Weaving Memories of Christmas into My Stories
When it comes to Christmas, I’m certainly not a ‘Bah Humbug!’ type of person. Why would I be when there’s so much to love? After all, if it wasn’t for the festive season, I would never have written my story collection, Silent Night. All the stories in the book were written for national magazines and every one of them has been inspired by a Christmas memory – maybe a recent one, but more likely, one from my childhood.
So, what are my favourite festive memories and how did I weave them into my book?
The Christmas Tree
When I was a child, my parents had two Christmas trees. Both were artificial, one green, one silver. They stood about two feet high but were never taken out of the attic until Christmas Eve. The silver one stood on a table in our hallway and was decorated with simple, tiny coloured balls, but it was the green one, in the living room, that was my favourite. Every year, the box of decorations came out and my sister and I had the thrilling job of decorating it. There were shiny balls of every colour, snowflakes, fir cones sprayed silver, snowmen and bells we’d made out of egg boxes. There was even a drunken fairy for the top. How we loved it! The Christmas tree I have now is a hotch-potch of colours, handing with homemade decorations and swathed in garish tinsel. Nothing’s changed!
Christmas trees feature in several of my stories. In ‘A Christmas Present called Abbie’, absent father John’s Christmas consists of going to the pub, so he’s left floundering when his eight-year-old daughter comes to stay with him while her mother’s in hospital. Her words, ‘Where’s the tree?’ says it all.
When Bella’s husband in my story, ‘On My Own’, produces a spreadsheet to organize Christmas Day, she rebels by renting a cottage by the sea for the festive period. ‘The tree jauntily displays its home-made decorations: silver fir cones, golden flower heads and white cut out snowflakes shimmering with glitter. It is a far cry from the white and pink baubles we bought in Selfridges.’ Her Christmas tree is just like the one from my childhood memory!
One of my best childhood memories is carol singing with my sister and a friend. I was in the school choir and insisted we did all the harmonies. I think those who heard us were surprised and maybe even a little impressed. For ten years now, I’ve belonged to my local women’s choir and every year we have a Christmas concert with carols in the church. Can you guess which one is my favourite? Yes, you’re right… it’s Silent Night. Here’s a snippet from the story that gives my collection its name.
‘Around them, the red tips of other cigarettes could be seen glowing in the dark. He leaned back on his elbows and looked up at the night sky. It was a clear night, the great dome of the sky arcing above them, studded with stars.
“That’s Orion.” He pointed to where three stars cut a diagonal across the black. “There’s his belt. Odd to think that other people might be looking at him too.”’
Christmas songs also feature in my story, ‘A Song for Christmas’. Cal’s visiting his girlfriend’s young son in hospital. He’s hoping his song might help him bond with little Ben.
‘”This song,” I said, looking at the little boy with the grey eyes just like his mother’s, “is called Dinky Dino Hates Christmas.” I strummed the first chord slowly and put on my gravest voice as I began. “Have you met my pet called Dinky… his covered in spots and his feet are stinky…”
Maybe not exactly the song my sister and I sang on our friends’ doorsteps on Christmas Eve!
Playing in the Snow
Well, okay, maybe not actually playing in it (it wasn’t often we got any) but the idea of it. Even today, I love receiving Christmas cards with a snowy scene on the front and it’s not surprising I chose a fir tree covered in snow for the cover of Silent Night. Snowy trees, snowmen, snow angels – the memories I have of those infrequent snowy days are still special to me.
In my story, ‘The Memory Purse’, Mr Bhadu has fond memories of his life back in India but the one thing he’s never done is built a snowman.
‘I was twenty-three and wanted to make a better life for myself and for my wife, Neeta. My cousin had gone before me – he used to send home books for us children to read. My favourite was the one about a snowman who came to life. I’d never seen a snowman. I’d never seen snow.’
For the grandmother in my wartime story, Do You Believe in Angels, a snowy day in her past also holds special memories.
‘Laughing, she threw herself back and the snow received her like a heavenly cloud. For a moment they lay there, side by side on the white lawns, snow falling softly onto their faces. Then a great happiness came over her and she raised her arms in an ark above her head and back down, leaving an imprint in the snow… like wings.’
There are so many other memories I’ve used in my story collection but it would take too long to mention them all. What special Christmas memories do you have?
Wendy Clarke – Biography
Wendy Clarke is a writer of women’s fiction. Her work regularly appears in national women’s magazines such as The People’s Friend, Take a Break Fiction Feast and Woman’s Weekly. She has also written serials and a number of non-fiction magazine articles.
Wendy has published three collections of short stories, Room in Your Heart, The Last Rose and Silent Night and has just finished writing her second novel.
Wendy lives with her husband, cat and step-dog in Sussex and when not writing is usually dancing, singing or watching any programme that involves food!