13 November 2016

When I was writing Comfort and Joy, it was July. The sun was out and the temperature was thirty degrees! So to get myself in the mood for conjuring up images of Christmas trees, fairy lights and garland-festooned fireplaces with log fires, I made a list of my happiest Christmas memories.

When I read it back I felt quite emotional. The moments which had lodged most firmly in my memory weren't associated with the best presents I'd ever received (although I must admit, my heart did flutter when I finally got a toy potter's wheel), but with really special times spent with my family and friends.

So I thought I'd share my top five memories with you.

The earliest memory on the list is getting ready for bed one particular Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house. It was getting quite late when suddenly we heard the tinkling of sleigh bells outside. It was such a magical moment. I remember gasping, heart thudding, eyes wide with wonder, utterly convinced that Father Christmas was out there waiting for us to go to sleep before making his delivery.

A few years later, I was briefly a member of a youth club at church and the priest that ran it decided that we'd learn to sing some carols and go and perform to some needy group or other. We weren't very good and none of my friends took it very seriously but we carried on because we were promised chocolate. I assumed we'd have to go to a hospital or old people's home.

Imagine my shock when we found out that we were putting on a carol concert at Winson Green prison in Birmingham! We stood there at the front of the room on a makeshift stage as the prisoners filed in looking less than impressed. But by the end of it they'd warmed up a bit and one or two even had tears in their eyes (mind you, that might have been because of the terrible singing!).

Writing a Christmas book in July

Mulled wine always brings back memories of my grandad. He was in charge of making it on Christmas morning. My nanna would be calmly cooking Christmas lunch for sixteen without a murmur, while Grandad, in his apron, would be using evey spoon and pan in the house and leaving a dark red trail of drips all over the kitchen. I loved helping him and would stand at this side and suggest a bit more of this or that until it tasted just right. I still make it now in his honour, even though he's no longer with us.

One year, in a break with tradition, my family went to a party on Christmas Day. I was at university at the time and I remember all us younger contingent helping ourselves to champagne and putting 'Fairytale of New York' by the Pogues on repeat, singing along at the tops of our voices. It's still one of my favourite Christmas songs.

My final memory is of my first Christmas as a mum. My daughter was only six weeks old and I remember looking down at this tiny bundle of scrumptiousness sitting in her car seat fast asleep, and feeling so happy I could burst.

Even as a child, though I didn't realise it at the time, the best moments often aren't the ones which cost the most money, they're the ones in which you're truly experiencing the magic of Christmas. So I'm wishing all my readers a Christmas full of magical moments that you'll treasure for a lifetime.

Merry Christmas!

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