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.
My Christmas Gift to my Readers: A New Sophie Sayers Christmas Story
Each Christmas for the last three years, I have enjoyed taking part in Helen Hollick’s “Story Song” blog series, which is a bit like an advent calendar of stories.
Every day between 1st and 24th December, she posts a new story by a different author. Each story is inspired by a song, and readers are invited to guess the song by reading the story. You can read all of the stories on her blog completely free of charge.
This year, my contribution is a new Sophie Sayers short story set at Christmas, called The Secret Ministry of Frost.
It also features some characters from my St Bride’s School novel series.
Click the link below to read this heartwarming new story for free:
Read The Secret Ministry of Frost online now
- Will you be able to guess the song by the end of the story?
- Award yourself a bonus point if you have already recognised the poem that the title comes from!
***Please feel free to share the link to the story with anyone who might enjoy it.***
Although my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series includes a novel set at Christmas (Murder in the Manger), the cosy world of Sophie’s Cotswold village, Wendlebury Barrow, is a rich source of festive stories, and I plan to write enough to fill a little book with them in time for Christmas 2022. More news on that nearer the time!
In the meantime, I wish you a merry Christmas, with lots of good books under your Christmas tree, and a new year filled with peace, joy and love.
O, Flower of Christmas!
When I was a child growing up in a London suburb, one of the highlights of our festive season was to sing carols around the huge Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.
Although this may sound like a very English tradition, the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is not British at all, on two counts.
- Firstly, Christmas trees only caught on in Britain after Prince Albert introduced the concept from his German homeland in 1848. You may be surprised to realise that the quintessential portrait of the Victorian British Christmas, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, does not contain a single Christmas tree.
- Secondly, the tree in Trafalgar Square is a gift from the people of Norway. They have sent one every year since 1947 to thank Britain for its support during the Second World War. (An interesting aside: the word “quisling”, meaning traitor, derives from the name of Norwegian Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling, who from 1942 until 1945 led the German-friendly government while the King of Norway took shelter in Britain.)
Evergreens of other kinds, such as holly, ivy, and mistletoe, have been part of a British Christmas for centuries. Borrowed from pagan winter festivals, they symbolise the promise of new life, whether in the form of spring or the birth of Christ.
The poinsettia, however, is a relative newcomer to the traditional Christmas canon of plants. Until recently, I’d assumed the only reason it pops up in shops in December is because of its festive colours. Not so.
The connection comes from a sweet Mexican legend…
A little Mexican girl was fretting because she was too poor to buy a birthday gift for Jesus, to lay at her local church’s manger scene, in keeping with village tradition. Suddenly an angel appeared, telling her to gather weeds from the roadside, because what mattered was not the cost of her gift, but what was in her heart. Her neighbours were scornful when she brought a bouquet of green weeds to the church, but in a heart-warming Christmas miracle, as she set them down on the altar, red flowers sprang up among the green leaves in the shape of the star of Bethlehem.
My first slightly frivolous thought on hearing the story was that it’s a Mexican take on my favourite carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter”: “What can I give him, poor as I am? I know, I’ll bring a poinsettia.”
As you probably know, the red parts of the poinsettia technically aren’t flowers at all, but leaves that have turned red. Its flowers are the tiny yellow buds at the centre of each cluster of red leaves. But modern botanical definitions don’t detract from the power of the legend.
While the name we use for the plant commemorates the American diplomat, Sir Joel Roberts Poinsett, who first imported cuttings from Mexico to the US in 1836, in Mexico, it’s known as flor de Navidad (Christmas flower) and flor de Nochebuena (flower of the Holy Night). The closest the Mexicans have to a Christmas tree is a decorated cactus.
Whatever greenery you choose to decorate your home this Christmas, I wish you joy and peace this festive season, and a New Year full of new life and hope.
This article first appeared in the Hawkesbury Parish News, December 2021
Further Festive Reading
Whether you are still Christmas shopping or you would some lighthearted and uplifting books to read during the holidays, you might like to take a look at these seasonal reads.
I’ve provided buying links in case you’d like to order them, but if you have any problems placing orders online, just let me know and I’ll arrange to send them to you myself.
Murder in the Manger – the third Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, a gentle, feel-good story that kicks off when the nativity play penned by Sophie goes somewhat off-script…
Stranger at St Bride’s As the staff and girls at St Bride’s prepare for their annual Christmas Fair, stranger turns up to lay claim to the estate, and the fight to save the school is on!
Stocking Fillers – the antidote to pre-Christmas stress, 12 funny stories about different aspects of the festive season, easy quick reads that make the perfect Secret Santa present or indeed a gift to self!
Lighting Up Time – this short story is set at the winter solstice, available in a slim paperback the size of a picture postcard
Christmas Ginger – a New Christmas Story Free to Read Now (The First Ever Sophie Sayers Prequel!)
Today I’m pleased to share with you Christmas Ginger, a heartwarming festive short story that I’ve written for novelist Helen Hollick‘s Story Song series, in which during December a different story inspired by a song is published each day on her Discovering Diamonds blog.
Christmas Stories Past
The first story I wrote for Helen’s blog was Lighting Up Time, set at the winter solstice, and since published as an ebook, audio short, and a tiny paperback the perfect size for a stocking filler.
Last year my contribution was a short story called It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas, set in the Hector’s House bookshop, featuring Sophie, Hector, Billy and other favourite characters from my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. You can read that one here – and see whether you can guess before the end which song inspired the story! (This one hasn’t made it into a book yet, but will be included in my planned Wendlebury Barrow Christmas Compendium in 2021.)
Christmas Story Present
For this year’s series, I decided to write a story I’d had in my head for a while: the return of Sophie’s late great-aunt, May Sayers, to live in the cottage that she’ll eventually leave to Sophie.
In this story we find May unexpectedly alone for Christmas, in a scenario that sadly so many people will face this festive season. Then an unexpected visit from her old friend Billy inspires the ever-resourceful May to use an old-fashioned trick to transform her lonely vigil into her most special Christmas ever.
Whether or not you’ve read any of the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries yet, I hope you will enjoy this gentle Christmas tale.
Christmas Ginger has not yet been published anywhere else. so for now the only place you can read it is on the Discovering Diamonds website:
Christmas Stories Yet to Come
By Christmas 2021, I’m planning to publish The Wendlebury Barrow Christmas Compendium. One of my projects over this holiday season is to write another new story inspired by the poinsettia – which I’ve just discovered rather pleasingly is named after one Joel Poinsett. More of that to follow in my story next Christmas!
Also in the new year I’m planning to write a trilogy of short stories, May Sayers Comes Home, as well as a new novel in each of the Sophie Sayers and St Bride’s School series. I’m going to be busy!
For now, have a peaceful and restorative Christmas, and I’ll look forward to catching up with you here on my blog at the end of the year.
My Other Books with a Christmas Theme
(all available in paperback and ebook – click images for ebook store links)
Stranger than Fiction
In my last column of the year for the Tetbury Advertiser, I reflect on the strange year that was 2020.
Irrationally fond of round numbers and irrepressibly optimistic, this time last year I was convinced that 2020 would be the antidote we needed to the rigours of 2019. Before 31st December 2019, given ‘2020’ in a word association test, I’d have automatically replied ‘vision’, alluding to the optician’s measure of perfection.
I was also excited at the prospect of a new decade. Could we look forward to our own ‘Roaring Twenties’ – the heady days of economic growth and prosperity that followed the Great War? (Preferably without an equivalent to the Great Crash of 1929.)
Back to the present day, and that neat and tidy number has morphed into a curse. It’s become the standard response on social media to anyone’s report of misfortune.
Car broken down? “Well, it is 2020.”
Washing machine flooded? “2020 strikes again.”
95-year-old film star dies peacefully in his sleep? “Aargh, 2020, what are you doing to us?”
Of course, it’s not 2020’s fault at all. It’s simply the power of association. But who would have foreseen this time last year that so much turmoil and tragedy could be wrought by a microscopic virus and a larger-than-life political leader? (More than one political leader, depending on your personal point of view.)
Neither of these news tsunamis would pass the credibility test I apply while writing fiction. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said while watching the news this year, “If I put that in one of my novels, readers would complain it didn’t ring true.”
To be fair, I stopped trusting in 2020 early in the year, when I read this piece of anti-fraud advice:
“When signing documents in 2020, write the date in full, rather than abbreviating the year to ‘20’, or tricksters will be able to add any further two digits of their choice to suit their nefarious needs. A will dated simply ‘1/2/20’ could easily be changed to ‘1/2/2000’ or ‘1/2/2025’, thus pre- or post-dating a legitimate current document, with life-changing consequences for the beneficiaries.’
Now there’s a great starting point for one of my mystery novels. The only thing is, would it be a hit with my readers? I’m not sure I should take the risk this year. After all, it is 2020.
Roll on 2021 – and I wish you all a very happy new year!
IN OTHER NEWS
But hang, we’ve still got to get through Christmas 2020 first! If you’re finding the preparations particularly stressful this year, with the added challenges of catering for Covid, here’s a little treat that will lift your spirits and put you into a festive frame of mind…
My collection of warm, witty short stories set in the run-up to Christmas will make you laugh and count your blessings.
“A fabulous festive treat! I’m not normally a short stories reader but I adored this little book. So well written, such an interesting mix, and perfect bedtime reading. Put me right in the mood for Christmas. Loved it.” – Jackie Kabler
Just 99p for the ebook or £4.99 for the paperback (or local currency equivalent worldwide), it’ll make you fall in love with Christmas all over again.
* * * Buy the ebook here * * * Order the paperback here * * *