I never expected to find myself in ‘Good Housekeeping’.
I’ve been published in magazines before, but it has almost always been fiction. So when I was given the chance through my publishers, Honno Press, to pitch for an article in the Christmas edition, my first reaction was that it wasn’t for me. The article was about ‘How we remade Christmas’ after a family change, or the dead of a loved on who had been central to family Christmases. What could I write about? My Christmases are very quiet and ordinary. I had nothing to say.
By a strange coincidence, I was joining up with my family in the cottage in the wilds of Snowdonia where we used to spend Christmas. Being there, I remembered all those Christmas, fourteen vegetarians sitting down to (a very delicious) Christmas dinner, cooked by my dad, who was always the centre of Christmas. It wasn’t that we were just all vegetarians. The cottage really is in the wild and for many of those Christmases had no electricity (candles were not just for Christmas) and a loo in the pigsty at the bottom of the garden (in an isolated valley with no lights, surrounded by forest – just the thing to develop the imagination …) and several times were snowed in and had to be rescued.
In fact, it was one of those times were were snowed in at Christmas when I was very small, and were down to our last handful of coal and tins of baked beans, and having to break the ice over the spring to collect water, that became the very first story I ever had published, the story that made me a professional writer. It was something I’ll never forget, following the rest of the family, clutching my doll as my mum clutched my baby brother, making my way through snow that was nearly higher than me, as we made our way over the fields to be sledged down the steep hill to my uncle, who had battled his way along treacherous single-track roads in a battered Landrover.
So, in fact, it turns out the Christmases I thought of as ordinary, were not really ordinary at all. And the way we remade Christmas after my dad died, in Swedish style, reindeer sausages and all, was about as different as you can get. And then there was the fact that this Christmas would have been my dad’s one hundredth Christmas. The Christmas he was born, was in the midst of the horror of the First World War. History is that far away, and yet so close.
I’m delighted my article was chosen to be in ‘Good Housekeeping’. I’m not sure what my dad, the child of working-class Victorians, brought up in a level of poverty unimaginable in Britain today, and a proud, stubborn, Yorkshireman to boot, would have made of it all. Although I rather suspect that secretly he would be chuffed to bits, and (as a non-drinker) might even have raised a small glass of wine to the occasion.
And the Swedish bit? Ah, well you’ll have to read the article to find out!