Of all the things associated with the Principality of Monaco – tax exiles, luxurious yachts, expensive property, the yearly Formula 1 Grand Prix to name but four  –  a jumble sale does not readily spring to mind. But every year at the beginning of December that is exactly what is held in the prestigious circus tent in Fontvielle right next to the helicopter port.

It’s got to be the poshest jumble sale in Europe, if not the world. Of course it goes by the much more romantic title of ‘Kermasse’ but basically it’s a jumble sale and Christmas Fair held to raise money for various charities both in Monaco and wider afield.

Over the years it has become something of a ritual in the social calendar of the well-off who live in Monaco and along the nearby towns of the Cote d’Azur like Antibes, Cannes, Nice and Menton. With Princess Caroline as the Patron it draws on a rich seam of supporters to organise it every year. Not only do the well-to-do donate all kinds of unwanted clothes and goods, they also attend the event, en masse. Either to run stalls or simply to socialise. They treat the day and the place as their own and descend to eat, drink and gossip as well as spend money. ‘It’s just like a midday cocktail party with all one’s chums’ was how a friend described it to me.

From the moment the tent flap is lifted at 10.0.a.m. on Saturday morning and the semi-orderly queue that has formed surges in, it’s all systems go. The whole place pulsates with people hunting down a bargain with a determination that knows no bounds. Forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday – Kermasse Saturday in Monaco is much more fun.

All the familiar stalls are here for the Christmas fair: cakes, preserves, handmade toys, crackers, Christmas presents and cards, sweets, bric-a-brac, paintings by local artists, jewellery. In between these stalls there are the fund raising tables selling raffle and tombola tickets.

As for the jumble itself: trestle tables around the perimeter of the tent are piled high with all the usual secondhand goods: clothes, shoes, books – hundreds of books – electrical goods and miscellaneous items. The better quality clothes, designer labels and the like are separated and displayed in ‘The Boutique’ – and this is where there are real bargains to be had.

The first year I went to the Kermasse rumour had it that a Chanel suit had gone for just twenty euros and a Versace cocktail for a mere forty euros. I consoled myself with the thought that the women who wear ‘haute couture’ in Monte Carlo tend to take the phrase ‘You can never be too rich or too thin’ very seriously. Designer dress sizes all tend to be in the 6 – 10 size range with very little, if anything in my size. (12 on a very good day). I have found some bargains down the years though – including a brand new pair of Timberland boots for my husband for fifteen euros and a lovely leather handbag for me for the princely sum of five euros.

The centre of the tent, where the circus ring would normally be is packed with tables and chairs and surrounded by food stalls offering a range of dishes. As the wine flows into plastic cups, the partying begins. The noise starts to rise and ricochet around the tent and its almost impossible to hear what people are saying even if they are sitting next to you.

It’s a great day out and one I enjoyed for several times when we lived down south. Very few people believe me when I say that the best jumble sales I’ve ever been to have been in Monaco but they were. And I’ve still got the leather handbag to prove it.

 

* * *

The Kermasse for 2019 was held 7th December

So here it is – my first book with the brilliant team at Boldwood!

When I was asked to write a blog about the inspiration behind My One Month Marriage, I stared at a blank page for a long time. Actually, I do that a lot. It’s an occupational hazard. As is stress-eating biscuits, panicking over deadlines and wondering whether some guy I met in a bar in my twenties will think a nasty character in one of my novels is based on him (note to guy from bar, it probably is).

The starting point for My One Month Marriage was the title – it popped into my mind one day while I was listening to a Kenny Chesney album and it stuck. For the non-country music fans, Kenny is the singing superstar who was married to Renee Zellweger for four months before they suddenly divorced. Oh, the aching heart and intrigue.

Next, I needed my leading lady, and flipped through my memory bank for the right person for the job. You see, I form imaginary people in the same way as real-life friendships. Once they’re created, they exist in my head and then we drift in and out of each other’s lives as time goes by.

That’s how the main character in My One Month Marriage came to be Zoe Danton, who played a small role in a previous book, Another Day In Winter. In that novel, she was blindsided when she was suddenly dumped by the love of her life. The strong, funny way she dealt with it resonated with me and I knew then that I would bring her back in another book and make her centre stage. Well, almost centre stage. She’s sharing the limelight with her three sisters, Marina, Verity and Yvie. All women in their thirties, they have completely different personalities, but they’re bonded by a devastating time in their teenage years, when they vowed that they would always stick together.

However, that might be about to change.

The first chapter of My One Month Marriage opens thirty days after saying “I do”.  Zoe is sitting surrounded by a pile of gifts that she has to return because she has kicked out her new husband before the sell-by date on the wedding cake. Consoling her with hugs, neon pink cocktails and sibling sarcasm are her Marina, Verity and Yvie. But as the afternoon unfolds, Zoe receives some shocking news. Could the reason for the breakdown of her marriage lie with one of her sisters?

And could the pact that they made when they were teenagers be about to unravel?

I do hope you love it and please drop me a line on one of my social media platforms (below) to let me know what you think. It always makes my day when I hear from readers – and it’s a lovely change from staring at those blank pages and stress-eating biscuits.

 

Love,

Shari xx

 

Twitter: @sharilow

Facebook: @sharilowbooks

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www.sharilow.com

It’s not you, it’s him

Whether you love or hate your exes (hopefully you don’t still love them though) you probably learned a lot from them. Not because they were especially smart, but because every experience shapes who we are, and chances are you took something from each ex, even if you haven’t realised it yet.

In my latest novel, My Great Ex-Scape, after being dumped again (and by every boyfriend she’s ever had) Rosie decides to see what she can learn from each ex, to try and figure out why history keeps repeating itself.

There is that old saying people often use when breaking up with someone: it’s not you, it’s me. We often view this as a terrible, almost fake excuse for breaking up with someone, but unless you are being dumped because you did something wrong, guess what, chances are that age-old excuse is spot on.

Rosie has five ex boyfriends, all of whom are different, with very different reasons for ending things. There’s the marriage material boy next door, the fun guy, the ladies man, the one who doesn’t want to settle down and the one with big ideas that don’t involve staying in his hometown. All of these guys broke up with Rosie, which makes her start to wonder if she might be the problem, but when you look more closely at these guys, you can see that their problems with Rosie are more likely problems with themselves. They care about appearances, they are commitment phobic, they have no idea who they are yet, they want to make a success of their lives at any cost, or they’re just not the great guy they seemed.

So, it turns out, sometimes it really is them, and it isn’t you at all. But with each dumping that you can’t quite wrap your head around, the most important thing to do is to never measure your worth by it. No man or woman has any right to make you feel like less than you are, and just because they don’t see your value, doesn’t mean someone else won’t.

Every time we break-up with someone, we always take a little something from them and we carry this around with us. Sometimes it’s something useful, something we learn that makes us a stronger person for next time. Other times it can be something harmful, like trust issues. Sometimes the past really should be left in the past, lest it ruin future relationships, but there in no reason not to bring the good memories with you, and the valuable things you have learned.

Just remember that the heavier the baggage, the harder it is to move forward with it. You won’t even notice the good things you’ve brought with you but the bad things will tire you out, and put a strain on any future relationship you try to have. Learn from your (or your exes’) mistakes, but don’t let them define you.

View of South Bay and Old Town from Scarborough Castle

 

Whenever I read reviews for my books, a recurring comment is about the setting. Readers seem to love the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay. Those who are familiar with the Yorkshire Coast feel like they’re back in their favourite places, and those who haven’t visited the area talk about how they’d love to sniff the sea air, wander round the Old Town and shop on Castle Street. Readers who’ve read several books talk about the excitement of being back in the warm and familiar setting. Whitsborough Bay is what my books are all about.

 

Yet, when I started writing, Whitsborough Bay didn’t exist. I didn’t actually have a setting at all. I had a vague notion that I would probably set my books in ‘the north’. Somewhere. No idea where.

 

So for someone with no setting at all, how did Whitsborough Bay so synonymous with my writing?

 

It started when I met my husband, about nine months after I’d had the idea for my debut novel. I was running a specialist teddy bear shop at the time in Richmond, North Yorkshire, and tentatively trying to write a few chapters between customers although, if I’m honest, I was floundering. I had a great idea and some solid characters but I had no idea how to turn that into an engaging novel. And a massive problem was that the vague ‘northern’ setting wasn’t working for me. There was no sense of the sights, smells, sounds or the community.

 

View of Scarborough at night from Oliver’s Mount

 

Mark lived in Scarborough and, after visiting him a couple of times, I realised I’d found my perfect setting. Or rather the inspiration for my perfect setting because I decided quite early on that I didn’t want to use a real place. Using a real place can work very effectively in fiction but I decided that, for me, it would bring limitations because I couldn’t just make up a building or road to suit my needs; I’d have to use what existed. I was also worried about someone knowing Scarborough and pulling me up on inaccuracies. So I created the fictional town of Whitsborough Bay – a blend of Scarborough, Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay in both look, feel, and name.

 

View of Scarborough Castle from North Bay

 

Scarborough has two bays – North Bay and South Bay – which are separated by a castle on the cliff top. Both bays boast popular beaches but have a very different feel. South Bay is more commercial with arcades, chippies and typical seaside gift shops whereas North Bay has a calmer vibe with the colourful beach huts, the Sealife Centre, Open Air Theatre and Peasholm Park.

 

Scarborough’s South Bay in the summer

Beach Huts on Scarborough’s North Bay

 

The basic geography of Whitsborough Bay is a match for Scarborough. All the businesses and attractions have different names in Whitsborough Bay such as the Sealife Centre being the Sea Rescue Sanctuary and Peasholm Park becoming Hearnshaw Park, but anyone familiar with Scarborough will recognise these places in Whitsborough Bay. They can also make a good guess which café or shop I’m being inspired by when I talk about my fictional venues.

When I saw the proposed cover for Making Wishes at Bay View, I fell in love with it immediately and absolutely wanted to use it, but there was a moment’s hesitation because it clearly shows a river and Whitsborough Bay doesn’t have a river. Then I laughed at myself for putting up a barrier that didn’t need to exist. After all, Whitsborough Bay is a figment of my imagination and there was absolutely nothing stopping me from adding in a river if I want a river. So I did. With a huge nod to the gorgeous coastal resort of Whitby up the road, I added in a river below the castle on the South Bay side of Whitsborough Bay, over which I placed a swing bridge. I could never have done that if I had used a real-life setting.

The River Esk in Whitby

 

Set back from South Bay in Scarborough is the Old Town – an eclectic mix of styles of old cottages, townhouses and guest houses. Whitsborough Bay has the same only the river runs through the Old Town now and I don’t see it as being Scarborough; I see it as a blend of all the old towns on the coast with their old quirky properties.

 

Scarborough’s Bar Street at Christmas

 

In Scarborough, we have the town centre set back from the coast, which is mirrored in Whitsborough Bay too. The second book in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, is set in a florists’ shop on Castle Street. Several of my books – including all my Christmas ones – are set on Castle Street which I describe as a cobbled street full of independent shops and cafés. I imagine it being positioned where Scarborough’s Bar Street is but the inspiration for the look and the buzz of Castle Street is very much an amalgamation of Bar Street and the gorgeous cobbled streets of Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, which are packed with independently-run businesses. Having been an independent retailer for a couple of years myself, I’ve been able to bring in my knowledge and experiences of the highs, the lows, and the supportive community that can build (or the lack of support that can fester) amongst independent retailers.

I have now lived in Scarborough for over fifteen years and am a regular visitor to Whitby and the surrounding towns and villages. I feel so lucky to live here, close to the sea and surrounded by countryside. I think this passion for my local area does come across in my books. I’m very excited about the addition of the river to Whitsborough Bay as the cogs are already whirring in my mind of new stories that can be set on and around the river.

Will I ever write a book set outside of Whitsborough Bay? Yes. And I already have, but it is very much linked to Whitsborough Bay still. It’s just that the particular storyline for that book needed somewhere a little more rural but that in itself has opened up many more possibilities. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Whitsborough Bay and the surrounding area, especially as I can keep adding bits to it – like the river – as and when new ideas spring to mind.

If you’ve read my books, I hope you’ve loved the setting and, if you haven’t yet done so, then a very warm welcome to Whitsborough Bay!

 

Jessica xx

If you could turn back time, would you? Would you go back to being young and in school again? 

 

It’s tough being a teenager and social media plays an enormous part now in decisions faced every day. The pressures of looking good, wearing the right thing and acting a certain way for the purpose of having content to post on Instagram or Snapchat. As well as remembering the enormous number of on-trend hashtags to include and filters to use on your photos. It sounds exhausting.

 

Everyone wants to grow up and be an ‘Influencer’ or a ‘YouTuber’. Is it because they believe it’s an easy way to get famous, make money and bag amazing sponsorship deals? Do kids realise that how these ‘celebrities’ are perceived publicly, is a façade of who they are at home, chilling in their pyjamas watching Riverdale? Just like the viewers watching.

 

Back in the nineties when I was a teenager; growing up I wanted to be a journalist, but I know now I would never have made it. I didn’t have the resilience. My skin wasn’t tough enough back then. All my worries focused on passing my GCSE’s, whether a particular boy liked me or the occasional falling out with a friend. I found it hard being a teenager; I didn’t know who I was, who I wanted to be or whether it was ‘enough’ just to be myself. It’s something I still struggle with even now at forty. 

 

In 2018 a survey was conducted between September 2018 and February 2019 by Ipsos Mori, and questioned 13,664 year 7 to 11 pupils, mostly aged 11 to 15, from 193 schools across England on smoking, drinking and drug use.

 

17% of pupils drank alcohol at least once a month, with 14% of 15-year olds drinking once a week. This statistic seems surprisingly low to me. It certainly takes me back to that age, huddling on a park bench with my friends and a 2-litre bottle of Scrumpy Jack on a cold Saturday night. 

 

As well as teenage drinking, in 2018, 18% of boys and 16% of girls had taken drugs, with Cannabis being the drug that pupils are most likely to have taken.

 

I can’t imagine back then having every mistake I ever made under the influence being captured and displayed on Facebook for the world to see. A real time log of bad judgement calls, fashion faux pas and drunken blunders. I have enough memories of those to last a lifetime and thankfully no photographic evidence. No social media reminders that ‘this time last year’ I was acting like a tit!

 

It’s not just the pressures of alcohol and drugs, there’s the subject of sex. Who’s doing it, who’s not doing it? Who is doing it too much! You’re either frigid or a slut, no in-between. That’s if you’re a girl; for boys the general rule is ‘get as much as you can’. Even though in 2019 UK teenagers are far less likely to have underage sex than a decade ago, it’s very much an ongoing topic in high schools today. Are we talking about it enough with our kids? 

 

There needs to be an open dialogue on all of these subjects, because as you may, or may  not remember, it’s a time when a friendly ear can mean the earth. 

 

As a parent, the dangers faced by teenagers, and all children today gives me nightmares. Peer pressure especially can start innocently enough but lead to sinister places. This was what sparked the idea  that became Payback, my second novel, and how the innocent decisions of a child can come back to haunt you as an adult.

 

So, would I go back to being a teenager? Not for all the Twitter followers in the world.

 

Location, location, location – and it doesn’t get much better than the opulent and atmospheric Palace of Versailles. But, as a writer, even when you have the perfect setting you still need the right storyline. I knew that all I had to do was wait and the characters would eventually jump into my head, their words flowing through my fingers as I typed.

On 12 June 2018, I was rather impatiently waiting in the queue to enter the palace itself, when Lexie and her grandma, Viv, popped into my head. Finally, after maybe eight trips in total – spanning a period of fifteen years – I knew the story would unfold the moment I sat down to write it.

While the palace is the jewel in the crown, it is the extensive park and gardens that are always the focal point for me. Yes, courtiers congregated in the long corridors, and beautifully adorned rooms of the palace to see and be seen; that sense of presence is tangible. But as for the plotting, the love trysts and the desire to relax in some hidden little nook, far away from prying eyes – well, the gardens are perfect cover for a secret rendezvous.

Today, a much smaller army of gardeners nurture the vast areas of landscaping. From simple meadows and rolling lawns, to the intricately manicured patterns of the formal garden in front of the orangery. And the greenhouses, where annuals and cuttings are tended, ready for planting out in the spring – it’s a massive task.

My character, Lexie, wanted to go to Versailles to interview some of the modern-day horticulturists, because her grandmother spent a year there as a student in 1961. But Grandma Viv never spoke about her big adventure after she returned home, marrying Lexie’s grandfather shortly afterwards and beginning a family.

And that’s how the story began to come to life on the page. Given its history, the Palace of Versailles is a place where passions have always run high. A place where reputations and lives could be ruined by idle gossip, or on the turn of a card at the gaming tables. And the poignant, illicit love affairs, doomed from the start because marriage was about money and position, not love. But as you wander the gardens, you can also feel the passion of the gardeners, past and present – theirs was, and is, a true labour of love. And my heart was telling me that was the story waiting to be told.

Fiction isn’t fact; but as surely as we can all imagine the anguish of those who lived at the palace and ended up in love-less marriages, the gardeners fought a different, but equally emotive, battle. That of finance.

Without the ability to raise taxes to fund work, as in Louis XIV’s day, over the years the preservation of the deteriorating buildings and hard landscaping (statuary and fountains) was, naturally, top priority. Imagine, then, the frustrations for those responsible for maintaining the living landscape with a much smaller team and dwindling funds.

Lexie uncovers some of the dilemma’s faced by the gardeners in the 1960s, a time when it’s documented that budgetary constraints were particularly tough. As the story unravels, she discovers the reason why her grandma never spoke about her time there. Versailles is magical, but throw together a mix of strong personalities, all fighting passionately for what they believe is the right way forward, and hearts can, and will, be broken.

If you’ve never visited the wonderful palace, then take a virtual trip and spend springtime in Versailles. Sprinkled with a little history and abundant with the magnificence of what is a true wonder, it can be hard to tell where one love story ends and another begins.