My guest today is the fabulous Jessica Redland, who very kindly stepped in at the last minute to share her five photos with me. Jessica is the author of some wonderful romantic comedies/contemporary women’s fiction, a member of the Write Romantics, and an all-round lovely person with a wicked sense of humour – as I think some of these photos reflect. Over to you, Jessica.
When Sharon launched her guest slots on her wonderful blog towards the end of last year, I was eager to take part and quickly secured a slot to talk about location in writing. Although I was intrigued by the idea of the Five Photos post, the question that popped into my head was: How on earth would I pick just five? So I decided to give that one a miss. Then someone pulled out and I volunteered to take the spare slot. Eek! Dilemma!
I know that most of us have a ridiculous number of photos since we went digital but I have a phenomenal quantity of photos from life before digital and there are so many of them that are personally meaningful or tell an interesting story like the one of me in New Zealand in 2000 poised to make a bungee jump (and the follow up sequence where I got dunked in the water and my T-shirt ended up over my head, revealing my underwear to the world). But I can’t show any of those older photos because I don’t have a scanner and I don’t think a photo of a photo looks quite so good, which did help to narrow down my options.
I’ve therefore gone for a selection of more recent photos that represent my life being linked to my writing and I hope you enjoy them.
My first photo is my family: husband Mark, our daughter Ashleigh (now 11), and our Sprocker Spaniel, Ella. We also have a cat called Felix but obviously he doesn’t come out for walks so he’s missing from this!
I met Mark in 2003, which was a year of massive change for me in which I moved from Berkshire to North Yorkshire, leaving a good job to pursue a risky dream of opening a teddy bear shop. If I hadn’t had the bear shop, I’d never have met Mark and, if it hadn’t been for Mark, I don’t think I’d have got where I am today with my writing. I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason.
I already had the idea for my debut novel and I started to write it when I opened Bear’s Pad, but it was Mark who introduced me to The Writer’s Bureau and, although I never actually finished the course, it taught me that there was a lot more to writing a book than I’d realised and set me on a journey of learning which, over the next decade, honed my skills and knowledge. Mark also introduced me to the setting for my novels: his hometown of Scarborough. For the first year or so, Searching for Steven had no actual location but, when I set up home in Scarborough 18 months later, I knew I’d found my inspiration. The fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay, modeled predominantly on Scarborough, has become part of my writing identity and the sense of place is something regularly commented on in reviews.
By 2008, I still didn’t have a finished novel. Life had got in the way. I’d closed Bear’s Pad, moved to Scarborough, got married, had Ashleigh, and changed job several times. I still wanted to finish the book but I don’t think I believed I could. Mark spotted an advert in the local paper stating that GP Taylor, local author of fantasy book Shadowmancer, was running a creative writing course over five weeks. I signed up hoping to pick up some tips and get some motivation and that’s exactly what happened because the culmination of the course was a piece of creative writing read by Graham, his wife, and his assistant. I was stunned when mine was cited as the best piece that they all thought was, “ready to be published … NOW!” About 18 months later, I Googled GP Taylor to see how his writing was progressing and I discovered that he was signed up as judge for a writing competition run by English Heritage. The aim was to create an anthology of short stories set at or inspired by Whitby Abbey, just up the coast, the proceeds of which would go back into the Abbey. I decided to enter. I’ll admit that it was very much an 11th hour piece of work, submitted two minutes before the deadline, and would have benefited from a bit (a lot) more editing so I was certain I wouldn’t win. I didn’t. But I did get selected as one of the top 50 out of several hundred entries to appear in the anthology. I vividly remember the day I received the email telling me. My hands were shaking, my heart was racing, and I couldn’t stop grinning. This is me on a visit to Whitby Abbey later that year, with my copy of Whitby Abbey Pure Inspiration, containing my very first published piece of writing. At that point, I really started to believe I could, perhaps, maybe, write.
This next picture was taken a decade later from the first, in February 2013. It’s taken on Scarborough’s North Bay on one of my favourite types of day: cold with a bright blue sky. I love North Bay, especially out of season, and it has featured in several of my books. At this point, I was in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme for the second year. I’d finished my first novel, Searching for Steven, and the ideas for another two books in a trilogy were well-established. I’d co-founded The Write Romantics with the super talented Jo Bartlett and, a couple of months later, we invited other RNA new writers to join us, growing to a group of ten who have become my writing family and invaluable support over the past five years. The location and what was going on in my life when this photo was taken represent many key parts of my writing journey.
We jump a couple of years to 2015 for the next image. On 3rd June 2015, my debut novel was launched and I had a party for friends and family. Mark was meant to be on photography duty during the party but there were so many people to talk to that he barely took any photos and the ones he did take didn’t have me in them. What I’ve therefore chosen to show is a photo of a drawing Ashleigh made for me. She appeared in my office the day after the launch party, sheepishly clutching this. She’d have been eight at the time. I’m really conscious that she doesn’t get as much of my time as she deserves because I have a very demanding day job and try to fit in writing around that, so I was really touched that my writing achievements are something she’s proud of instead of being something she resents. She’s always writing herself, so I’m anticipating her following in mummy’s footsteps.
BROWN OWL LIBRARY (and BADGES)
I became a Brown Owl in 2010 and, in 2015, to celebrate me becoming a published writer, the Brownies worked towards their Booklover and Writer badges. This included a visit to a small local library. North Yorkshire libraries have been really supportive, hosting several author talks from me, and stocking copies of my books. The photo isn’t the best but this is me in my Brownie uniform, showing “surprise” at seeing copies of Searching for Steven on the library shelves. Although we were messing about when the photo was taken, it really was an amazing moment as this was my first time seeing Steven on display anywhere other than at home. I felt I deserved the Booklover and Writer badges myself for the achievement so have cheated slightly with an extra photo of these, but it is related so hopefully you’ll forgive me. I loved being a Brown Owl and got so much from it, but I stepped down from my perch in December 2017 to find time to take the next step in my writing journey: a Masters in Creative Writing. It still feels a little strange not being Brown Owl any more but I have 7.5 years of very happy memories.
I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at my photos. It’s certainly been interesting for me to reflect on my writing journey so far. If you’d like to connect or find out more, here are my details:
Amazon: Find my author page here
Thank you, Sharon, for being a fabulous friend and a great host.