The one where tickets are on sale for my first ever festival appearance

Hello there and hope you’ve survived this hot week if you’re UK-based. We can’t cope with the heat over here, can we?

It’s Glastonbury this weekend so it feels very appropriate to be talking about festivals right now. Except this is a different kind of festival…

Tickets went on sale today for the Richmond Walking & Book Festival and I’m a speaker. Yay! I was so excited when I contacted the festival organisers earlier this year to see whether they might be interested and they came back saying they’d nearly finalised their programme but there was a slot available if I wanted it. I certainly did!

Richmond – the one in North Yorkshire rather than the London one – is a very special place to me because I opened and ran a teddy bear shop there between 2003-2005. I started learning my craft and writing my debut novel during quiet days in the shop. And there were LOTS of those, especially in the winter… or if it rained… or if it was really warm… or if it was a Wednesday… I think you get the picture!

The details are:

  • Monday 19th September 2022
  • 11am-12noon
  • The Station, Richmond
  • Cost: £8 (with concessions for those in full-time education or on income assessment benefits, and accompanying carers)

You can buy tickets here.

The festival runs from 16th-25th September and there are loads of amazing walking events to suit all abilities and some fabulous guest speakers talking about fiction and non-fiction works. You can view the full programme here. Do scroll through all three pages to see the full range of what’s on offer.

If you’d like to know more about the origins of this festival, the website home page is here.

Thank you so much to James Gravenor, Judith Clark and the committee for welcoming me onto the programme and to author Marrisse Whittaker for suggesting I make contact in the first place. Marrisse is speaking on the final day of the festival and her talk sounds fascinating.

I’m really nervous now – not about speaking but about not selling any tickets so praying there will be people interested!

Please spread the word, particularly if you have friends or family in the Richmond/Yorkshire Dales area or even further afield who’d make a day of it/a long weekend of it or even go for the duration of the festival.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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

A visit from North Yorkshire to North Yorkshire

The hubby and I have just returned from a lovely few days away and we never even left our home county of North Yorkshire. It’s such a huge area that, if you live at the edges, you can travel over two hours and still be in the same county! The reason for a few days away was that our daughter is having a summer break staying with my parents and hubby suggested that, instead of dropping her off and driving back home, we could make a mini-break of it. We even arranged for Ella, our sprocker spaniel, to go to hubby’s parents’ for a couple of days so we’d have no restrictions on where we could go.

We were hoping to stay in Richmond which is where I had my teddy bear shop many years ago and hubby searched for a nice hotel or B&B figuring we could have a couple of drinks and a meal in the town on the evening. No chance. Even though we decided on this about six or maybe even eight weeks ago, we’d left it far too late and the only rooms available were extortionate prices like £500 for two nights. Eek! So we ended up at the Premier Inn in nearby Catterick Garrison which is on a retail park close to the army barracks. Yep. Not exactly a romantic location but at least it was a chance to get away and you can always rely on a Premier Inn.

We dropped the munchkin off at lunchtime on Wednesday and headed to the market town of Leyburn. It was heaving and it took a few circuits before we finally found somewhere to park but we had a delicious meal in the beer garden of The Bolton Arms at the top of town, watching the world go by, followed by a wander around the gift shops. It was a shame to see one of my favourite shops had closed down. I wondered if that was as a result of lockdown or from before. I do remember my mum mentioning it to me but can’t for the life of me remember how recently we had that conversation. The concept of time seems very fluid at the moment! A couple of other shops were closed. A notice on one said this was due to a funeral and we didn’t wander down to the other as we could clearly see it was in darkness. Maybe for the same reason? I do like to treat myself to a little something while away and I found this gorgeous Steiff hoglet called Joggi in another gift shop, although hubby bought me a Steiff hedgehog for Christmas who is also called Joggi. I wondered if that meant anything in German but Google translate says not. I have, however, discovered that a hedgehog in German is called an ‘igel’ and a hoglet (baby hedgehog) is a ‘babyigel’. Awww!

We moved onto Masham from there but caught it just as the final market stalls were packing away. I remembered there being several nice gift shops last time we visited and could only see one this time. There were still Covid restrictions on social distancing and a queue to get in so we wandered round intending to return … and forgot!

Checking in at the Premier Inn a little later, we were advised that there was no TV reception in the room thanks to the recent fire at the Bilsdale mast TV transmitter affecting TVs in the Yorkshire Dales, northern parts of North Yorkshire and Teesside. Hubby had intentionally left all tech behind and kicked himself for this as it meant we couldn’t relax in front of the TV but we weren’t in a location with lovely pubs to walk to and we didn’t really fancy driving anywhere after so much driving already that day. So we sat in the hotel room watching old episodes of Gogglebox on his phone. We so know how to party!

On Thursday, we went into Richmond. It wasn’t forecast to rain but it rained while we visited Richmond Castle, although not too heavily or for too long and we were prepared with waterproofs. Please therefore forgive the very dull-looking photos!

As I said earlier, I used to have a teddy bear shop in Richmond on the top corner of Finkle Street. This has been the Lucy Pittaway Gallery for several years now and I absolutely adore Lucy’s artwork. If you haven’t discovered it before, do check out her website here. I already have more of her amazing prints than we have space for but there’s always room for another notebook in the collection! I had to pose outside – just like I’d done when it was my shop – and also take a photo of one of her gorgeous hedgehog prints in the window. Lucy’s prints are the inspiration behind one of the storylines in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe.

We had a wander round some more of the shops and I loved spotting this sign on the back of a car down a side street and this wall art on the side of a building.

There’s a fabulous circular walk from The Station – the former train station which is converted into a cinema, cafe, arts/gifts centre – via Easby Abbey so we set off on that walk on the afternoon. We hadn’t gone very far when I recognised a group of people heading towards us. My cousin, her husband, younger son and their dog were coming to the end of the circular walk, having completed the loop the other way to us. How spooky is that? They don’t live in Richmond. It’s about 40 mins away for them so what an amazing coincidence and lovely to catch up with them.

We continued on our walk and I put my new FitBit to the test, racking up nearly 22k steps across the day which isn’t too shabby as a starting point. It’s not going to be happy with me today as, back home, I’m lucky if I’ll manage 500! Ssh, don’t tell it! And as it’s on my desk and not my wrist, it won’t even register any of them!

The walk was lovely, through trees, alongside the river and past Easby Abbey which is an English Heritage site with free access. We did the walk once before several years ago when we were camping in the area with hubby’s sisters but I don’t think we must have explored much of the abbey as I definitely didn’t remember it being quite so big.

Back to my 22k steps, I haven’t walked anything resembling that far since pre-lockdown and had actually only left the house on a dozen or so occasions since March 2020 so being out and about for me was a pretty big thing and it completely wiped me out being in the fresh air for a full day. It was so good to be out, though.

Even though we’d have loved a relax in front of the TV that evening, resting our feet after the walk, the mast problem prevented that. We returned to the retail park, grabbed a quick drink in one of the chain pubs there, then I had a relaxing bath before going out to the cinema 2 minutes’ walk from the hotel to see The Last Letter From Your Lover. Hubby hadn’t been too keen as it looked more like my sort of film from the trailer but he enjoyed it and I loved it. I’ve read a few of JoJo Moyes’s books but not that particular one. An added bonus was that we had the cinema – Empire Cinemas – completely to ourselves and could upgrade to recliner chairs which were amazing. I say upgrade but it was only £3.99 each in the first place so £5.99 each seemed a very reasonable price.

On Sunday morning, I met a friend for a hot chocolate in The Station while hubby went for a walk with his camera and then we headed to Fountain’s Abbey. We knew it would be busy but we must have timed it horrendously wrong by arriving around lunchtime. The queue for the cafe stretched across the courtyard in one direction and the queue for tickets to get in stretched the entire width in the other direction. So we left. I know, I know, that’s super impatient but we just couldn’t face standing for maybe an hour queuing after a long walk the day before.

Newby Hall isn’t too far away so we drove there instead and the thankfully wasn’t a queue to get in although it was pretty expensive to get in. It’s a lovely place, the gardens are gorgeous, and there’s loads for kids to do but be warned that the child entry fee is not a lot less than the adult fee (the family of 4 in front of us paid a whopping £62 to get in) and there are additional fees required for the train and boat trips once inside. And you’re going to buy food, drinks, ice creams too. Definitely somewhere you need to spend a full day to get your money’s worth.

I had the most delicious warm scones with jam clotted cream for my lunch although we had to move tables twice, eventually retreating indoors, as the wasps were out and after the jam! Ooh, I hate them so much.

I’d been hoping that The Bear House might have had some new displays – perhaps a project someone might have undertaken during lockdown – but they were the same as when we visited a couple of years ago. Disappointingly, quite a few bears had fallen over at some point, especially in the picnic scene. There’s meant to be a bear on a wooden swing but the wooden plank had slipped out and the bear had tumbled into the others so it looked a little unloved in there, poor bears.

I had to take a picture of Barbara Cartland’s bear. The plaque accompanying him states: “This very special German bear was given to Barbara Cartland, the romance novelist, in 1904 when she was three years old. When Dame Barbara gave him to Gyles Brandreth [whose enormous collection of bears is partly housed in The Bear House] she explained that she had adorned him with the fabulous jewels, and named him The Prince of Love’ because she had discovered that he believed himself to be an Indian Prince”. How fabulous is that?

The traffic was grim all the way home – one of the challenges of heading to the coast (albeit back home for us) among holiday-makers coming for the weekend or the week – and it took us about 2.5 hours to get back from Newby Hall. For context, this is a 60 mile journey! Eek! So we were pretty shattered by the time we got back.

Despite quite a few hitches to our plans, it was lovely to be away, especially when I finished writing A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow the day before I left so it came after a big milestone. My mind definitely needed the rest! It was good for me to be out and about and doing some exercise after pretty much hibernating for the past 18 months. Already looking forward to my next trip.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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

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