A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Grey days, black nights, bone-chilling cold and wailing winds: winter weather is a gift for storytellers. And no, I’m not going too far off-piste in this blog post that is intended to be about ‘Christmas reads’.
You see, when people say the phrase ‘the real meaning of Christmas’ I always think of why it actually started. The origins of yuletide merrymaking were all about making people feel better during the dark winter months, a long time before a religious feast was pegged on to the season.
This tradition of ‘misrule’ – turning the natural order of things on its head – may be one reason why lots of us still like a good old dose of horror, crime or the supernatural to chill our blood as we toast by the fire.
The Victorians’ love of the Christmas ghost story is well-known, but Shakespeare and Marlowe both reference the telling of frightening tales during the winter time, so it goes back a very long way.
Christmas romance is huge, I know – but it’s the sort of thing that brings out my inner Ebenezer. At this time of year, we don’t need any more sugar – we need something to offset the schmaltz.
For me, it all started with a book I read as a child: Nina Beachcroft’s Cold Christmas (1974), in which a girl is sent to a gloomy old house and makes friends with a ghost girl there. I think it was the first thing I read about Christmas that wasn’t completely saccharine and it made me feel a little more grown up. I fell in love with the idea of snuggling up in bed on a dark night and scaring myself witless.
I’m sure this had quite an influence when I set my children’s novel The Serpent House in spooky old mansion in the middle of a hard, frozen winter.
Dickens’ A Christmas Carol may seem like too obvious a choice, but it was the prolific author’s most popular work. It also holds a special memory for me. My eldest daughter – now all grown-up – let me read to her every night until she was around eleven and this was the last book we ever shared. It was a gorgeously-illustrated version and we both never stopped loving the story. Ghosts and graveyards, yes – but a suitably heart-warming finish and the sort of social message that appeals directly to a Guardian-reading bleeding heart like myself.
We hear, these days, about books being prescribed as therapy for all sorts of emotional ailments. So when the Christmas sentiment gets too much, hide yourself away with a scary story. An antidote to the John-Lewissing of Christmas and a great present to yourself.
What fiction are you hoping will see you through the winter? And what would you recommend?
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Bea Davenport is the writing name of former journalist Barbara Henderson. Bea worked in newspapers and broadcasting for a long time, including seventeen years at BBC North in Newcastle, where she worked on TV, radio and online.
She left journalism to study for a Creative Writing PhD at Newcastle University. The children’s novel written as part of that, The Serpent House, was published by Curious Fox in June 2014. It is a historical time-fantasy inspired by the medieval leper hospital once sited in the village where Bea now lives. Before being commissioned by Curious Fox, it was shortlisted for the 2010 Times/Chicken House Award.
The Serpent House was Bea’s first novel for children, although she has two adult crime/suspense novels published by Legend Press.
In 2014, Bea worked with Fiction Express on an interactive e-book where school pupils read a chapter each week and chose what should happen next. Bea then wrote the next chapter in time for the following Friday! The paperback version of the book, My Cousin Faustina, will be published by ReadZone in March 2015.
She lives in Berwick-upon Tweed on the Northumberland-Scottish border with her partner, children and a naughty cat.