The Mother of all Christmases by Milly Johnson
Eighteen years ago I wrote a book called The Yorkshire Pudding Club, based on my pregnancy diaries. It was the book that gave me my first publishing deal and, in the words of my mother, the best thing I’ve ever written. Cheers mum. But I get what she means, because it was wholly personal, totally meaningful and full of raw emotion (and based on the coming into the world of her holy grandchildren). Fast forward and I had a compulsion to write another book about the other end of the ‘child-cycle’ preparing to let my children go out into the big wide world after raising them. Being a mother is emotional and stressful and arduous and I wish I could go back and do it all again putting right all those bits I know I’ve got wrong. I can’t, but hopefully I haven’t scarred my boys too much with my vast collection of faux pas. Even if I did hop aboard a passing TARDIS I’d never be able to cover all the bases (but there’s always one mother that you know who gets her kids to enjoy broccoli and we all want to be her).
Being a mum has given me an extra dimension to my life. It’s not a better or a worse life with or without them, just different. My friend who can’t have children has a luxury house in Las Vegas instead and no stretch marks. I have knackered stomach muscles and nerves pulled so tight I could play them like a harp in the London Philharmonic.
I digress. The Mother of All Christmases has been sitting inside me for years, gestating, waiting to be born. It eventually made a non-forceps delivery this year whilst my sons have been exercising their wings ready to fly. Indeed my younger son has gone off to university and there is something missing in my house, an emptiness, a space much bigger than the one he occupied when he was here. It is a curse to parents that the more love we pour into them to make them fittest for leaving us, the more it hurts when they do. You might be able to tell that I put quite a lot of emotion into this novel.
It’s been a weird book though, because as I was writing it, characters from other books kept popping up, wanting to say hello on the page. I always like to revisit characters, assure my readers that they’re okay and still doing fine – or up to old tricks. But with this one, they came en masse. Characters from A Summer Fling, Sunshine over Wildflower Cottage, White Wedding, The Teashop on the Corner, Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe, Here Come the Girls, A Winter Flame, The Queen of Wishful Thinking and – of course – The Yorkshire Pudding Club. The ladies in my first book are going through the Menopause now. They’ve aged in their fictional worlds. It was like catching up with dear friends and they all drifted onto the pages naturally, as if they’d been waiting for the opportunity. So very odd.
Just in case you were wondering, The Mother of All Christmases is a part sequel to A Winter Flame as it picks up Eve and Jacques’ story, but it also wraps around a little 99p ebook called The Barn on Half Moon Hill (the proceeds go to a very worthwhile charity to help a mum who lost her children and so it would be great if you bought it – it’s just the price of a newspaper and count your blessings when you press the ‘buy now’ button.) You can read the book independently, but you’d get a little bit more out of it if you’d read these two as well.
Research on this book was great fun because I hadn’t seen any other books set in a cracker factory and I’m sucker for a point of difference. My new friends in Grantham own the Simply Crackers business and I had a crash course in cracker making. I am not sure I could ever go back to buying them now I can make my own. My jokes are decidedly dirtier than the ones you get in the supermarket ones as well.
The Mother of All Christmases is a hark back to my first book: three pregnant women travelling along their pregnancy journey together and meeting at the Christmas Pudding Club (see what I did there) but it takes in the wider issue of parenthood. Some characters in it are looking forwards to raising children, some are looking back at how they were raised. It was a tough write in places as I pressed my heart into the pages. Some books you want to write, some books you have to write – and this was definitely one of the latter.