So tomorrow is a very exciting day. The third and final part of my Hope Christmas trilogy is published. Thanks to very lovely people on the internet, it seems to be doing rather well in the Kindle chart, which is very pleasing and wonderful.
I thought I'd mark the moment by talking a little about where the inspirations for this series have come from. Of all the eight books I've written, these ones are closest to my heart, featuring an ongoing theme of motherhood, and what it means to be both a mother and daughter.
When I first started writing Last Christmas in 2008 (Yup, scarily, it has been that long), I was a very frantic mother of four children ranging from 6 to 12. Plus I was taking on an increasing level of responsibility with my mother in law. To say my life was busy, is putting a bit mildly. So an obvious inspiration for the book, came very directly from my own experience. I had the idea of a character who wrote a blog like I do, but unlike mine, hers was totally fictional. Cat Tinsall (who ISN'T me, but I understand her very well) created an online persona called The Happy Housewife who dispensed helpful advice to stressed mums, while ironically her own domestic life was somewhat more chaotic then that. This being a Christmas book, I also drew heavily on many years of experience sitting through nativities for Marianne's thread of the story, which was putting on a nativity in Hope Christmas, my fictional town/village in Shropshire.
Hope Christmas is based on a real place: Church Stretton, a town you'll find off the A49 between Ludlow and Shrewsbury, nestling between the Long Mynd on one side, and Caer Caradoc, Ragleth and other hills on the other. My parents moved there in 1988, and I married there in 1989. Throughout my adult life it has been my go to place for R&R, and when the children came along, it's a place they've grown up in which allowed them more freedom then they could ever have here. All the walks I have sent Marianne on, are based on walks we've done, and particularly, in this the last book, I have included personal touches from our favourite walks.
Hopesay Manor, the home of Ralph and Michael Nicholas is based in part on Plowden Hall in Lydbury North. Although I stole the peacocks and the lawn from Walcott Manor.
I had only intended to write one book about Hope Christmas, and I genuinely thought that when I got to the end, that was going to be it for Marianne and Gabriel and Cat and Noel. But I found myself drawn back to their stories, and I also wanted to tell Pippa's story. I know many people who have children with special needs, and I know how hard the struggle can be to get the required help and support a family needs to cope. (Never more so in these days of austerity measures). I wanted to tell such a story, and show that a special needs child can be a joy too. So I wrote about Pippa's struggles to get respite care for her daughter, Lucy, who has cerebral palsy. I loved writing Lucy, her character shone through, and she is a pivotal and vital part of her family.
Along with Pippa's story, I returned in A Merry Little Christmas to Cat's ongoing struggles as her mother, Louise develops further into alzheimers, and Marianne and Gabriel still have to contend with the ongoing problems created by Eve, Gabriel's ex wife, which also spills over into Coming Home for Christmas.
It was at this point in the writing, my personal life became rather embroiled in this series. As Last Christmas came out in 2009, we were having a really tough time with mil, who ended up in hospital for several months, including over the Christmas period. Real life was imitating life rather too well, as she was often very confused and it was a deeply distressing period. As it happened, Rosemarie didn't have alzheimer's, but her health declined steeply after that, and she ended up having carers four times a day. By the time I came to write A Merry Little Christmas three years ago, she had been diagnosed with leukaemia, and alot of that book was written sitting by her side, in hospital, while she dozed. Needless to say my delivery dates got shot to pieces when she died just before Christmas 2011. With a massive amount of support and understanding, somehow that book got finished, and I dedicated it to Rosemarie's memory. Like my own mother, she was a great supporter of my writing, and I am only sorry she never got to see the last two books.
When I came to write Coming Home for Christmas, I rather thought things would be ok. And they were for the first draft, written this time last year. I got through the first draft pretty quickly for me. And I thoroughly enjoyed reintroducing Ralph and Luke back into the narrative. I also had alot of fun with the local protestors who are trying to stop Luke's company building a luxury spa in the woods. I channeled alot of my favourite film, Local Hero, into that storyline, and it was great fun to write, particularly the protest scenes.
However, at the point when I came to do the rewrites, my beloved mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer out of the blue. I spent several weeks trekking up and down to Shropshire, trying and failing to find moments to tackle the rewrites on the train. Church Stretton has never looked more beautiful to me, then it did this Spring, and I wove as much of that as I could into the story, when I finally got my head together to write it.
Once again, my editor at Avon offered me stonking support - though she must have been tearing her hair out at moments when I sailed very close to the wind in deadline terms.
And here it is, as much a love letter to a place that has been in my heart and soul for 26 years, as a homage to the two wonderful women I was privileged to have as my ma and ma in law.
I don't know yet whether there will be any more Hope Christmas books, but I think for the time being, I am done with Cat, Noel, Marianne, Gabriel, Pippa and Dan. Like them, my children are growing up, but while that is a change that sometimes makes me sad, I will enjoy their journey into adulthood. And who knows, maybe when I have grandchildren (not too soon I hope!), so will Cat, Marianne and Pippa.
In the meantime, I have a short enovella telling Mel's story coming out soon, and you never know, if I fancy it, a few more Hope Christmas characters may get to take centre stage for a change...
And I am also delighted to announce that these very lovely bookbloggers are hosting a blog tour of Coming Home For Christmas.
Thanks for coming with me on this journey, it's been a bit more epic then I imagined six years ago, but I hope you'll think it's been worth the ride.