Our Yorkshire Dales Adventure Part 3 – All Things Bright and Beautiful

This is the final part of my blog about our family week away in the Yorkshire Dales. Apologies it’s a day late – something urgent cropped up yesterday (work-wise).

Still staying with the James Herriot theme, I’ve selected another book title – All Things Bright and Beautiful – which is, of course, part of the hymn from which All Creatures Great and Small comes.

I’m focusing on an eclectic mix of beautiful things for this part, whether that’s beauty in nature, food, or simply things that make me happy.

Gayle Beck which runs off the River Ure passes through Hawes and we were staying in a holiday cottage just round the corner from it called The Old Surgery. It was a brilliant location, right at the edge of the town centre so very accessible for everything.

On Sunday morning, the day after we arrived, we went for a little wander and I took a photo of the waterfall – probably one of the most photographed sights in Hawes. As you can see, there was a gentle but steady flow of water. Very beautiful.

As the week progressed and the rain persisted, the flow strengthened…

And by the time we left, it was a raging torrent!

There used to be a mill across the beck from our holiday cottage on the other side of the bridge that that waterfall above flows under. There was an old enlarged photo in the cottage showing what it used to look like with the mill wheel. On the bottom photo, you can clearly see the wall around the wheel although the wheel itself is long gone. What’s particularly interesting is that there appears to have been a wall across the beck, presumably to keep the water higher for the wheel to turn. That’s gone too.

Hawes has a few lovely gifts shops and a particular favourite was one called The Mulberry Bush which stocked Jellycats (I love them) and some gorgeous Christmassy gifts.

A shop I always love to visit is Bear Cottage. It’s an interior designs business but it stocks some lovely gifts and I like to have a hug with the two bears outside although I was conscious this time of not putting my paws on them in this strange Covid world so I had to do a sort of hover thing!

There was a gorgeous bear inside too although it wasn’t so easy to get his photo. I wished I could have taken him home. He’s so gorgeous.

Mid-week, the rain was so torrential with no sign of let up so the munchkin and I left hubby back in the cottage with Ella (our sprocker spaniel) and took a walk to the other end of the town to visit the Wensleydale Creamery.

There’s a visitor centre there and a visit includes cheese-making demonstrations but we were on a mission for a cream scone! We were the only ones in the café at first. The scones were still warm – mmm. I’m not a massive fan of fruit scones, preferring a plain or cheese one. They had cheese but I wanted jam and cream so it had to be fruit. I will eat some of the fruit but then I hit the point where I have to remove it as it’s too much. If you’ve read Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café you’ll know what I mean when I said I did a Mrs Sultana.

Various pictures by my favourite artist, Lucy Pittaway, were displayed around the café and I was particularly pleased to see two of the images from ‘The Home Collection’ hanging right next to each other as, combined, they remind me so much of my Hedgehog Hollow series. I have the print of ‘Happiness is Homemade’ with the hedgehogs surrounded by wildflowers, just like in Thomas’s meadow. The three-storey house in ‘Dream Big’ reminds me of the farmhouse as shown on the cover of Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow.

Lucy Pittaway’s art also inspires part of the storyline in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café.

The gift shop at The Creamery is lovely and we had a good browse (and little purchase) before stepping back out into the torrential rain.

In the afternoon, we went over to the Dales Countryside Museum a few minutes’ walk from the cottage. It’s all about the people and activities in the Dales over the years and there are lots of activities to keep young children amused – or 14 year olds on a wet miserable day! 

We managed to catch a break in the rain with a trip out to Richmond and Leyburn, including a visit to Richmond Castle. There are fabulous views from the castle and the changing colours of the trees looked lovely, but the photos on a gloomy day like that don’t quite do justice to them.

While we were away, we celebrated a special publication day with the release of my very first foreign rights translation – Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café being translated into Italian. It’s called Festa Sotto La Neve and I hope sales in Italy go well.

And how do you celebrate an Italian publication day? With a takeaway pizza of course! We’re so sophisticated!

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing the photos from another beautiful part of North Yorkshire, mainly caught during rare breaks in the rain. The ones I posted in Part 2 on our walk were the only day we saw blue sky across the whole week which was a shame and did somewhat hamper our plans for the week, although I’m just grateful for the opportunity to get out and about a bit after so long at home.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Welcome to the wonderful world of bears

It’s six days since All You Need Is Love was released and we’re halfway through the blog tour. I’ve had some absolutely gorgeous reviews and one of the things that makes me very happy is when reviewers mention the bears and how much they learned about them/how much they enjoyed that part of the story.

So today I thought I’d talk about being an arctophile and the wonderful world of teddy bears.

An arctophile is a lover/collector of teddy bears. It is derived from the Greek terms ‘árktos’ meaning bear and ‘philos’ meaning lover/friend. I am an arctophile.

I’ve loved teddy bears for most of my life but I would say I became especially fond of them at around the age of 14. Forever Friends were extremely popular back then and I remember gazing adoringly at them in card shops and wishing they could all be mine. I gradually built up a collection of what is known as ‘plush’ bears. These are typically mass-produced teddies, massively ranging in size and price, and made from synthetic materials. They are soft and designed for lots of hugs.

The photos below show a very small section of my plush collection. Top left are a trio of bears I used to sell in my bear shop and I couldn’t resist taking a set home. They are from the plush range made by German collectible teddy bear manufacturer Hermann Teddy Original and I christened them Caramel, Toffee and Fudge (L-R).

Across the bottom is my very well loved bear Sainsbury (unimaginatively named that because he was from Sainsbury’s), bought for me by my sister in law when I spent most of December 2006 in hospital with hypertension and mild pre-eclampsia before my daughter was born. You’ll likely recognise a Forever Friends bear in the middle. He was also from my shop. There was a range of them in four different colours – this light blue, a deeper sky blue, pink, peach – and I’d have loved to keep one of each but couldn’t justify it!

Bottom right is a Gund bear. I used to stock Gund in the shop and they really do make gorgeous plush bears. This particular one was given to me by my writing collective, The Write Romantics, when my debut book (called Searching for Steven at the time but now repackaged as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) secured a publishing deal. He’s wearing a badge that says ‘Steven Bear’ and his hoodie states ‘A 5* read the search is over’. Isn’t he gorgeous?

And finally in the plush range we have famous bears like Rupert, Paddington and Winnie the Pooh. I do have a gorgeous traditional Pooh Bear (also from my shop) but he’s on the top of the wardrobe at the back and I’d have to remove all the bears to take a picture of him and am far too lazy (and short) to do that! This Paddington was a Christmas gift before I had the shop but Aunt Lucy came from my shop and I used to sell Paddingtons of various sizes. A larger one than him made it into my collection too but I had to draw the line at the 4ft one I used to stock!

Bears featured on my wedding day. The wedding itself had a seaside theme but a Forever Friends bride and groom (from my shop, of course) sat on the top table. We had a Cherished Teddy wedding display for the top of the cake and my cousin bought us a Boyds bride and groom as a gift.

I was in my late twenties when I discovered the world of collectible teddy bears. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my boyfriend at the time took me to a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it was a life-changing moment as I’d never have thought of running my own teddy bear shop if I hadn’t been introduced to them and I’d never have met my husband if I hadn’t opened the bear shop. And without the hubby, I don’t know if I’d have become an author.

Collectible teddy bears will give hugs but they’re not designed to be played with/cuddled in bed and the price tag confirms that! Even if you know nothing about teddy bears, you’ve probably heard of Steiff; the German manufacturer with the distinctive button in the ear identity tag. Vintage Steiff can sell for eyewatering amounts of money at auction but if there are any burglars reading this, I don’t own any of them so nothing to see here!

There are many other long-established manufacturers. Britain’s oldest are Dean’s and Merrythought and my very first bear was a limited edition Dean’s one called Scruff, purchased from that shop in Lincoln. Here he is posing with my books:

Isn’t he completely adorable? He’s made from mohair and is jointed. Most collectible bears are jointed – it’s where they stand out from plush ones – and most are made from mohair which varies massively in colour, texture and price.

When I first set up my shop – Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire – I stocked collectible bears from Dean’s, Merrythought, Hermann Teddy Original, Robin Rive (based in New Zealand) and Cambrian Bears but Steiff wouldn’t touch me. I was too small and they supplied to another bear shop in a nearby town. I was gutted because I lost sales constantly from people who knew nothing about bears but had heard of Steiff so wanted a Steiff for a newborn or for a christening and nothing else would do. In the main, they wouldn’t look at the other bears even though I personally (and perhaps controversially) have always thought that Steiff bears, although lovely, aren’t necessarily the bears with the most personality and appeal.

About a year into trading, Steiff reconsidered when the local shop closed and they allowed me to make a smaller order than they usually demanded (which was still a phenomenal outlay). It was worth it as Steiff were my biggest sellers.

Here’s a small selection of my collectible bears. The large photo is a bear called Daffy from the Isabelle Collection at Charlie Bears. Charlie Bears didn’t exist when I had Bear’s Pad but they later entered the market with a new take on bears – the look of collectible bears by making them jointed but affordability by creating them in different materials. The Isabelle Collection was an expansion into limited edition collectible bears.

Top right are two collectible bears and one artist one called Noah purchased in Belgium (I’ll explain what artist bears are in a moment). The one standing at the back is a Steiff which I called Growler because he growls when you tip him forwards and back. Steiff bears don’t usually have names, being identified instead by size and style. He was my second ever collectible bear I bought. The smaller one sitting down is a Robin Rive limited edition called Faith.

The bottom row starts with a very traditional-looking Hermann Teddy Original bear called Yesterday. The one in the middle with the hat is Robin Rive’s Nautical Neville. These two (and Faith mentioned earlier) were all from my shop. I used to love them all so much and would tell myself that if a particular favourite was still on the shelves after three months, they’d come home with me. I’d then panic when a customer seemed interested!

The Paddington at the bottom was my wedding gift from the hubby and is a Steiff one. I said earlier I don’t love Steiff as much as some of the other manufacturers but I absolutely adore this Paddington. He is divine. Look at his suitcase and marmalade sandwich!

So what are artist bears? These are collectible bears but they are made on a much smaller scale by a bear artist who typically creates an OOAK (one of a kind) or a very small number like three. It’s more likely to be an OOAK although the artist may take that pattern again but use different mohair or clothes to create a different look.

During publication week, somebody asked me how many bears I have so I did a very quick count. It’s about 140 consisting of plush, collectible and artist bears. I used to have a couple of hundred plush ones but there just isn’t the space. When I had my bear shop, I cleared about about 10 binbags of bears to charity (all were immaculate condition as they’d all been sat on shelves and not played with) and I’ve done several more clear-outs over the years which break my heart but needs must.

When I did my count, I was surprised to discover that I had nearly as many artist bears as big-name collectible ones. Initially I only bought collectible ones but I tend to only buy artist ones now. I love the uniqueness of them. I will only buy a bear that ‘speaks’ to me and, as I have a lot of traditional-looking ones in my collection now, I am more inclined to go for something a little bit quirky.

All the bears below are artist bears. The one in the dress is from Loeëtte Bears (from the Netherlands although I bought the bear from Mary Shortle in York) and the purple one is Tammy from J&P Mohair Bears which I bought in Stonegate Bears in York. Franklin (bottom middle) is also a J&P from Stonegate Bears.

The top right one is a Ju-Sea Bear called Mark Elvet. I made him! I learned how to make teddy bears when I had my shop and I sold my second and third in the shop but kept the first one for me as he was my first and therefore very special and I’d named him after my husband and the street where I learned to make bears. You may think Ju-Sea Bears sounds familiar. That’s because I used it for Julie’s bears in All You Need Is Love in the same way that I named her house Bear’s Pad after my shop. Little connections in my stories like that make me happy.

The small purple bear bottom left is from Diane Hanley who used to supply to my shop and bottom right is the most adorable bear dressed for a festival. I can’t tell you her name or make, though, as there was no tag on her. I contacted Mary Shortle in Leeds afterwards and they kindly supplied me with the information which I wrote down and put somewhere safe… You know what that means. Yep, no idea where I put it!

Although I say that Scruff was my first collectible bear, I did have one before that. I absolutely love the Lake District and we had many family holidays in the area when I was younger. My favourite shop in Bowness-on-Windermere was Lakeland Bears. I’d seen the postcards of hiking bears set in the countryside and this was the shop that stocked the actual bears.

I always dreamed of owning a Lakeland Bear and, one year, my parents surprised me by giving me one as a Christmas gift. I had no idea I was getting one so you can imagine my delight. He has his walking stick, his hiking boots and his backpack with a map of the Lakes in it! Isn’t he just fabulous? They even created a booklet of photos of him ‘exploring’ their house and garden which I still have… you’ve guessed it… somewhere safe!

Sadly the Lakeland Bears shop closed down many years ago but you can look at the gorgeous bears and the postcards on their website here. I’ve just had a lovely fifteen minutes procrastinating looking at the pictures and remembering which postcards I used to have.

We’ve looked at plush bears, collectible bears and, within that, artist bears. A devoted arctophile will probably have a lot of other bear-related items in their home too. I have stack of bear-themed stationery, books, pictures and jewellery. Here’s a few items from my collection.

The picture is our bear family and hangs in our downstairs toilet behind the loo itself which hubby doesn’t appreciate when he nips in for a pee as they’re watching him – hee hee! The salt and pepper set came from Canada on our honeymoon (so many amazing bear-themed treats over there), the teddy ornament is from a gift shop in Whitby and the large bear came from Hawes. The teddy bear cushion was a gift but I sold blankets in the same design in Bear’s Pad so I have a pair of cushions and a matching blanket.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little explore into the world of bears and that you’ve enjoyed the pictures. Teddy bears have an amazing ability to make us smile and feel uplifted. It’s rare for me to be in a bad mood and not much gets me down and I think that, in part, it’s because I’m surrounded by teddies all day. Who can feel down when looking at their adorable little faces?

When I had my shop, there were some nasty customers. And I mean nasty. One liked to come in and lecture me about how my business would fail because all businesses before me on that site had failed. She made me cry on several occasions. Another customer asked if I had a toilet her daughter could use. I did have a toilet but it was out the back past my safe and all my spare stock and I wasn’t insured to let the public back there so I had to direct customers to the public toilets which were a one-minute walk away so no hardship. It turned out the daughter was desperate and she wet herself all over my carpet tiles. The woman then told me it was my fault, flung down the items she’d planned to purchase and left me to clear it all up. She never returned so I never even made a sale out of that traumatic episode and, to this day, still feel really sorry for the little girl … but not the mum.

One busy Saturday, a really friendly man asked me to get down a large plush polar bear from the top of the shelving units and save it for him while he went to the cashpoint. When I returned to the till and finished serving a few customers, I realised my mobile phone had been stolen. The police told me two men were working together with a tactic of one distracting the owner by being interested and friendly while the other stole the money out of the till. Fortunately I’d locked my till and had the key on me so they didn’t get away with any money although the phone was bad enough.

There was a tanning salon opposite and customers used to send their fairly young children to “go and play in the bear shop” while they had a tan. Who does that? And the mornings where I’d arrive from work to find someone had vomited in my recessed entrance doorway were the worst ever.

I could write a book about all this. Hmm… there’s a thought!

But, even on those darkest days – and there were many more than I’ve listed above – I always felt so comforted being surrounded by such an enormous hug of bears (a ‘hug’ being the collective noun applied to a group of teddies). I’d have loved to keep my bear shop. Shame I needed customers to make it work!

So grab a bear today, give it a hug, and feel uplifted.

Big bear hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I share some more of my favourite Christmas decorations

Happy Christmas Eve! I don’t know about you but I feel like it was 1st December just yesterday. And now we’re one sleep from Santa. Eek!

Last week I shared some of my favourite Christmas decorations from my main tree and said I’d come back and share some from the smaller tree in our dining room. Today’s the day!

There are accents of silver and purple on this tree with beading, baubles and stars in those colours but it’s more of a mishmash of colours than the main tree.

Bears feature heavily again, including a fairy bear at the top of the tree although I think that, from her downcast expression, she may be afraid of heights, bless her!

And more bears…

Many years ago, I bought some Me To You tree ornaments (Tatty Teddy) from Clintons. Each year, a new range of four designs comes out and, over the years, I have massively added to my collection. Sometimes I’d buy the full set, sometimes just a couple (particularly if the designs seemed similar to ones I already had) but, in recent years, Clintons stopped stocking them (or at least my local branch did) so I haven’t bought any more. Which might be a good thing given that I have about 20 of them. But they’re so adorable! Here’s a selection:

I feel bad having favourites but there’s something so irresistible about the one dressed as a gingerbread man. Look at that little tummy! I also absolutely love the one above him (in the middle) in his Christmas jumper and reindeer slippers. Adorable! And top right dressed as a Christmas pudding. That expression on his face as if to say: How did that happen? And… yes, I could go on!

As with my main tree, owls feature here too:

How fab are the ones on the bottom row? They come as a collection of six in an egg box from White Stuff. In a pre-Covid world, my mum, my two sisters-in-law on my side of the family and my cousin would meet a few times a year in York for shopping, food, wine and lots of chat. Loved those days out. We’d always try to have an outing in the approach to Christmas and several years ago, I picked up an egg box of penguins (featured shortly). Last year (possibly the one before) it was owls. Such fun!

Which leads me onto penguins. I love them and there are several on my smaller tree. One of my absolute favourites is the one in his life jacket from the RNLI shop (middle top row). Love him so much. As I live by the sea and set my Whitsborough Bay books on the coast, the RNLI is a cause close to my heart and will feature in my Christmas release next year. The bottom left one is one of the White Stuff egg box collection.

And, finally, anything goes. I have a huge fondness for needle-felted, felt, and knitted decorations as you can probably tell. I love my sloth and my snowman and a new purchase this year was a few lighthouses. I have a fascination with lighthouses and they feature strongly in some of my Whitsborough Bay books, particularly one of my Christmas releases – Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café – which you can buy here. The lighthouse in my stories is a red and white striped one and I hope to find a red and white striped lighthouse for my tree at some point. For now, blue and white will suffice.

Hope you’ve enjoyed a look at some more decorations. Wishing you and your friends/family a restful and laughter-filled Christmas.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where I share some of my favourite Christmas decorations

One of my absolutely favourite parts of Christmas is putting up our trees. That’s not a typo. I do mean trees plural. We have three!

I adore fairy lights and it’s so magical seeing Christmas trees lit up in the windows of houses but our lounge is at the back of our house so our main tree wouldn’t be seen from outside. We have a small dining room at the front of the house with a bay window so can put a smaller tree on the window ledge. Our full-size tree is in the conservatory and the third one is a small pink one on a side table in the lounge which my daughter (half-heartedly) decorates.

The main tree started with a red and gold theme but I have a bit of a decoration-purchasing problem and can’t resist some gorgeous new additions each year. Cream and grey have crept in and the occasional splash of a different colour simply because I couldn’t resist the item.

On the smaller tree in the dining room, it’s more of a colourful mix although, if I was to name a colour theme, it’s predominantly silver and purple or blue.

Here are some of my favourite decorations on the main tree and I’ll do another blog post later about the ones on the smaller tree…

My Writing Trio:

I bought the ‘Make a Wish’ star years ago and it always has prominence on the tree, reminding me of when I first made a wish to finish writing a book. Then a wish to get a publishing deal. Then a wish to write full-time. Lots of my writing-related wishes have come true this year.

The ‘Jessica has been good’ Santa makes me laugh and we picked him up from our local garden centre a few years ago. The gorgeous books are a new addition this year from John Lewis. I have three of them on my tree as they’re so pretty. See what I mean about the occasional non-theme colour infiltrating!

Because I write uplifting stories of love and friendship, hearts feature quite strongly on my tree and this isn’t even all the ranges:

Bears feature very heavily and they’re also connected to my writing journey. I came up with the idea for my debut novel – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – after ending a toxic relationship and making the decision to move back to my roots in the north and open a specialist teddy bear shop.

I started writing Seaside Blooms while I had Bear’s Pad and I met my husband through having the shop. He encouraged me to enrol with The Writers’ Bureau where I began learning how to write properly. Bear’s Pad also provided inspiration for my novel, Bear With Me, which is now available for pre-order under the new title All You Need Is Love with a fresh edit. (For those who’ve already read it, I will write a future post about what’s changed).

Some of the bears I stocked in the shop came home with me. Okay, lots of the bears I stocked came home with me! The Forever Friends ones aren’t strictly tree decorations but they sit beautifully on the branches. The Mrs Christmas and Elf are stunning miniature jointed bears by Gund and the detail on them is amazing.

I love the idea of buying Christmas decorations when I’m on holiday so there are reminders of special times on the tree. This isn’t usually possible when holidaying out of season but I have managed to collect a few. My husband and I had an amazing honeymoon in Canada in late September/early October 15 years ago and bought the two black bears there. I picked up Pooh Bear in Florida in November a few years previously.

This time last year, we had the most amazing trip to Lapland and bought a few decorations there to remind us of an incredible holiday. Ah, holidays, what are they? 😉

There are lots of other bears on my tree – plush and wooden – and a gorgeous angel bear on the top which I’ve had for about 20 years so he’s served me well…

And there’s a super special Paddington Bear (or three) from M&S a couple of years back who I absolutely love:

Regular readers will know that I adore hedgehogs and may have even read the first book in my Hedgehog Hollow series: Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow. Book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, is available for pre-order now and out on 7th January (woo hoo!)

Therefore, it probably isn’t a surprise to see hedgehogs on my tree! My absolute favourite is the middle one: a Wrendale Designs bauble which my fabulous friend (and super talented author) Sharon Booth gave me last year.

I have a few new hedgehog decorations that haven’t quite made it onto the tree yet as I was using them for a photo shoot last weekend!

And I recently bought this adorable little fellow who is the size of a tree ornament but isn’t hangable (is that a word?) so he’ll stand nearby:

As well as bears and hedgehogs, I have a thing about owls, stemming from me being a Brown Owl for 7.5 years. I absolutely loved the role but, when I started a Masters in Creative Writing a few years ago, something was going to have to give and running Brownies had to be it. But getting my owls out each year always makes me smile and it was lovely that Sharon added to my collection this year with a pair of gorgeous gold owls (bottom right).

I could go on and on for pages and pages but I’d better stop there for now! Hope you’ve enjoyed meeting the bears, hedgehogs and owls on my main tree.

Do you have a theme for yours? Perhaps it’s a colour or a type of ornament? Do you vary the theme each year? Do you have decorations passed down through the family or bought on holiday? I’d love to hear from you.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

Whoop Whoop for National Stationery Week!

P1060266It’s my birthday today and hubby absolutely came up trumps for the second year in a row. For ages, he’s been strangely reluctant to buy me any stationery. He’s always said I’m difficult to buy for because there’s rarely something specific I want as a gift. ‘That’s ridiculous!’ I’d cry. ‘I love stationery, books, films, music, jewellery, teddy bears … How can you possibly be stuck for present ideas?’ I don’t know whether it was me stepping up the gear with my writing last year (I started submitting my MS in September 2013) or just a reluctant acceptance that stationery may not be his bag but is absolutely mine, but something prompted him to make a number of stationery purchases last year and he’s surpassed himself again this year.

P1060268I love teddy bears, but I also love owls and these are extremely popular at the moment with some amazingly cute cartoon images available. My owl thing has come more from the fact that I’m a Brown Owl for a pack of 24 x Brownies (I’ve done this for five years now), although I do think they’re lovely in the rare event that I see one. Owls were a bit of theme this year with the lovely Bramble Wood collection that WH Smiths carry. He bought me an A4 notepad in this range, a couple of lovely boxes, some giant paperclips and a set of post-it notes. I have two gorgeous files that we use at Brownies in this range. One is a ring-binder full of colouring pages and puzzles for Brownies who finish a craft early or who need some quiet time on a games night, and the other is an expanding one in which I keep welcome cards and certificates. We also have ‘Owlbert’ (see what I did there?) who we give out at the end of each meeting for the best Brownie-like behaviour. The girls adore Owlbert. Anyway, I hadn’t owned any of this collection myself (have had to try to be restrained) so I’m thrilled to have some now.

He also got me a lovely notepad from Waterstones in a new range I haven’t noticed before, along with a mechanical pencil. He got an ickle bit confused, though, cos he thought he’d bought me a posh pen for signing copies of my paperback during my launch party in June, bless him. To be fair, it looks like a posh biro … but the words ‘Mechanical Pencil’ written clearly across the front, and the instructions on the back about what types of lead it takes are a slight giveaway!

P1060272‘My Future Listography – All I Hope To Do In Lists’ was a fabulous book purchase for me. I love lists. I love writing. I love writing lists. What’s not to love about this gift?

I did purchase a tiny part of my pressie for him: a gorjuss phone holder. I absolutely love the gorjuss range of stationery (as you can see by my fabulous collection), but I’m hugely drawn to three specific girls: one of the original line-up in a turquoise dress with the quote “I found my family in a book” (see pencil case and beer mat) which always feels so appropriate for a writer, the more recent girl in a red dress balanced on a pile of books (like on my phone case) and the girl in a purple dress with the quote “we can all shine” – also appropriate for a writer (see top of tall stack of tins and beer mat).

My gift wasn’t just about stationery. I’m actually going to spend the day in London with a couple of friends of mine at some point over the summer so I’m going to get a bargain plan-ahead ticket for that but, today, he also got me Now 90. The Now series is something I’ve collected for years. I have numbers 1-3 and 10 on vinyl! I then started collecting them on cassette from about Now 13-35 but I listened to them in the car and they got so warped from heat and over-use that I chucked them all years ago. I’ve gone back and managed to get most from 20 up until 90 on CD although I have a few small gaps. I feel a little out of touch these days as I never have time to listen to the charts or watch music TV. If it’s not played by Yorkshire Coast Radio, I don’t hear it so the Now albums are usually an education. I discover some gems of tracks … and, let’s face it, some absolute crap too!

P1060265Rounding up the gifts (which I should point out where also from the munchkin) was ‘Ever After’ on blu-ray. Starring Drew Barrymore, Dougray Scott and Angelica Huston as the most incredibly wicked stepmother, this is a brilliant interpretation of the Cinderella story and one of my all-time favourite films. I owned it on DVD but I haven’t been able to watch it as it wasn’t a UK-region purchase and, unfortunately, our blu-ray player refuses to recognise it. After watching Disney’s latest Cinderella release at the cinema, I was keen to show it to the munchkin as I think Ever After is far superior. We settled down to watch it and realised I’d completely forgotten about the region problems. We’ll find time this weekend. Lovely.

Slight digression there away from stationery. My lovely colleague from work, Joanna, also bought me some fabulous stationery. She knows how to make me happy 🙂 I have a thing for notepads (see a very small part of my collection below), pencil cases, pretty coloured pens and post-it notes so I’ve really been spoiled by her and hubby/munchkin.

P1060271My mother in law also came up trumps. She usually gives me some money (which this year I’ll be able to put towards a launch party outfit) but she also got me this sign this year. I posted it on Facebook then my mum called. She’d also bought the exact same gift for me! What are the odds?!

Did you know that today is National Stationery Week? It runs from 27th April to 3rd May and is about celebrating the written word and all things stationery. Sounds pretty good to me! Wednesday was World Stationery Day too. I don’t think I’ll be able to get away with suggesting a trip around the world to celebrate the wonders of stationery, though, so I’ll gaze at my lovely new collection and my existing collection and let out a contented sigh instead. It really doesn’t take much to make me happy.

What stationery do you love the most and why? Have a great bank holiday weekend xxx

P1060264

Time for a big hug!

Did you know that yesterday* was National Hug Day aka National Hugging Day? No, me neither! Well, that’s a lie because obviously I did know it is otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it. What I should probably have said is that I hadn’t heard of it until it was mentioned on my local radio station that morning. There seem to be national days for everything and I suspected it was one of the many invented recently to jump on the bandwagon. But I was wrong. It’s actually been around since 1986! Yes, you read that right: 1986. The year that John McCarthy was kidnapped in Beirut, work finished on the M25, we piled to the cinema to watch Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and Nick Berry’s “Every Loser Wins” was the second best-selling single of the year in the UK (The Communards with the far more respectable “Don’t Leave Me This Way was number 1). That’s a long time ago!

I did some research and apparently it was invented in the USA by a bloke called Kevin Zaborney who felt that Americans didn’t express their feelings enough and should hug family and friends (and even strangers) even more because of the sense of well-being this gives. Awww. Nice idea. Here’s the munchkin and me having a nice hug on a holiday in the Lakes.

P1030342So on my blog today, I want to talk about hugs. But not the snuggling each other variety. I want to talk about the teddy bear variety. Afterall, the strapline of my blog is “Writing, Reading, Stationery, Life, Chocolate & Bears” and I haven’t yet devoted a post to bears.

You may or may not know that a collection of teddy bears is known as a hug. Isn’t that just adorable? And I have an exceedingly large hug. I’m what’s known as an arctophile which is the official name given to someone who collects teddy bears. I don’t think it’s as warm and fuzzy a word as it should be but it could be worse.

As a child, I liked bears. But I also liked dolls, lego, and colouring books so I wouldn’t say bears stood out as “my thing”. When I was in my mid-teens, I started to like bears more. I’m not really sure why. I had quite a few plush bears and I found myself drawn to them in shops. It became known I was a bear-fan and gifts started to become more and more bear-themed. When I bought my first house, my plush collection was huge and my house was strewn with teddy bear pictures, salt and pepper shakers and placemats. I drew the line at the rather scary teddy-bear vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought me, though. It looked more like a giant mouse in clothes and started to give me the fear so it disappeared!

P1060143It was only when I hit my thirties that I discovered that there was a world outside plush teddy bears and I started my journey to becoming a true arctophile. We probably all have at least one rubbish relationship in our past and Dave (name changed to protect him; not that he deserves it) was mine. But I’ll always be grateful to Dave for one thing; back in 2001 he introduced me to my first collectible bear. He took me to a gorgeous bear shop in his home town. I’d never heard of Steiff or Dean’s or any of the other bear companies but, as I gazed round the packed shelves, I was in awe. Gorgeous faces stared back at me with “pick me” eyes.

Then I looked at a price tag.

Oh. My. Goodness! £70 for a bear? £150 for a bear? £300 for a bear? What?????!!!!

But it’s only when you start exploring the world of collectible bears that you appreciate the history, artistry and materials that go into them and you get it. You really do.

P1060145I walked out that shop that day having fallen in love with a particular Dean’s Bear (oldest UK teddy bear manufacturer) called Scruff but there was no way I was paying £70 for a bear. We walked round the city, had some lunch, walked back towards the car park … and straight into the bear shop. Scruff became the first member of my collectible hug and I’m sure you can see why (although hubby is the photographer in the family; not me!)

I slowly added to the hug (with those prices, it’s not exactly a regular purchase). In 2002, I finally realised that the only value Dave brought to my life was that he’d introduced me to collectible bears and we parted company. Phew! I then completely changed my life. I packed in my job, moved back to the north, and opened a teddy bear shop. Obviously.

P1060142Being surrounded by bears and bear-themed products (stationery, cards, bags etc.) was a dream come true. The challenging part was not taking them all home to add to the hug! I was like a small child at Christmas every time a delivery arrived, particularly for collectible bears. You see, I had reps for the plush bears I carried (mainly Gund and Russ) but all my collectible bears were ordered from a catalogue which meant opening a Steiff, Dean’s, Robin Rive, Hermann Teddy Original or Merrythought delivery was a very special moment. I know it probably sounds really sad to anyone who isn’t a teddy bear lover but I’d line them up on the counter and gaze lovingly at them before finding a new home on my shelves and in my glass cabinets.

P1060144Quite often the shop would be empty and I’d stroll around and have a hug and a squeeze, or turn the head slightly on a collectible bear to make him even more appealing.

I hate to say it but I had my favourites. Sometimes the adoration was immediate but sometimes they grew on me the more I caught their eyes. I’d say to them, “If you’re not sold in three months, you’re coming home with me.” The only problem then was that I’d have a mild panic attack any time a customer started showing interest in them, hoping they wouldn’t leave the shop yet knowing that I needed to make the sale to stay afloat. Munchie (the fluffy one above) and Caramel (to the left) are a couple of examples although I promise that the names had nothing to do with the decision to bring them home, despite my sweet tooth!

P1060140I attended a bear-making workshop at a (sadly now closed down) teddy bear shop on Elvet Bridge in Durham. I made my first bear there. Meet Mark Elvet (named after my husband and the shop location). I made another one from the same pattern who I called Cinnamon Brown then I attended an advanced workshop where I experimented with spray-dying their noses. I called my bear Mustard Green. But I sold both of them. I wanted to keep them but I decided to experiment and see whether a customer would love my bears. They did. They sold. They joined new hugs. My only regret is that I never actually took photos of them. This was just before everyone turned digital so snapping away at everything simply didn’t happen.

When I closed the shop in 2005, a lot of the bears sold. It’s rare that collectible bears are reduced so the sale brought in a lot of interest. A few of my favourites may have slipped into the hug somehow pre-sale (no idea how that happened) and a few other unloved ones joined them when they hadn’t gone to new hugs by the time I locked the doors for the last time. They may have been unloved by the general public but they weren’t unloved by me!

Since then, the additions to the collections have slowed but there’s always room for one more. And another … and another. Because, let’s face it, bears like to hug and the more of them there are squeezed up close together in my bear cabinet, the more hugs they get from each other!

I know it’s no longer National Hugging Day but, if you missed it yesterday, celebrate it today instead. You’ll feel great 🙂

I’d love to hear from you about your hugs or your teddy bears. Please click on the comments box and share. I’ll do some more posts about bears and the shop over the year as well as writing ones.

* Slight confession: I planned to post this yesterday on National Hugging Day and I prepared the post during my lunch break at work … then somehow saved it to my work PC instead of my USB stick so I had to retrieve it today and post a day late!

Books, books, everywhere

I like big books and I cannot lie … Hmm, that sounds like the start of a rather dodgy song so I’ll leave it there! I like books. I like to own them. I love my Kindle (despite battling against getting one) but I will always love the physical look and feel of books. All books. I love books with pictures in them, books full of facts, and proper reading books. The problem is storage. We don’t have a big enough property to be able to devote a whole wall in the lounge to books or a wide enough hall to have bookshelves down one side. Shame. The consequence is that I have pockets of books everywhere so this is a walk-through them. Apologies that the photos aren’t brilliant. My hubby is the talented photographer in this house but he tends to take forever to set up a “project” and I know he doesn’t have the time just now.

P1050579Let’s start in my lovely new office. This was formerly the spare bedroom but, as it had probably been slept in for 6 nights over 3 years, I managed to win the battle to convert it to my writing space. Hubby finally put me some shelves up a few weeks ago. These play host to most of my paperbacks (and one or two hardbacks). I’m pretty anal and, whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to colour organise them (my clothes are colour-organised!), I have some logic to my organisation. Naturally multiple books by the same author appear together but I’ve tried to group genre together. The top shelf, bottom shelf and half of the middle shelf are predominantly romcoms or similar (except the Harry Potter ones, of course) whereas the right-hand side of the middle shelf is a bit of a mix of other genres. My triplet teddies guard them – Toffee, Fudge and Caramel. It’s not a very extensive paperback collection. Two years ago, it was double the size and I realised I was going to have to part company with half the collection or I’d be forever tripping over boxes of books. It was with a heavy heart that I freegled a stack of books I’d read and loved – Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes and many other favourites – hoping that someone else would get the joy I’d received from reading them. I regret it now but needs must!

P1050581Also in my office, under the bookshelves, I have another collection of books on top of a cupboard. These are my writing-related books. “How to” books/guides, The Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook, Baby Name book (invaluable for character names) and my Writer’s Bureau course nestle there. Really must finish my course one day soon!!! Oh, and some teddy bears. The big boy is a Charlie Bear called Asia. He’s gorgeous. I got made redundant last summer and really struggled to find a job. I finally managed to secure some minimum-wage seasonal work in a local garden centre. They sold Charlie Bears and, as I got a staff discount, I indulged when I managed to secure a permanent position (my current role). The little fella is a Thank You Me to You bear from my lovely writing friend Jay Bartlett for supporting her with the edits on her debut novel.

P1050582The books don’t finish there. I have one more stand-alone bookshelf in the office which houses an assortment of books, a stack of notepads (I have another cupboard full of them too) and books relating to one of my other passions and a former hobby. The passion is one you can probably spot from looking at the other pictures; teddy bears. I collect bears and will write a blog one day soon about my collectible ones. The books on the bottom left are all about the history of teddy bears and/or how to make bears. I can make them but it’s very time-consuming. The other hobby is flower-arranging. I took a night class about 8 years ago and got my first stage qualification. I signed up for the next stage but it all went wrong and ended up being cancelled. I’ve never bothered again since. Every year I make some arrangements at Christmas using the skills I’ve remembered but I probably won’t take it further.

P1050668Let’s leave the office and poddle across the landing into the bedroom. Not many books in there due to lack of space but we have a custom-made shelving unit by the bed that doubles up as a bedside table for my lamp, alarm clock and glass of water. This has a few hardbacks on it and, if you’re a fan, you’ll spot that four of them are Jill Mansell ones. I’m part-way through the Sophie Kinsella on the left but, of the remaining six, I’ve only read one so far. Must rectify that very soon.

The munchkin has a room absolutely packed with books, many of which are childhood classics I’ve enjoyed. She still loves her picture books even though she’s moved onto proper books with being in Year 3 now (juniors in old money!) The hubby doesn’t really do books so his shelves are pretty bare.

P1050585Downstairs, the dining room plays host to a couple of collections. When I met hubby, he was a member of something called The Folio Society. I’d not heard of them but they make gorgeous hardback books. You sign up for a membership and get a batch of books free then have a commitment to buy so many (four I think) across a 2-year period. Most of the books on the shelf here are Folio Society ones including a beautiful set of Fairy books (middle shelf) and a box set of Paddington ones (on the top of the cabinet). We’ve got an old set of Dickens classics (top shelf on the left). But, to my shame, I don’t think I’ve read a single book on this cabinet. You see, I love to own beautiful books but I seem to struggle to find time to read them. The TBR pile just grows and grows.

P1050584The other bookshelf in the dining room has more Folio books but is also home to a couple of shelves worth of recipe books and a bit of a mix of other stuff like guide books and dictionaries. Back to recipe books, herein lies another oddity. You see, I love to buy recipe books … but I don’t love to cook! It’s as though I love the idea of being able to flick through a recipe book and pull together an amazing dinner party menu … but the thought of actually doing it leaves me cold so I don’t have dinner parties and I never flick through the books. Am I strange? Don’t answer that! I used to have recipe books in the kitchen but I found they got sticky so my kitchen is a book-free zone.

P1050583The final book resting place is the lounge. We have a set of shelves on which we have a collection of “coffee table books” – those gorgeous factual books full of pictures and information which I buy thinking “I’d love to read this” but realistically just flick through the pictures instead. There’s a bit of a theme developing here, isn’t there? We’ve got some lovely books about bears (real ones as opposed to cuddly ones) from our honeymoon in Canada and lots of nature books. I will just point out that that the one that says “Joy of …” is “Joy of Nature” rather than “Joy of Sex”!!! But there are also books about forensics, the unexplained and Nostradamus. All things that fascinate me and I’d love to read about if only … yes, you’ve guessed it … if only I had the time!

I’d love to hear about you. Are you a compulsive book-purchaser like me? And do you actually read them??? Do you have books in one place or lots? I think the only places in our house without them are the bathroom/toilet/ensuite and kitchen as previously mentioned. But, if I was organised, the toilet would actually have books in. I’ve even sorted out the joke/comedy ones I’d put in there. Just need to put up a shelf. Just need to find time to put up a shelf …

Jessica xx