Sunday, October 17

‘I’ve never felt less festive’: the art of writing Christmas novels, 365 days a year | books

CChristmas novels are not a new phenomenon. Charles Dickens sold out his first print run of A Christmas Carol in days in December 1843, while Agatha Christie played in seasonal stress with titles that included The Christmas pudding adventure in 1923 and Hercule Poirot Christmas in 1938. But these days, there are acres of festive crime and romance from poverty to riches under mistletoe to choose from. All tastes are catered for, be it a love of trains (Edward Marston’s Victorian railway detective story A Christmas Railway Mystery), religion (Unbelievable Santa: An Amish Christmas Story), or even festive erotica. E-book retailer Smashwords stocks romantic titles including Old Mountain Dragon’s Christmasand the inventiveness that sounds A cyborg’s old Earth Christmas. (“Interstellar girlfriend Nell and her three children are forced into space dream capsules in hopes of surviving a calamity. She wakes up more than 700 years later on a ship of cyborg warriors. In this strange environment, Nell does not She can imagine what the future holds, but she’s determined to keep her promise and make Christmas for her children. “)

It may sound futuristic, but it is part of a long tradition loved by readers. Like Christina Storey at Allison & Busby, an independent publisher whose titles this year range from Anna Jacobs’ Christmas on Peppercorn Street to Rebecca Tope’s A Cotswold Christmas Mysterysays, “Holiday books are essentially like reading a warm hug.” And in 2020 especially, says Philippa Ashley, author of A surprise Christmas wedding, “People want to read about other people having a great time, they want to forget their worries and embrace everything related to Christmas.”

Ashley’s novel follows the Christmas adventures of the heartbroken Lottie, who lands her dream job on a Lake District farm (with a handsome gardener). She is asked to organize a last minute wedding, only to find out that the groom is the man who broke her heart. Covid-19 is conspicuously absent from the book; Ashley asked her readers if they wanted the novel to reflect 2020, and the answer was a resounding no. “They absolutely did not want to hear any mention of it. Like me, they were grieving for a normal life and they wanted this to be their escape, ”he says. “I have poured all my emotions into this book: my longing for a normal family life and Christmas, and to miss my family, is in this book.”

“Christmas-themed fiction allows the reader to fully immerse themselves in the season and experience it in real life,” says Milly Johnson, author of the romance. I wish it could be Christmas every day. “It’s a perfect setting for ‘cozy crime,’ it adds extra sparkle to romances, highlights social pressures in historical sagas … Christmas is the gift he continues to give us fictional writers.”

After a particularly tense Christmas, Johnson was inspired to write his first holiday novel because he realized “how many of us end up having the kind of Christmas that other people want rather than what we want ourselves.”

“My partner had left me for another woman and my heart was shattered. I totally disagreed with all the joy around me and wrote the first of my three Christmas novels, partly as therapy, it worked, ”he says.

Being festive enough isn’t always easy for authors, especially when they’re not writing in December. “It’s the least festive I’ve ever felt in my life,” says Ashley, writing A Surprise Christmas Wedding amid the darkness of 2020. “Every word was a struggle.”

Alfie the Christmas cat from Rachel Wells.
Alfie the Christmas cat from Rachel Wells. Photography: PR

Rachel Wells, author of Alfie the Christmas catHe found it difficult to get into a festive mood when writing in the summer. To write the holiday installment of his hit cat-narrated series, Wells watched some Christmas movies, played Christmas tunes, and danced in his living room with Michael Bublé and Jingle Bells. “I was feeling very low-stress and my son has special needs so he was struggling a lot. I thought, there is no way I can write an uplifting Christmas book. I couldn’t put my head in that happy space, ”he says. “It was also a heat wave, which added to the whole ‘where’s Christmas?’ atmosphere. “And Carole Matthews, a veteran of festive fiction whose latest novel Christmas for Beginners just came out, puts on a Christmas playlist and makes some mince pies before she goes.

It’s not just fans of romance who are well catered for for Christmas – the tradition of murders under the mistletoe goes back decades – think J Jefferson Farjeon Mystery blank, from 1934; Georgette heyer’s A christmas party, from 1941; and Mary Kelly’s The Christmas Egg, published in 1958. The booksellers of the independent bookstore Read Holmfirth say they’ve seen “a real appetite” for Christmas crime this year, with Ada Moncrieff Most festive murder and Val McDermid’s Christmas is murder flying off the shelves.

Moncrieff, who is also a primary school teacher, was in Madrid when she wrote Murder Most Festive, in which one of the guests at a party in a country house is found dead in the snow on Christmas morning 1938. “To get into the area and conjuring up a festive 1930s Madrid parlor vibe, I wrote accompanied only by the seasonally appropriate sodas of sherry and honey-roasted cashews, and worked my way through every Agatha Christie and Christmas special. Downton I could get, “she says.

While romance novel readers are drawn to the comfort of Christmas, crime readers, Moncrieff believes, may be dabbling in a bit of schadenfreude: “Once all the decorations, gifts, and family discussions have been taken care of, there is something quite satisfying about reading about someone else’s Christmas. being harassed by murder and scheming. The holiday crime makes everyone glad they don’t have a detective snooping in their Christmas tree. “

All the authors I spoke with were clear that the Christmas of books is idealized. “When you write a Christmas book, it can’t be too Christmas. It’s like wearing all the shiny things you have and something else, ”says Ashley. “People want that kind of fancy Christmas, where there’s beautiful fresh snow, not the yellow mud that keeps us from going to work,” agrees Matthews.

That’s exactly what critics Emma Hawkes is looking for. He has already read 18 Christmas titles this year and hopes to complete another 10 this month. For her, they are another Christmas tradition, and A Christmas Carol is always part of the mix. “They are simply welcoming. Just perfect wrapped in a cozy blanket, with hot chocolate and fire, ”he says. “And in a world of uncertainty, Christmas books always end happily.”

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