Monday 12 October 2020

Inspiration: You Make It Feel Like Christmas

I first had the idea for You Make It Feel Like Christmas way back in 2014 while I was at the cinema watching Guardians of the Galaxy. You can't see the connection between a superhero movie and a Christmas romantic comedy? Well, the soundtrack featured an old 70s song called Hooked on a Feeling and the lyrics got me thinking about people who have (for one reason or another) become stuck on a certain way of thinking.

I often have ideas for stories that I scribble down in a notebook and then promptly forget about but this one stayed in my mind. A few years later, when the mystery novel I was working on wasn't coming together in the way I wanted (I'll be blogging about that later), I decided to start something completely different. I remembered those characters who'd become 'hooked on a feeling' and You Make It Feel Like Christmas began to take shape.

Beth is obsessed with the idea of having a perfect family Christmas and still has feelings for the man that broke her heart seven years ago. Aidan associates Christmas spent at his family home with a tragic period in his life and would happily see the house flattened, whereas his brother Nick remembers his idyllic childhood and will do anything to save it.

I didn't realise until I'd finished writing the book that my feelings about the house I'd grown up in had also found their way into the story. This might have been because part of the book was written there while I was visiting my mother. We talked a lot about the 'old days' and the amount of work it had taken to restore the house.

My childhood home

My parents bought their house back in the 1970s. It was their dream house and restoring it became their hobby - except they didn't restore it in a traditional way! Instead, they trawled reclamation sites buying quirky fittings from old houses that had been demolished. Although the house was Victorian they added oak beams to the sitting room ceiling (original 300-year-old ship's timbers!) along with a huge Tudor fireplace.

I asked my mother why they'd chosen to do this and she explained that they had loved visiting old houses, with all their history, and wanted to recreate a little bit of that in their own home.

The appearance of the Abbey in my story was influenced by much bigger real-life houses, including Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York (also the location for the 1970s horror film House of Dark Shadows) and Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire (once home to Lord Byron - who also gets a mention!).

Newstead Abbey

When I wrote the book, I'd recently moved into one of the first houses on a new estate and for the next year I effectively lived on a building site. This probably influenced my decision to make Aidan a builder!

Like Agatha in You Make It Feel Like Christmas, my grandmother was heavily into crafting. I remember her making me jewellery out of rose hips, and jack-'o-lanterns out of turnips - they were super-scary! - and Christmas decorations out of real holly, ivy and fir cones, which she'd sprinkle with glitter or spray gold (this was the 80s!). My grandmother also told me the stories behind the traditions of decorating our houses with greenery, and the legend of Balder and Loki.

In You Make It Feel Like Christmas the Holly family have an heirloom box of decorations going back to the 1960s - so did my mother. Earlier in the story, when Nick decorates his tree with some very unusual baubles, he explains to Beth how much they mean to him. This is something that is also important to me. I've collected the decorations for my own tree over many years and every one has a story behind it.

Lucy's experience of driving through a snowstorm happened to me! Hearing the sound of compacted ice scrape the underside of my car is not one I'd care to repeat! 

Ophelia's fabulous high fruit, low sugar mince pies are based on my own recipe.

And the Holly family's usual Christmas - dinner at lunchtime, an afternoon spent watching the Christmas movie on TV, eating leftovers and Quality Street, and playing Death-by-Scrabble?

I wonder where I got that idea from?

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Wednesday 7 October 2020

Guest Post: Heidi Swain: Feeling Festive in Nightingale Square

This week I'm thrilled to welcome Sunday Times bestselling author Heidi Swain to my blog. Heidi is famous for her heart-warming, feel-good stories set in Norfolk and today she's going to tell us about her latest novel, The Winter Garden...

Hello everyone! Thank you so much for finding your way to this post and thank you to Louise for kindly offering me a spot on her blog. It’s now a week since
The Winter Garden was published and I thought it might be the ideal opportunity to share with you a little of the inspiration behind this first festive trip to Nightingale Square. 

As some of you probably already know, I write two books a year and have done practically since I was first published in 2015. Broadly speaking, one is a summer book and one is a winter, or Christmas book. When I settled down to plan the winter 2020 release, I glanced at my pile of books and realised that the four festive titles I had written so far were all set in the same place – the much-loved fictitious Fenland town of Wynbridge. 

Two things occurred to me as I admired the foil enhanced covers. Firstly, I realised that I would rather like to visit Wynbridge in the summer for a change (A Taste of Home set in the Fenland countryside will be released next April. Yay!) and secondly, I was pretty certain that the neighbours in Nightingale Square would very much like to show us how they prepare for and celebrate Christmas in the fine city of Norwich.

Much like moving to a brand-new setting when your readers are so invested in the familiar one, it was a scary prospect, changing the festive location, but one I was willing to embrace. The vibrant city of Norwich, the pretty Square with its central green, the community garden across the road at Prosperous Place, along with the gardens attached to the house, all proved to be ideal for showcasing festive events and communal gatherings as the plotting and planning developed, but ultimately, I wanted the book to be about so much more than that. 

The short, dark days take their toll on many of us and I wanted to use the garden to show that even in the depths of winter there is still some light to be enjoyed along with many horticultural highlights, irrespective of whether your heart belongs in the country or the city. Hence, the arrival of a new face in the Square, gardener Freya, and her nervy but lovable rescue dog, Nell. 

Freya’s timely advent (no pun intended) led to the birth of the Winter Garden which quickly formed a surprising seasonal treat for the senses and became packed full of highly scented shrubs, vibrant flowers and some surprisingly tactile textures. Throw artist, Norse god lookalike, Finn into the mix for a romantic twist and I’d created some pretty spectacular fireworks too! 

Two of the characters in The Winter Garden suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and one creates something rather wonderful alongside the garden to put a stop to it getting the upper hand. I’m not going to reveal what it is, in the hope that you might decide to pick up or download the book yourself, and if you do, I hope you will give some of the things the Nightingale Square neighbours delight in, a go yourself. 

I have a feeling that during the next few months we are all going to need more distractions than ever and continuing to build our connections to nature and getting outside at every opportunity will be a sure-fire way to ensure that we keep those happy chemicals fizzing away and fired up in our brains. And so, all that remains for me to do now is to wish you a wonderful winter season packed full of outdoor adventures. I very much hope to meet you in The Winter Garden

With love 

Heidi x

About Heidi...

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

A lover of vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes feel good fiction with heart for Simon and Schuster.

Her debut novel, The Chery Tree Café was published in July 2015 and since then she has had a further ten books published, becoming a Sunday Times Bestseller in 2017. She is currently celebrating the release of her 2020 festive title, The Winter Garden.

Heidi is represented by Amanda Preston and lives in Norfolk with her family and a mischievous cat called Storm.





Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK     Books and the City 

The Winter GardenAmazon UK     Amazon USA