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This blog post contains SPOILERS so is best read after reading A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow.

Seven years ago, when I was seeking a publisher for my debut novel, I was beside myself with excitement when I received an offer of a three-book publishing deal. It was a romance series but the friendships between the three main characters – Sarah, Elise and Clare – were of equal importance in the story. I’ve always been fascinated in how friendships can change over time and according to circumstance and this was what I had planned for those three books.

I’d received a draft contract and had entered into an email conversation with my editor to discuss the finer details of it. I’d provided an overview of my plans for the other two books in the series and this came back: Be sure as you write [books 2 and 3] that you concentrate on the romance between the hero and heroine and keep the friendships between the women in the background. Speaking of [book 3], there is a strong romance, right? Then later: Something to think about – the sexy books sell better.

The more emails we exchanged, the more I started to panic. It seemed they wanted me to raise the heat level but diminish the friendship. Eek! This did not look like the stories I wanted to tell and I feared this publisher may not be the right home for me after all. I walked away from that contract.

One of the many things I’ve loved about working with Boldwood Books is that I’ve been able to remain true to the stories I want to tell. My amazing editor, Nia Beynon, completely gets the worlds I’ve created and loves the friendships and communities in my books as much as the romance aspects.

I love exploring friendships and the many forms they can take: lifelong, short term, toxic, friends to lovers to name just a few. I’m equally fascinated by different family dynamics and, across my books, I’ve explored so many different family structures: single-parent family, raised by grandparents, orphaned, disowned by family, difficult/toxic relationship with one or more family member and many more angles.

In A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow, there’s a focus on a found family: the people with whom an individual forms a deep and meaningful bond but to whom they’re not related by blood.

The format of this series is that Samantha Wishaw, the owner of Hedgehog Hollow, is the narrator in each book but, from the second book onwards, there’s a second narrator whose story affects Samantha’s. In book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, this is her boyfriend Josh’s story. Samantha’s cousin Chloe is the focus of book 3, Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow. In A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow, it’s Phoebe who takes centre stage. She’s an eighteen-year-old accountancy student who volunteers at Hedgehog Hollow keeping on top of the rescue centre’s accounts. By the end of Family Secrets, she’s been doing that for six months but Samantha still has no sense of who Phoebe is and there’s a very good reason for that as we discover in the fourth instalment.

Phoebe has a heartbreaking past and has been left in the care of the Grimes family who, as readers of the series so far will know, are not a pleasant family. When I say ‘care’, it’s exactly the opposite as her stepmother Tina Grimes doesn’t care about her at all other than as an unpaid skivvy but there are reasons why Phoebe can’t leave and one of those is an adorable six-year-old called Darcie.

Darcie is no blood-relation to Phoebe but the two of them have formed an exceptionally strong bond. Phoebe jokes that she’s Darcie’s big sister but the reality is that she’s been more like a mother to Darcie since the little girl was a baby.

I won’t give specific plot spoilers about how it happens but, after the Grimes family excel themselves in the appalling human being stakes, Phoebe and Darcie stay at Hedgehog Hollow and find themselves a new family in Samantha, Josh, their relatives and the volunteers at the rescue centre. With Josh’s dad, girlfriend and their two young children still staying at the farm, there’s a blend of generations to welcome them and give them the love and support they haven’t had from those who should have provided it.

Although my own immediate family is a more ‘conventional’ one with no step-family, half-siblings or non-blood relations, I do completely embrace the idea that ‘family’ means so much more than blood and can come from those who provide care, friends, and/or community. I love being able to explore the dynamics of found family as well as blood family across my different books and hope readers enjoy this too.

A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow is out now in all formats: eBook, paperback, hardback, large print, physical audio, audio download and via streaming services. Something to suit all reading or listening preferences!

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

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