Friday, 21 December 2012

In Defence of the ‘Christmas Letter’

Oh dear, the festive ‘round robin’ has taken a real beating from Lynne Truss’s wit and irony this week on BBC Radio 4. You may have heard. In response, I’d better watch my ‘p’s and ‘q’s. Was that correctly punctuated, Lynne?

She made me smile and a small part of me feels some sympathy with her.  Yes, they can be full of accounts of family achievements and no, they do not really take account of the individual recipient’s feelings as much as they should.  If the lucky person receiving a Christmas letter has had a bad year, then of course the last thing they want to hear is how wonderful life is – I mean, truly perfect, children, family, house, health, finances, everything in top-notch order – for someone else.
However, I did send my ‘Christmas letter’ to many people – not all, I must stress – on my Christmas card list. There, I’ve said it. I’ve confessed.  I am that self-satisfied, supercilious, self-important person that apparently all round robin senders are – according to the wonderful (isn’t she just perfect?) Lynne Truss.

So, in defence of my despicable and persistently annual missive I would just like to say:
I was on the brink of going one better, sending out a note to inform all and sundry that this would be our last year for sending Christmas cards, as they do seem very not on-trend amongst trendy people, who would never use the word ‘trendy’ it’s so last century. I did not actually do this; so my point scarcely lends any weight to this debate but, you see, it made me think – always dangerous at this time of year. Some people (mentioning no names) would forget such a note by Christmas 2013 and would assume we had died. Then our children would doubtless get endless phone calls, texts, emails and letters enquiring about our deaths. How could we be such a burden to our children before our actual demise?

There are certainly people whom we have not seen in, possibly, 50 or 60 years, to whom I annually send best wishes and festive goodwill. Perhaps my husband knows who his 3rd cousins twice removed are (What is this?  ).  I am exaggerating but I am not entirely sure what faces belong to which names, even though it behoves me, and always has done, to send them a card. Doubtless they would be quite upset if they did not get a card from us after all these decades. I do not send these distant people a letter.
At the other end of the spectrum there are friends whom we quite possibly saw last week, or a few times during the year. They do not need a letter to update them on the progress of our family.

There is a mass of folk in between though, who do not use Facebook, Twitter or even email that much.  They would scoff at the word ‘blog’. Yes, such people (perfectly nice and normal) exist and I do send them a letter because it is a good way to keep in touch. It is within the bounds of possibility that we may one day meet, call them or visit them when up north or they may drop in to see us if they are down south. Thanks to our yearly exchange of news we would not have to start from scratch with birth of children or grandchildren.
I confess I would not do well if quizzed on the content of Christmas letters past, received from others. You see, we all adopt the manner of skimming – we are quick to spot words like ‘heart attack’, ‘wedding’ , ‘divorce’ or ‘grandchild’. Other things like, ‘holidays … blah … blah … blah …’ we may read but would probably not commit to memory unless we could relate to it or it provided useful information for our next planned trip.
Do our adult children exchange Christmas cards? Probably not. They keep in touch with friends much more efficiently than we ever did at their age, with the wonder of electronics. But we old die-hards like to cling on to the old ways, I suppose. There is a childish delight in hearing the slap of envelopes is they plop onto the hall floor. My husband and I still try to be first to pick them up and have the pleasure of opening them. If there is a letter inside, we are usually pleased – unless it really is one of those that go on and on and on … then I am with Lynne Truss all the way. Too much information gives round robins a bad name.

I tend not to mention too many negatives in my Christmas letter – because, quite frankly, who wants to hear about problems and failures at Christmas? If that means it comes across as smug or just too unbearably cheerful, then I make no apologies.
Merry Christmas – I shall now shut up until next year – but please, do let me have your thoughts. Do you, or don’t you?

Monday, 17 December 2012

I Wrote It My Way- Suzy Turner

This week something very different indeed! 'I Wrote it My Way' always comes up with some surprises but today we look inside the box and what do we find? Vampires!!
Author Suzy Turner is a 'Yorkshire lass at heart' but moved to live in Portugal when she was ten. She tells us how she came to write fantasy fiction for young adults - and probably a few older ones as well. Just look on Amazon or Suzy's blog to see all her stunning book covers:
'In my teens and early twenties, there was nothing I loved to do more than curl up with a chick lit novel. It was my absolute favourite genre. The pathos and humour often blew me away but a few years later I was introduced to an altogether different kind of book: YA urban fantasy.
I loved the way the authors combined fantasy elements into a world which we know and love today. Harry Potter, for example, a boy who lived in an ordinary house with ordinary relatives (okay, perhaps the Dursleys aren't quite your every day aunt and uncle, but you know what I mean!) was also an imperative part of a very different world, one with magic, witches, wizards and talking giant spiders and the like. I completely fell in love with JK Rowling's books, which led me to start reading books by other authors in the same genre. In fact, I could say I devoured them!

Later came Twilight, bringing vampires and werewolves to life. I was immediately hooked. This came around the time of my very first holiday to Canada in 2009 (with husband and friends). We spent three weeks travelling from Banff (Alberta) to Vancouver (British Columbia). It was the most beautiful, awe inspiring place I'd ever had the pleasure of visiting. But it wasn't until we found ourselves in a small place called Powell River that my overactive imagination began to run wild with ideas of vampires and creatures roaming among the trees and mountains there. Thus, The Raven Saga was born.
I continue to love YA books and have now written a total of five in the genre: Raven, December Moon, The Lost Soul, The Ghost of Josiah Grimshaw and Daisy Madigan's Paradise (a novella). I have plans for countless more!
The only thing that's better than reading these kinds of books is writing them!'

Thanks so much, Suzy, for telling us about how you came to write your books in the first place and what inspired you. What an imagination you have!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Pre-Christmas Goings-on

Amidst pre-Christmas flurry and excitement (and laziness) I failed miserably to produce a blog item last week. For sure nobody noticed but, anyway, here's a seasonal mini-post before my next guest author arrives here tomorrow.
It is hard to find words to describe the sadness and revulsion that fills our hearts and minds after the massacre in Connecticut. That this human being, described as a ‘loner’, could perpetrate such an act upon innocent children is beyond understanding.
My last post was about how much we need people – or not. Christmas is a time when we get together with friends and family, but perhaps the ‘bah humbug’ brigade choose not to! Some people are sadly more alone than they would like to be – but there are ways and means to make contact with your community. I expect you have some festive fun planned.
In retirement, gone are the days of office conviviality, lunches with colleagues and oh-so jolly parties. It's time to make a bit of an effort.
This past week I have enjoyed a Mexican evening with the National Women’s Register (NWR), savouring Mexican food and learning about their lifestyle. Broadening our horizons, it made a change from the Christmas evening meeting when members take along traditional fare.
On another evening, my husband and I slipped into a carol concert in Camberley. I have just joined the U3A and would love to join a choir, although my voice is not what it once was! In fact, a squeaky gate could do better! My husband has never sung in a choir in his life but can hold a tune pretty well and, perhaps inspired by Gareth Malone, is quite keen. Choirs tend to be desperate for men, so I am hoping I can use him to help me secure a place on one of the already fully subscribed choirs run by the U3A! They were performing; so we went along to hear and see them. We are not religious, not church-goers, but it was a lovely evening when the Rotary Club speaker reminded us that the evening’s theme was ‘Hope’ – not hope for ourselves as much as for others.

We also had a niece’s birthday party, which involved a two-hour drive there and back in the dark on the M25; the travelling was not that much fun but worth it for a family gathering.
So, already I’ve been to Mexico, a carol concert, a party and - oh yes, a pantomime! Christmas is here all right! Having taken on a (vital, crucially important) role with Camberley Theatre, spreading posters, leaflets and encouraging noises to my local neighbourhood for 4 hours a week, I was the lucky recipient of two tickets for the Gala Night, no less, which meant meeting the stars of the show afterwards for drinks and food.

At the end of Peter Pan, small children were invited to take to the stage.  The first little boy was asked what he liked most about Christmas.  There was a long, dramatic pause as he reflected on the question; I guess most of us were expecting a response along the lines of ‘Presents!’ ‘Lots of sweets’, but no. The clear, unprompted reply was, ‘Being able to come out with all of my family’. The entire auditorium went ‘Aaaah’.  Scarcely a dry eye in the house.

Monday, 3 December 2012

I Wrote it My Way - Anneli Purchase

Today we welcome another tempting writer from way across the pond, in Western Canada! If ever anyone enjoys writing about 'what they know', Anneli Purchase certainly does!

I must say my preferred kind of book is one where I feel somehow different from when I started reading it; so Anneli and I are in perfect sync. Isn't it wonderful how we can all find each other, no matter where we all live?! I like, for example, the novels of American author, Anita Shreve; their background or setting adds a whole new dimension to the story and characters. So many good new novels are sweeping us away to other cultures and countries, or else present a new angle on a familiar world.

Anneli explains how her books came about:

'Living on the coast of British Columbia I’ve been very lucky to have forests and the ocean handy for pursuing my interests– fishing, camping, mushroom picking, and boating. Over the years, my husband and I had many funny adventures and a few near disasters. Often I emailed to friends and told of some of these experiences. One day a friend wrote to tell me that his computer crashed and he lost all his files. Did I still have those emails that I’d sent him.

“Well, no,” I said. “Why would I want to keep those?”

He groaned and said, “They were little treasures. You should write a book.” So after a while, I gave this idea serious consideration and my real life adventures became intertwined with imaginary ones.

When I read, I like to feel that I’ve learned something new by the time I finish the book. When I write, I like to think that the reader will glean some tidbit of new information from my stories as well.

In The Wind Weeps, the reader will want to know if Andrea can escape the intolerable situation she finds herself in, but at the same time he will incidentally learn something about boating, or fishing, or life on the coast, without it being a lecture or a chore.

In Orion’s Gift, the drama plays out as two lovers, Kevin and Sylvia, are beach camping at various places in Baja California. While reading about their vindictive ex-spouses hunting them down, the reader inadvertently finds out all about surviving in a harsh desert situation.

My third book, coming out in the spring, is different again. It will take us from post WWII times in Europe to modern times in Canada.

In all three of my books, the time and place settings may vary, but the common threads are the relationships of people like you and like me, and the circumstances in which the characters might find themselves. Very often the dilemmas are about love. Naturally, because what would we do without love in our world?'
A fascinating insight into how you found your genre, Anneli! What a particularly good friend you have there, too. Thank you.
Well, folks, are you thinking of all those old emails you archived or carefully deleted (dammit)?

Links for Orion's Gift: 

Links for The Wind Weeps