The story behind the story of All You Need Is Love

All You Need Is Love was added into Prime Reading at the start of last week so is available as a FREE eBook for those who subscribe. It’s also FREE – along with all my other books – to those in Kindle Unlimited. And if you’re not a Prime reader, you can grab it for only 99p or overseas equivalent on Apple, Kindle, Kobo and Nook so it’s a great time to pick up this book if you haven’t already read it.

Here’s the blurb and then I’ll tell you a bit about the story behind the story:

When you’ve loved and lost, how do you find the strength to let love in again?

Jemma thinks she’s found the love of her life. Scott is everything she ever dreamed of and she can’t wait to begin the next stage of their life together. But just as she is heading for her happy ever after, a shock revelation shatters Jemma’s life as she knows it. Left to pick up the pieces, Jemma’s friends and family rally round to help her find the courage to move on.

Sam think he has his future all worked out. A thriving career, lovely home and an amazing fiancée. But when tragedy strikes, he finds himself alone, far from everyone he cares about. Did he do the right thing by running away and trying to rebuild the tatters of his life alone?

This is the story of Jemma and Sam. Two lost souls, desperately trying to find closure and happiness. When a chance meeting brings them together a friendship is formed, but the guards are up. 

Will it finally be their turn for a happy ever after? Or will the secrets from their pasts prevent them from moving on?

I wrote this book across 2016-17 and originally released it as an indie author in April 2017 under the title Bear With Me. My publishers, Boldwood Books, acquired the rights to all my back catalogue and Bear With Me was taken down from sale last year, given a fresh edit, and re-released as All You Need Is Love in March this year.

As mentioned in previous posts, I’m a pantser rather than a plotter, which means that I typically have an idea for a story and I let it write itself. Therefore a lot of the plot points unfold as I write and often take me by surprise but I always know what the premise and setting will be right from the start.

For All You Need Is Love, the setting was the starting point. I’d always wanted to write a story set in a specialist teddy bear shop because I’m an arctophile – collector/lover of teddy bears – and I used to have my own specialist bear shop so I had direct experience I could draw on.

Me in Bear’s Pad after winning the Best Newcomer Award in 2004

My shop was called Bear’s Pad and was based at the top of a street called Finkle Street in Richmond, North Yorkshire. I set it up from scratch and ran it for two years from May 2003, closing it down because I’d married and moved to Scarborough which was two hours away.

Some days in the shop were amazing with great sales and fabulous conversations with bear-mad customers. Some days were horrendous. Here’s a few examples of some of my more traumatic days:

  • A local woman who used to delight in visiting the independent sole traders in town and telling them their business would fail because all new businesses did. The first time I met her, she spent an hour in the shop telling me this and she made me cry
  • Turning up on several occasions to find that somebody had vomited in my doorway and having to clear that up before opening for the day
  • A woman in with her daughter who asked if I had a toilet the daughter could use. I said no (I wasn’t insured to let the public use my toilet which was out the back by the safe and spare stock) but explained that the public toilets were 2 minutes’ away. Instead of taking her daughter to the toilets, she continued looking round and her poor daughter wet herself on my floor. Which would have been easily cleaned up if I had tiles or wooden flooring but I had carpet tiles. The mother then abandoned the items she was going to buy and stormed out telling me it was my fault for not letting her use my toilet and leaving me to clean up the mess. Needless to say, she never returned to buy the abandoned items
  • A really ‘lovely’ man came in wanting a large plush bear from the top of a cabinet. The shop was busy and I said he could get it down himself, especially as he was taller than me, but he made out he didn’t want to knock anything and could I do it. So I locked the till and helped him. He said he’d go to the ATM, get some money, and be back later. It had all been a distraction. His accomplice (who I hadn’t noticed at all) had tried to empty the till but couldn’t because I’d locked it, but he stole my mobile phone from under the till instead. They’d been working their way round the town targeting the smaller businesses
  • A woman asked if I’d be interested in stocking some pictures she’d painted of teddy bears. They were lovely but I was only willing to do this on sale or return basis as I had no idea if they’d sell. She told me how much she wanted for them and I told her the mark-up I’d need to put on them to ensure the space I gave them earned the same as other products. She was fine with that. Until they didn’t sell and she stormed in one day to collect them, hurling abuse at me about how they’d have sold if I wasn’t such a “greedy cow” for how I’d priced them!
  • Only making £4 of sales one day because it rained non-stop and I only had one customer all day
  • Several shoplifting incidents
  • Mums sending their children to ‘play in the bear shop’ while they went on a sunbed in the tanning salon opposite, leaving me with a random child or two to ‘babysit’ who touched everything, dropped lots of things, and had no money to spend

I could easily have written a book set purely in a bear shop and included these incidents and many more but it wouldn’t have made a story as they’re all anecdotes, although these incidents may well appear in other books as it’s all good material. A story is made up of so much more than a series of bad days so it wasn’t about me replicating my experiences of running my own teddy bear shop.

I was also conscious that not everyone understands the idea of an adult collecting teddy bears and I didn’t want to risk alienating readers so I didn’t want to have the whole story set in a bear shop.

My idea was for a mother and daughter team, Jemma and Julie, who were keen arctophiles and bear artists (makers of teddy bears) but to have the mum owning the shop rather than the daughter, therefore only using the bear shop as a partial setting.

I established Jemma’s mum Julie as the owner/manager specialist teddy bear shop Bear With Me on Castle Street in Whitsborough Bay but positioned Jemma as a curator at a children’s museum in London who, despite living far away, was very close to her mum and younger brother.

I needed a way for Jemma to return to Whitsborough Bay and had an idea to do that on the back of Julie being diagnosed with a life-changing illness. I went back and forth between several conditions but settled on Parkinson’s. My auntie had recently been diagnosed with it and my parents’ next-door neighbour had it and was very willing for me to spend some time quizzing her about all aspects of living with Parkinson’s. The chance to speak to someone directly was invaluable so my decision was made.

What I was really keen to show was not just the impact Parkinson’s could have on the person with it but also on their family. Because the story is told from Jemma’s perspective rather than Julie’s, I’m able to do this.

This story is a dual perspective one. It’s the first book I wrote in this way and the first time I tackled a male perspective too. At the start of the book, Sam’s and Jemma’s lives are unconnected but, as the story progresses, they meet through a mutual friend when Sam, a neurologist, provides Jemma with some advice and expertise in relation to Julie’s diagnosis.

I can’t remember where the idea of the dual perspective came from. I don’t remember making a conscious decision to do this but equally don’t remember starting writing single POV and then changing it to dual. I therefore suspect it was something that just felt right for this story.

As for everything else that happens in All You Need Is Love, that’s completely down to the characters and where their stories took me.

Authors are often asked which their favourite book is that they’ve written and it’s a really difficult question to answer. Quite often, books will be special for different reasons. I don’t have an outright favourite from my backlist but All You Need Is Love is definitely one of my favourites. I love Jemma and her family so much, I love Sam, and I love their story. It’s such a beautiful tale of having loved and lost and trying to find the courage to take the chance of letting love in again.

Because I love this story so much, I do struggle to understand why it has the fewest sales out of all my books. There’ll always be a weaker-performing book but I do wonder why it’s this one. Thankfully those who read it do seem to love it so hopefully being in Prime reading and on a 99p offer will generate more interest.

Under the previous guise of Bear With Me, I did wonder if the teddy bear-themed title and blurb might put off anyone who isn’t interested in teddy bears, but the new version has no mention of bears and it still hasn’t sold as well as my other books. Strange. If you are a reader who doesn’t feel excited by bears, please do give it a try. Any bear-related details are gently fed into the storyline and don’t provide the main focus of the book so please don’t let that deter you from diving in. I have several reviews where readers ay they weren’t bear fans but they now are!

As I write this, I’m thrilled to see the bears climbing back up the charts. The eBook is currently just outside the Top 300 on Amazon at #309. The previous highest was #127 when on a BookBub promotion in April. They’re also Top 50 in the Prime Reading chart and Top 20 in the Romance Prime Reading chart. Go bears go! Do us proud!

Big bear-hugs
Jessica xx

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