A Sore Throat, A Hamster, and Lots of Writing!

Hello everyone! What a busy couple of weeks it’s been since we last chatted. As I told you last time, I began writing book fourteen – book five of the Blackwood Family Saga – and am delighted to report that I finished writing it two days ago. Standing at 52,000 words, it took me exactly two weeks to write it and I’m pleased with how it’s turned out. I tend to write directly into the appropriate size paperback template, format as I go, and page number it. I also run each chapter through spellchecker and Grammarly as I go. I find it saves so much time at the end of writing the first draft if it’s already done.

Sitting down to begin writing, I only had the vaguest idea of what the book was going to be about. I did know it was going to be Kristina (Kit) Blackwood’s tale, I knew it would involve music and singing, and that there is a brutal killer at large on the Yorkshire Moors. But that was it. The plot revealed itself gradually as I wrote and hopefully fans of the series will enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Once finished, I went through with the Find feature on Word and checked all my crutch words. These are fattening and filling words that maybe the sentence can do without. My crutch words tend to be – really, just, suddenly, had, and felt – so I went through eliminating all the unnecessary uses of those words.

On Saturday I listened to the whole book read back to me using the Read Aloud feature on Word. This is such a useful editing tool. Listening to the story being read out loud helps me to pick up all those niggly typos that are hard to spot – it inside of in, an instead of as, women instead of woman – and so on. Once I’m happy the book is as perfect as I can get it, I will send it to the wonderful Becky Wright at Platform House Publishing. She will make the interior title pages for me and check all the chapter icons and dropped capitals are correct and will stay in place. She may even read it through herself if she’s not too busy and look for anything I may have missed.

When it comes back from Becky, it will then be sent to my eagle-eyed proof-reader, Caroline, for her to work her magic on. No matter how perfect I think it is, she always manages to find something.

Whilst Caroline has the book, I will be writing the blurb, my author review for the book to go on Goodreads, the copy for the book’s page on my website, plus sourcing all the images I will need for the cover, the video trailer, images for the website, and promo images. I will also be liaising with James Wright at Platform Horse Publishing about the video trailer. As you can see, there is still a lot to be done. I often think writing a book is the easy part.

Having worked Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday after I last spoke to you, meant I had six days off in a row which I was looking forward to. I intended to put everything else on hold and just write. I was determined to get a sizeable chunk of the book under my belt.

Saturday evening, I started to feel unwell. A dry itchy throat was making me cough and my nose was congested. Thinking it to be a simple summer head cold caused by stress and tiredness, I self-medicated with honey and lemon, rest, Ibuprofen, and over-the-counter medication. As the cough worsened, I did test for Covid, but I was negative. I didn’t think it was Covid – let’s face it, after having it twice and having bad reactions to my jabs and the booster, I’m very familiar now with how it feels, and this felt different.

I was due to return to work on Thursday, and then have one day off on Friday, before returning to work for the three-day bank holiday weekend. By Wednesday though, I was not feeling at all well and phoned work to report there was a chance I may not make it in. Thursday morning, I awoke to glands so swollen in my throat that I looked like Jabba the Hutt, with a croaky gruff voice, and a bright yellow tongue.

Seriously alarmed, I took another Covid test – negative – then I phoned my surgery at 7:15am. Knowing I wouldn’t get through to a human being, I thought they might at least have an automated appointment booking system I could use. The way I was feeling, I knew it had gone beyond self-medication and I probably needed antibiotics.

The phone was answered, and an automated message told me that if I was phoning to make an appointment, then I really should go on their website where I could leave a message, and someone would call me back 48 hours later!

What the heck! That would make it Saturday morning when I’d be needing to go to work. It would also be the start of the bank holiday weekend when I would have two hopes of getting an appointment – one of which was Bob, and he was dead!

I held on. The phone kept ringing. Sporadically the automated voice would cut in pleading with me to use their website. I held my nerve and stayed on the line. Eventually, almost ten minutes later, the phone was answered by a real, live human being!

“How can I help?” she asked.

“I need to make an appointment to see a doctor,” I managed to croak, my voice so gravelly I sounded like Bonnie Tyler with a forty a day habit.

“What seems to be the problem?”

Really? She had to ask, wasn’t my rather sexy growl a big enough clue. I refrained from making any sarcastic comments though, afraid she might tell me to try their website.

“I think I have a throat infection, my glands are very swollen, and I have a bright yellow tongue.”

Yes, that delightful symptom had also appeared Thursday morning.

“Right, I see. What doctor do you normally see?”

“Any, all of them, I don’t care!”

Yeah, lady, I have no loyalty. I’ll see whoever is free.

“I need to ask, have you…”

“Taken a Covid test? Yes, I have, twice, both times negative.”

“Fine, Dr B can see you at 9:50am.”

“Thank you, I’ll be there.”

And that was that!

An actual appointment, face to face, with a real live doctor. If I’d given up and gone to their website as they’d tried their darndest to make me do, heaven only knows when I would have been seen.

I got ready to go to the doctor and phoned work to tell them the good news that I wouldn’t be in. I was proud of myself for being sensible for once.

Knowing me, how this would have usually gone down is I’d have dragged my pestilent carcass into work Thursday morning, made myself really really ill and probably infected everyone else, then been off work for days. No, I thought, see a doctor, and get the antibiotics I knew I needed Thursday morning – that way I’d have two days’ worth which would make me well enough to work all weekend.

Dr B was lovely, and peered down my throat, shaking her head in sympathy.

“That’s a nasty infection you’ve got there.”

“Oh, I thought it was just a cold. I’ve been trying to heal it with honey.”

“You have laryngitis, there’s not enough honey in the world to cure that.”

“Not even manuka honey?”

“No, not even manuka.”

She gave me a prescription for antibiotics and a steroid nasal spray to clear the congestion. Filling the prescription at the pharmacy, I hurried home. I was eager to take the first dose as quickly as possible and continue writing.

It was amazing how quickly the medication worked. By Friday morning my glands had returned to normal size, and by the evening my tongue was pink again. I decided unless I took a turn for the worse overnight, I would be well enough to work the three-day weekend and was proud of myself for being so sensible about it.

The weekend was busy – being a bank holiday we had sales running and people piled into the shop to buy. If people had money worries we didn’t see much sign of it – although we have all noticed there has been an increase in people using interest-free credit to purchase. Perhaps people still want and need stuff, but don’t have the ready money they used to have or are concerned about blowing all their savings on a big-ticket item.

I had Tuesday off and had to thoroughly scrub the kitchen and bathroom. It had been my turn to clean them that weekend, but because I worked it all I hadn’t had time, and besides, I felt they needed a bit of a deeper clean than normal. It’s all very well giving things a lick and a promise, sooner or later you must make good on that promise.

Every spare moment I had I was writing. I was even squeezing in an hour before going to work, which I never normally do because I’m worried about losing track of time and being late. I don’t know what got into me. I was over halfway through the book and desperate to keep writing to find out what happened.

The usual scenario happened. I aim to make all the Blackwood Family Saga books an even length of between 50,000 to 52,000 words. I had reached about 30,000 words and was fretting that I didn’t have enough plot to fill the remaining 20,000 words. I wrote more, then when I had reached 46,000 words, I fretted that I’d have too much plot. But, of course, I should know by now to trust the process because the book clocked in at 52,000 which is the perfect length.

Last week, I was video chatting with Miss F and Miss C when they sheepishly admitted they had something to tell me.


All sorts of scenarios were playing out in my head – none of them good.

They then embarked on a long and convoluted tale of illegal hamsters being kept in the university – even though it’s against the rules, everyone did it and honestly, what did the powers-that-be expect? It is a university for animal studies, after all.

One of their friends, they explained, had a lot of hamsters and someone told on her, so there was a mad scramble to hide the hamsters before their room was checked. Miss F and Miss C ended up hiding one in their wardrobe. The hamster hoarding friend then decided to leave the university and took most of the hamsters with them except – you’ve guessed it – the hamster Miss F was harbouring.

The upshot of this tale of woe was that I was now grandmother to a hamster who would be coming home with Miss F for the summer.

Umm. A hamster? Here? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not scared of any rodent, but to have one in a house where a cat already lives seems like a plan doomed to tragic failure. Okay, Skittles is a lazy, old lump, but she will still chase and catch things that cross her path and having a tempting little furry morsel living under the same roof as her, is pushing temptation under her nose.

I’m not sure it’s a good idea, I said, determined to stay firm about this.

Miss F then bombarded me with video after video of this little scrap of black and white fur cleaning its whiskers, nibbling at food, scampering about its cage, running on its wheel … and, well, the upshot is … we are now a one hamster family.

One, it stops at one!

It is a cute little thing, with black and white patches. It’s called Miss Moo, both because of her markings and because she is a right moo. Okay, great.

I can’t believe how soon Miss F will be coming home for the long summer break. I was thinking it wouldn’t be until mid-end July, but I’ve been told I will need to drive up and collect her sometime in mid-June. Before then I will need to rent a storage pod as close to the university as possible. Miss F has a lot of stuff, including a 4’ mattress, and there’s no way I can fit it all into my tiny car. If I rented a van it would be expensive and cumbersome for me to drive, plus even if I did bring all her stuff home, where on earth would we store it all? Yes, it could fill the spare room, but if Miss F has friends come to stay over the summer, or even if I do, that will mean we’d have nowhere for them to sleep. Then I would have the added expense of renting a van again to get Miss F and all her stuff back to the university in September.

Being an agricultural and animal university, it runs various residential courses during the summer so needs the students’ rooms available to house the summer interns. It’s a complete pain in the backside, but at least if I’ve rented a storage pod close by we’ll be able to make several trips to put all Miss F’s things into storage for the long summer break. I am confident the mattress will fit in my car if I put all the seats down. Well, I’m pretty sure. Let’s put it this way, it either fits in the car or I’m strapping it to the roof, but either way, it will have to be transported somehow.

Reading through this blog, even though I said it had been a busy two weeks, it looks like I haven’t done much. I guess my time has all been eaten up with writing the book and I suppose if you think about it, to write a 52,000-word novel in two weeks is not bad – especially as it’s also formatted, paginated, and has had a basic edit.

Anyway, that’s all my news for now. I hope wherever you are that life is being good to you and look forward to chatting again in two weeks.

Julia Blake


3 thoughts on “A Sore Throat, A Hamster, and Lots of Writing!

  1. So sorry you got such a bad infection, but thank goodness you got yourself to the doctor. These days one does have to be unusually assertive to even see a doctor. And thankfully you’ve gotten well quickly once on antibiotics.
    Can’t believe you wrote the whole book in two weeks, and while not even feeling that well. That is truly amazing. And now it’s already off to Becky. I am really looking forward to reading it. And I’m looking forward to the new video trailer. You always have such great video trailers for your books. Platform House is the best.
    Once Moo has moved in, you’ll have to show us a couple pictures. It seems just yesterday your daughter was home for spring break and now summer break is coming around fast. Your plan for a storage pod is the only thing that makes sense.
    So glad you’re feeling better and it is wonderful to know you will have another great book released fairly soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The summer does seem to have come around a lot quicker than I anticipated. It will be lovely to have her here for such a long time. The house will be a bit crowded when there are four of us living in it – with only one bathroom it can be a bit of a juggling act. I wish there was a way I could afford to be without the lodger but sadly not yet.


  2. That will be hard, with one bathroom. It’s the lodger that really makes it more difficult. I wish you didn’t need to rent.
    But it will be sweet to have the girls with you for the summer, and then peace and quiet again when they return to school. ❤️


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