I thought I’d share a few history facts about Christmas in lead up to the big day this week …
Most people know that the Christian Christmas celebration of Christ’s birth aligns purposefully with the old pagan winter solstice festival recognising the shortest day of the year in the United Kingdom. If you don’t know, though, the pagan period of feasting and celebration was rebranded by the early church because people were unlikely to welcome being told to stop the pattern of celebrating at this time of year.
Less people know about the Roman festival that also occurred in December and also influenced our experience of Christmas today. The Roman festival of Saturnalia was on December 17 of the Julian Calendar, not the Georgian Calendar that we use to count years today. This festival was brought to Britain in 43BC when the Romans invaded, and as Roman life became the way of British life over the years, so their traditions and deities merged with the pagan deities already celebrated.
Saturnalia celebrated the Roman deity Saturn. As we all know, the Romans knew how to throw a party. In towns Saturnalia celebrations began with a sacrifice in the Forum, an area for gathering that was the heart of the Roman town. The day would include feasting and even gift-giving, long parties, games, gambling and a carnival atmosphere. This would have merged with pagan celebrations in British traditions and formed the habits of celebration that went on to be adopted by the Christian church.
Authors often say, ‘I spend half the time working out where to put the child’, which is especially true for books that include love scenes ;D . But I’ve started using children as essential elements of the plots.
Initially, I used children for similar reasons to including pets – the children told the reader about a character’s personality. The connection with a child can help the reader to trust the character and see something different about them through their interactions with a child. In my early books I generally used sub-characters’ children which makes it easier to have them around when you want them to play a part and exclude them when you want a scene to be child free. I’m chuckling to myself as I’m imaging those weddings that say no children on the invite because people don’t want noisy children charging around the reception room and ruining the image they have of their perfect day. I suppose a book scene is the same, you can’t expect the children to be sitting quietly on a rug as easily as you can a dog, it would not be a realistic scene, and as soon as you begin writing unrealistic elements into a scene I think the reader’s mind spots it and turns them off the whole story.
So, children have to be allowed to be noisy, inquisitve and annoying, in my opinon, and bad tempered as well as happy smiling and laughing.
Actually, I say children belonged to others in my early books, but of course there is John at the age of ten in The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, broken-hearted, desperate and overjoyed to be returned to his mother. There’s a scene in that story of him that is one of my favourites – I picked it up from people watching – a friend’s son did this – John absentmindedly walks along thrashing the grass at the side of the path with a branch he’d picked up, as yet unsure of his mother’s new relationship. What is particularly lovely about John is the reader spends time with him as a boy in The Illicit Love of a Courtesan and then sees how that childhood impacts him as a man in The Scandalous Love of a Duke. He did grow up to be a very troubled man for obvious reasons when you know about his childhood. But because he was controlled and bullied by his grandfather he spends only short periods with his mother in The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, he was not a problem in scenes, which is why I didn’t think about him initially. But he plays a key part in showing you the heart of his mother’s character, and then his uncle’s in the next book, The Passionate Love of a Rake. John’s character, in his interaction with his half-brothers and half-sisters, is also defined in a different way, because they are experiencing a very different childhood to the one he had, and he struggles with that at times. In his character, his interactions with the children expresses more of the confusion, hurt and anger that he’s challenged with. With most of my characters, though, I sought to show a goodness and a reliable, steadfast, nature in people through their interaction with children.
Free me is the first time a child takes a more significant role in my books. When you write a single parent by the very nature of the character’s situation the child is with them all the time, unless they’re at school/nursery, but on those days one or both of the adult characters night be working. Of course, there are after school and sports clubs, play dates and babysitting options. But Amy’s daughter always being there plays into the story in Free me. Amy’s character has a very good reason not to trust people, so Rich has to be good with the child otherwise he wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Amy. She and her daughter, Christa, come as a set. He has to want to give her daughter time and attention, and play with her, and take them both out to places, because Amy isn’t going to leave Christa behind. She won’t like him unless her daughter does too. The fact that he likes Christa and wants to spend time with them both was one of, if not the, most lovable feature about Rich. At times he can’t even hug Amy to say goodbye because Christa will not let her mother go. In the book you see in the scenes how he has to work to connect with Amy’s daughter and then he begins to look after her, carrying her on his shoulders when she is tired. He becomes part of the family. His interactions with Christa are a relationship and story development as much as his relationship with Amy. But Amy’s daughter, Christa, is very well-behaved, her mother’s life has been so traumatic that Christa has learned to behave and be fairly silent. But that also makes her harder for Rich to win over. Christa’s role is crucial in the middle of that couple, and I use her even right to the end of that suspenseful love story to play that part.
I discovered though, during writing Free me, that I really enjoy developing and showing that father/male partner with child relationship. When I’m people watching I love watching men’s interaction with young children – especially when the man is on his own. Men do often work a little differently with children. I think they try harder to make them happy rather than accepting sulking or anger or getting exasperated with temper tantrums, they’ll console. My love of that child and male relationship was the first spark of an idea that became my first psychological thriller, After you fell, which I think should be renamed ‘The Nanny’. The lead male is a single parent of three very young children, and the obsessive female character works her way into his home in the guise of his nanny. The children, as you can imagine, are therefore pivotal to the whole plot. Without them she’d have no reason to connect with him.
An American black man who sat next to me at a New York Yankees baseball game inspired me to come up with the single father of three in After you fell. The real man was with his wife. He had a baby asleep on his lap and a daughter and son. The chldren, I would guess, were three and five or six, fidgeting and asking questions, keeping him busy. He juggled his attention among the children and the game. I have a picture of that family that I kept to remember them by as my daughter took a picture of me and they’re behind me. It was just the way this man intereacted with his kids that made me think about a tender single male parent. Then, my brain said, what if the man had only recently lost his wife and was struggling to bring the children up through mutual greif? Throw in an obbsessive nanny who is connected with your wife’s ghost and you have story! But in a thriller the difference is she uses the children to build up his trust, rather than wanting to build up the readers’ trust. The readers know she’s there to cause trouble they are concerned for this father who is being fooled. Likewise the children’s place in the story is different, their role is to create problems and situations that generate close moments which make the reader wonder where it will go, but also conflict. The character uses them to her own ends, but children will not always do what you want and these children are grieving the loss of their mother, they do become angry and they will sulk, and they won’t do or be the nice neat instigators that the character wants. They cause trouble as well as setting decievingly happy family scenes.
All these different relationships in books show you how children may be awkward to write but then can and do take stories to different places and add important dimensions to the plots.
But in The Twins I’ve gone to another level; I’ve written the characters as children and spoken from a child’s mind. A lot of TV dramas use flashbacks, which gave me the idea of rather than talking about what a character went through in their childhood it was better to show the reader. Just to have it narrated through adult thought would have been boring. So. I have taken the reader into the twins memories and a large part of the initial chapters are scenes of the childhood that defined the girls and eventually broke them apart. When I started writing thrillers, I decided I was going to write every book in a consistent voice that would be mine, the authors. Previously I’ve written in a perspective that is almost acting the character so the descriptive narration aspects as well as the dialogue changes according to the narrative I think the characters would use. I’ve noticed that the best selling authors tend to stick to one style of voice, though, so readers seem to prefer a consistancy. But I just couldn’t bring myself to write with an adult voice for the young girls, so I have given that idea up in their childhood points of view. I’m smiling to myself again because one review said they didn’t like the writing in the narrative and stopped reading, it wasn’t very good, I presume they didn’t understand the fact that it’s children under ten talking. LOL. I’m not regretful, I think it would have sounded silly for children, even young teenagers, to speak like adults 🙂 . I really enjoyed using their voices to tell the early story, and a lot of people are really enjoying the story and the writing and saying that is largely because of the child’s-eye-view of the past. People who enjoy the stories tell me how emotionally engaged they became with those children. Those readers would not have built up the same relationship the twins if it had just been adults recalling memories. The storytelling would not be the same at all. Experiencing the emotions of the children through the awful things they experienced as children takes the reader into the rollercoaster of their early lives and means the reader understands and makes allowances for the flaws of the adults.
So, as you can tell from all of these little stories about children in my writing, my relationship with, and use of children in fiction has grown and changed through my books and now I really do make the best use of my children. Children are now at the heart of the stories and integral to the success of a story. They are a really worth while addition to explore if you’re an aspiring writer.