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Friday 11 December 2015

Six Ways To Enjoy Christmas, Despite Everything...

Floods, disasters, relationship problems...not everyone feels like celebrating this year. If you haven't been able to face making plans but you don’t want to be lonely this Christmas, here are a few ideas.

Be Good To Yourself... get some fresh air. During the shortest, darkest days of the year, things always look better in daylight. Even if the weather’s foul, get outside the four walls of home for an hour or two. The sun’s still up there somewhere, and exposure to natural light will raise your seratonin levels to increase your feel-good factor.  If you feel the need for company, there are bound to be other people out and about, trying to work off all those mince pies. 

Make Something...if it’s only a mess!  Fat cake will be gobbled up by wild birds. Very gently warm some lard until it melts. Careful—don’t leave the pan unattended, and don’t burn yourself. Stir in some wild bird seed, crushed unsalted peanuts and maybe a little grated cheese. When it’s cooled almost to setting point, pour the mixture into ice cream containers or yoghurt pots and leave to set.   Put it out close to a window, near to a dish of water (but away from bushes or other cover, where cats might hide).

Visit a Neighbour...England’s not a big place and most people live cheek by jowl in towns, but a 2013 poll by Churchill Insurance discovered that about 70% of us don’t know our neighbours’ first names, and more than a third wouldn’t recognise them. If you don’t know the name of your neighbours, Christmas gives you the perfect excuse to find out. Playing postman is a great ice-breaker. Simply write “with best wishes” inside a non-denominational greeting card, knock on their door and say, “I would have made it more personal, but I’m afraid I didn’t know your name.” Who knows—they might have been screwing up the courage to make contact with you!

Join in...every year, our village’s silver band travels around the surrounding countryside during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, stopping every half mile or so to play a selection of carols and collecting for charity. The sound travels a long way up and down the various valleys, so even the most isolated houses can track their progress. Everyone comes out to listen, and the more adventurous follow them round as part of a spontaneous choir. Think of it as a slow-motion flash mob! Find out if there’s something similar where you live such as carols in the mall. Even if you aren’t religious, services over Christmas should give you a warm welcome. Music is very therapeutic (and there might be a mince pie or two involved, too.)

Give A Bit Back...foodbanks are grateful for donations of dry and long-life goods all year round. Christmas is no exception, but it’s a time of year when people in difficulty feel more isolated than ever. How about putting some chocolate or a fancy packet of biscuits in the collection for your local foodbank?  Eating the wrong things is never the answer to any problem, but everyone needs a bit of non-verbal comfort now and again. Offer a listening ear to a lonely person. Take a few small, non-controversial and prettily wrapped presents such as notebooks, cotton handkerchiefs, or calendars along to your local hospital, if they run a donation scheme for those who have to be in hospital over the holiday.

Whatever you do, have a a peaceful, happy Christmas.

Thursday 3 December 2015

This Writing Life: Capturing The Castle...

Castle ruins, by Ann Walsh
It's launch day at last for Heart Of A Hostage, the third book in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press. To celebrate, I'm joining with some other authors to blog on the theme of holidays.

I was brought up in my grandparents' house, which was paradise for a child, but a health and safety nightmare. A few weeks ago, BBC Radio 4 serialised Dodie Smith's "I Capture The Castle", and I laughed with recognition in lots of places. My own childhood home was damp, dingy and draughty, but until I started school and visited the lovely new houses lived in by other children, I didn't know any better.

Looking back, I can see my old home was a hopeless money-pit, but in those days it felt magical. There were chimney corners, a scullery, walk-in pantries, an enormous Aga (dating from long before they were trendy), a long-case clock complete with pendulum, stained glass in leaded lights, crackling open fires, gardens straight out of Sleeping Beauty, and even a ghost!

 For a child, my old home ticked all the fairy-tale boxes, especially at Christmas. An enormous, real fir tree would be set up, tall enough to nearly touch the ceiling in the largest room. Every picture in the house had sprigs of holly and ivy perched on top. One year, my father relived his own youth by showing me how to make table decorations, and garlands of evergreens to swag up the bannisters. Bright with holly berries and variegated foliage they all looked lovely, but were so prickly, they didn't mix well with party balloons!

I remember my childhood Christmases as brightly lit and very hot, because there were always so many visitors. We'd be crammed into whichever room had the best fire going. Chairs were drawn up in a semi-circle around the hearth and we'd drink gallons of tea. My grandparents both signed the pledge as children, and the only alcohol in our house was an elderly bottle of Courvoisier VSOP. It gathered dust for 364 days each year, until it was brought out on Stir-Up Sunday to add a wickedly foreign (yet traditional, which made it okay) flavour to the homemade mincemeat, Christmas cake and Christmas puddings. I swear that bottle of brandy never needed replacing, in all the twenty-two Christmases I lived at home!
By Kris de Curtis

To keep a satisfying blaze going in an open fireplace, you need a good draught, so while we stuffed ourselves with heroic quantities of mince pies, sausage rolls, cheese scones and Christmas cake, our faces got scorched while the mats (no fitted carpets in those days) rose and flapped in currents of cold air rushing into the room from under the doors.

Once our visitors left, all the lights except those on the tree would be turned off, and we'd sit in the firelight until it was time for bed. Then we ran the gauntlet of draughty hall and freezing bathroom, while down in the kitchen our stone hot water bottles were filled with boiling water and swaddled in yards of cloth, like feverish babies.

Buy now at http://bit.ly/1iNf2Gw
I used my old home as inspiration for Castle Dukagjini in Heart Of A Hostage, which goes on sale here today. The piano mentioned in Heart Of A Hostage was real, although in real life our model came to a very sticky end. Somebody thought positioning it over dodgy floorboards would stop anyone falling through. They hadn't realised how heavy that piano was, so I'm sure you can guess the rest!

As it's Friday, why not sample some other blogs on the theme of holidays? My fellow Wild Rose Press author, Tena Stetler, is joining in the celebrations on her blog with a piece called Christmas Decorating - Not for the Faint of Heart, while Nancy Reece is writing about Home for the Holidays on her site, and Arianne Cassini's blog is called Three Ways To Beat Holiday Hell With Christmas Cheer. 

Why not drop in to each of them, and say Christina sent you? :)

Finally, a prize draw! What are your favourite childhood memories of Christmas? All comments left on this post will be entered in a draw on Friday, 11th December. The winner will receive one copy of each book in the Princes Of Kharova series (His Majesty's Secret Passion, Her Royal Risk and Heart Of A Hostage), so be sure to let me know what you liked best about the festive season when you were little!