(From the archives)
If there’s one enquiry guaranteed to send me into orbit at this time of year it’s: “Are you ready for Christmas?”
The next time I talk to my mother on the phone I know she’s going to ask me exactly that; other parents at school pick-up will start slipping it in too; passing acquaintances will accost me in the street, enquiring cheerfully as to the state of my Yuletide readiness. Round about the 15th of the month it will get shortened to: “Are you ready yet?’
Why do they do it?
Not only is it jaw-clenchingly annoying, it’s meaningless to the point of being moronic (it’s OK, mum doesn’t read my blog) in its assumption that there’s a point to be reached in the next couple of weeks when every preparation has been made and we can sit, in smug and expectant idleness, waiting for Christmas to happen to us.
Seriously now, when can that point possibly be reached? Once we have presents wrapped, cards posted, tree trimmed, menus planned, etc? Or do we have to buy the food, cook the dinner, plate it up and stick it in the freezer ready to be micro-waved back to edibility? At what stage does the effort stop and the Christmas begin?
And running alongside the list of chores are the build-up events, the carol concerts, drinks parties, nativity plays that I think, way back in history, were intended to be enjoyable but have long since become a series of hurdles to leap before we can reward ourselves with Christmas. It’s as though the entire month of December has become a sort of virtual advent calendar with each day bringing along a pre-Christmas trial to be endured. Just a glance at the diary right now is enough to give me the jitters:
Dec 1st – Advent Service
Dec 2nd – School Christmas Fair
Dec 3rd – Wedding (Wedding? Don’t they bloody well know we have Christmas to get ready for?)
In one short, annoying sentence. ‘Are you ready for Christmas?” embodies one of the deepest problem with my life and, I suspect, with quite a few others as well because it implies that the life we are living at the moment is nothing but a series of tiresome but unavoidable chores that we have to work our way through for the promise of the distant reward. Asking people if they are ready for Christmas in the first few days of the month puts the emphasis on moving as quickly as possible to a desired end, at the expense of enjoying the process.
I’ve fallen into exactly the same trap with my latest book. End of December is an important deadline for me, the date by which I aim to have finished the first draft. Agent Anne Marie and Mr B give me their initial thoughts early in January (never complimentary but I’m used to it) and I can spend the following six weeks refining and polishing before it has to go to my publishers at the end of February.
I’ve known for several weeks now that the first draft will not be done by end of December and with that knowledge has come a gradually increasing sense of panic. My priority now is building the word count, getting closer to the desired 110,000 as quickly as I can. It is not where it should be, and that is on making each chapter or scene as impactful as possible. I’m skipping research, glossing over characterisation, leaving out atmosphere and, most importantly of all, I’m not particularly enjoying the process.
This is wrong, because there were many times in the early days of this novel when I genuinely thought it could be my best yet. I was loving what was unfolding before me. I’m not now. Now every hour at my keyboard is a trial to get through.
How did it happen? How did a job I love to bits become a chore?
It got Christmassed, is what happened. In my desperation to get to the finish line, I lost sight of the joy of the race. Which was both stupid and unnecessary. Book six will not hit the bookshops until Spring 2013. I have plenty of time. And no one will enjoy reading a book that I haven’t enjoyed writing. So, tomorrow I will turn off my word count tool and concentrate on writing a scene in which my young hero, Barney, talks to two adults whom he likes and trusts, both of whom could be cold-blooded killers. I have to make it sad, and touching and bone-chillingly scary.
As for Christmas, well the advent service made me cry sweet, sentimental tears, as it always does and the Christmas Fair, as usual, is the nicest event the PTA runs all year. The wedding was delightful: cold, beautiful and glittery. We sat on a table of people who have known each other for decades and who greeted us, perfect strangers, as old friends. Yesterday I wrapped presents, which I always enjoy because I’m good at it and tomorrow I’m going out for a Christmas meal with a dozen other mums from the village. On Wednesday Mr B is going to watch Handel’s Messiah at St Paul’s cathedral and, God I wish I was going with him, but I’ll enjoy hearing all about it all the same. On Thursday my book-club are coming here for dinner. What a fabulous month this is!
So I’m begging you now, stop worrying about Christmas and, instead, chill out and enjoy December. And, please, wish me luck with that ruddy book!