2020 – what a year!
Since it’s New Year’s Eve (at last!) and tonight the clocks will chime us into a new year (at last!) I thought I’d look back at 2020 – the longest and probably the strangest year in living memory. I suspect it’s a year that few of us will be sorry to say goodbye to. This blog is definitely not the place for lengthy political debate, or to discuss the rights and wrongs of our national – or global – response to this crisis, so I’ll leave it to those who know about such matters. This is purely a look back at my year, and the ups and downs of a most peculiar twelve months.
A Good Beginning
The year 2020 started with such promise. I was working on the third The Witches of Castle Clair novel, To Catch a Witch, and having a lot of fun with it. On my blog I welcomed several guests, who talked about their latest book, or how to make a living as a writer. You can read the blogs by clicking on the author’s name:
A Yorkshire Jaunt
Then, in February, The Husband and I went off to the Yorkshire Dales for a short break. We went to a little place near Skipton, which is an area we’re not too familiar with. It was a much-needed break and I really enjoyed myself. We packed a lot into three days, I must say. Of course, little did I know that it would be the last time I’d get to the Dales all year. In a normal year, we’d go several times – especially during the spring and summer. I fully expected to be back there within a couple of months, but that never happened. I’ll admit I’m pining for the Dales. I’ve been watching Our Yorkshire Farm and All Creatures Great and Small to get my fix! If you didn’t read my blog post about our break – including the infamous breakfast debacle, you can read it here.
Well, at the risk of sounding like a total gadabout, March saw me off on my travels again! This time, it was a spur-of-the-moment trip – well, definitely more spur-of-the-moment than the Yorkshire Dales break. It was totally unexpected. I just woke up one morning and thought, I need to go to Glastonbury! The Husband had holidays owing, and he needed to use them up pretty quickly or lose them forever, so I booked us five days away. Honestly, I think it was fate. It was a very important trip in more ways than one.
I’d been struggling with To Catch a Witch. I needed some inspiration, because the story was stuck and I couldn’t think what was wrong. I’d had the plan for it in my head for ages, so what was stopping me from writing? I thought a holiday in mystical, magical Glastonbury would be just the ticket to sort the problem. It sort of did, but in a roundabout way. But what an amazing break it was!
It was only on the way home that inspiration struck, and I realised something fundamental about one of my characters that provided a huge twist in the story and changed its direction entirely. So the magic of Glastonbury did work! While we were away – and what I couldn’t say when I blogged about our holiday – was that my daughter had texted me early one morning, sending me a photograph of a pregnancy test. A positive pregnancy test. We were going to be grandparents again! So that was an exciting event to look forward to.
And of course, by the time we left for home, everything had changed. We’d not been watching the news while we were away, but we had noticed a distinct shortage of toilet rolls on the supermarket shelves while we were shopping. We even laughed about it, little realising that “normal” life was ending, while we strolled around the quaint streets and visited the Abbey and the Tor, and ate a meal in the local pub without a care in the world. I’d got a cough while I was away (it was nothing sinister), and I knew enough to realise I would have to quarantine when I got home. Even so, I had no idea how serious things were about to get. Just a few days after we returned home, the whole country went into lockdown.
I’m so grateful we had those two short breaks in the Yorkshire Dales and Glastonbury. They set me up for the worrying times ahead. You can read more about our Glastonbury Trip here.
Before all this pandemic was big news, I’d rashly signed up to do the A-Z Challenge again. I don’t know why. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyway, I decided on a theme for 2020 at last, and announced it in mid-March. You can read all about it in this post: A-Z Challenge Theme Reveal.
To Catch a Witch
The end of April saw the release of To Catch a Witch, the final instalment of The Witches of Castle Clair trilogy. Despite how tricky I’d found writing the ending of that book, and despite the fact that those characters had an inconvenient habit of springing surprises on me and changing all my plans, I really, really loved writing those books, and I’m very fond of the St Clairs and their various partners and familiars.
It was quite risky, venturing into the paranormal, even though the books were all still very much romcoms, but I’m lucky and grateful that so many of my regular readers took a leap of faith and read something that they perhaps wouldn’t normally look at. I really appreciate all the kind comments and lovely messages about the books, and I’m so glad that so many of you enjoyed them.
You never know – the St Clairs may be back one day! They seem to do what they like anyway, so if they decide they’ve got more to say, I doubt I can stop them…
Over the course of the next few months, I welcomed more guests to the blog, and you can read their various posts – on everything from the joys of gardening to yarn bombing to witchy book recommendations – by clicking on the author’s name.
Time for a Change
I’d also undertaken the mammoth task of getting many of my book covers replaced. I thought they needed a fresh, new image, so I turned to my lovely cover designer, Berni Stevens for help. She agreed to take on the project, and over the course of 2020, some of my old favourites proudly displayed their new look. The Kearton Bay books were first, then the Moorland Heroes took their turn. I’ve left the Bramblewick books alone for now, and I had no plans to change the Home for Christmas books and no desire to alter the Castle Clair covers in any way. The Skimmerdale books are a work-in-progress, but there is a reason they’ve been delayed. They’re being re-edited, and re-titled, and will have a relaunch in spring or early summer next year, followed by a Skimmerdale Christmas book later on.
Keeping in Touch
I’d set up a newsletter at the end of 2019, and that’s grown and flourished over the course of this year. I’m currently working on a novella, which will be free for all my subscribers. It’s a standalone prequel to my 2021 short series, and introduces the characters that readers of that series will get to know well. That series, in turn, will lead into my big new series for 2022. Yes, I do think that far ahead. In fact, I have plans for enough books to take me up to 2024 and even beyond that, so I’m certainly going to be busy!
In 2020, I also set up a Facebook Readers’ Group, called Love, Laughter, and Happy Ever After, which gives me great pleasure. It’s lovely to have a safe and private space on social media where I can chat with people and they can chat with me. All members are welcome to post their own things, and we are really getting to know each other, so I love it. I also set up a YouTube channel. Currently, there are only book trailers and our group’s Christmas playlist on there, but in the future I hope to post videos of me at the locations of my books, maybe short readings, who knows?
So 2020 definitely wasn’t going the way I’d planned it. Regular readers of this blog or my social media accounts will know I have suffered from anxiety and depression at times in the past, and the pandemic proved to be a scary step too far. All my old fears came back, including my social phobia. Bad enough that we couldn’t go anywhere, but I realised I didn’t want to go anywhere, and I knew I was in trouble. To try to make sense of it all, I wrote a blog post about it, which you can find here.
A Northumberland Adventure
2020 wasn’t all doom and gloom though! In September, The Husband and I went off on holiday. I know that sounds as if we’re really spoilt, but the holiday had been booked a year previously. Actually, we were supposed to be going away in June to Cornwall, but obviously that couldn’t happen. Our September holiday was on a Haven caravan park up in Northumberland, and it certainly didn’t go to plan. It wasn’t like our usual holidays. There was no browsing gift shops, visiting historic buildings or eating out in pubs, cafes or restaurants. We were very much keeping ourselves to ourselves and playing it safe. But oh, we did have a laugh, even if we did have to spend rather more on petrol than we’d expected. You can read about our fabulous Northumberland adventure here.
October was a fabulous month – if only for one reason. Our grandson arrived! Yes, baby Freddie came into the world just a few days later than expected, weighing exactly 9lbs. My poor daughter had a terrible time of it as she developed sepsis and had to have an emergency caesarean. She was poorly for some days afterwards, and I was, quite frankly, terrified. But thanks to the outstanding care of the NHS midwives and doctors at our local maternity hospital, she came through it all, and was allowed home a week after Freddie was born.
He’s absolutely thriving, and a real joy. The best thing to happen to me during 2020 without a doubt. It’s a terrible shame that I’ve only seen him a few times in “real life” thanks to Covid and all the restrictions, but I did manage to get a cuddle with him, and I get videos and photos of him sent to me every day. I’ve even had a few video chats with him – although it’s all a bit one-sided, I must say.
Christmas with Cary
In November 2020, I released Christmas with Cary, the third and final part of my Home for Christmas series. It’s a lovely, gentle, festive story of first love, lost love, and never giving up on love – no matter how long it takes. I absolutely loved writing Molly’s and Cary’s story, and I enjoyed all the research that went along with it. All those Cary Grant movies… It’s a hard life!
I designed the cover myself, but wasn’t sure about the background colour, so I made several different versions with different colours. I then asked the members of my readers’ group and my newsletter subscribers to vote on it. They voted for navy, with red the runner-up.
Because The Other Side of Christmas was also navy, it was suggested to me that maybe I ought to change Baxter’s cover to bring it in line with the other two. So Baxter’s Christmas Wish ended up getting a new cover, too, after all. I think they look lovely together.
Looking to the Future
So, here we are in December, and about to say goodbye to the weirdest, cruellest, most unpredictable year I can remember. I’m looking forward to welcoming in 2021, and can only hope that it brings about change for the better. I’ll be publishing my fourth and final Kearton Bay book next year, republishing the Skimmerdale books under new titles, publishing my new series and the Christmas Skimmerdale novel. Having said that, it’s probably wise not to make firm plans right now. Things are so strange and it’s hard to know what’s around the corner, so I’ll just say, that’s what I hope I’ll be doing next year.
I know many of you will have suffered terribly during 2020. It’s likely that some of you will have lost jobs, or been furloughed, or struggled through financial difficulties. Some of you may have been ill yourselves. A number of you may have lost people you love to this terrible disease, or due to some other reason. Others may have found the cycle of lockdowns and tier restrictions has left them feeling lonely and isolated, separated from family and friends. My heart goes out to any of you who’ve found this year to be a painful one in any way.
It sounds trite to say that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but there really is. We have vaccines now, and the medical profession is much more clued up about how this virus works and how better to treat it. Businesses will reopen, pubs will be busy once again, and we will shop and eat and laugh together one day.
Happy New Year
I really hope that you all have a safe, happy New Year’s Eve.
I’ll be at home, eating shortbread, watching Bridgerton (probably), or Father Brown (which I’ve just discovered, can you believe?) or maybe another episode of Bleak House (seen it before but absolutely love it), while looking forward with delicious anticipation to tomorrow’s Doctor Who special! (Ooh, Captain Jack Harkness is back!)
Whatever you’re doing, take care, and lots and lots of love to you, and all my very best wishes for 2021.
Happy New Year!