Wishing you a happy notebook day!

Did you know it’s notebook day today – 20th May 2021? Nope, me neither, but a lovely reader/reviewer, Sue, posted on social media about it. Thanks, Sue.

Like so many authors, I’m a bit stationery obsessed. Let’s face it, you don’t need to be an author to have that obsession at all and I’ve been a huge fan of all things stationery-related from a very young age. I get excited looking at a packet of felt-tip pens/highlighters/Sharpies/Stabilo fine points laid out in in a stunning colour transition format. Oh my goodness, I’ve gone to my happy place just thinking about it!

My absolute favourite of favourites is notebooks so I’m thrilled to discover there is a day to celebrate them. Apparently this year is the sixth annual special day. How have I missed this?

So, in celebration of notebook day 2021, I thought I’d share some photos of my collection. It is a hideously dark day and bucketing it down where I am so I apologise if the photos are a little more dull than I might have liked. Hope the fabulousness is still clear.

I’ve written a few bits to bring the collection to life but I completely understand if you just want to scroll through the pics and gaze at their loveliness!

Let’s start by seeing the collection… or the largest part of it. I used to have these on my bookshelves but they were taking up such a huge amount of space that I put them in a crate. The ones leaning at the front all live in the crate but I needed to take them out to get the full effect. If I’ve counted correctly, there are 45 living there!

I use a notebook for each book I’m working on. I develop mind maps for each of my characters which capture details about their appearance, job, family, age, motivations and so on. I add in information about the timeline/critical dates, work through problems, and scribble down research.

They’re mainly A5 sized as that sits nicely in a plastic wallet for each book along various other documents I create as part of my process and I don’t need more space than that for the information I include.

Many have been gifts but most have been ones I’ve bought for myself because there’s something on the front cover which is relevant for a future project or simply because they were gorgeous. And, of course, there are bargains I have picked up in a sale and couldn’t resist at the reduced rate!

I absolutely adore hand-stitched journals. Paperchase carry a stunning range of these and they’re gorgeous for gifts (to myself!!!) Aren’t these just stunning? There isn’t a Paperchase in Scarborough so I have to wait until I visit York to explore. I can, of course, order them online, but I do like to stroke the books with texture.

I’ve been attracted to other notebooks simply because they’re beautiful. I am not a huge fan of ‘boring insides’ i.e. pages that are just white lined or plain paper. I like colour and/or an image. So much more inspiring. The ones in my crate that do have a ‘boring’ inside tend to be the ones I keep rejecting (sorry notebooks).

The ‘Agenda’ one was a Sainsbury’s one. From time to time, they carry lovely ranges of stationery. Not sure about the middle one – maybe Paperchase – and the flowery one is Cath Kidston and the pages are coloured and flowery. Gorgeous.

The one below is a bit bigger than my usual size but isn’t it so pretty? I know it’s only stripes but there’s something about that colour combination that is so beautiful. I bought it in TK Maxx. I’ll be honest. Not my favourite shop for clothes – I don’t have the patience to rummage – but I love the home section and particularly love their stationery. Every so often, I’ll find something gorgeous.

I love the journal-style notebooks. I think these may all have been gifts. The central one definitely was; a gorgeous gift from the hubby. I love the old-fashioned feel from he soft leather and the strap. Mmmm.

Some of my notepads are bought for the cute factor. These ones, for example, are for stroking. I bought the bear for myself and the other two were for my daughter but she never used them and put them on a clear-out pile … so I snaffled them! The fluffy ears may not be the most practical when it comes to writing on the left-sided page but awwww, soooo cute!

I think the ones with ears might have been Clintons and the panda is Paperchase.

I have an eclectic mix of other cute ones. The bottom left two in the picture below were also snaffled from the daughter’s clear-out pile (I think I might have been guilty in attempting to pass on my notebook obsession over Christmases past!)

I don’t know where the top left one is from but it’s a Hallmark one so I’m thinking maybe Clintons too, and Boofle is a Clinton’s bundle of loveliness. Hadn’t realised quite how much Clintons stationery I have! I salute you, Clintons!

The top right one is a range from a Dutch company called Paperclip International which I used to stock when I had my teddy bear shop in 2003-05. I stocked a good range of Paperclip cards, love and friendship postcards (used to sell a stack of those), keyrings and stationery items, and they were really popular. The main characters were the bear and his friend a giraffe although the greetings cards and postcards included a range of other animals such as sheep and pigs. I’ve just looked on their website as I can’t remember what the little bear was called, but they don’t make the range anymore and I got bored after ten minutes of Googling and finding pictures of paperclips instead of the company.

The bottom right is another Clintons one from a collection called Herbie and Friends they had in a few years back. I loved that collection so much but I’m not sure it really took off as I managed to pick up a lot of items on sale the following year, including a soft polar bear (and a bear in the same range for the munchkin), a bag, and several stationery items.

Some notebooks were chosen for nostalgic reasons. I have a feeling the Mickey Mouse and Moomin ones were Sainsbury’s. Holly Hobbie was Clintons. I’m not such a fan of the Mickey Mouse one (sorry Mickey) as, up close, the image looks a tiny bit blurred and that messes with my eyes! I think I might have had an impulsive sale purchase there but I love the other two.

I adore Winnie the Pooh. As a child, I really wasn’t familiar with the work of A A Milne but I fell in love with the characters as an older teen and adult. I stocked traditional characters in my shop and a big range of traditional and colourful Pooh stationery. The notebooks below were not from my shop, though.

I absolutely love Eeyore’s smile on the bottom right one and the phrase: “Some days just don’t let you stay grumpy”. Awww. I have a feeling the top two were Sainsbury’s.

I was a Brown Owl for 7.5 years between 2010-2017 and absolutely loved running a Brownie Pack. Owls were therefore an obvious theme for notepads. A couple were gifts from the Brownies but most were gifts from me to me. I absolutely love the special middle one which was given to me when I stepped down from my perch from a pair of lovely sisters who came to my pack. Isn’t that the most adorable?

The top right one is a Lucy Pittaway design. If anyone has read the acknowledgements in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café, you’ll know that Lucy’s amazing artwork inspired part of that story.

Hedgehogs, of course, do feature. The bottom right one is another gorgeous Lucy Pittaway from a friend of mine, the top right is from my mum from The Works which she sent me during the first lockdown and felt particularly appropriate.

The big one is my work in progress notebook for the Hedgehog Hollow series. It’s from the Wrendale Designs range which I adore. I started writing Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow using an A5 notebook from the same range but, when I realised I had my series on my hands, I super-sized with an A4 one.

I’m also drawn to notebooks with phrases or sayings on them. I have some lovely ones from TK Maxx saying things like “if you want to write…write” but they’re in small lettering on the cover and it didn’t come out very well on camera.

I love the phrase on the pink one (another TK Maxx one). It felt so applicable to my journey to becoming an author. Ask a group of authors what phrase they often hear when they tell someone they’re an author and I can guarantee most will say this: I’d love to write a book… if only I had the time! None of us had time. Not one iota. But we were the girl (or boy) who decided to go for it. We had a dream and it would never come true if we didn’t do something about it so we created time and went for it.

The purple notepad is one of my absolute favourites for three reasons:

  1. It’s purple
  2. The quote – it’s amazing
  3. What the notepad represents

In 2002-03, I made a major change to my life. I’d ended a bad relationship in 2002 and our house was on the market. A friend gave me a gift voucher for a telephone clairvoyant. Not my thing really but I was at a career crossroads, wondering whether to leave a well-paid job to move back to the north and open a teddy bear shop or to stay put and buy a house on my own in Reading. So I made the call which changed my life. The clairvoyant told me I was going to move home and set up the shop and, not long after doing that, I’d meet the man of my dreams who’d be called Steven.

Is this sounding a little bit familiar? If you’ve read New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, you’ll recognise this as the premise for the story. I didn’t find Steven when I set up the shop but, from that clairvoyant call, I did find the premise for my debut novel. When I opened Bear’s Pad in 2003, that’s when I started to write. Having the shop also provided the inspiration for All You Need is Love which is partially set in a specialist teddy bear shop.

In New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, the main character Sarah comes across lots of different Stevens when she takes over her auntie’s florist’s and that was all inspired by my real life experiences when opening Bear’s Pad. You know that red notebook with the little yellow bear from earlier? The rep for Paperclip was called Stephen. I’d made enquiries with the company to stock their products and someone rang me to say a rep was in the area and did I want him to call round. I had such a shock when she gave me his name! Cue me rushing around in a panic because I had no make-up on, my hair was a mess and I was in casual clothes as I’d been cleaning and painting!

Anyway, I said the purple notebook was particularly special for what it represents. When I was getting ready to leave Reading and move home, a good friend of mine came to stay with me and she presented me with the notebook with best wishes for the new chapter of my life. She knew my premise for my debut book and the quote (which I’ve put in a bigger picture below) couldn’t be more appropriate. And I did become what I imagined!

I have a drawer full of small A6-sized notebooks and another drawer full of even smaller ones (not shown) and usually pop one of those in my handbag when I’m out and about as you never know when inspiration might hit. Yes, I know I can use the Notes app on my phone but a phone isn’t stationery and doesn’t get me excited!

And I have another drawer of A4 notebooks. I have future plans for a series set on a farm so I bought the highland cow in anticipation of that. It’s from the same series as the hedgehog one – Wrendale Designs – and I love it lots.

I’ve a bit of an obsession with desk jotters too. Spot the Herbie and Friends one, picked up in the sale…

And, finally, I have a drawer full of unicorn ones as I have a plan for a future project involving them but goodness knows whether I’ll ever find the time to write it. Still, the stationery is ready for if and when I do!

So on notebook day, I think we can safely say I have a notebook obsession! I’m trying to be good. When I’m writing a new book, I do try to select one from the collection rather then buy a new one but it’s hard when they’re not quite right! Some of the ones in the collection have specifically been bought for future projects although I did recently purchase one for a future project, went to put it in the crate, and realised I already had two with that particular theme on them. Oops!

Are you a notebook fan? Do you have a crazy large collection like me? What draws you to them? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

All You Need Is Love Bank Holiday Bundle

It’s my birthday today but I’m the one giving away the gifts along with my fabulous publisher Boldwood Books. This bank holiday weekend we’re offering a bear-themed bundle consisting of:

  • A signed copy of the paperback of All You Need Is Love
  • A gorgeous Ed the Bear Doodlepad (Paperchase)
  • A trio of bear-themed body washes (Cath Kidston)

This is happening over on Twitter and, to enter, you need to go to Boldwood’s Twitter feed – @BoldwoodBooks – and find the competition announcement. It’s the Pinned Tweet so not tricky to find. Then follow the instructions on there. There’s a link to the full T&Cs but you can also find them here.

I have shared this on my Twitter feed but please ensure it’s the ORIGINAL Boldwood post you’re RT’ing and not mine.

The competition is only running across this May Day Bank Holiday weekend so act fast!

Good luck xx

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I learned how to murder people … in books, that is!

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I had a lovely day out yesterday at the Festival of Words in Beverley, East Yorkshire. My good writing friend, Sharon Booth, and I had bought tickets for ‘Murder Day’ which involved 5 x different sessions, all with authors of crime.

Session 1 was with author Martin Edwards, interviewed by local author, Nick Quantrill. He spoke about the golden age of crime, which is the era between the two world wars during which Agatha Christie wrote. It was a really fascinating insight into the popularity of this genre and the influence it has had on writers since.

IMG_7165During the break, we grabbed a drink and I treated myself to something I’ve never tried before: a chocolate scone. I posted on Instagram that it was surprisingly nice and my younger brother made me laugh by asking why it was surprising: chocolate good, scone good!

A discussion panel was the set-up for Session 2 with Nick hosting. Jess Kidd, Chris Simms and debut-novelist Amanda Mason talked about their gothic thrillers and each read an excerpt from their books. It was interesting hearing the very different writing voices.

Prolific writer, Kate Ellis, spoke alone for Session 3, taking the audience through the inspiration behind her 23-strong DI Wesley Peterson series and her other novels.

We had a break after that and went to the cafe library for a spot of lunch, joining another author friend, Sylvia Broady.

After lunch, Session 4 was the one I’d been really looking forward to: The Art of Forensics. Author Margaret Murphy hosted a discussion with Anne Cleeves and Helen Pepper. Ann Cleeves writes the books which were made into the TV series Vera and Shetland. I confess I haven’t read any of her books but I absolutely love Vera; brilliant series. She’s started a new series based in Devon which has been optioned for TV so I treated myself to a signed copy of the first in the series. Helen is a former CSI from Co Durham and now trains police recruits in forensics. She advises both Anne and Margaret on the forensic elements of their books and is the advisor on the TV series Vera.

IMG_7157It was a brilliant discussion. When I’ve written my books, I’ve reached out to experts via social media or explored websites/blogs to check out information relevant to my storylines but I’ve never thought about an author working with an expert on more of a consultative basis like this, yet it absolutely makes sense, particularly for something so important and specialist like forensics. The discussion was also very funny. Ann was very down to earth, admitting that she avoids doing anything that seems like hard work – for example writing the scripts for the TV series of Vera – because she really just enjoys sitting in her jogging pants and “making up stories”. Helen was exceptionally funny too and I bet she’s fascinating and fun to work with.IMG_7170

We had another hour’s gap before the final session so nipped into town. There’s a Paperchase in Beverley so I treated myself to a bear desk pad and post-it notes from a lovely new range there.

Poor Sharon had been battling with illness all day and was wiped out so she headed home and I attended Session 5 on my own. There was a change of venue from the Memorial Hall to The Art Gallery and the final speaker was Cath Staincliffe, interviewed by Nick again. Cath had written several books before she hit her big break with the TV series Blue Murder starring Caroline Quentin. I loved that series. Whereas Ann Cleeves wrote the Vera books ahead of the TV series, Cath had created a character ready to write a book and it became a script first. It was therefore really interesting to hear how she then retrospectively wrote the books. She was then asked to write the prequel novels to the popular series Scott & Bailey so she talked about those too, as well as writing for radio.

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I’ve been to a few talks over the years as part of Scarborough Literature Festival which later became Books by the Beach but I’ve never been to another venue or attended a full day of events. I thoroughly enjoyed my Murder Day and hearing from so many crime writers. It’s not my genre but it’s always fascinating to hear from other authors, whatever they might write.

As I was listening to the authors speaking I found myself wondering if, one day, I might be the one up there. It’s my absolute dream to be a guest author on Scarborough’s Books by the Beach festival but I’m under no illusion around my ability to draw a crowd so it would be many years yet – if at all – before that might happen. Still, it’s good to have dreams.

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The other thing I thought about was how much I’d have loved to throw question after question at the authors about their writing day, their publication journey, and a whole host of other questions that are of interest to me as a writer but probably wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the readers in the audience. There weren’t many questions asked of Cath at the end session so I did sneak one in about whether she had any traditions or superstitions. She talked about writing long hand, always on the same type of paper, with the same type of pen. I wanted to explore more but could easily have monopolised the conversation for ages if I had!

Thank you to all the authors for their input and to the organisers for such a fabulous day.

Jessica xx