It’s the last Monday before Christmas and the Enchanted Emporium is hectic with customers wanting last minute presents, candles for calm and lotions to help have a happy day. We’re delighted to have a tea break to chat to paranormal romance author, Jeanna Louise Skinner. Her debut novel, The Book Boyfriend was recommended by Kiley Dunbar in her Monday Merry Meet so we’re looking forward to knowing more.
Monday Merry Meet: Jeanna Louise Skinner
Willow: Hi Jeanna, come in. Can we get you a drink? We have our own blends of tea, Yorkshire tea, as no one can beat that for a proper cuppa, coffee or something different?
Jeanna: Thank you so much for that lovely warm welcome, Willow. I’m delighted to be here. I adore your magical emporium and regularly find myself getting lost in all the mysterious nooks and crannies as a visitor, so it’s lovely to drop in with my author hat on. I’d kill for a decent cuppa but decaf if you possibly have it. Milk, no sugar, please.
Willow: Your debut novel, The Book Boyfriend, is a paranormal romance. What drew you to that genre?
Jeanna: I’ve always loved all things magical and mysterious. Some of my favourite movies growing up were Mannequin, Splash and Big. You know, the kind of film where the fantastical happens, but it’s within the real world. I love high fantasy too, but I feel like there’s something whimsical about grounded fantasy or paranormal. Something about the “What If” nature of the supernatural that resonates in my soul. I used to enjoy the spookier side of the supernatural more when I was younger and ate up shows like The X Files, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more chicken and I can’t do the scary stuff anymore. I still want all those Will-They-Won’t-They Mulder and Scully feels though, and Paranormal Romance gives me the hit of magic that I’m looking for with the HEA endings I crave. My sweet spot is Cosy Paranormal/Fantasy Romance and my personal brand is that but featuring plus-size and neurodiverse characters.
Willow: I loved those films and watched all of them on repeat as a teenager.
Amber: The Book Boyfriend contains our favourite things, bookshops, magic and romance. And to top it off, it has a map. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Jeanna: The Book Boyfriend is the book of my heart.
It’s very meta in that it’s about a romance-loving bookworm who wants to write but who struggles to put her messy thoughts on to paper. There’s a throwback swoon-worthy, brooding historical hero who literally, magically appears out of the book the heroine is reading, plus a grumpy bookshop cat. The idea came from a conversation with an old friend years ago where she was lamenting the fact that the real life men she knew couldn’t match up to her fantasy heroes and that her book boyfriends just couldn’t be real. It was literally a lightbulb moment in my head. And I set it in a bookshop because there’s no place which feels more magical to me (except for possibly a library).
The map was kind of a happy accident. The Book Boyfriend is set in Exeter where I live. It’s a beautiful old city with so much history but I feel it’s often overlooked in literature, so I mined Exeter’s very rich historical seam for titbits and plot bunnies. The cathedral plays an important role in the story, as do the centuries old underground passages, both of which are major tourist attractions here today. And of course, I had to delve into Exeter and Devon’s abundance of ghost stories and folklore.
My husband is born and bred here and even though he’s not an illustrator by trade, I know he’s talented at drawing. I mentioned to him one day that I’d love to put a map of Exeter in the book; one which shows the then and now of Exeter in the 16th century and how it’s changed today. Well, let’s just say he rose to the challenge in true book boyfriend fashion. I’m thrilled with how it turned out and all the little details he included. If you look closely, you can even see a tiny horse and cart figure near the cathedral.
I wrote this book to be a love letter to Romance and included loads of Easter eggs for book lovers to find. And there’s even a choice of covers because I know how some Romance fans love a clinch cover with a real-life couple, but others prefer the cartoon Illustrated style.
Willow: It sounds fabulous and everything a magic loving romantic bookworm desires. Unlike many romance books, Emmeline isn’t your petite and neurotypical heroine. How important do you think representation of everyone is in fiction?
Jeanna: In many ways Emmeline is me. I tried very hard not to make her a self insert, but she’s the me I always wanted to read in books. Of course, there are lots of ways where we’re not alike, but she means a lot to me as a character. It’s my hope that others will read her story and see themselves in her, especially in her strength, because she’s unbelievably resilient and resourceful.
Emmeline has schizophrenia, a mental illness which is still very highly stigmatised and misunderstood. I’ve already mentioned my brand being plus-size and neurodiverse paranormal romance, and I stand by this. I’m privileged in lots of ways but I’m also marginalised in others. Namely, being plus-size, neurodiverse and disabled. If my stories can make just one person feel seen or represented in a positive light, it will all be worth it. We need diverse books isn’t just a throwaway slogan. It truly matters. I’m proud of the work that myself and others – especially indie authors – are doing to bring positive representation to publishing, but I feel that traditional publishing still has a way to go.
Willow: Yule has arrived here in the Emporium and Whitby is full of Christmas cheer. Are you someone who enjoys the festivities or more bah humbug?
Jeanna: I adore Christmas! I’m a big traditionalist and I used to go all out making my own mince pies, Christmas cakes and having the perfectly decorated tree etc, but I’ve had to take a step back these days because of my health. So now I try to take joy from the smaller things. My very favourite part of Christmas is that feeling when you find the perfect present for someone, the anticipation of them opening it and their eyes lighting up when they do. It feels magical to me. Very much like when you know someone is The One or that moment when I strike gold whilst writing – which doesn’t happen often enough, unfortunately.
Willow: There are so many different ways to be published nowadays. What has your journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?
Jeanna: Oh goodness, that’s a long and complicated story so I’ll try to keep it brief. I started out like many aspiring authors in that I went down the querying route. I spent a lot of getting down and dirty in those trenches and I still have the scars to prove it. I thought I’d made it when a small indie publisher showed interest in The Book Boyfriend. It was so exciting. I was finally a real published author, but months after my dream came true, my publisher closed. I got my rights back relatively quickly and easily and I’m so grateful for that. I know so many authors who’ve had nightmares where returning rights are concerned. So, in March I became a self published author. It was never on my radar to self publish. My health issues mean I have limited spoons and time to devote to pretty much everything and I knew self publishing would mean a LOT of hard work, so it wasn’t really what I wanted. But I’m here now and I wouldn’t say I’m thriving as an indie author. Surviving, maybe? So I’m taking each day as it comes and I’m truly grateful for all my readers, followers, friends and family who are cheering me on.
Willow: That is some journey, and we wish you all the luck in your indie career. I am very ritualistic in my day. Do you have writing rituals to help you write?
Jeanna: Absolutely none. The only thing I do need is relative peace and quiet to write otherwise I’m as scattergun as it comes with my writing process.
Amber: We’ve spoken to many would be authors this year. Do you have any advice for new writers?
Jeanna: The best bit of advice I’ve ever been given and something that’s much easier to say than do:
WTFB – Write The F##king Book.
It’s a cliché but you can’t edit, polish, query or publish a blank page.
I just wish I would listen to my own advice more!
Amber: I need to remember that one.
Willow: We sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?
Jeanna: Anything that keeps my ADHD brain occupied on the task in hand so “Focus while the candle is burning” would be wonderful, please!
Willow: One of candles when lit invokes memories of your perfect day? Where would it take you?
Jeanna: To Blackbury Camp in Devon, the site of an old Iron Age hillfort and an enchanting bluebell wood. We used to visit every year before I got sick. I remember spending one particularly magical early summer’s day there with a picnic and the sun beating down on us, while the boys went off looking for faeries and wisps in the trees.
Amber: The Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity all year round. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?
Jeanna: I don’t know if it’s influenced my writing but I swear I heard (heard not saw) a werewolf once. The sound gave me the shivers. Even now it’s making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it.
Willow:A werewolf experience is something we’ve not heard of in the Emporium but there have been several sightings in East Yorkshire. If we could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?
Jeanna: Probably something to do with focus again because my combination of ADHD and CRPS is huge energy-sucking bummer of a cocktail. Either that or I’d like to do something amazing like time-travel.
Amber: What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?
Jeanna: Probably the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake. I first read it as a gothy teenager and I fell completely in love with Peake’s gothic-laced fantasy world. It’s Dracula meets Game of Thrones but better than both, imho. There was a beautifully detailed BBC adaptation years ago, but I think it’s the perfect time for a new version.
Amber: I need to search for those. Thanks.
Willow: Our assistant Rosa says hi. She couldn’t be here today because she’s at her son’s Nativity, but she has a box full of romance novels for people to borrow. What would you add to Rosa’s box of Romance?
Jeanna: Oh gosh, so many. Can I choose two recent favourites?
Willow: Of course. It’s Christmas, so the more the merrier.
Jeanna: Holding on To Bluebell Lodge by Rachel Bowdler. A gorgeous enemies to lovers sapphic romance by the sea.
Just Fake Married by Marty Vee. As the title implies, it’s a fake relationship romance, but this one has all the feels, mutual pining, a New Year’s Eve kiss, only one bed and doggos. LOTS of cute doggos.
Amber: And finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?
Jeanna: I’m (not) very busy writing the first book in my new series. It’s called Pumpkin Spice and it’s book one in The Bluebloodsuckers series, which is about a modern-day European royal family who also happen to be vampires. Pumpkin Spice is a Cinderella-inspired steamy plus-size romcom with a fat, witchy, sword-forging heroine and a handsome Prince Charming who becomes a vampire when the clock strikes midnight. It’s human sunshine meets grumpy immortal and so much fun to write. I’m hoping to release it next Autumn.
I’m also writing a short story in the same series which will be published first in Hexes and Ohs, a witchy paranormal romance charity anthology from The New Romance Cafe. It’s available to preorder now and ALL the proceeds will be going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Willow: Vampires and witches will make a great combination. Good luck with your writing and we’ll be pre-ordering Hexes and Oh’s from here. Have a lovely Christmas.
Jeanna Louise Skinner writes plus-size romance with a sprinkling of magic. She has CRPS and ADHD and she is passionate about writing people underrepresented in Romance, especially those with disabilities and neurodiverse conditions. She lives in Devon with her husband, their two children and a cat who sounds like a goat. Her debut plus-size paranormal romance The Book Boyfriend is out now in ebook, paperback and audio.
If your fictional boyfriend came to life, could you write your own Happily Ever After?
Emmeline always dreamed of being an author, finding comfort in words and between the pages of her beloved romance novels, but a mental health diagnosis leaves her blocked and unable to write. Then she inherits a crumbling, second-hand bookshop from a mysterious old friend and Emmy discovers that magic is real. Maybe her fantasies about the heroes in her favourite historical romances aren’t so far-fetched after all?
Lord Jonathan Dalgliesh is the handsome stranger – wielding a sword as dangerous as his Tudor past – who appears in Emmy’s bookshop asking for help. Together they must race against time itself to lift the curse imprisoning him inside an ancient book. But when growing threats to Emmy’s safety are proved real and not another symptom of her illness, she must learn to trust her own voice again. Can she find the words to save Jonathan and her shop before tragedy strikes on the fateful final page? Romance-addict Emmy may be, but this damsel is about to kick distress into the Ever After.
Featuring a fierce, body-positive, fat and tall heroine; a morally-grey, swoonworthy Tudor hero; mental health rep; romance novel references galore; a dusty Devon bookshop setting; history, mystery, magic; and the grumpiest, chonkiest bookshop cat, “The Book Boyfriend” is the perfect witchy, slow burn, time-travel romance for fans of Outlander, A Discovery of Witches, Practical Magic and many more!
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