It was only when I started planning the HULF Talk Christmas Special that I realised just how much I have written about Christmas over the years and wondering just why that was. In this post, I’m exploring why I like writing about Christmas and highlighting my short stories and novels that relate to the festive season.
Living in a small village in the Cotswold countryside, I’m very aware of the changing seasons – more so than I ever was when I lived in suburbia – and although I dislike the short cold days and long dark nights of winter, I enjoy celebrating every season as it comes around. That’s one reason I have made my two series of novels so seasonal, so that I can address seasonal traditions.
What makes Christmas especially interesting for a writer is that it is a time of interesting contrasts:
- cold and dark versus warmth, kindness and love
- death and decay in nature versus the promise of renewal and rebirth to follow in the spring
- the end of the old calendar year (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) versus the beginning of the new
- remorse and repentance versus redemption and resolve (whether through faith or via new year resolutions)
- the feeling that we can all relax because almost everyone will be on holiday versus the pressures to engineer the perfect Christmas for family and friends
It’s also a time when perhaps we are more aware of the sensory delights around us – the special sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and textures of Christmas celebrations. Of course, all of these will be quite different for people living south of the equator. Having only ever spent Christmas in the northern hemisphere, I think I’d find a southern Christmas, celebrated in high summer, perplexing, but I’m sure it brings its own charms.
I’ve written many short Christmas stories over the years, and I have two novels set in the run-up to Christmas.
My Short Christmas Stories
The first of these was inspired by mishearing a news report on BBC Radio 4 one December, while pottering about the kitchen: “The problem is that turkey does not have its own defence missile system.” It took me a moment to realise the journalist was talking about Turkey, the country, not turkey, the bird, but I couldn’t resist writing the back-story for what I thought I’d heard. The result was The Owl and the Turkey, or the Real Reason We Eat Turkey at Christmas, written in the style of a traditional folk tale. What started out as a bit of self-indulgent fun reached a wider audience when, to my delight, it was selected to appear behind the door of the Mumsnet Advent Calendar in 2014. This encouraged me to publish it as a tiny, slim paperback (6″ x 4″) as well as an ebook. You can buy it here.
My next Christmassy short story was set at the winter solstice, 21st December. This time the prompt came from author Helen Hollick, who was rallying fellow authors to post stories on the theme “Lighting Up the Darkness” for an event hosted on her blog on the shortest day. I always look forward to the winter solstice as the first step towards the return of spring, so I was really pleased to participate. My story was partly inspired by an incident when I was taking an old girl on a tour of Westonbirt School, where I used to work. As we approached a large mirror at the end of a shady passage, she jumped, startled. “Oh my goodness, I thought that was my aunt coming towards me,” she cried.
Lighting Up Time explores a young woman’s fear of darkness and of death following the loss of a much-loved great aunt. It is a quasi-ghost story with a heartwarming happy ending. I realise now that the relationship between Emma, the central character, and her Great Aunt Sophie was the forerunner to the bond between Sophie Sayers and her late Great Auntie May in my Sophie Sayers mystery series. Like The Owl and the Turkey, it’s available as an ebook and tiny paperback (6″ x 4″), and as a very short audiobook. You can buy it here.
On a roll with Christmas stories, I then decided to compile a collection of short festive tales, and wrote a dozen, each on a different aspect of the festive season, from Christmas shopping to cooking Christmas dinner, but with a unifying theme of taking the stress out of the season. Stocking Fillers is the antidote to pre-Christmas angst.
Over the years various charities have asked permission to share stories from the collection, either as secular readings at fundraising carol concerts or to appear behind the doors of their online advent calendars of stories.
(If you’d like to use any of my stories for your charity events, please write to ask permission – I’ll almost certainly say yes, but need to know about it for legal reasons as the copyright remains mine.)
The latest charity to use my Christmas stories is Roundabout Dramatherapy, “dedicated to transforming the lives of vulnerable people, using the creative power of dramatherapy to enhance mental health”. You can find me reading “Christmas Time”, about the time pressures of the season, behind day 5 of their #ShareAStory advent calendar, for which each story is shared on YouTube. You can find the full calendar here. Apparently actors will be reading some more Stocking Fillers stories there, but I’m not yet sure which doors they’ll be behind.
Christmas in my Novels
With each of my two series of novels following the course of a year, they inevitably both feature a Christmassy story. The Sophie Sayers one is easy to spot from the title and cover. Murder in the Manger is a cheery but touching story of a nativity play that goes wrong, and it’s full of festive humour. (One reader reckons it has the funniest opening lines of any novel she has read.) It’s also very respectful to the Christian tradition, and, spoiler alert: no-one actually dies – I couldn’t bring myself to bump anyone off during the season of goodwill. The intrigue revolves around the whole village finding itself accused of murder.
(Available in beautiful new editions as an ebook and paperback from Boldwood Books and in audiobook from Saga Egmont.)
Meanwhile not far away at St Bride’s School, the second Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery, Sinister Stranger at St Bride’s (previously published as Stranger at St Bride’s), finds the staff and girls preparing for the boarding school’s Christmas traditions. The denouement of the mystery takes place at their traditional Christmas Fair and the teachers’ Christmas dinner.
(Available in ebook, paperback and audiobook, all from Boldwood Books.)
(If you’d like signed copies of any of my books to send as Christmas presents, just send me a request via my contact form.)
More Christmas Stories to Come
I’m not done with Christmas stories yet! I’m currently compiling a collection of short festive stories about Sophie Sayers and friends which I plan to publish in time for Christmas 2023. These will reflect many of the features of a village Christmas that I love so much, such as carol singing and bell ringing, as well as addressing some lesser known aspects of Christmas celebrations such as the origins of the poinsettia as a symbol of Christmas, as shared with Sophie by her travel writer Great Auntie May, and the first ever back story of May and Joshua’s romance. Some of these are already written; others I will write while in festive mood over this coming Christmas season.
Whatever you’re reading this Christmas, and however you celebrate (or not) this season, stay warm and stay well, and I hope the new year brings you many more good books to enjoy.
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