Huge thanks to Sue for asking me on here!
My Christmas Stocking: full of memories and traditions and even things to do!
Not surprisingly, given the time of year, I’ve been thinking about Christmas. So this blog post is a sort of Christmas stocking: full of all sorts of different things.
I always think Christmas makes special memories. I know it’s over-hyped and seems to last longer every year but it still works its magic if you let it. I love this time of year, maybe because I’m a late November baby. Some of my most treasured moments have happened during this season.
My father adored Christmas, perhaps because, as a boy, he had a fairly Spartan upbringing; a tangerine and a toy car was the most he could expect from his Christmas stocking. So, for us, he always tried to make it as magical a time as possible. I remember thick snow on the day itself and my aunt and uncle struggling up the steep hill to our house, to visit, my aunt stubbornly insisting on wearing stiletto heels. Leaving out carrots and a glass of sherry – for them to be gone in the morning. The tangible expectation in the air. I also remember Father Christmas managing to squeeze my very first bike down the chimney. The real miracle being how my parents scraped together enough money to buy me one.
Some good friends of the family lived in the middle of a forest and it was a tradition to visit near Christmas and take presents and cards. The house sang with the smell of the pines trees they’d cut down.
I’ve celebrated Christmas away from home too. Once, in the middle of the Atlantic, on a geography field trip and once in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Strange, disorientating times. Christmas and yet somehow not.
When first married, my new husband and I saw Love Actually on Christmas Eve afternoon and came out, feeling all loved-up, to be greeted by a spectacular sunset. The sky was orange and pink and violet and the air cold and fresh. Wonderful.
For some years I taught in primary schools. In mid December we’d all troop off to the carol service in a local minster. It was packed with children and parents, teachers and friends, all singing the old favourites.
Father Christmas has updated his image nowadays – who else tracks his progress across the globe with this?
and another lovely site for small children is:
For me, a real tree is a must. We get ours from a local farm. When I first met ‘Dave’ (as I’ll call him, to spare his blushes), who runs the business, I developed the most enormous crush. Largely due to the fact he was enormous. And gorgeous. With a fetching dimple in his cheek. He even inspired a short story. It’s one reason to buy a real tree every year; I get a once a year treat of seeing ‘Dave’ again!
Traditions necessarily change, according to circumstance. A new one for me is to sit down on Boxing Day afternoon, with husband out at a football match, and watch While You Were Sleeping. I have a selection of Christmassy leftovers (why are they always yummier than on the day itself?), light the wood-burner, grab a dog or two to cuddle and settle down. Guaranteed bliss every year.
This year we’re making a new tradition – a doggie walk on the beach on Christmas Day. I’ve tried taking cute pictures with them wearing those felt reindeer antlers. No good, my two just chew them! Spaniels have no respect for tradition.
Afterwards, I’ll be sitting down to watch the Christmas Special of Strictly Come Dancing as usual. With Say it with Sequins: The Rumba being inspired by the show, how could I not?
Whatever you’re doing this year, whoever you’re spending it with, may I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.
Say it with Sequins: The Rumba is out with Harper Impulse on 19th December.
Find her at:
Just a short blog today on the theme of looking back over your shoulder. It’s a day when children in schools all across Britain will be silent for 2 minutes (and that doesn’t happen often!) In different places throughout the country, people will pause. They’ll think about wars and the tragic waste of life that goes with them, but they’ll also have their own memories. Here are some of ours.
Celia: My much-missed Pa, about to give me away for the second time. Unbelievably, he is wearing the same suit! He said it wasn’t worth buying another one as this one still had years of wear in it. You can’t go wrong with beige, can you? Except if there’s tomato soup involved.
Sue : My Grandad : Frederick Rowland (1908-1982), Craftsman, REME, Served in North Africa and Italy
Catherine : My Grandad
Laura: I was thinking about my Great Uncle Reg, who was part of the team that flew gliders to secure a bridge during WW2. Sadly, he passed away in 2005. A true hero.
I’m also thinking about my lovely mum and step-dad. Heroes of a different kind. My heroes.
‘I thought they’d never end’, (Mary Hopkin)
Once the new year celebrations were finished and we had all regrouped at Romaniac HQ, we found ourselves reflecting over the past 12 months, taking stock of how far we had come and how far we still had to go with our writing careers. Naturally, the conversation turned to how it all began. Not surprisingly, our love affair with writing began at an early age for us all and we took a trip down Memory Lane, thinking of the influences and experiences that have shaped us. We thought we would share our nostalgia with you.
We would, of course, love to know where your writing aspirations began and what your memories of that time are.
Laura: The late seventies and early eighties are the years I remember well. I loved music, and I became aware of the world around me. 1979 was the year of the UK’s first female Prime Minister, in Margaret Thatcher – that was a big deal, especially for women. We lived under the threat of nuclear war, there were bombings in Nothern Ireland, Sid Vicious was found dead from a heroin overdose, and China introduced their One Child Policy. As a twelve-year-old, I worried about how the world would survive. I yearned for the power to put everything right. I was going to be a doctor, or a child psychologist. Maybe a speech therapist – something that helped. Failing that, I’d entertain – become a singer. I realised songs were miniature stories and became fascinated with rhymes, patterns and words. I loved reading, but looking back, my love for writing began through songs.
The world changed during my formative years. Whether or not one agreed with Thatcher’s policies, women had a positive role model. I loved Blake’s 7, a Sci-Fi programme with a strong female character in Cally, Gloria Gaynor was belting out I Will Survive, and my mother, bless her, by this point in my life, was a single parent, who had successfully secured a mortgage in her name alone. Not easy. Is it possible these childhood factors led me to writing issue-driven romances, with strong female characters? By producing stories, my desire to entertain is fulfilled, my love for words is put to work, and I create my own worlds where ultimately, everything will be all right.
I’m beginning to think it was inevitable I would become a writer.
Sue: Being roughly the same age as Laura, I can identify with all the things she mentions above. The early 80’s saw me knocking on the door of my teenage years when I was living in a rural village and had a very free rein on what I did with my time. All the local kids used to hang around together, but to be fair, that didn’t actually amount to many – put it this way, in my year at school there were only three girls and six boys. I look back on those days with fondness as age didn’t really come into it and we all mucked in together. Sometimes we’d have a big game of football or cricket, other times we would swim/paddle in the river or generally hang out, usually at the bridge. I’m not sure what the attraction of the bridge was, but we spent an awful lot of time just congregating there. Having said that, living in a small rural community did mean it often had its dull moments and my answer to the boredom was to take myself off somewhere far more exciting via a good book, courtesy of the mobile library which visited us once a fortnight.
With regards to the larger world outside of this Cambridgeshire village, I have very clear memories of things like Shopper bikes for girls, Chopper bikes for the boys, Bermuda shorts, Haircut 100, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Ultravox, Grange Hill, Crackerjack (‘It’s five to five and it’s Crackerjack!’), Why Don’t You, using a cassette player to try to record the Top 40 on a Sunday evening, deciding I’d give up on my dream of marrying Nick Skelton and set my sights on Adam Ant instead. It was around about this time I received a Silver Reed typewriter for Christmas and began typing up my stories; making them into books; illustrating them and designing the cover. Today, I am still trying to do pretty much the same thing (although the Adam Ant dream has gone the same way as the Nick Skelton one).
Jan: The late seventies evoke such fond memories for me too. We had lots of children living down our road and a great crew of us would play in the street (not nearly so many cars to worry about then!) racing each other up the road when we heard the tinkle of the ice cream van. We had a huge street party for the Queen’s silver jubilee celebrations with long trestle tables groaning under the weight of food and fizz. One of the neighbours set up some speakers in their hallway and played DJ for the duration, blaring out the likes of Abba and Stevie Wonder. I can remember our milkman and postman turning up, flares swishing, and hardly recognising the pair of them out of uniform. They were doing the rounds; such was the camaraderie amongst everyone in the area.
This is me in the early seventies, clearly deciding I wanted to try on my cousin’s Cub cap & tie!
I always took an interest in anything creative at school, from writing stories and poetry, to singing in school choirs and auditioning for Christmas and end of term plays. I can see my Dad now, three rows back, big cheesy grin on his face, trying to make my best friend (a notorious giggler) and I laugh, Mum nudging his elbow and giving him “the look”. Ever since those days, I’ve loved writing in all its forms, so to now be working on my debut novel really is one of my dreams come true.
Celia: Well, I’m a little bit…ok, quite a lot…older than the other Romaniacs, so my teenage and pre teen memories go back to the earlier seventies. By the time the redoubtable Mrs T was in her element and nuclear war was threatening, I was a young mum, panic stricken at the world I’d brought my daughters into but not really quite ready to be sensible. On a more cheerful note, I remember oodles of Motown (still can’t help dancing to ‘Needle in a Haystack’, in fact I brought the New Year in to it), lusting after Roger Daltrey, The Osmonds – all of them, I wasn’t a fussy teenager – and David Bowie. I was sure David, Marc Bolan, Freddie Mercury and Elton John were straight, and I’m still not convinced otherwise, so don’t try to mess with my dreams, ok? My favourite songs, as with Laura, inspired my writing, in fact my first book had song words at the start of every chapter. They took me ages to choose. Shame the book itself was so awful, really.
The past year has been a roller coaster ride for me. The downs were a very long way down but the highs were incredible, and I am so grateful to the Romaniacs for being there with me. Group hug? Left over mince pie anyone?
Debbie; Ahhh, the seventies. What lovely memories my fellow Romaniacs have evoked. It was a happy, carefree time for me as it was for many children back then, (other than bread strikes and having to queue at the stand pipes for water.)
I remember long hot summers, days that never ended, going off on my Raleigh Shopper bike (I had one Sue) with my ‘cozzie’ rolled up in a towel alongside some limp sandwiches in the front basket to the local park where there was a paddling pool. The rest of the time I’d be in the back garden, playing in my Wendy house, making ‘perfume’ from rose petals and lavender crushed in a couple of coconut shells with water added until it became a putrid mush. I also remember spending hours alone in my bedroom with my dolls and teddies playing teachers, being a Librarian, or pretending to do book signings. It’s strange now, looking back how I even comprehended that writers wrote and signed books at that age, but I remember it clearly. All my solitary activities revolved around books. As well as the pretend ‘classroom,’ the library and book signing, I spent hours in the bedroom simply reading and sometimes writing my own little stories.