The one where I celebrate National Teddy Bear Day

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Today is National Teddy Bear Day; a day that celebrates the history behind the teddy bear. Do you know the history? It’s quite a fascinating story.

Stuffed animals had been around for some time and this even included stuffed bears with Steiff including a bear toy in its 1894 catalogue although it was more reminiscent of a grizzly bear than the cute and cuddly teddy bears we think of today. So how did a stuffed grizzly bear – possibly a bit scary-looking – morph into what we more commonly know as the teddy bear today. It was actually the result of a bit of clever marketing in the early twentieth century…

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My Steiff Paddington – a wedding gift from hubby – and a gorgeous reading artist bear

The president of the USA at the time was President Theodore Roosevelt (in office from 1901-1909). In November 1902, Roosevelt visited Mississippi to work on a tricky political situation around boundaries between Louisiana and Mississippi. Roosevelt had a reputation as a rugged hunting/shooting/fishing type so, to help him relax between difficult negotiations, a bear-hunting trip was organised on 14th November (yeah, I know, but do bear in mind [excuse the pun] that we’re talking nearly 117 years ago and these things were viewed very differently back then). Anyway, it was all going a bit wrong and, as the day drew to a close, the President hadn’t been successful. Keen to end the day on a high, the hunters chased and stunned a small black bear and tied it to a tree so that the President could shoot it. Argh! But don’t panic. It does end well because, even though it obviously didn’t bother him to shoot one of these beautiful animals in the wild, he refused to shoot a captive animal and demanded they, “Spare the bear!” So the bear was cut loose. Hurrah!

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One of my many bear-related ornaments

News of fair play was all over the papers and a cartoon by Clifford K Berryman appeared in the Washington Post with the clever caption “Drawing the Line in Mississippi” which linked to his political reasons for being there as well as drawing the line against killing a captive animal.

A Brooklyn-based Russian couple, Morris and Rose Michtom, were shop-owners and fans of stuffed bears. Delighted by the story, Rose made a jointed bear from soft fabric and put it in the shop window alongside the newspaper cartoon. It sold immediately and so did many replicas. Rose called the bear ‘Teddy’s Bear’ and it’s alleged that Morris wrote to the President asking permission to use the name, receiving a hand-written note giving his permission. Aww. I love that.

IMG_6868The story goes that Roosevelt wasn’t a very sentimental person (possibly not surprising given the “rugged man” image) and didn’t actually like teddy bears, but the publicity did him no harm and the teddy bear as we know it now went from strength to strength.

I could go on and on about the history of the teddy bear because I personally find it interesting about how any product gets developed and has such amazing longevity, but I’ll stop there for now. If you want to read a little more about National Teddy Bear day and see Berryman’s cartoon, click here.

As followers of this blog will know, I’m an arctophile which means I’m a friend/lover (collector) of teddy bears. I love real bears just as much and I hope to go and see polar bears in the wild for my fiftieth birthday in a few years’ time.

IMG_6866As a young child, I had a teddy bear: the aptly named Big Bluey because he’s big and he’s blue. He was a Christening gift and he sits in my office watching me write. His fur is a bit squashed and he’s been repaired at the seams a few times but he’s not doing too badly for a 47-year-old.

I was probably in my mid to late-teens when I really started to really like teddy bears. I don’t know what specifically prompted it but suspect that it was Forever Friends bears being everywhere at the time. I absolutely adored them (and still do).

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Bear Coasters

Over the years, I’ve had all sorts of bears and bear-related gifts from friends and family: stationery, ornaments, tea-towels and pretty much anything you can think of. The scariest gift was an upright vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought from a craft fair. It was a bear in a dress (the dress covered the upright part of the cleaner and the head rested on the handle) and I’m afraid I don’t have photographic evidence of it but it was definitely scary although it gave all the family a good laugh.

My fascination with proper collectible bears didn’t come until I was in my late-twenties. I’d heard of Steiff but had never seen one. My boyfriend of the time took me into a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it changed my life. At first I was astonished at the price tags. Used to paying £10-20 for a plush teddy bear, prices started at an eye-watering £50 and that was for a small, cheap one. I left the shop muttering that I wouldn’t pay that sort of money for a bear … but returned to it later because I couldn’t stop thinking about a Dean’s bear called Scruff who’d caught my eye. I winced as I handed over £70 but that little bear has bought me so much joy and has lasted way longer than a pair of shoes or a handbag of that price might have done.

IMG_6498My collection grew and then I took my interest to the extreme when I packed in a well-paid job as a Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager, moved from Reading to my roots in North Yorkshire, and opened a specialist teddy-bear shop of my own. (The boyfriend was no more at this point).

I ran Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire (not the one in London) for nearly 2 years and it was such a joy to be surrounded by teddy bears and bear-related products every day. I had some wonderful regular customers who shared my passion, but also had some shockers:

  • The woman who allowed her daughter to urinate on my carpeted floor instead of taking her to the public toilets then made out it was all my fault because I hadn’t let her use my staff toilet (which I had no insurance to let customers use and would have meant clambering over my stock and past my safe so that wasn’t going to happen)
  • The many occasions where I arrived on a weekend to find somebody had vomited in my doorway so I had that to swill away before opening up
  • The seemingly lovely man who distracted me by asking me to get a large bear down from the top of the display shelves, saying he’d return later with the cash. In the meantime, his accomplice slipped behind the till and tried to empty it. Fortunately I’d locked it but that didn’t stop him stealing my mobile which was on a hidden shelf below the till
  • The local woman who made it her mission to go around all the independent shops and tell them they were going to fail because all independents did sooner or later
  • The parents who’d send their kids to “play in the bear shop while mummy goes on the tanning beds” in the shop opposite
  • The various others who’d damage or shoplift

Ooh! I just had an unexpected rant there! Back to National Teddy Bear Day…

I met my husband a couple of months after opening Bear’s Pad. We met online and, as we lived a couple of hours away from each other, our first date was in the small market town of Helmsley. I took a small jointed teddy bear with me and decided that, if I liked my date, I’d give him the bear to remember me by. Yeah, soppy. I did like him and I did give him the bear although I was gutted to discover recently that he’d completely forgotten this! Rude! The bear – Hermann (named after the German manufacturers) – became our holiday bear, going away with us on all our holidays with a little backpack we got off a cheap doll. Hubby knew Hermann was our holiday bear but had completely forgotten how he came to be in his possession. Men, eh?

When we married, we had a Cherished Teddies bride and groom on the top of our cake and plush bears on the top table.

Searching for Steven (New Cover Design 3)Bears have remained a strong theme and influence for me. My book, Bear With Me, is inspired by my experiences of having a teddy bear shop and learning how to make artist bears, although you don’t have to like teddy bears at all to enjoy it as the teddy bear shop (called Bear With Me) just happens to be the setting; bears aren’t the main theme.

In every book I write, I ‘plant’ a bear. It is usually there to give the protagonist comfort and is often a reminder of the past. Sarah in Searching for Steven turns to her childhood bear, Mr Pink, for comfort. Elise in Getting Over Gary hurls her bear, Marmite, across the room because he was a gift from her husband who has just betrayed her. In Callie’s Christmas Wish, a musical bear is a valuable link to the past for octogenarian, Ruby, and, in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Carly gives her sister a bear purchased from Bear With Me to convey a special message. A picture I bought of a bear and the words ‘Be Brave’ inspired part of the storyline for Christmas at the Chocolate Pot Cafe. These teddies and collectible bears certainly have some power!

IMG_6881Some people don’t get why a grown adult would love teddy bears but I can’t see my interest ever waning. I don’t buy many plush bears anymore, tempted though I might be, as I don’t have the room. Over the years, I’ve given about 20 binbags full of teddy bears to charity. I find it so hard to say goodbye but I tell myself that they’ll go to loving homes! I have a cabinet in the office full of collectible bears and a few others spread around the room. It’s not possible to feel down when surrounded by their pudgy faces and outstretched arms, waiting for a cuddle.

IMG_6876My plush bears have certainly given me comfort over the years and, as I say, they’ve changed my life. If I hadn’t bought that first collectible one, I wouldn’t have opened a bear shop, I wouldn’t have met my husband, and I probably would never have finished writing my first book.

Happy National Teddy Bear Day. Why not give your teddy a cuddle and thank him or her for being there for you over the years?

Jessica xx

 

 

The one where I wish Bear With Me a Happy 2nd Book Birthday

Searching for Steven (New Cover Design 3)

Today is a book birthday and my head is currently so full of my day job and my current work in progress that I nearly missed it!

So this is just a really quick post to say Happy Book Birthday to Bear With Me, released two years ago today. You can find him on Amazon here.

This was a really special book for me for several reasons:

  1. It is partly set in a specialist teddy bear shop. I set up and ran my own teddy bear shop between 2003-2005. The setting up of the shop provided some inspiration for the plot of my debut novel, Searching for Steven, and I started writing that novel while I had the shop. I’d work on it during quieter days and that experience of having a teddy bear shop is inextricably linked with my writing so I always wanted to write a book partly set in one
  2. It explores a life-changing diagnosis and was the first time I needed to do some really in-depth research for any of my books. I learned such a lot about Parkinson’s and dementia from my research, much of which I didn’t already know. My Auntie, to whom the book is dedicated, sadly passed away last year, far too young, suffering from Parkinson’s and dementia
  3. It was the first book I’d released outside of a publishing deal. My publisher had ceased trading and, in order to keep momentum going, I chose not to seek a new publisher, releasing this as an indie author instead. Terrifying yet exciting!

I’ve received some amazing feedback about Bear With Me from bloggers on a book tour last year and also from readers. He currently has only 4 and 5-star reviews on Amazon, 78% of those being at 5-star which gives me a warm and fuzzy bear hug moment.

Bear with Me by Jessica Redland

He’s also received a Chill With a Book Readers’ Award and a Chill with a Book Cover Award too. It’s definitely like bear hugs all round!

Cover of the Month Award. MAY

And if you’re not into teddy bears, it’s worth giving this book a chance because, as many of the reviews acknowledge, it’s about so much more than that.

Happy Book Birthday, my book baby ❤

Jessica xx

 

Bear With Me

Jemma has the job of her dreams as curator for the children’s section of a museum in London. She spends each day surrounded by the one thing she’s absolutely passionate about: teddy bears. When boyfriend, Scott, shows a genuine interest in her passion instead of laughing at her for “playing with teddies all day”, she knows he’s a keeper.

Returning home to the North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay to celebrate her birthday, Jemma thinks she’s heading for her happy-ever-after when Scott unexpectedly proposes. So, a few days later, why isn’t he retuning her calls or responding to her texts?

Julie has always been a wonderful single mother to Jemma and her little brother, Sean. As owner of specialist teddy bear shop, Bear With Me, and the creative genius behind the successful range of Ju-Sea Bears, she inspires Jemma with her ability to balance a demanding career with home life. So why is the shop now in disarray and why is Sean so upset?

Sam thought he had his future all worked out. With a promising neurology career, a home, and a devoted fiancée, life was looking good. But now he’s all alone in a strange city, far from everyone and everything he cares about, struggling to rebuild the tatters of his life. Did he do the right thing by running away? What does the future hold and is he strong enough to face it?

Sometimes love finds us when we least expect it. But sometimes love leaves us, just as unexpectedly. When you’ve loved and lost, can you bear to let love in again?

Bear With Me, as all will be revealed …

 

I’ve done it! I’ve written a novella … but that wasn’t the plan

Jessica Redland - Searching for Steven - Front Cover LOW RESMy debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’ is out on 3rd June and is currently available for pre-order on Kindle here and for pre-order in paperback here which is all very exciting. But that’s not the purpose of my post today.

My lovely publishers, So Vain Books, suggested that it might be a good idea to write one or two short stories relating to Steven that we could put release for free in the run-up to Steven’s launch. What a great idea. Except I’m not so great with the concept of ‘short’. When I first wrote Steven, he was 132,000 words and had to go on a serious diet to get down to approx 100,000. When I wrote my short story for the Write Romantics Winter Tales anthology last year, it was supposed to be about 5-6,000 words and ended up being nearly 9,000. Oops. It’s not that I can’t be succinct if I need to be; it’s more of a case of discovering that my ideas are too big for a short story.

CoversMy starting point was to ponder on the character I could use. Sarah, my protagonist, splits up with her boyfriend at the start of the book and the first thought was to write about how they got together (because I already know their full back story). I quickly dismissed this idea. Why would I take the reader on a journey where they’re rooting for the heroine, she gets her seemingly happy ever after, then I end that relationship at the start of the novel? That would just be wrong. I toyed with the back story for Sarah’s Auntie Kay who is a very intriguing character, but this would ruin something that’s revealed later on in Steven so I needed to rule that out too. I couldn’t write about Sarah’s two best friends, Elise and Clare, because they have their own stories in books 2 and 3. I didn’t want to write from a male POV either (not that I won’t do so at some point, but this isn’t the right time for me to experiment with that). Which really only left one character – Callie. Callie is the sister of the ‘handsome web designer’ referred to in Steven’s blurb. At the start of Steven, Sarah meets him when he’s collecting the flowers for his sister’s wedding. Callie’s great fun. She’s young, feisty, and tends to speak first and engage brain later. She was the perfect character.

I knew that the story needed to involve her meeting the man who she marries at the start of Steven, but I didn’t know how this was going to happen. Callie’s father died when she was just two so her brother, Nick, (eight years her senior) had always been the significant male influence on her life. A logical starting point seemed to be that she went for older men, almost as a way of filling a dad-shaped void in her life. I had no idea what was going to happen other than the older man in her life was not going to be the person she thought.

I have to say, Callie’s story was one of the easiest things I’ve ever written. It just seemed to write itself. A wonderful cast of characters presented themselves and an interesting story (or at least I hope it’s interesting) spilled forth.

But it wasn’t a short story. Oh no! It was a novella!

Raving about RhysI was a little anxious about emailing it to my publishing director, Steph, because it wasn’t what we’d set out to achieve. Fortunately, she loved it and was delighted to publish a novella instead. I needed to add in another chapter as a couple of key events seemed to happen a bit too quickly, but  the new chapter also came very easily and I think it massively improved the story.

‘Raving About Rhys’ is available to download onto your Kindle right now via Amazon – just click here – for the bargain price of 99p. This means that I am now officially a published author. I was so excited yesterday when I woke up and received an email from Steph with the link. Getting ready for work (and getting the munchkin ready for school) is always pretty fraught, so I sacrificed my breakfast to post my news and links on social media. Then I got to work and it was back to the day job and barely a moment to even let the thought that I was a published author seep into my mind.

When I got home yesterday evening, though, the bears were very excited about Rhys and decided to hold a rave, glow sticks at the ready! It was also my older brother’s birthday yesterday – Happy Birthday Mike – so there was lots to celebrate!

I hope everyone enjoys reading Rhys as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you do download it, I’d love to hear what you think.

There is a free short story to come out too, but I’ll save that for another post.

Happy reading! xxx

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

It’s that marmite time of year again

_MG_0218It’s Valentine’s Day today. That marmite time of year. Do you love it? Or do you hate it?

As a romance writer, it might follow that I love Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, declarations of love, proposals. All fabulously romantic and lovely and just what a romance writer would adore, surely? Who wouldn’t love 14th February? Well, me actually.

Sorry to say it but I’m not a fan. I know that there are many people who hate it because they think it’s an overly commercial day designed just to make card companies, chocolatiers, and florists a wad of cash. They may have a point but retail is a tough business (she says having run her own shop) and I don’t begrudge them the opportunity.

There’s also the belief (sometimes held by the same people) that there shouldn’t be one day of the year set aside on which you must specifically show you love someone; if you love someone, you should demonstrate it all year round.

I can see both of these points but neither are the reason why I don’t love Valentine’s Day. I don’t love Valentine’s Day because Valentine’s Day doesn’t love me.

Let me explain…

_MG_7511My very first brush with Valentine’s Day was making a homemade card for a lad I fancied at primary school. I can’t remember whether there was a postbox set up or whether I sneaked it into his tray but I vividly remember him being unbelieveably disinterested in it. He made no enquiries to find out who’d sent it. He didn’t care. Boys eh? Needless to say, I didn’t get any cards that year. Or any other year at primary school.

When I was about fourteen, I was thrilled to receive a card and a heart-shaped chocolate in the post. My very first Valentine’s card. And it came with a gift! It was from a lad that I’d befriended on an adventure holiday the previous summer (I knew because he’d signed it). I went into school all excited… only to discover that he’d also sent one to my best friend who’d been on holiday with me and another girl we’d befriended there. It was a gesture of friendship. Nothing else.

I was eighteen before another card came my way. This time it was from my boyfriend in my first year at university. We’d been to the Halls of Residence bar on the evening of the 13th February with a couple of friends. One of them lived on the same floor as me and kept me up close to midnight, asking if I liked surprises. I thought this was a little strange. As midnight struck and Valentine’s Day arrived, the doors to the floor burst open and my boyfriend came running round the corridor dressed in nothing but boxer shorts covered in hearts, carrying a bottle of wine, a card, and a red rose. I’m going to sound so awful saying this, but my recall (many years later) was that it was a bit more embarrassing than romantic! Plus, I had lectures the next day and I was really, really tired! I didn’t want to drink wine and be romantic. I just wanted to go to sleep.

P1060175I had a free period later that morning and propped open my door and wandered into the kitchen to make a cuppa. When I came back, there was a card and a Sad Sam (remember those? Puppies with big, sad eyes that were all the rage in the late 80s/early 90s) sat on my bed. The lad in the room next-door (with whom I was friends) had put them there. Apparently he’d fallen for me and, even though he was also friends with my boyfriend, he seemed to think it was okay to share his feelings too. It was Valentine’s Day after all! I can’t remember whether I guessed it was him or whether he told me, but I somehow found myself sitting on my bed with him confessing his undying devotion to me and telling me that he’d be there for me if I ever wanted to ditch the boyfriend. Please keep remembering that the boyfriend and he were friends. Not so much after that. You see, the boyfriend knew I had a free period so came to see me and found me on the bed having a heart-to-heart and holding a card and a Sad Sam that he hadn’t given me. He understandably wasn’t too chuffed with my neighbour’s bold declaration of devotion. It was quite a fraught free period and I have never been so relieved to have an Economics lecture to attend as I was that morning; perfect opportunity to escape the tension!

The boyfriend and I went out for a romantic meal that evening. Only it wasn’t at all romantic. He was livid about the incident with the next-door neighbour and, even though he knew I didn’t feel anything for the lad, the betrayal of friendship hung in the air. Great.

P1060177In my final year at university, I was stunned and delighted to receive three Valentine’s cards, especially as I was single at the time. One was from a good friend who wanted to cheer me up, one was from a lad with whom I’d had one date but who’d made it clear that he didn’t want another date or a relationship as he was on the rebound from someone. Not really sure to this day why he sent me a card. The third was a mystery, though. It contained some song lyrics and I knew I recognised them but I absolutely couldn’t place them. These were the days before t’internet. I couldn’t just Google them. I was sure I knew who’d sent me it – a lad who I’d dated for about a week the term before – but he demanded to know why I thought it was him. I had to solve the clue in the lyrics. I finally sussed the song but I still couldn’t work out the connection to him. By the time I worked it out (the name of the band was connected to his name), it was a week or so later, and the moment was well and truly lost. He admitted that it had been him but I think he was annoyed that I hadn’t worked out why as, when we’d been dating, he’d told me that, if he ever sent someone a Valentine’s card, he’d put the lyrics of a song by this particular band in his card. Clearly I’d forgotten that conversation which suggested I’d never been listening to him in the first place and had therefore been a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Oops!

_MG_0221After that, I had years of being single and I seemed to go through a phase of being away with work on Valentine’s Day. I was exceedingly self-conscious about dining in the hotel alone as it was. Throw into the mix a restaurant full of couples gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes and it was excruciating.

I’ve now been with hubby for eleven Valentine’s Days. When we first met, we exchanged cards and a few silly gifts (I remember buying him some Purple Ronnie socks, for example) but I’ve never had any flowers, teddies, or anything particularly special from him on Valentine’s Day. Several years ago, I declared that I only wanted a card. I’ll admit this was more of a defence mechanism; declare that you only want a card and you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get anything else and will be pleasantly surprised if you do! I sometimes wish he’d surprise me and present me with some flowers. Or perhaps something that’s even more me… like a romantic novel, some heart-themed stationery, or a film. Or all three but that’s just greedy! But would I really want this on Valentine’s Day? When I see my Facebook feed later today full of friends and family declaring, “Look what I got” and posting pictures of bouquets, champagne, teddy bears holding hearts, posh meals out, and so on, I know I’ll get envious (because I do every year) and wish I was on the receiving end of all these lovely gifts. But then I remind myself that past experience has made me dislike this day because of the pressure and disappointment it brings, whether you’re single or not. Why, therefore, would I want to acknowledge this day?

Perhaps I am more with the school of thought that showing you care should happen all year round; not just on February 14th. The problem is, my husband isn’t romantic. He doesn’t buy me flowers. In nearly twelve years together, he’s never sent me a bouquet. He’s bought me some flowers home from the supermarket on a handful of occasions, along with the weekly shop. Not quite the same thing. The thing is that I don’t really want flowers on Valentine’s Day. I object to the inflated prices. But it would be nice to have some at another time of year. Perhaps.

Hubby doesn’t surprise me with romantic meals either. I can’t remember the last time we went out together, just the two of us. Or even as a group. To be fair to him, we were meant to go out between Christmas and New Year as a six. One of the group was ill so that couple pulled out but the other couple then cancelled as the plan had been to go out as a six. Hubby and I could have gone out as a two but I couldn’t be bothered. I’m not very good at dealing with changes to plans and a takeaway in front of the TV seemed so much easier than getting all dressed up and braving the cold.

P1060118So hubby doesn’t do meals and flowers but he does do other things that show he cares. He spends ages choosing the right cards with the right words in them and he always adds some of his own instead of just signing his name. He lets me lie in on a weekend and brings me a cup of tea and some breakfast in bed. He reads my bootcamp blog without fail and is really proud of me when I achieve my goals. He bought me a necklace one year (for birthday or Christmas) with a pendant of St Paul on it, the Patron Saint of Writers. I went on a girly trip to York last month with my mum and sisters-in-law and wasn’t going to buy anything because we’re trying to save some money. He insisted I treated myself to a teddy bear for my collection as I’d been really down about work last year when I thought I was going to lose my job yet again. And I mustn’t forget coming home from my shopping trip to discover that he’d been creative and designed a photo for the launch of my debut novel. I hadn’t asked him to. We’d never discussed it. He just did it.

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nIt’s not over the top displays of romance but, when I break it down, it’s all evidence that he’s thinking of me and he cares. Isn’t that what romance is? Especially the little things that he does regularly like reading my blog and making me breakfast in bed. Do I need bouquets of flowers when I have this? Hmm. Well, maybe not constantly but once in a while would be lovely 🙂

Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it brings you happiness, whether you’re in a great relationship, a relationship on the rocks, or single. Find something that makes you happy. For me, it’s a script-writing workshop at our local theatre and tea with hubby and the munchkin. What a fabulous way to spend a Saturday. Watch this space for a future blog about the script-writing workshop.

Happy weekend 🙂

Jessica xx

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

A Space of my Own

I am very excited at the moment because I have finally got something that I’ve longed for in ages; my very own writing space. All mine.

ImageWe moved to our current house a little over three years. Our previous home had been a big Victorian three-storey five-bed end of terrace property in town. As we only have munchkin, this meant three spare bedrooms so hubby and I had an office each and there was still a spare bedroom for guests. I didn’t write as often in those days. I wanted to but I watched Emmerdale, Coronation Street and lots of other programmes until I realised that I could claw back time if I pretty much gave up TV. So I did. But I still found lots of distractions to keep me from writing.

When we moved to our current home – a newish-build four-bed house – having my own office didn’t seem that much of a priority. I’d stopped working from home and I didn’t write that often so why would I need my own space. Surely a spare room for friends and family to stay was more important? Thing was, family and friends never came to stay. We bought a new bed for the room and it’s been slept in four or five nights during three years. Whereas I have ditched the TV (mostly) and write every spare moment I have (ok, so I faff about with social media as well but I should be writing!) and have far more need for a writing space than our non-existant guests have for a bed.

ImageExcept hubby didn’t see it that way. I worked from home for a year and we shared an office and, when I started working in an office again at the start of last year, it was even harder to persuade him that I needed my own room. But then I began annoying him. Not deliberately, mind; I’m not that mean. My small desk seemed to be permanently stacked with papers and, every so often, I’d feel the urge to tidy them. Shuffling papers is apparently a distracting sound. Sometimes I like music on and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes he wanted music on and sometimes he didn’t . Yes, you’ve guessed it; these times never corresponded. He’d annoy me too. He can work with TV programmes or films streamed through his laptop. I can’t work at all if the TV is on because I’ll watch it whether I’m interested in it or not (may come from watching TV so rarely so I grab it where I can!)

It was my birthday at the start of May. A few months before, I told him that what I wanted would only cost a tin of paint and a few shelves. I wanted my own writing space. “It’s not going to happen,” he said. “It is,” I replied. And it finally has. Whether it’s three months of increased pressure that has got to him or sympathy for me having a minor health-scare last week, he’s caved in. There are conditions. I have to keep it tidy (no more piles of paperwork on my desk) and I have to make more time for the munchkin when I get in from work instead of disappearing into my writing sanctuary. I’m not convinced she’ll want my time as she’s usually watching something on TV or engrossed in a game of schools but I’ll do my best to be a better mum and try not to be insulted at the suggestion that I’m not.

ImageSo this bank holiday weekend has all been about tackling the spare bedroom. That would be the spare bedroom that had become a dumping ground because, with no staying guests, that’s what happens to spare rooms isn’t it? It took me several hours on Friday night and a couple more on Saturday morning to clear all of this out and it took me until Sunday to finish painting. I have a stretch of about a foot of unglossed skirting board to do because a large piece of furniture blocked me from doing it at the weekend. I need a couple of shelves putting up and there are still a few more boxes to unpack (not quite sure where the stuff is going to go but I’ll find somewhere eventually) but, other than that, I’m pretty much there. And I love it!

I haven’t actually done any proper writing yet i.e. on my novel rather than social media or this blog but I’m excited about doing that. I’ve surrounded myself by inspirational messages and gorgeous things. They don’t all match, there’s a complete mix of styles and colours but the room brings together the things I love – reading, writing, teddy bears and pretty things.

ImageI think hubby approves. He stood in the doorway earlier and said, “I think I might move in here”. He had the opportunity. As the one who works from home, I did say he could have this room instead (it’s slightly bigger) but he decided to stay put so he’s made his choice. This is MY space. ALL MINE!!!

Time to write … ooh, is that tea I smell? Perhaps after that then …

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Welcome to my world: The one where I hear voices … but that’s normal. Apparently!

Thankfully the voices in my head don’t tell me to steal or kill or anything sinister like that. Typically they tell me nice things like how they want to fall in love and with whom. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m a romance writer.

I’ve been writing in one shape or form for as long as I can remember. English was my favourite subject at school, I was drawn towards essay-based subjects at college and university, then my subsequent career in HR was most satisfying when it involved writing. That could mean designing an interview script, job advert, training materials or a staff handbook because, to me, it was all writing. Strangely enough, though, I’d never imagined making a career out of it. Until 2002. I was working as a Graduate Recruitment & Development Manager for Thames Water and the manager who’d recruited me would often comment that my business reports would benefit from being a little more, well, business-ey instead of reading like a story. “You should write a book,” he’d say. Nice idea. Lovely idea. But what the hell would I write about? The genre was easy; romantic comedy. But the storyline? Eek! Where would I even begin?

It’s a well-used phrase “write what you know” so I pondered on my relationships to date. I was single with some good and several disastrous relationships behind me but nothing interesting or juicy enough to form a plot-line for a book. And then something happened. Something quite unexpected and, for me, life-changing. I was at a bit of a crossroads in my personal life. I’d split up with my partner of two years although we still shared a house that we were trying to sell (hmm, that was fun!), I wasn’t happy at work, and I had a dream of moving back home to the north to set up a teddy bear shop but I’d been turned down for redundancy and, of course, I couldn’t do anything unless the house sold. It felt like everything was out of my control. I couldn’t plan. I couldn’t hope. A friend who is very into new-age thinking gave me a gift voucher for a clairvoyant telephone helpline. I can remember smiling politely and telling her I’d ring it at some point soon … then dumping it in a drawer. But one evening alone in the house in late 2002, something made me take that gift voucher out of the drawer and dial that number. What that clairvoyant said sparked an idea for a novel and, once it took hold, it was like the boulder in front of the cave of creativity had been rolled back and the glittering gems of ideas were all there for my taking.

You’re going to hate me now because I can’t share exactly what the clairvoyant said. Not yet. Why not? Quite simply, it’s because there’s no copyright on ideas and I’m an aspiring writer at the moment; not a published one. I think I’ve got quite a unique premise for my story and, whilst I will share the full back-story if (when) I get my big break, I need to keep it safe for the moment. Hope you understand.

So I’m not a published writer but I said this idea came to me in 2002. It’s 2014 now. What the heck have I been doing with the last 12 years! Truth be told, I did nothing about it other than bat the idea around my head until summer 2003 but, by that time, I had left my job, sold the house, said a permanent goodbye to the ex, moved back to the north and opened a teddy bear shop (dreams can come true!) I bought an old PC for the shop and, on quiet days, I started to write my book. Straight into the PC. No planning. No preparation. No idea on what I was doing! I met my husband Mark and shared my writing aspirations with him. He suggested I sign up to The Writer’s Bureau. So I did. And I realised I knew nothing about writing. Show don’t tell? What’s that?! I got some great feedback from my first few assignments explaining I clearly had a talent but it just needed honing with the “rules” of writing. So that’s what I spent the next decade doing.

Novel 1 was a painful process in many ways because I changed from 1st to 3rd person and back again, dabbled in present tense before reverting to past, ditched a major character, unexpectedly developed two major characters (and with them, the prospect of a trilogy of books), and basically had no clear idea of how to get from point A to point B. But I got there in 2012 and took a huge leap in my writing journey by joining the Romantic Novelist Association’s New Writer’s Scheme (NWS). It was with great trepidation that I submitted my manuscript (MS) as this was the first time anyone was going to read my work. The feedback was really encouraging but the biggie was that it was a biggie … far too many words! I managed to cut about 20k words but developing a couple of unclear plot points ended up back where I started. In 2013, I re-submitted the same novel to NWS and got even better feedback and some very clear direction as to what I could cut. I hadn’t been ready to make the cut before but I felt ready last year.

Summer 2013 saw another major step when I pitched to two editors at the RNA Conference and both asked to see my full MS. How incredibly exciting!

Since then, I’ve submitted my MS to both of those editors, some agents, and some other publishers. I’ve had some rejections, I’ve had a “near miss” (which I may talk about on another post) but it feels close. I’ve had a note from one publisher to say my work is very much under consideration and I know that I must be well into a process with another two because I have writing friends who’ve submitted later than me and have already heard that it’s a no. Assuming MSs are looked at in the order they arrive (it’s possible they aren’t), then that would mean I’m progressing … for now!

Other than the critique and the invaluable advice from the RNA online community, one of the biggest benefits I’ve had through the RNA is meeting other writers. I’ve been extremely fortunate to join forces with eight wonderful writers who cover a range of genres from Mills & Boon to supernatural to crime/thriller. We run a blog together http://www.thewriteromantics.wordpress.com and provide support and guidance to each other on all things writing (and often non-writing). I love being part of that blog but wanted to continue to increase my social media presence by running my own. I’ll talk about books, writing and life in general and, hopefully, one day share some amazing news that I can call myself an author!

Thank you for joining me today. Are you a reader or writer? What would you like me to blog about? Would be great to hear from you.

Julie

Mum, Wife, Writer, Brown Owl, Arctophile, Chocoholic