Hi Jessica, welcome to BreakfastAtShelbys, I am so excited to have you on the blog for a chat and to give us all the behind-the-scenes gossip on your newest releases, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe. Why don’t we kick start this interview off with you telling us a bit about yourself?
Thank you so much for having me, Shelby. Delighted to be here.
I write uplifting stories of love and friendship set in Yorkshire. They tend to feature strong women who’ve had a rough ride in their past and/or are having a tough time currently. My stories explore how their friends and/or family help them move forward. There’s always a romance and sometimes it’s the key plot but, at other times, it doesn’t take centre stage. I like mixing it up a bit!
I was born in Teesside but have lived in Scarborough for over 16 years now – a place that provides partial inspiration for one of my key settings of Whitsborough Bay. I live with my husband, our 13-year-old daughter and our sprocker spaniel, Ella.
I used to work in HR, specialising in training and recruitment, but I have had an amazing year in 2020 writing-wise and, thanks to the brilliant work of my publisher Boldwood Books, I was able to leave my day job and become a full-time author in June this year. Absolute dream come true!
‘Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe’ are your latest release, which I absolutely loved! Congratulations!! Can you tell my readers – who may not have had the opportunity to hear about them yet – what Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe are about?
Thank you so much. Very kind of you!
Carly, as you can probably guess from the title, runs a cake shop called Carly’s Cupcakes on Castle Street in Whitsborough Bay and the story is set purely in December so it’s very much about the festive season.
Carly’s younger sister, Bethany, started working with her in the summer but still hasn’t mastered the basics of cake decorating and, as the orders start stacking up, she’s become a bit of a liability. However, for reasons the reader discovers as the story develops, there’s no way Carly can let her go.
While working crazy hours to catch up, Carly is hoping that her best friend, Liam, will make it home from Afghanistan for Christmas. They’ve been close since secondary school when they were both bullied but it’s never been more than friends. Except in Carly’s mind. Her good friend, Tara, who runs the café next door, convinces her she should tell Liam how she feels if he does make it home for Christmas but she’s terrified that a confession like that could ruin their friendship.
Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café then picks up time-wise where Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes finishes and tells Tara’s story over the course of a year. Tara runs a successful business which thrives during the festive season but it’s a time of the year she secretly dreads. Nobody knows anything about her background and how she ended up in Whitsborough Bay because she struggles to let people in but, as the year unfolds, she realises this may not have been such a good plan. Her heartbreaking past is steadily revealed as he starts to let down her barriers.
What was your writing process like when weaving Carly and Tara’s stories together, through one book to another?
Carly’s Cupcakes is mentioned in my very first Christmas book – Charlee and the Chocolate Shop (which will be re-edited and re-issued by Boldwood Books next August) – and I happened to mention that the shop was next door to The Chocolate Pot, a café which has appeared in other stories. It was on the back of this brief mention that Carly came to life and I knew I needed to tell her story. And it was on the back of telling Carly’s story that I created Tara’s story in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café.
It made sense to me that, with businesses next door to each other, the two women would know each other and be friends. Because The Chocolate Pot had been established for about a decade when Carly’s Cupcakes opened, it seemed logical that Tara would have been a valuable source of advice to Carly as she was getting established and this relationship of helping each other would have continued over the years.
When Carly opens up to Tara about her feelings for Liam – something she has never confessed to anyone – Tara makes an unexpected revelation of her own.
I’m what’s known as a pantser which means I don’t plan my stories. I know my characters really well and I know the rough idea of where the story is going but I just type and let it unfold. So Tara’s revelation was a surprise to me as well as to Carly! And, at that point, I knew I had to tell Tara’s story too.
One of the lovely things about writing Starry Skies – which is set over an entire year, starting and ending with Christmas – was that I could give readers an insight into what happens to Carly (and Bethany) after her book finishes.
Between both of your leading ladies, I really fell for Tara’s heart-breaking past and wonderful character development – was there anything that inspired you in providing her story with so much depth?
Nothing directly. It all stemmed from Tara’s unexpected revelation to Carly (which I don’t want to mention as it will be a spoiler!)
I knew that Tara was a really strong individual and a brilliant businesswoman but I had this sense of her being lonely and keeping people at a distance so my character development was about constantly asking myself why she was lonely, why she didn’t let people in, why her family weren’t around and so on.
Of all my characters, I think she’s probably the one who goes on the biggest journey and I absolutely loved seeing her transformation.
How do you get yourself in to the festive spirit whilst writing out of season?
I know some authors will put on Christmas music but I don’t find I need something in particular to get me into the festive spirit. It probably helps that my desk doesn’t face the window so I’m not distracted by bright sunshine in the middle of summer, say.
All I do is think of cold weather, dark evenings, fairy lights and snow and I’m immediately transported. It can work the other way round too. I’ve written stories set in spring and summer in the middle of winter.
What are your favourite go-to foods to make on Christmas Day?
Eek! I don’t cook! The kitchen and I are not friends. My husband is the chef in our house and he doesn’t get a break from it on Christmas Day. I prepare the pigs-in-blankets but that’s my contribution to the cooking. I’m also on pudding duty.
I lay the table beautifully and I do all the washing up and tidying but I don’t create anything for the day or the run-up to it! I used to make chocolate buttercream and decorate a yule log (shop bought) but I haven’t done that in years.
What are your favourite traditions that you and your family take part in on Christmas Day?
We have a daughter whose birthday is six days before Christmas so she gets very excited for the whole of December!
I don’t think we do anything out of the ordinary on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We usually watch a Christmas family film then she puts out a ‘Santa stop here’ sign, hangs a magic key on the door, leaves mince pies/carrots/drinks for Santa and the reindeer and drapes her Santa sack over the chair. She has a stocking for her bedroom too for little bits and bobs and she brings that into our bedroom on the morning although she’s under strict instructions that 6am is the absolute earliest permitted!
Once the stocking contents are open, I check Santa has been with bigger gifts (aka putting the lights on) and then call her down to open her gifts.
However, this year is the first year she is a non-believer. We’ve been stunned we’ve made it to such an age but the truth is out now so it might be a little different.
Christmas Day, after opening the gifts, is about relaxing, watching some TV and eating chocolate. My husband’s parents are local and usually come to visit us for turkey sandwiches at tea time although they’ll also have Christmas dinner every third year (rotating round us and his two sisters).
We usually have a get-together with my side of the family at my mum and dad’s between Christmas and New Year but that won’t be happening this year as that’s four families and we’re not taking any risks.
Last year, we had a holiday of a lifetime with a few days in Lapland, flying out on our daughter’s birthday. That was absolutely amazing and perfect for getting into the Christmas vibe.
What would you say is your go-to Christmas song and movie during the holidays?
Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas is You’ never fails to raise a smile and make me happy but I love loads of Christmas songs.
Movie-wise, the first one I watch each year is Miracle on 34th Street (the Richard Attenborough version). I put it on while I put the tree up. I love The Santa Clause too (usually the second watched while still decorating the tree) and my favourite Christmas romance film is The Holiday although I will watch that happily all year round because, although set over Christmas, it’s not over the top Christmassy.
You are allowed to invite three of your book characters over for Christmas Dinner this year – who would they be and why?
I think I’d invite Tara, Carly and Jemma (who runs Bear With Me, the specialist teddy bear shop on Castle Street). All three of them are lovely, inspirational women and an evening in their company couldn’t fail to lift and inspire me. I love chocolate, I love cake, and I love bears so this would be a fabulous dinner!
You are standing under the mistletoe with one of your leading male’s – who would they be and why?
Ooh, tricky! I fall in love with ALL my leading men. I would be torn between Sam who is in Bear With Me, Jed from Starry Skies or Josh from the Hedgehog Hollow series because they’re all modelled on some of my favourite actors (Sam is Chris Hemsworth, Jed is Simon Baker and Josh is Chris Pratt) and they’re all absolutely adorable beta males.
What one thing are you most grateful for this holiday season?
Although I won’t be able to see my wider family (it will just be the three of us and possibly my husband’s parents in our bubble), I am grateful that they have all stayed safe this year and we will hopefully get together at some point in the spring to celebrate Christmas and everything else we didn’t get to celebrate this year like my older brother and husband’s 50th birthdays and me securing a second 12-book publishing deal.
If you could describe Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes in three words, what would they be?
Heart-warming, nostalgic, delicious.
If you could describe Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café in three words, what would they be?
Inspiring, uplifting, brave.
Lastly, do you have any future book news that you are able to share with us?
The second and third books in my Hedgehog Hollow series will be out in January and May 2021 respectively and I have just agreed with my editor to write a fourth which will be out in January 2022 which I’m very excited about.
Before I write that, I’ll be working on my 2021 Christmas release which is set in The Starfish Café just outside Whitsborough Bay. It’s a story I began writing to be my first ever Christmas release in 2017 but I abandoned it when I realised the story was going to be a full-length novel instead of novella as intended. I’m very excited to return to it. It’s a male and female dual perspective story which I enjoy writing for a bit of a variety.
Thank you so much for interviewing me! Great questions!
Oh my goodness, where do I start with this incredible interview!! Thank you so much to Jessica, first and foremost, for agreeing to feature on my blog – it has been an absolute honour and I will definitely be having you back next year! This whole interview was an absolute delight to read and I hope all of you lovely readers feel the exact same way. I love getting to know the ins and outs of how authors create their stories and Jessica really does provide the most magical ones of them all! Also, congratulations Jessica on your 12-book publishing deal, that is insane and so well deserved! Lastly, a fourth Hedgehog Hollow book!? Let me just process that for a moment – wow, wow, wow, I am so excited! I am also very eager to return to Whistborough Bay for Christmas next year with The Starfish Cafe, it sounds absolutely wonderful!
If you would like to find out more about Jessica and her magical stories, please see her social media links below;