shoo-ed out every lesson so Mrs James could paint and smoke in peace ( she really did smoke in class!) We spent the art lesson’s practising levitation, Ouija (we had to huddle in Mr Mountford, the handyman’s shed, as it was dark) and fainting. Levitation scared the hell out us because it appeared to work, Ouija board scared the hell out of us because we didn’t know my friend Helen was pushing the glass to write BANSHEE. We didn’t know what a banshee was, so it must have been a real banshee writing it! Fainting (you know, where you breathe deeply for 20 and then stick your thumb in your mouth and blow hard) actually did work and scared the hell out of us because we kept thinking we were going to die. It was the best summer ever and we were really sad when Mrs James suddenly left, mid term, never to be seen again.

 

Helen R says …

I’m one of those people who loved their school days. I didn’t love every subject – maths and science were enemies – but I loved being there in that environment with friends.

I’ve overheard so many mums talking about results for this and results for that and perhaps I should be more worried about the academic side of my girls’ schooling, but for me, the last thing I say in the morning when I drop them at the gate is ‘have lots of fun’ and the first thing I say at pickup is ‘did you have a good day?’

High school was the most fun I think…I valued the independence of walking to and from school each day, meeting friends afterwards, the whole future ahead of us. My only regret is that I didn’t pursue writing earlier, but then again, without the business degree I wouldn’t have made the choices that have ultimately led me to the life I lead today, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

downloadAlys says …

Because I’ve always been a bit of a girly swot I generally loved school. I went to a very old fashioned all girls grammar school in York.  The school was in a large Victorian house with lovely grounds and pretty much entirely staffed by total eccentrics.  There was a geography teacher who had toy bunny rabbits that she talked about as if they were real. If she was cross with you she’d say, ‘Pinky bites’ referring to her rabbit called Pinky. There was a male teacher, who had unfortunately lost a leg to Polio, and who was banned from teaching Latin after he threw the board rubber at a girl and it hit her. Allegedly she chucked it straight back!  However, we was still allowed to teach history which must have made him less irritable because he never threw the board rubber in any of my lessons.

photo (2)In many ways it was an education from a much earlier time. I was taught Latin (which I was terrible at and really hated), to play tennis (also very badly) on the grass courts in the grounds and treated as a ‘young lady’.  The lack of boys meant that only the fast girls (and I definitely wasn’t one of them) had boyfriends.

I’ve had an idea recently for a book that would use all of this wonderful material but I think I’ll have to tone some of it down because people probably wouldn’t believe it really happened. It was a huge influence on me because, for all its faults, it had an ethos that women could achieve anything they put their minds to.  To remind me of that the mug that they gave me when I left still stands on my desk.

Rachael says …

img002-croppedLove them or hate them, school days are the best days of your life, or so we are told. For me my primary school days weren’t much fun. My family moved every couple of years and this meant new schools and new friends. But my secondary school days, or high school as it’s now known, were much better. I still have contact with friends from school, despite having moved away from the area and my ‘best friend’ visits each summer with her family. It’s wonderful to be able to just pick up with her as if we saw each other just the other day instead of months ago.

One of my favourite memories was hanging out in the school corridors, chatting and catching up with friends. I loved English lessons, because they were in the school library and I could spend time surrounded by books. I also loved science and home economics, which today probably go under a different name. I hated, with a vengeance, sports. Why would anyone want to go out in the cold and wet, armed with a stick and whack a ball around? As you can tell, hockey was my least favourite sport, closely followed by cross-country.

Jay says …

then and nowDid I love or hate my school days… Well, I suppose it was a game of two halves.  I loved primary school and really only have good memories of that, apart perhaps from Nitty Nora the flea explorer… In my last year there, I had the most marvellous teacher, Mrs Muldoon and a wonderful best friend Claire, with whom I’m still in touch.  I remember doing a puppet show, I was the fairy godmother, and we made the puppets ourselves from paper mache, string and scraps of fabric.  Through my rose-coloured spectacles, the puppets looked incredible and the show was a triumph – although I’m sure the reality was somewhat different!

Secondary school I wasn’t a big fan of.  I went to an extremely competitive all girls’ grammar and I was in no way enough of a high flier to stand out.  That said, I made some more great friends, including one of my now best friends, Sarah.  Here’s a photograph of us then and now.  We used to get the train in together and got up to all sorts, including strong arming John Cleese for an autograph and, on another occasion, almost getting arrested by the railway police – until we bribed them with Maltesers!

Sharon (in her first official WW as a Write Romantic) says …

I loved school! Well, mostly. Primary school was lots of fun. We were mostly taught in ancient white prefabs with huge old boilers in the middle of the classroom. When it was particularly cold we would pull up our chairs and gather round the boiler to keep warm while the teacher read to us. Sometimes, on very wet days, bits of sodden clothing would be draped on the fireguard to dry! I doubt that would be allowed these days and I believe the prefabs have been pulled down which is a shame. The central part of the school was a newish, brick-built, one storey high building. This housed the hall where we’d have our daily assemblies and perform our plays and carol concerts. There were other classrooms in this part, too, with big french windows that opened out on to a lovely garden. In warm weather the windows would be wide open and I used to daydream, gazing at the rose bushes and the cherry blossom trees and making up stories in my head when I was supposed to be doing sums.

Every week we had a spelling competition and we each had to ask another pupil a word that they had to spell correctly. If they spelt it incorrectly they were eliminated. One week a brainy boy decided to test me and asked me to spell miscellaneous. As the whole class gasped, I thought, is he mad? I remember my lovely teacher smiling and nodding at me encouragingly and saying, “Go on, Sharon!” So I did. I still remember the relief when I got it right! We had a lovely library at the end of the building which was where I discovered pony books. We also had a year of various fund-raising activities to raise enough money to build a swimming pool in the grounds, which we did. A local news reporter from the Calendar television programme came to open it because he was engaged to one of our teachers.

I remember the autumn being really exciting. We’d go outside and collect fallen leaves and conkers to make displays for the classroom, and of course there was all the fun of Hallowe’en to look forward to. Christmas at primary school was fantastic. We’d decorate the classrooms, make a postbox for everyone to bring cards and presents for their friends, file into the hall each morning where the usual hymns would be replaced with those fantastic carols. The fourth-year juniors (the eldest ones) would perform a Christmas play each year and when it was our turn we did an interesting one written by one of the teachers which combined Oliver Twist with A Christmas Carol. I remember rushing home from school in the dark, having stayed late for rehearsals, walking along the banks of a drain as a short cut, mindful of the parts that had crumbled away and all too aware of the scurrying sound of rats. I definitely wouldn’t want my kids coming home from school in those circumstances!

Lower High school wasn’t much fun, except they had the most fantastic library, stacked to the rafters with pony books. From the second floor science lab I had a fabulous view of ponies grazing in the fields, so that got me through. Upper High School was great. It was built in the grounds of a grand old house.  I loved that building. It had once belonged to an important man in the area who had actually survived the Titanic disaster, and I used to love walking into that huge hallway, climbing those stairs, my hands trailing along the bannisters and sweeping up to the landing where – you’ve guessed it – the school library was now situated! I used to sit in that library looking out over the grounds that was now a school playing field and imagine the people who’d once lived there.  We weren’t allowed in the main house much. It was the base for the staff mostly, housing the staff room, offices and headmaster’s room. Only a maths room and a library were for our use so I only got to go in there occasionally but it was always worth the wait. I was a bit disappointed to find the library didn’t have any pony books, though. I started to look for other things to read and, remembering the name of one of my mum’s favourite authors, I selected The Dwelling Place by Catherine Cookson. I was soon hooked! I did try Barbara Cartland but couldn’t get to grips with her heroines who were always gasping and swooning.

I had a major crush on the English teacher at the Upper School. He was always so complimentary and encouraging about my work and I just fell for him big time. I even wrote a poem for him once and persuaded my friends to give it to him. He was very kind and patient with me and I’ve never forgotten that. He really made me believe in my writing ability so I have a lot to thank him for! For a short time we had a school newspaper, and I volunteered to help out. I ended up writing most of the articles, helping to print it out, harassing other kids for their contributions, making up the shortfall when they didn’t bother, coming up with ideas for the next issue and then traipsing round the classrooms selling as many issues as I could to uninterested fellow pupils. Needless to say it didn’t survive long. Ah well. Happy days..

What about you? We’d love you to join in and tell us all about your school days. Did you love them or hate them? What memories have lingered with you for life?

Jessica xx