Lucy Coleman shares the first chapter of her new festive novel, set in Wales.
Tiredness from a long, foot-wearying but exciting day sees Mum sinking into a deep sleep almost as soon as her head touches the soft, one-thousand thread count Egyptian cotton pillowcase.
In the semi-light, I glance across at her bed on the far side of the room and wish I could see her face, but her back is towards me. I wonder if today was too much for her, and whether tomorrow we should be a little less ambitious in our plans. I forget that time marches on and with it come the aches and pains she says are only natural at her age. Not wishing to spoil the festive mood I push aside my worries and indulgently allow my thoughts to wander.
So, what was the best Christmas you can remember, Tia? I ask myself. Gazing up at the ceiling, I find myself smiling as images flash across my mind. Like little vignettes, curiously colourless for some reason, as if each is merely a shadow. But the emotions I feel as I become a voyeur of my own memories are powerful. Tears begin to form in the corners of my eyes and I have to suck in a deep breath, for fear of letting out a howling sob. Dad and Will’s faces appear and my chest constricts with anguish for what has been lost.
As I concentrate on sorting a random collection of clips into some semblance of order, I begin to realise that the best Christmas was actually the one shortly after Dad had been made redundant. The company he worked for had closed their doors overnight; it was a family concern going back three generations and the news came as a bitter blow to everyone. I didn’t really understand what was happening at the time, only that money was suddenly very tight. Every interview he attended in the days leading up to Christmas was dispiriting. He would come home with a deep frown on his face and I clearly remember him talking about which of his ex-colleagues were at the same interview. But Mum and Dad counted their blessings; they had some savings and Mum knew how to make a pound stretch.
‘Waste not, want not as my mother used to say,’ was her favourite little quote in those days.
But our Christmases had never been about over–indulgence, partly because Mum’s parents weren’t well-off and her upbringing had made her appreciate the small things in life. The things which really matter because it helps to raise your spirits and spread the joy. So, our holiday celebrations were all about family and friends we welcomed into our house to join in the singing and general merriment. Mum cooked everything herself from scratch and we ate well but the focus was on feeding many, not overly indulging a few. The presents were never extravagant, with my brother and I each receiving one special present and then sharing several smaller things with which we could both play. Mainly books and board games which could be passed on once we’d tired of them.
But the year of Dad’s redundancy Mum gathered us all around the kitchen table, poured out a cup of tea and placed a slice of Victoria sandwich cake in front of each of us.
‘This year I think it would nice if we made the gifts we give to each other. What do you think?’
I was nine at the time and thought I was very grown up; the Santa thing was no longer a part of my vocabulary but looking back now I missed the impact that rite of passage had on Mum. She had kept that little bit of Christmas magic going as long as she could and Will later told me she’d warned him not to spoil it for me. Ironic then that the year it was over for me was also the year of great upheaval and uncertainty for our future. Her head must have been in a spin and her heart heavy, but she didn’t show it.
Anyway, Dad had nodded, his own head too full of anxiety about his latest interview and the long wait over the Christmas holidays to find out whether he’d been successful. Whether his luck was in, as he referred to it.
Will and I had raised our eyebrows and exchanged a glance. I don’t think either of us were thinking about ourselves, but what on earth could we possibly make to give as gifts? Usually we saved our pocket money and Mum would take us into town a week or so before the big day. It was fun hunting around for something small but meaningful we could wrap up and lay beneath the tree.
‘Bet I can make something better than you can,’ Will had chided me and the challenge was on.
Mum made us each a personal hamper. Simple baskets purchased from the Saturday market but filled with our favourite homemade biscuits and sweets. Mine had marzipan fruits, shortbread biscuits with lemon zest and fudge.
Dad utilised his love of working with wood and I had a box in which to store my treasures. He’d carved apple blossoms into the lid and it’s still one of my most treasured possessions. Mum received a blanket box and Will an ornate shelf to display some of his sports trophies.
Will invented his own board game and I have to say it was pretty good. Based on the old snakes and ladders concept, he’d brought it up to date by using a space setting with black holes and jet packs. Well, at the time we all thought it was rather good and it passed many a happy hour over the holiday.
Me? I knitted everyone a scarf with over-sized knitting needles the thickness of cotton reels. The results were like something out of Dr Who’s wardrobe but in terms of reaction and the amount of laughter generated, my presents won that day. Mind you, I can’t ever recall seeing any of them wearing the fruits of my labour. Just this one memory alone is enough, though, to put a smile back on my face and remind me that even the hard times were good. I just didn’t have enough life experience to appreciate that fact.
Mum had somehow rescued what could have been a rather dismal Christmas just by being a source of constant inspiration and positivity for us all. She made sure our home was filled with love and laughter; her family always came first.
It was early in the new year that Dad was offered the position and we all breathed a sigh of relief. However, it was tinged with sadness because so many of the families around us were still counting the pennies. Men desperate to work were going from one interview to the next on a rollercoaster ride of rejection after rejection. We constantly had school friends to tea as Mum and Dad kept a close eye on the kids in the neighbourhood. A little hot food was appreciated and we learnt a lot about sharing in times of need from the example our parents set us.
Maybe I’ll dig those old needles out of my treasure box and surprise Mum next Christmas with a new scarf. We can then sit and laugh about old times because it’s true what they say, laughter is good for the soul.
As the snowflakes start to fall, Holly Cove welcomes a new tenant to the beautiful old cottage on the beach…
For lifestyle magazine journalist Tia Armstrong, relationships, as well as Christmas, have lost all their magic. Yet Tia is up against a Christmas deadline for her latest article ‘Love is, actually, all around…’
So, Tia heads to Holly Cove where the restorative sea air and rugged stranger, Nic, slowly but surely start mending her broken heart. Tia didn’t expect a white Christmas, and she certainly never dared dream that all her Christmas wishes might just come true…
Set in Caswell Bay on the stunningly beautiful Gower Coast, the cottage nestles amid the limestone cliffs and the woodlands, where the emotions run as turbulently as the wind-swept sea.
Lucy Coleman lives in the Forest of Dean with her husband and Bengal cat, Ziggy. Her novels have been short-listed in the UK’s Festival of Romance and the eFestival of Words Book Awards. She won the 2013 UK Festival of Romance: Innovation in Romantic Fiction Award. When she’s not writing, Lucy can be found in the garden weeding or with a paint brush in her hand.