Friday, 7 August 2009
Christmas Comes But Twice A Year
Ladies – and the odd gent if it applies - ‘tis the season to exchange your shorts for thermals, your courgettes for Brussels sprouts and your Pimm's for a nice warming glass of port.
Yes, Christmas is just around the corner – so if writing stories for the women’s mags is your hobby, profession or aspiration, then you need to eschew thoughts of sea, sand and Sangria and start thinking tinsel, toasting chestnuts and trees – the Norwegian pine variety. (Sorry, my alliterative outburst failed me at the last moment.)
I know it doesn’t seem as if we’ve even had a summer yet – unless you count Wimbledon fortnight, which, frankly, went too far the other way temperature-wise; I was wrung out after that men’s final and that was just from watching.
But magazines run on a different schedule to the one mere mortals live their lives by, and if you want to be at the front of the pack, then you should already be getting your head round the challenge of the 12-day turkey marathon.
Over the years I’ve written so many Christmas stories that each time another one rolls round I wonder if it’s possible to squeeze any more out. Just the word Christmas screams cliché. And magazines hate clichéd stories. Have you ever had one of those nice letters or emails from the very charming Clare Cooper at Woman’s Weekly? The one that goes: “Nicely written but I’m afraid this is a well-worn theme with us.”? If you have, you’ll know what I mean. You can almost hear her sighing, can't you?
The danger is making the mistake of assuming you can palm any old rubbish off on the mags at Christmas as long as it has a happy ending with a few tears along the way and in the last sentence it starts snowing. Surely, after a few sherries, a mince pie and a Christmas bonus, they’ll drop their guard and let your mediocre story in because they’ll be overflowing with Christmas spirit and, anyway, at leas you've got the theme right?
No, I don’t think so. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the opposite is true. Writing a Christmas story is the ultimate challenge. It has to be different enough to stand out yet still in the spirit of the magazine you’re writing for. So no axe-murdering Father Christmases or motorway pile-ups, please.
Some of my best Christmas stories - those rare ones where you just sit down and write them in one or two sittings – have been inspired by modern day dilemmas of the sort you might read about in The Guardian’s Weekend, for instance. Someone wrote about how they hated those Round Robins some people send at the end of every year, where they boast about how marvellous their children are in a mock-disparaging way and boast about their wonderful lives - the implication being that yours is crap. That inspired a round robin story of my own, written by a much less confident mum.
Then there was the article about the extended family and how the hell you share out Christmas between all of them, which inspired the triangular tale of a woman, her new lover and his daughter. I’ve done a story about Secret Santa and one about a modern day guardian angel who needed looking after himself. I’ve done lonely Christmases and convivial ones and several others beside.
And now I’ve got to do it all again. I’ve got two in mind, very sketchy, so far but I hope, a bit zeit-geisty. I’d love to share, but, well, if I did then I'd have to tie you up in tinsel and shove you in the cupboard under the stairs until January 1st.
Anyway, off to stick my head in the freezer and to light a pine candle for a bit of inspiration – not at the same time obviously. Good luck with your own Christmas stories, everyone.
This month, Geraldine has a story in Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special; Part Three of her serial “Curtain Up” in Woman’s Weekly and a love story in Fiction Feast. She's also had a story accepted by Bridge House Publishing. For their Christmas anthology! It’s a good month!