I don’t know about you, but Christmas feels like it’s hurtling towards me at an even faster pace than previous years. I must be getting old. But not to worry, because according to the latest issue of The People’s Friend, I’ll soon be in the festive spirit.
That’s because in the next issue of The People’s Friend (out Wednesday 4th) I have not one, but two festive pieces. One was written at the beginning of September (when I went to interview staff at a Christmas tinsel-making factory), the other was written at the end of October (when I they wanted me to visit Ironbridge for the travel section).
As many of you know, magazines are planned months in advance (I’m currently writing the Business of Writing column for the March issue of Writing Magazine), which can make things a little challenging when it comes to research and taking photos.
Thankfully, it wasn’t that difficult to get into the Christmas spirit when I went to interview people in a tinsel-making factory. There was plenty of festive tinsel about the place! (And it was really interesting to see how tinsel is made … it looks like a giant candyfloss machine, in case you’re wondering.)
For the workers there, it must feel like Christmas every day, because they’re surrounded by it throughout the year.
The Ironbridge travel piece came about because the editor said he’d got some nice images of Ironbridge in the snow – just the sort they needed for their front cover image. So, as they’d got suitable images for the front cover, could I write a suitable travel piece? With production schedules what they are for a weekly publication, I knew I needed to get this job done by the end of October. And luckily, the day before I visited the historic gorge and birthplace of the industrial revolution, the local authority had been round putting up the Christmas lights. So even though my street photos were taken in October, they looked a little Christmassy. (Usually, I’m moaning about how early Christmas seems to start in the shops, etc, but on this occasion I was quite pleased!)
Seasonality and long production times can make things challenging when it comes to our writing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Some time ago I wrote a piece about this in Writing Magazine focussing on fiction. Most short story writers have to write their Christmas short stories in June. I know some try to help the festive spirit by playing Christmas music as they produce their first drafts. Wendy Clarke, told me that she didn’t need to go to this effort.
”Once I start writing, I get so immersed in my stories that even if it is blazing hot sun outside, in my head it is snowing!”
And in last month’s Writing Magazine I spoke to two writers who specialised in Festive Fiction – writing novels set around the festive period. Samantha Tonge reminded me that seasonal stories like this need to draw upon all of our senses.
”Using all five senses is crucial, to give the reader a full sensory festive experience. That’s what will give them that feel-good, nostalgic glow and make them completely invested in the story. When I’ve finished a chapter I go back and make sure each scene is fully exploited for festive elements.”
It’s taking steps like this that helps make seasonal pieces so fresh and vibrant.
In last month’s Writers’ Forum, Douglas McPherson spoke about keeping an observation journal, where he jots down sights, sounds, smells and experiences every day. That way, he can look back to any point of the year and be quickly reminded of key details that add so much seasonal sparkle to his stories and on-fiction.
Sometimes, such seasonality means working a long way in advance. In fact, over the coming week to ten days I’m off researching for two commissions from The People’s Friend for pieces that will be used December 2020 issues. (And in the current issue of The People’s Friend Special my piece about the history of Christmas Window displays was written last year.)
In some ways, working twelve months in advance makes things easier, but it does mean being even more prepared. In order to be commissioned in time to go and do the research at the right time of year, you need to have had the idea earlier, so that there was time to pitch it and get a decision.
When it comes to the business of writing, it’s always been a bit topsy-turvey, writing seasonal pieces out of season. But it does keep us on our toes.
And even though I don’t feel particularly festive at the moment, at least I did for a few hours back in September, when I was at the tinsel factory!