T A Williams reflects on what it means to write a Christmas book.
When my editor told me she wanted a Christmas book, I wasn’t sure what to write. You see, I’m a grumpy (well, some of the time) old man and I grew out of the whole tinsel and fairy lights thing a long time ago. I worked out at a very early age that the presents my brother and I found under the tree on Christmas morning had more to do with mum and dad than a big fat man squeezing down the chimney. Now, I’m not exactly saying I’m a bah humbug sort of guy, but let’s just say that Christmas for me isn’t maybe as magical and fabulous as it is to so many billions around the globe.
So, when faced with clear instructions that they wanted a Christmas book from me, I had to sit down and take stock. Just what does Christmas mean to a 67 year old cynic? The answer, at least as far as I am concerned, is definitely not tinsel, fairy lights and presents; the answer is people. Christmas is a time when families and friends get together. Our daughter lives in London and we only meet up a few times a year. It isn’t that far from Devon to London, but you know how it is. Stuff happens. She works very hard. We all get busy and one thing leads to another and the months fly by. But Christmas is different. Christmas brings us all that bit closer together so, whatever your religious views, whatever you may think about little children paying to sit on the laps of big fat bearded men, or fairies hanging on Christmas trees, nobody can deny that Christmas justifies its existence by bringing people closer together.
So, when planning What Happens at Christmas, I started out with that in mind. I wanted to write a book that brought people closer together. And I’m not just talking about the characters in the book. I really wanted to write something that would make the reader turn the last page and immediately go off and hug as many members of their family as they could find, while they’ve still got them. You see, nothing lasts forever and you’ve got to remember that. We are on this planet for a frighteningly short time and we need to ensure we enjoy our loved ones before it’s too late.
The story of What Happens at Christmas is Holly’s voyage of discovery when she visits the little stone cottage on Dartmoor where her father lived and died. She hasn’t seen him or heard from him for twenty years, ever since he dumped her and her mother and moved out. Now he’s dead. She knows very little about him except that she hates him. As she gets to know more about him, she begins to realise that she has maybe misjudged him. I think there’s a lesson there for all of us. Don’t jump to conclusions and don’t always assume that people are bad, rather than good.
Assisting Holly in her enquiries is Stirling. Stirling comes as a big surprise to Holly. It’s not every day that you inherit sixty pounds of bone and muscle with an insatiable appetite and a habit of climbing onto her bed, onto the sofa and onto her lap. He and she soon become close friends, partly because he, like so many Labradors, is adorable, but most of all because he’s the last living link she has to her father. So, if you decide to follow my advice and embrace all the members of your family, don’t forget the big hairy one in the basket. Families come in all shapes and sizes.
So, What Happens at Christmas isn’t some sort of kiddies’ cartoon Christmas story. It’s a book about people brought together by their friendship for, and their love of, a man who is no longer there. He was no saint, but his influence that Christmas is responsible for bringing people closer together and changing lives. Specially Holly’s.