This year I’m joining in the fun with the Merry Bilssemas blog hop.
Make sure you follow the link to check out all the other fabulous posts…
So, it’s that time of year again. Just a few days to go until The Big day. Everywhere I look I see hectic, harried people rushing round, buying, wrapping, writing, posting – a frenzy of activity which all seems so important, so vital. I was wrestling with carrier bags at the supermarket check out earlier today in a desperate effort to get my sprouts and such like under some semblance of control, and by way of friendly seasonal conversation the till operator asked me if I was ready for Christmas.
“Almost,” My automatic response. “Just a few last minute bits and pieces…. “
Last minute! There’s days to go yet. And even if I were to give in to temptation and take to my bed until New Year I can confidently predict that there will be no falling in of the sky. Turkey’s don’t cook themselves, but that aside, we’d be fine.
So, what’s it all about then? I’m as caught up as anyone else. How come? I espoused atheism years ago so it’s definitely not religious fervour which is driving me. And I can’t get excited over tinsel and holly, I really can’t, though mistletoe has its moments.
For me Christmas, and the New Year marks a watershed, a sort of fixed point in time for looking back, reflecting, assessing, appraising, and for looking forward. It’s the time for resolutions, for planning, for affirmation of what’s important. I’ve just checked my Christmas card list, and naturally there are always one or two people no longer with us. This is a time to remember them, and to miss their presence. 2013 saw the loss of my god mother, and my mother in law, both strong, respected women who left a massive space in the lives of those around them. And of course this applies on the international stage too and is particularly current as the world remembers Nelson Mandela.
I’ll remember 2013 as my first year as an author. I wrote The Dark Side, between September and December last year, edited it over the Christmas holiday and sent it to Totally Bound first job in January. I was over the Moon when the manuscript was accepted, and of course that marked the start of a new episode in my life, completely different from anything I’d done before. A year on I’m still clambering up a steep learning curve, but loving it. My head’s full of stories waiting to be told, so I’ll be around for a while yet I hope.
Christmas 2012 features prominently in Unsure, the first book in my Sure Mastery trilogy. It marks Ashley’s lowest moment, a time when she looks back, remembering where she was at Christmas the previous year and also what she’d been hoping for then. It’s a time when she’s acutely aware of all that she’s lost, and of the people missing from her life. But it’s also the start of something new for her, something good. A future to look forward to.
And I think that’s the core of it for me – Christmas is when I clear my decks, and anticipate what’s to come. New Year, new opportunities. It’s a time for remembering the part other people play too, for helping, giving, sharing. For being glad of what I have and optimistic about what’s to come. And above all, and perhaps like Nelson Mandela did, for believing that I can make the world a better place by my efforts. Maybe just a little. That’s what makes it worth trying, and why I keep on trying.
This post is part of the Blissemas Christamas extravaganza. To join in simply leave a comment on this post and the others at http://blissemas.co.uk and you could be in to win your choice of eReader or $100 gift voucher to spend on eBooks! The prize will be drawn on 21 December. Merry Blissemas!
And finally, here’s a seasonal excerpt from Unsure. If you’d like to read more, the book is on general release now and can be downloaded from
The volcano has erupted, the molten lava of loss and pain burning and destroying all in its path. I bury my face in Mrs Richardson’s shoulder and let the great, racking gulps of grief flow freely for once, beyond embarrassment, beyond self-consciousness. My secret’s out, everyone here now knows about my lonely, pathetic struggle to survive and rebuild, my painful vulnerability. And the sense of relief is enormous, as though a dam inside me has burst and at last I can let it all go. Be myself. I can see where it takes me, and live with whatever happens.
Eventually my heaving sobs subside, giving way to gentle sniffling. I become conscious of my audience, who’ve been strangely quiet during my uncharacteristic display of raw emotion. I tentatively raise my head, conscious of my ravaged face. Looking up I see that the room is empty. It’s just me and Mrs Richardson, who’s still gently stroking my back and rocking me like a small child, offering comfort. It feels good, I need this—I’ve needed it for so long. I smile at her, watery but getting there.
“Where is everyone?” There’s a catch in my voice, but I manage to force out the words.
“Oh you know what men are like, love. First sign of trouble and they’re off. All found something important to do suddenly. They’ll be back soon enough, I dare say. Now, how about you? Are you feeling a bit better after that? I always say you should let grief out, does no good to bottle things up.”
Her compassion and concern are nearly my undoing again, but I manage to hold myself together, chewing frantically on my bottom lip to hang onto control. I nod, wiping at my eyes with my hands. What a sight I must be. A handful of tissues are suddenly thrust at me. I take them gratefully and bury my face in the soft mass, playing for time. Eventually I begin to feel I might be vaguely presentable. I look up again, turning to see Daniel and Rosie hovering beside me. They both look distinctly nervous and I start to apologise again for ruining their Christmas.
“Not at all, love, not at all. You need to be around people at a time like this. We’re glad you’re here.” Mrs Richardson is adamant, her smile just as genuine and welcoming as before my unexpected breakdown. Rosie nods enthusiastically, while Daniel just winks. I can only stare at them, overwhelmed once more by the kindness of the strangers in this house.
Rosie’s chatter interrupts the moment. “You can look at my presents if you like. I’ve got four new Barbies. And a scooter with lights on.”
I smile in grateful appreciation. Barbies? Marvellous.
And that sets the tone for the rest of this extraordinary day. Tom and Nathan return after about half an hour. I suspect they’ve been to bury my poor little cat, but I don’t ask. The meal is wonderful, a traditional turkey Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Stuffing, Yorkshire puddings, pigs in blankets, soft and fluffy roast potatoes. Even the sprouts are crunchy and delicious although Rosie seems not to be impressed with them. I’ve always loved sprouts, another of my funny little ways. The laughter around the table is light, relaxed as we pull crackers and read out stupid jokes, wear silly paper hats. Even the formidable Nathan Darke looks completely ridiculous wearing a red paper crown. There’s wine, beer, home-made lemonade. And over it all is draped the comfort blanket of easy, ready friendship, of people caring for each other, enjoying each other’s company. And including me. I know I’m quiet during the meal, a little overawed, but that’s okay. No one presses me, they just include me and let me be there.
Afterwards we move into the large sitting room at Black Combe. The log fire is burning, its cheerful flickering presence an extra friend. I offer to help with the washing up but Tom won’t hear of it. I find myself ensconced in front of the television clutching yet another mug of tea, watching Christmas soaps—the highlight of Mrs Richardson’s day. I’ve no idea who’s who and what the storylines are about, but it’s still pleasant. Homely. Rosie snuggles up close to me on one of the three huge sofas, her new Barbies spread around us, and we experiment with the new outfits. The three men disappear back into the kitchen, and I can hear the clinking of glass as they help themselves to more beers to oil the wheels of the clearing-up process. Eventually they join us in the sitting room, lounging around on the various sofas. Rosie deserts me and the Barbies and clambers onto her father’s lap again—clearly a favourite place of hers. Tom takes her vacant place next to me and his arm is once again around my shoulder. I turn into him—and promptly fall asleep.