Archive for the ‘Xmas’ Tag

Monday’s Friend: Penny Estelle

Today my special guest is Penny Estelle, who has a new Christmas story out for the festive season and wants to tell everyone about it. So without further ado, let’s hear more about it.

The Ornament (2)BLURB FOR ‘THE ORNAMENT’

Twelve years ago Jim Rustle packed up and left his home in Idaho and hasn’t looked back. He gets quite an awakening when Lisa Parker, whom he hadn’t seen in all those years, breaks into a business meeting and uses some colorful adjectives to tell him just what she thinks of him.

Sparks fly between the two when he decides to follow Lisa home and sees what has happened in his absence. Is the anger stemming from the present, or from the past?

It’s Christmas time. Can an ornament from years past help heal betrayals that have festered for years?

Buy THE ORNAMENT, a special Christmas short, from Amazon now.

EXCERPT

A black cowboy hat sat low on her head, shadowing her face. Light brown straight hair with white blonde streaks throughout swayed almost to her waist.

The sign, Wagner, INC, was in large block letters above a double door that was opened. The receptionist at the desk, Dani according to the name plate, was on the phone, taking a message. Her hair was black and cut in a perfect short bob. Dani looked up to see the woman standing in front of her. She sat back in her chair, staring at the visitor, and finished the call with “I’ll have Jim call you as soon as he is done with his meeting, John.” The receptionist’s eyes never left the face of the woman standing in front of her.

Dani took her time hanging up the phone and finishing writing the message. “May I help you?”

“Jim Rustle,” was all the woman said.

The corner of Dani’s mouth rose. “I’m afraid he is in a meeting and will be busy most of the afternoon. I can take your name and ask him to call.”

The woman was looking behind Dani at the closed door that said James Rustle on it. “No need.” She walked past Dani and headed to the door.

“Wait! You can’t go in there!” The composed Dani was anything but.

The woman threw the door open. The office had a large desk made of rich cherry wood. Opposite it stood two small padded chairs of deep brown leather. On the other side of the room stood a small conference table with blue prints spread out all over it.

The woman, once again, saw none of it. Her eyes were trained on the man sitting behind the desk. For a split second, the words caught in her throat. She hadn’t seen Jim Rustle for twelve years. His dark brown hair was clipped short. His smoky gray eyes were as hypnotic as she remembered. He wore a pair of navy suit trousers, a navy vest, and a white long sleeved shirt, with the top two buttons undone. The suit jacket was draped over his chair. The man was more handsome than when he walked out of her life, if that was possible.

“Jim, I’m sorry but this…this woman just went right by me when I told her you were busy and couldn’t be disturbed.” Dani was clearly distraught.

Before he had a chance to answer, the woman walked to the desk and leaned her hands on it. “You selfish, arrogant, self-absorbed, SOB. Are you so important you can’t find time, yet again, to spend Christmas with the one person in this world that thinks the sun rises and sets in you, no matter how many times you have chosen to put everything and everybody else above her? Not to mention the woman who raised you and made it possible for you to go to college so you could sit in this office and be the overblown ass that you have become?”

Fire was shooting out of her hazel eyes and her chest was heaving with anger. The two men that were sitting in the meeting and Dani, standing at the door, were watching with their mouths hanging open. They had never seen someone talk to their boss like that and walk away without limping.

Something flickered in his eyes – anger, guilt, or maybe appreciation in what he was seeing. “Men,” he said, never taking his eyes off the woman, “we’ll finish this meeting later. Dani –“

“Don’t bother. I know how important your time is.” Sarcasm dripped with every word. She turned to leave.

“Lisa,” he said stopping her. “I see you still aren’t married.”

Lisa closed her eyes as if praying for restraint. Her words didn’t have the disdain in them when she said, tiredly, “Annie doesn’t have much time, Jim. Give her a break.”

AUTHOR BIO

Thanks so much for taking a look at my new Christmas story, THE ORNAMENT.

I write for all ages, from the early reader to adults. My books range from pictures books for the little ones, to fantasy, time-travel adventures for ages 9 to 13. I also write adult stories, including a family drama and contemporary, paranormal and historical westerns romances, under P. A. Estelle.

I was a school secretary for 21 years. My husband and I moved to our retirement home in Kingman, AZ, on very rural 54 acres, living on solar and wind only.

More about my books can be found in the following links:

www.pennystales.com

www.pennyestelle.blogspot.com

http://www.amazon.com/Penny-Estelle/e/B006S62XBY

https://museituppublishing.com/bookstore2/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=146&Itemid=82

www.facebook.com/pennystales

www.pinterest.com/pennyestelle

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5820078.Penny_Estelle – Goodreads

http://www.twitter.com/pennystales

 

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My Favourite Toy

The main reason I got so excited about Christmas was as a kid was because it was a time I used to get loads of fantastic new toys.  The presents I get nowadays are just not as exciting as they were back then.  And I suppose I’m a lot more cynical in my old age.

actiongirl

Action Girl as she looked when I first got her

However, of late I’ve had conversations with people my age about favourite Christmas presents of childhood, and that’s got me thinking back to my favourite toys.

I have to say that my favourite toy of all time was Action Girl.  I don’t remember what year I got her, or even if she was actually a Christmas present.  But she was manufactured between 1971 and 1977, and my guess was I got mine around 1976, when I was about six or so. This picture on the right is actually of my doll – same red hair, same outfit.  And she was presented in this box.  Check out that psychedelic 1970s outfit – all brown and orange!

There were many accessories available for Action Girl, including clothes and furniture.  One of my big beefs was that apart from the rubber boots that she came with (see picture) none of the shoes you could buy her ever actually fit.  Unlike other fashion dolls, Action Girl’s feet were realistic looking, with soles and heels and five toes.  The plastic high-heeled shoes that generically came with every Action Girl outfit never actually fit on her feet properly.

In the UK, we didn’t really have Barbie in the 1970s.  We had Sindy instead, who was a fashion doll known for her distinctive round head and big eyes.  I had a Sindy too, but I preferred Action Girl.  Action Girl was fully flexible and every joint could bend.  Each section of the doll was connected to the next joint by a length of wire.  It wasn’t pretty, but it made her far more interesting than Sindy, who wasn’t nearly as flexible.

Sindy as she looked in the 1970s

Sindy as she looked in the 1970s

Unlike Action Girl Sindy is still available, but she’s been through a few face lifts since she looked like she does in this picture.  In the 1980s she looked rather a lot like Barbie.  So much so, in fact, the manufacturers of Sindy got sued at one point by the manufacturers of Barbie, so Sindy’s face had to change once more.  Nowadays, it seems she looks a lot more like she did originally, and she’s once more got the round head and large eyes.

Although I preferred Action Girl to Sindy, Sindy had  far more accessories than Action Girl did, and with Sindy being a more enduring design they were more easily available.  So over several Christmases I got Sindy’s bed, and dressing table, and wardrobe, and even Sindy’s horse, but I used them with Action Girl, not Sindy.  I never got the saddle for the horse, so Action Girl used to ride bareback.  She was cool that way.

I named my Action Girl Jennifer, and she went everywhere with me.  I even took her into the bath with me, which in retrospect was a bad idea.  First of all, those metal pins holding her joints together rusted.  And her hair, which was made of nylon, frizzed up and got completely ruined after the first dip. But none of this bothered me.  I loved her, and the two of us had many wonderful adventures.

When we moved from England to Canada in 1980, we had to get rid of a lot of our toys because we couldn’t take them all.  Action Girl was one I made a point of taking with me.  When I moved back to England, aged 18, limited on space again and having to get rid of stuff once more, I still brought Action Girl with me.  For much of the last decade, I had her sitting on my PC, inspiring me to write.  She got put in a box when we moved house two years ago, and sadly didn’t fare too well in the move.  In fact she broke in half.  Her waist was fastened with that rusted pin and two elastic bands, connecting her top torso to the bottom and allowing her to swivel, but after 35 years those elastic bands were perished.  Somewhere over the last few decades one of her plastic hands, which also swivelled (I thought it was neat that her wrists could move in a complete circle), broke and fell off and got lost. But I can’t bear to throw her out, so she’s still up in the attic in a box.  I’m still trying to decide if I want to get her restored to her former glory, or whether it’s best to keep her in her original state, battered and broken though she may be.  At least this proves how much she was loved.

So, with a week to go until Christmas, it seems appropriate to open this topic up to conversation.  Can you remember those Christmases past, and what your favourite childhood toy was?

That Time Again

At this time of year, I have been known to ruminate upon the festive season (see posts for December 2011 and December 2009). And if you’ve been following this blog you’ll know I am not the world’s biggest fan of Christmas. Yes, there are good things about it. It’s mostly the blatant commercialism I object to – the pressure on people to buy things they can’t afford for people they don’t like.

And there’s the hypocrisy. It’s supposed to be the season of peace and goodwill. It’s not. The number of angry stressed people I have encountered over the last three weeks has been startling, even for London. We might be aiming for peace and goodwill, but since the human race seem biologically inclined to kill each other, we’re not going to achieve it. If we were, we would have gone some way to eliminate war, but from what I can see there are as many conflicts around the globe as there ever were.

However, I do get a tad more philosophical as I get older. I don’t mind spending time with the older generation at this time of year, even if I don’t agree with their politics. They’re not going to be around forever, and if gathering the family around for Christmas dinner makes them happy, it’s not that much to ask.

Generally I refuse to even think about Christmas until we are well into December, but we’ve had to be unusually organised this year. Hubby was despatched to the US to work for most of December. We had to have conversations before he left about what presents we were buying for who, and many emails were exchanged about this, including links to suitable gifts that could be bought online. Hence, most of it was ordered online and the only hardship I had was carrying various packages home from work via public transport.  Which was infinitely better than having to fight my way through the shops in the West End.

Of course the blatant sexism of Christmas adverts (particularly Asda’s Christmas advert – see my earlier post on sexism for more about this) is still intensely irritating. Every time yet another perfume advert comes on, I want to throw something at the TV. But I like the concept of ‘eating, drinking and making merry’. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to go out for drinks with your friends. And I can accept the fact that this time of year should be a time of feasting and merriment. Christians may disagree, but you can celebrate the festive season without believing in Christ. Most major religions have a time of feasting and celebration round about the winter solstice, and many of our Christmas traditions are pagan in origin, and have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.

Then there are Christmas songs. I admit to liking Slade and Wizzard’s festive offerings, and of course the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” is wonderful. But my favourite Christmas song ever is Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas”. I think I like it because it’s slightly cynical – a comment on the over-commercialisation of Christmas.  I include the original video.  The quality is bad, but I like the fact that it was filmed in the Middle East in the midst of conflict – a further comment, I think, on the irony of Christmas being about peace and love.

So go out, celebrate, eat and drink and make merry. However you choose to spend the festive season, I wish you happiness.

Monday’s Friend: Sidney Bristol

Today I am pleased to welcome erotic romance writer Sidney Bristol to the blog. Sidney is giving away a copy of her latest release, so leave a comment on the blog about what your favourite gemstone is, for a chance to win. Take it away Sidney!

Thanks so much to Sara-Jayne for hosting me!

SidneyBristolIs anyone finished with their Christmas shopping yet?

No?

Me neither! Usually I’m one of those Black Friday Super Shoppers, minus the violent tendencies. I mean, it’s just stuff we’re out there buying. There’s no need for violence. This year I was sidelined from the crazy shopping. Kinda bummed about that, but I’m bouncing back!

People often ask why I get into Black Friday. There’s crowds and hour long lines and so much crazy it makes many people’s heads hurt. For me, it’s an exciting, once a year experience that kicks off the holiday season with a bang. It gets me really excited about gift giving. I’ve always loved planning out the perfect present. Something I know the recipient will love. I think it’s honestly better than getting presents. Except maybe presents of shoes or electronics. It’s hard to beat those.

Last year the “big” present I gave my parents was an entire set of things to redo their bathroom. Much of the house hasn’t changed décor since I was in diapers and they don’t mind all that much. But, a few months before Christmas I heard my mom talking about needing new towels, the shower curtain was gross and she just didn’t want to spend time on it. I’m pretty aware of my parent’s style, it’s very modern-country-folk, so I went out and bought everything they needed. Bath mats, shower curtains, little hooks to hang the curtains, counter accessories, towels, the full deal. It completely surprised them and they’ve both mentioned through the year how thoughtful the gift was. And that’s what I love about gift giving.

I love getting to see the gift enjoyed and cherished. I really like seeing them excited about it as I am!

This year I’m still working on my Big Present to my parents, but I have pretty much everyone else covered. I can’t let the cat out of the bag because I never quite know where my family will pop up! I’m sad I didn’t get to do Black Friday, but it hasn’t put a damper on my Holiday cheer.

I think part of my enduring good mood has to do with my fifth book releasing on Wednesday. I’m still in a lot of disbelief that I actually have a book releasing and people stand the chance of reading it. Last week my twin messaged me to say that while walking around the base, he saw a girl reading one of my earlier novels, Under His Skin. It was a crazy, surreal moment. At least until he told me about trying to read over the girl’s shoulder. I really hope he never tries to read the new book. It’s a bit more sizzling!

Bound with Pearls is a slice of life kind of book about two people falling in love, who also happen to be a bit on the kinky side. Okay, they’re way over that line, who am I kidding? But this hero and heroine also know how to give gifts from the heart. It’s not always about how much a gift costs, but how much it means. The heroine in particular wants a gift she was given back from her sister, but it comes at a price. This book is about paying that cost and how sometimes the best gifts are things we never saw coming.

Sidney stock.xchng 21You can purchase Bound with Pearls on December 12th, but I’m going to give one commenter a copy of the book! Just tell me what your favorite gemstone is and why! Post your comment here on Sara’s blog by Friday December 14th for a chance to win.

Bio

It can never be said that Sidney Bristol has had a ‘normal’ life.  She is a recovering roller derby queen, former missionary, and tattoo addict. She grew up in a motor-home on the US highways (with an occasional jaunt into Canada and Mexico), traveling the rodeo circuit with her parents. Sidney has lived abroad in both Russia and Thailand, working with children and teenagers. She now lives in Texas where she splits her time between a job she loves, writing, reading and belly dancing.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

boundwithpearls_50Bound with Pearls, purchase December 12th from Ellora’s Cave!

The last thing Christine wants to do is another favor for her sister, but Lucy always gets what she wants. This time it’s Chris playing sub to a demanding Dom. Their relationship begins with a power exchange and progresses to time spent between the sheets. Now emotions are getting complicated and the Dom isn’t just a hunky guy in black.

Daniel’s expectations are turned upside down when he meets Chris. She’s more than a well-trained submissive. She’s a woman with a body he wants to memorize. He’s willing to spend as much time as it takes to learn her, because she might be his match and his muse. He’ll make her come so hard he’s imprinted on every inch, and then he’ll offer her the most precious thing he can, himself.

Excerpt

Christine’s mouth closed with a snap. Her jaw hurt from clenching. Her hands ached from gripping her wrists. Blinking rapidly, she looked at the Dom’s broad back. He was getting ready to leave.

She’d failed, completely blown it, and he was right. Her attitude sucked. This wasn’t like her. She’d hit a low point and didn’t know how to dig herself out of this one.

Pinpricks of pain stabbing the backs of her eyes heralded tears. Screwing things up seemed to be her specialty today, from the reports at work to forgetting her entry fee for the charity race, and now it was going to cost her. Lucy wouldn’t give her the pearls when she found out the Dom had left, rightfully disgusted with her.

The muscles in her chest constricted until she was panting for breath. Her vision blurred with tears she had to dash away.

“Wait,” she said, her voice sounding strained and too high to her own ears.

The Dom glanced over his shoulder, unmoved. It shouldn’t get her off, but the idea of a man with such control was a turn-on. She’d been ready for someone big and scary or maybe on the scrawny side with a penchant for pain. Finding him a fairly normal guy unsettled her.

Fairly normal was an understatement. Sure, most women might not notice him. He had nondescript brown hair and his features were handsome enough. It was something else about him that drew her.

“Why should I?”

She took a deep breath to calm herself. “You’re right. My attitude sucks.” Another deep breath. She couldn’t think of a good reason to give him, except the truth. Her shoulders slumped. She hated airing the dirty laundry between Lucy and her. Sisters should be close, they should have a bond. All she and Lucy shared was a last name and some DNA.

“I’m not involved with Nate. Lucy’s my sister and she—she’s afraid of you, so she probably whined to Nathan until he suggested trading me for her.” She could feel her cheeks burning. “I wasn’t going to do it. I-I don’t know you, I’m not entirely comfortable with this, and Lucy knew that. When I said no, and I meant it, she—”

Her throat constricted around her words, cutting them off. Squeezing her eyes shut, she balled her hands into fists and let the wave of emotion wash over her. She was angry and upset, hurt that her sister cared so little, but it was no different than any other time Lucy had conned her. The only person she could blame for this situation was herself. She drew in another slow, deep breath. “She told me if I’d come here, she’d give me our mother’s pearls. She’s dead, and they’re one of the only things we have left of hers.”

Her gaze locked on the floor. She knew she should stop talking. This man was as disgusted with her as she was, but her mouth kept working. “I loved them. I wore them to prom and graduation. I’d borrowed them for luck every now and then. Lucy never wanted them. They didn’t sparkle enough, they weren’t flashy. But when I wore them to her funeral, Lucy started yelling and crying about how I got everything. I gave them to her to shut her up and I’ve never seen them since.”

She hiccupped around her words. No doubt her face was red and splotchy. She didn’t cry delicately. No, when Christine cried her nose turned red, her eyes got big and puffy and she turned into a fountain. She hated crying and dumping ugly family business on a stranger. She couldn’t wait for him to leave. She could curl up on the bed, cry herself out and slink home where she could camp out on the couch with a pint of ice cream.

“Shhh.”

Hands gripped her shoulders from behind. Her stomach dropped right before the ground disappeared from under her. The Dom picked her up effortlessly.

Sidney“What are you doing?” She gripped his shoulders, expecting to land on her ass any second.

He crossed to the chaise and sat down with her cradled in his lap. She tried to slip onto the bench, but his hand clamped on her thigh. It was natural to obey the unspoken command. This close she could see the deep blue of his eyes, the strength of his jaw and feel the power of him. There was no doubt under the black t-shirt and jeans he was every bit as strong as he looked.

“What are—?”

“I’m the one who gets to ask the questions here.” His voice was stern, but unlike his reprimand from before there was a warm quality.

She relaxed against the curved arm of the chaise, comforted by his commanding nature. Let someone else call the shots for now, she was too tired of it all.

“Here.” He handed her tissues from an unknown source and she snatched them up.

Bowing her head to let her curls fall over her face was as much privacy as she could get to clean herself up. The Dom didn’t touch her except where their bodies nestled together, which was one small relief.

She hated crying, but she was better for getting it out. It felt good to be honest, even if the recipient of her words didn’t care what she said.

My Life in Books: Secrets of the Shopping Mall

Teresa and Bernie are eighth-graders in a grim inner city junior high school, forging a friendship based on the common bond of being persecuted by the same bullies. When the bullies lock Bernie in his own locker, Teresa rescues him and the two decided they’ve had enough. With nothing waiting at home that’s much better than what they endure at school, they decide to run away. They pool the money they have to get on a bus and buy a ticket as far away as they can – Paradise Park, the driver tells them.

Paradise Park turns out to be a shopping mall. Having no more money, the pair are stranded, but they discover that they can reside undetected in the shopping mall, surviving by stealing food at night and mingling with the shoppers during the day. They also soon discover that they are not the only residents of the shopping mall. At night a group of displaced orphans move around the shopping mall, having learned the art of posing as mannequins during the day, unmoving for hours.

Richard Peck wrote a lot of creepy books for teenagers, in the days when ‘Young Adult’ was only just emerging as a genre. I discovered this in my school library in my early teens. The reason I remember it so clearly is because I read it at Christmas. As an young teen I was still excited about Christmas (I’ve become rather more cynical about it in recent years), so I went to bed with a book on Christmas Eve, reading late into the night until I was tired enough to fall asleep. This was the ‘bedtime reading’ book for Christmas Eve 1982 or 83 – can’t remember which.

What I do remember, very clearly, is the unease and genuine creepiness of this book underscored by the festive cheer and excitement of Christmas – a strange combination – as I read it. But I don’t actually remember what happened at the end of this book, or what happened to Bernie and Teresa.

The book, it appears, is still in print, with this same cover that featured on the copy I read (check out those dodgy 80s fashions and hair styles). Maybe I should re-read it.

IT Fail

(Cross-posted from WriteClub)

My little NetBook has died. I mourn its passing. I have to come to rely on it completely in the last couple of years. Not only is it my lifeline during my early-morning Starbucks writing sessions, but I also take it on holiday with me. This year it’s been to Egypt, where it witnessed the birth of my new horror WIP. It’s also been to New York.

I used to do all my writing on my Dell laptop, which sits docked in my Writing Corner. When I decided to be more disciplined in my writing, my husband suggested we get a NetBook, which was much more portable than the laptop. It’s fair to say it revolutionised my writing habits.

The Dell laptop is seven years old, and has been getting decidedly slower and clunkier of late. In fact, when I turn it on I have to go away and do something else for twenty minutes, because it takes that long to think about things. So my main gift this past Christmas was a shiny new laptop running Windows 7. It’s lightning fast in comparison to the old one.

But, on New Years’ Day, the NetBook died. Literally. In the morning it was working fine; I went back to it a few hours later and tried to wake it from its sleep mode, and couldn’t. Continuous restarts failed to get me past a black screen with the words ‘failed to find operating system’ on it. Apparently this means the hard drive has failed. Getting it fixed is going to cost almost as much as a new machine, and even then there’s no guarantee we can retrieve any of the files.

I am, on the whole, pretty good at backing up. I transfer all my writing files between the laptop and the NetBook regularly, and every so often back them up onto the desktop PC as well. However, I’m not so diligent about doing this every day. I’d made a start on editing my short stories for the collection, and hadn’t copied them over anywhere. This wasn’t the end of the world, as I was able to retrive my Stumar Press editor’s copies from his email to me, and it just meant having to do them again. However, when I had my novel critique session for the second Shara book, I made notes as we went along on the NetBook. That I hadn’t copied anywhere, and so it’s lost forever. I do have the hard copies from my critiquers, but the idea of making a document with my own notes was so I would have an easy-to-access precis of what I need to fix in the next draft. Bummer.

What’s most inconvenient, however, is not having the NetBook to carry to my writing sessions. That I really miss. Not wanting to expose my shiny new laptop to the hazards of Central London, I have had to resort to hauling out the old Dell again and taking that into London with me for my writing mornings. It’s very heavy. And as I said before, it takes a long time to warm up.

However, I have learned my lesson with regard to backing up. This little guy in the picture was one of my stocking stuffers. I call him Robbie. He’s a USB flash stick with 8GB of memory. I have copied over all my WIPs onto him, and I carry him around everywhere. Every time I write more words, I copy them over straight away.

Having just forked out quite a lot of money on a new laptop, replacing the NetBook has to wait a while. In the meantime, I have to either get used to lugging the ancient laptop around, or I need to rearrange my writing schedule to give myself more time to write at home. Because I really don’t want to use the IT fail as an excuse to not write. Much as it’s made me realise how much I rely on technology, that would be a poor excuse indeed.

Christmas Past

This time of year, I like listening to the Salvation Army Band, which is possibly a surprising statement from a confirmed atheist. But I haven’t always been so. When I was a child, my parents belonged to the Salvation Army. I was sent to Sunday School, and taught to believe in God.

My earliest Christmas memories are from when my parents were still together. We lived in a little town in Lancashire, in a bungalow which had had the attic converted into another floor. My sister and I both had bedrooms in the attic rooms. My parents slept in the downstairs bedroom. On Christmas Eve, my sister and I put our pillow cases (no stockings for us – we had pillow cases) in our parents’ room. I once asked my mother why the pillow cases had to go in their room. She said she wanted to watch us open our presents. I never questioned this at the time – I still had an unshakeable belief in Santa Claus.  I suppose I was a gullible child – I believed whatever anyone told me, because it never occurred to me they could be lying.  So when all the grown-ups were telling me that Santa was real, I accepted this without question – after all, why would they be telling me this if it wasn’t true?

Anyway, Christmas morning my sister and I would gallop down the stairs and charge into our parents’ room to see what presents had been left for us. The excitement of seeing that pillow case stuffed with presents has been unmatched by any thrill in adult life.

My dad used to play trombone in the Salvation Army band, and in the run-up to Christmas we would go and watch him play in the shopping precinct, all bundled up in winter coats and mittens, which were attached by a piece of wool running down the arms of my coat and along the back, so I couldn’t lose one of them.

Whenever I watch the Salvation Army band play at Christmas time, I remember those early Christmases, when my parents were still together, and Christmas was all about new toys, singing carols, marzipan and Baby Jesus. And then I feel very sad, because life was simpler then and I can’t go back there.

It happens to us all, of course. We have to grow up, and when we do life gets more complicated. My parents divorced; both of them married new partners; we moved to Canada and I had to leave everything I was familiar with behind; I found out there was no Santa, and therefore no magic; I stopped believing in God; I started called Christmas ‘Xmas’ because I realised it had all become hugely commercialised and I no longer believed it had anything to do with the birth of Christ.

But music has the power to tap into our emotions on a very primal level, and I cry when I listen to the Salvation Army band because it takes me right back to the little girl I was, and can never be again.

Thinking about the subject of this post made me realise that the shine began to come off Christmas for me the year my parents divorced, and subsequent events tarnished it even further. I know, logically, it’s not possible for me – or for any of us – to go back to the innocence and simplicity of childhood.  So I listen to the Salvation Army band when I hear it playing Christmas songs, and even though doing so always makes me cry, it still takes me back to a happier time and place.

Appropriate Music

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Most writers seem to listen to music of some kind when they write. I prefer silence. I think this probably stems back to my teenage years. I spent a lot of time then holed up in my room, either doing homework or writing, and for both I needed quiet to concentrate.

However, when I have my early-morning writing sessions in Starbucks there is usually music playing. Generally, if it’s not very interesting music, I tune it out. If it’s music I know and like, I find myself listening to it, which makes it harder to concentrate on the writing.

At the moment when I sit in Starbucks I’m getting bombarded by Xmas songs. All well and good, but I’m writing a horror novel. Festive cheer is hardly encouraging the right mood.

Last week, sitting in Starbucks, I was working on a particularly difficult funeral scene, for one of the young victims of my supernatural monster. There are some key conversations that have to happen at the funeral to demonstrate the strain on the relationships between the main characters. I’m finding these scenes hard enough to write at the best of times. With cheesy Christmas pop songs going on in the background, it was even harder.

But then ‘Hallelujah’ came on. This has become a Xmas song simply because it was released by the X Factor winner a few years ago and hence was guaranteed to become the Xmas Number One. Whoever decided ‘Hallelujah’ was an appropriate choice for a Xmas song clearly hasn’t listened to the lyrics. It’s a beautiful song, but very depressing. And violent. However, it seemed aptly fitting for my downbeat funeral scene, and proved to be an inspiring song to write to.

If you’re not familiar with the song, I include the Bon Jovi version here. This is admittedly not the best version – there are many – but this one’s not bad, and I do enjoy looking at Jon Bon…

Bon Jovi – Hallelujah

Happy December

Well, it’s December. Which means I can no longer put off attempting to get into a festive frame of mind. It’s time to buy Xmas presents, do my Xmas card list, and venture into the attic to retrieve the tree and decorations.

Two years ago I did a blog post on why I don’t like the festive season. This Scrooge-like view is shared by many of my friends, but I have to say it seems to completely baffle my family. “You used to love Christmas”, my sister said to me recently. Yes, I did, when I was a kid and it was all about getting presents.

However, in an attempt to redress the balance – and to a certain degree bow to the inevitable and try to let in some festive cheer – I have decided this year to do a post on what I do like about the festive season.

Starbucks Gingerbread Latte:
I don’t drink coffee. The only coffee I like is Starbucks soya lattes – and most coffee drinkers say that Starbucks coffee doesn’t actually taste like coffee, which is probably why I like it. But I do love gingerbread, and Starbucks gingerbread lattes are one of the best things about this time of year.  Along with my customary stem ginger muffin, the gingerbread lattes have become part of the breakfast treat that accompanies my early-morning writing sessions.

Marzipan:
I love marzipan. When I was a kid I waited anxiously for my mother to decorate the Christmas cake. My sister and I would both get a lump of marzipan each to eat on its own. I would roll mine out like Play Dough and nibble it, in an attempt to make it last as long as possible.

When the Christmas cake has been cut and handed around, I’ll still go for one of the corner pieces that has more icing sugar and marzipan than cake. Because in fact I prefer the marzipan to the cake.

Ten Days Off Work:
Because I work for an organisation that closes down for the season, we knock off at noon on the last working day before 25 December, with a couple of glasses of champagne, and that’s it for us until the first working day of January. This generally amounts to ten (sometimes eleven) days of not having to crawl out of bed at 6am and trek through the cold and the dark to get to work. Ah, bliss.

The Wizard of Oz:
When I was a kid, cable TV had not been invented. Never mind DVDs, we didn’t even have video players in those days. Throughout most of the 1970s, “The Wizard of Oz” was on TV on Christmas Day. It was never on any other time of year, and there was no other way of watching it back then.

Hubby also fondly remembers looking forward to watching “The Wizard of Oz” at Christmas as a child.  So much so that we now have it on Blue Ray DVD, and we make a point of sitting down to watch it together, at some point over the holidays.

Presents:
Yes, I still like presents. I think everyone likes getting presents, even though we’re not supposed to admit it.

As a kid, I hated getting clothes – I thought they were boring presents. I preferred getting toys. Not much has changed, actually. I still like ‘toys’ – preferably those with a Star Wars or Buffy theme – and get more excited about these kinds of gifts than I do about scarves or make-up kits or any of the other things that girls are supposed like.

Having a valid excuse to eat and drink too much:
Whatever one’s religious beliefs, this time of year is a time for feasting. That means being able to forget the diet, and gorge on chocolate and all things fattening. Especially mince pies.  I love mince pies.

It’s also an excuse to drink lots of alcohol with all your friends, and nobody frowns on you if you start the year with a killer hangover, because that means you had a good time on New Years’ Eve.

It hasn’t escaped my notice that most of the above points involve food. It’s time to eat, drink and be merry. I shall do my best to be cheerful as 25 December rapidly approaches.  I think I’ll have another mince pie…

…Off To Work I Go

It’s back to the day job after ten glorious days of lie-ins. And though the alarm clock going off at 6am today was a shock to the system, it’s probably just as well I get back into the habit of getting up early.

During my Christmas break, I get used to staying in bed until 10am. This time of year, it’s dark by 3:30pm. You don’t need to be a maths genius to figure out that isn’t too many hours of daylight. And then I wonder why I start every year feeling depressed. I wonder how night shift workers cope with so many hours of prolonged darkness.

So it’s not all bad to be back in the usual routine. I have no more excuses to slob around the house in my old sweat pants, eating chocolate and watching crap TV. It’s time to start moving again. It’s time to start thinking again. It’s probably even time to cut back on the cakes and biscuits and go back to the exercise classes, but I haven’t dared get on the scales yet to find out just how many of those mince pies are still with me.

How long will this new sense of optimism last? Probably until the snow returns. But at the moment, we’re still several degrees above freezing here in London and – at least for this week – the trains are relatively quiet, because not everyone’s back at work yet.

Next week might be different, but I’m trying to focus on the moment. By then, I might even be back into the habit of getting up early!