Wednesday, 24 December 2014
It is 7.30pm on Christmas Eve. I'm sitting at the writer's bureau in my sitting room, the tree is twinkling in the corner and the fireplace is lit up with fairy-lights and dancing flames. I have a cup of Irish Cream hot chocolate beside me and the steam is warm and fragrant. The stockings are hung by the fire with care...the cat is curled up on the chaise lounge...candles are flickering.
I am feeling very festive, inspired and nostalgic. This time of year is so full of memories and the picture above reminds me of the year Father Christmas brought my brother and I matching typewriters when we were young - Petite 990's to be exact. I wonder if he knew we would both grow up to become successful published authors? There were always new books beneath the tree too, so I'm guessing he had an inkling!
The peacefulness of Christmastide has always been a very productive time for me as a writer. Everyone is so busy with crazy kids that it is easy for the child-free author to hibernate and get some creative work done. It is something I have done for years, initially from necessity as the update for The Witch's Almanac always had to be written over the Yuletide period with an early January deadline, so I had no choice but to work right through the festive season. Now it has formed into a comforting habit and something I look forward to about December, when I'm writing at the bureau with the tree lights and fire casting a cosy glow, rather than up in my study, which is where I usually write.
I always like to burn Frankincense oils and incense for these festive writing stints as it is said to bring inspiration and creativity. It is a warm, comforting fragrance that fills the room as I write this post. It is also true that the things I write at Christmas time stay with me in my mind, year after year - The Witch's Almanac updates (ten years worth!), Magical Beasts (my grandmother had just died on December 21st and writing was a great escape for me then), Angels home-study courses (way back when I was a very new writer in the 1990's) and in-House synopsis for Magical Home, The Witch's Almanac (which began as a seed of an idea I had before a crackling hotel fireside on my very first visit to Strathpeffer in 2001) and The Wiccan Temptress. These are the magical memories of a writer at Christmas.
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you will know that a couple of days ago I spent time cleaning up the files on my laptop; sifting, sorting, saving and deleting. I have to do this every year just to keep my computer clean and organized - digital files can be even more of a mess than piles of hard copy. It is a good way for me to review the working patterns of the past year, to see what has worked well, where I've placed the most freelance features and what ideas I still need to develop. My laptop is like a virtual office space - I run my business as an author from here so I cannot allow it to be weighed down and cluttered up with tat. So I clear the decks and make a clean sweep of it as much as I can. This makes space for a whole new year of writing projects, creative ventures, columns, features, snippets, articles and so on. On a psychological level it also makes space for a fresh burst of optimism and motivation to move in too. I like to feel that I have made room for my career and business to grow, to develop and to perhaps branch out if it wants to.
A writing life is one that is alive, vibrant and dynamic. It moves at its own pace, sometimes slowly, sometimes at such a rate of knots you can barely keep up. It pays no mind to bank holidays. So when the whole of society is busy with Christmas festivities, I try to incorporate some writing time into my own celebrations. I enjoy it. It makes me smile in gratitude that I am published and a consistently working writer, that I can make my living and buy Christmas gifts with the money I make doing what I love to do. As soon as this post has gone up I plan to get a head start on the new year by writing for one of my columns. Then I'm going to settle down by the hearth and watch The Northern Ballet dance A Christmas Carol. On this wet and windswept Christmas Eve I am feeling happy, content and productive and I wish every one of you a very joyful festive season.
Tuesday, 23 December 2014
There is something lovely and old fashioned about giving books as Yuletide gifts, especially if they have a seasonal theme. Although e-books are a more convenient purchase, you can't beat the feel of a real book, beautifully wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. Here are my favourite Christmas books from my library, which would make lovely treats to yourself now all the gift buying is done and dusted.
Miss Read's Christmas Book is a charming compilation of festive anecdotes and literary extracts from famous novels. It is a beautifully illustrated picture book, the art design being reminiscent of the works of Beatrix Potter. Chapters include The Nativity, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Twelfth Night. This is the very first Christmas book I ever purchased, shortly after I left home at the age of 20. I wanted to recreate the magic of my childhood and also find inspiration for creating my own personal festive traditions. It has been a treasured tome ever since.
I am a fan of the Edwardian writer and artist Edith Holden and I own a copy of her Country Diary. Some years ago I stumbled across this tribute to her work and the festive season combined. The Country Diary Christmas Book has all the charm of the original Country Diary. It features Edith Holden's water-colour illustrations and extracts from the nature notes she is most famous for. In addition it includes country lore, folklore, seasonal rhymes, carol lyrics, craft projects and the history of our Christmas traditions. This book was invaluable to me when I set about writing The Witches Almanac over a decade ago and I wanted a similar feel to my seasonal writing as Edith Holden gave to her Country Diary. For that reason it holds a special place in my heart. The blurb promises that it is "As rich and satisfying as a plum pudding..." and I agree.
I saved the best for last - Penhaligon's Scented Christmas Treasury of Verse and Prose by Sheila Pickles is the latest in my collection of Yuletide books. Penhaligons are a famous British perfumers and their fragrances are reputedly worn by Her Majesty the Queen. They have collaborated with the publisher to create a series of stunning scented poetry books. Each anthology has a different theme and is scented to match. They come in their own individual slip case to prolong the fragrance and they are lavishly illustrated. I have been collecting them for years but was never able to track down the final Christmas book until earlier this year. I am delighted to have it as not only does it complete my Penhaligon Collection, it is a gorgeous book to help get into the festive spirit, being fragranced with the scent of Winter Garden. Full of seasonal poems and prose extracts from famous classic novels and authors, it is a rare treat. All the great authors are represented including Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Hardy, Virgina Wolfe, Christina Rossetti, Walter de la Mare and of course Charles Dickens.
All of these books are up on Amazon UK, but you will probably need to buy them used as I think they might be currently out of print. Still, it's always nice to find an older book that someone has treasured and these titles are perfect for curling up by a twinkling tree for some fireside festive reading. Happy Holidays!