I often read Old Bear and Little Bear’s Trousers to my first reception class and I have loved all the stories that Jane Hissey has written since. It is unbelievable that this year Old Bear is celebrating his 30th birthday and we are delighted to be the first stop on Jane’s #OldBear30 blogtour!
I am always fascinated to hear ‘the story behind the story’ and in this post Jane tells us how Old Bear and his friends became characters in a book.
The first ‘Old Bear’ book and the story behind it.
Back in 1980 when I left teaching to have my first child, I began to spend any spare time I had, drawing. I had always told my GCSE and A level art students that it didn’t matter what they drew – just to grab the first thing that came to hand and draw. I followed my own advice and, as the house was full of toys at the time, that’s what I drew (my very first toy drawing happened to be Bramwell Brown). I drew some of the old toys as commissions and some just for fun and soon greetings cards were produced from some of my drawings.
By chance, Caroline Roberts, an editor at the publisher, Hutchinsons, saw one of my greetings cards and asked me to illustrate a picture book. Someone else was to write the story but, after many months, no story had appeared. One day I happened to bump into Raymond Briggs (one of our tutors when we were at college in Brighton) and I told him about my possible book. He said in his usual gruff manner, ”Write it yourself. Then you can put in the story what you want to draw.”
The next day I asked Caroline if I could write the story and she seemed pleased with the idea. That book was to be ‘Old Bear’ and Caroline and I worked together on this and subsequent Old Bear books (and the TV stories) for the next 25 years.
I began the first book by gathering together the original group of toys; chosen for their varying appearance and character.
When I was a child my father was in the Royal Navy and we moved house every two years. On one occasion some of my toys were packed away in the attic to be rescued two years later on our return to the cottage. Old Bear, himself, was one of those toys and I clearly remember our reunion. The rescue from the attic was to be the inspiration for my story (though the method of rescue in the book, involving handkerchief parachutes and a toy plane, was a little more elaborate than the one in real life).
I work by setting up still-life groups and draw from ‘life’ in coloured pencils. It takes a long time to do the illustrations so, after designing the whole ‘Old Bear’ book in dummy form I then spent the next nine months working on the final drawings in my studio at home in Sussex. During this time I had telephone contact with my editor but did not have a reason to travel to see her in London.
When all the 33 drawings were done I struggled up to London on the train with 2 huge portfolios. However my heart sank when I found that my publisher had vanished! They had moved to Covent Garden from Bedford Square but had forgotten to tell me. The building in Bedford Square was completely empty. After a frantic phone call (no mobile in those days and portfolios don’t fit easily in telephone boxes) and a dash across London in a taxi, I finally found my elusive publisher, arrived at my meeting and, drawings delivered, my first picture book was on its way.
About 25 books later (and now with a new publisher, (Salariya Books in Brighton) Old Bear and I are celebrating 30 years working together, but more than double that time as just ‘me and my bear!’
Thank you so much for joining us on Story Snug Jane, this was fascinating to read. We hope that you and all the toys enjoy Old Bear’s 30th birthday celebrations. We love Happy Birthday Old Bear, it’s a great tribute to all your characters.
About Jane Hissey
Jane Hissey’s first picture book, ‘Old Bear’ (published in 1986) was instantly acclaimed a new children’s classic. Since then, Jane has written and illustrated over 20 picture books, each one taking a year to illustrate.
Richly illustrated in coloured pencils, Jane’s books feature soft-toy characters and everyday objects that belong to her or her family. ‘Old Bear’ himself was given to her by her grandmother when she was born. He has travelled with Jane throughout the world; to schools, libraries and literary events, becoming increasingly worn and threadbare but recognisable to millions of Jane’s readers.
The 40 episode television series of ‘Old Bear Stories’ won many international awards including a BAFTA and a NY Film Festival Gold Award.
Jane has three grown-up children and lives in Sussex, England, with her husband, Ivan, who is also an illustrator.
Several blogs are taking part in Jane’s #OldBear30 blogtour so do go and visit to read more about Jane and her characters;
Tuesday 13th September: Nayu’s Reading Corner
Wednesday 14th September: Fiction Fascination
Thursday 15th September: Red Reading Hub
Friday 16th September: Acorn Books
Saturday 17th September: Sarah Broadhurst