Today, I am delighted to welcome poet and author, Frank Prem, to Robbie’s Inspiration with a post about his The Beechworth Bakery Bears series of books.
What is it about Bakery Bears?
I can’t really begin to examine my literary aspirations for The Beechworth Bakery Bears books without recounting the context for my becoming aware of them.
Background to the first book – The Beechworth Bakery Bears
By profession I am a Psychiatric Nurse, and have had enough years of performing shift work for the thrill of rocking up to the job for a 7am start to have worn off, a little. So, what I like to do is to create a little contemplative bubble around myself before my early shifts start.
A little after 6am, (before Covid 19 struck), I would approach the Beechworth Bakery, often still in pre-dawn darkness. The Bakery is the only place in town that is open at that time of day and I would get myself a mug-sized, strong flat white and a small table or cubicle and settle in for a half hour of reading a little Bachelard, perhaps writing some seventeen syllable poetry the reading inspired, and generally getting relaxed and philosophically attuned to a new day.
Her is my typical view of The Bakery at that time of day.
The Bakery is a seriously busy, tourism attuned enterprise with shops in half a dozen towns around and about the place. It was founded by a man named Tom O’Toole. Tom is a story worth telling in his own right, but not today.
Anyway, The Bakery has a lot of merchandise aimed at the tourist trade, apart from bread and cakes and other bakery products, there are books, caps, cups, aprons, condiments, and . . . lots of stuff.
Also, there are Bakery Bears.
I confess to not paying a lot of attention to the Bears, initially. Awareness was a gradual thing.
For example, over time I became aware that they wore a uniform consisting of a chef’s hat and a Bakery apron and striped pants.
I became aware that there were a lot of them. Sometimes 10 or more on a single shelf as well as small groups and clusters. And that they were different from one another in subtle ways.
They gave me an impression of moving around. Now I know that can’t be true and that it is likely that what I was noticing was position changes and variable numbers because some had been sold, or staff had rearranged them for their own purposes, but the impression I gained through morning after morning of coffee and contemplation was that these characters had life.
I mentioned above that I would often write bits and pieces of new poetry while at the Bakery. Now, I started to take pictures, as well. Individual Bears. Groups of Bears. Bears having a picnic in the pie warmer when it was empty.
Bears in a heap, after a night on the honey.
We began to talk, and I learned a little about their Bakery lives, and their great respect for Tom, the owner. I met Olaf the Baker, perpetually rolling pastry in the front window. They became friends that I looked out for each morning to see what had changed and what they might be up to.
These were the elements that became the first book – The Beechworth Bakery Bears book. I did not really know that I was creating a picture book, until it existed in my hands as a hard copy.
The sequel – Waiting For Frank Bear
I’ll go on to chat about what brought the Waiting book to fruition, before returning to aspirations and purposes in a later section.
Part of the reason for a Bear Book sequel lies with the Bears themselves. They are (to me) so photogenic that I haven’t stopped taking pictures. If I enter the Bakery, my first purpose is to see if there are any notable changes to the presentation of the Bears. A picture that will translate into a story. The sheer volume of photographs creates a weight of expectation. As though the Bears want another Book to be made.
Contextually, though, a lot of things have changed in the last two years as the pandemic of Covid 19 has run rampant. Here in my little part of the world we have had little Covid, but something like seven lockdowns. In shops there has been take-away service only, no sitting down at tables, signing a register to enter, masks worn at all times.
In popular shops like the Bakery, there have been 100 metre long queues to enter. The whole line socially distanced at a metre and a half apart (more or less).
A very small consequence has been that my personal habits have had to change and I can no longer start my early days in the way I did.
Who notices these things? Who cares? Well . . . the Bakery Bears do.
They go on about their business, but they know that things have changed. They miss the way their Bakery used to run, and they don’t know what has happened to their friend Frank-Bear.
It was this idea of even the Bears being affected by lockdowns and pandemics that led me to have a further conversation with the Bears – really an overheard conversation.
That is the story I have tried to touch in Waiting For Frank-Bear.
My review of Waiting for Frank-Bear by Frank Prem
I loved the previous two Beechworth Bakery Bears books by poet, Frank Prem, but this one is my favourite to date. Waiting for Frank-Bear describes the loving relationship between the shop bears and Frank-Bear (the author), much like that of grandchildren and grandparents, and explains how things change in the shop and with Frank-Bear’s daily visits during the lockdown.
perhaps that is true…
but most importantly
he listens to us”
A lovely acknowledgement of the importance of listening to others, especially children.
and little people)
must wear a mask”
Recognition of the rules, but no real understanding of why they are in place. Just like small children…
The bears don’t understand what has changed and they are confused by the changes around them.
“I don’t know
if he is coming
that he would”
I thought this depicted beautifully the effect of the pandemic on children who were suddenly not able to see or visit loved ones and couldn’t understand why.
“but I did see a women
she seemed quite
The bears know the changes are causing stress and discomfort.
This delightful sharing of the effects of the lockdowns through the eyes of the bears is a wonderful way of providing insight into lockdown to children and paving the way for discussion about it. Children need to talk about their feelings and impressions.
This book is also packed with humour and will make both adults and children laugh.