My advent story calendar really did come to life the way I describe. I saw the lovely jolly snowman made of felt in a charity shop, and thought I would have a lot of fun filling up the 24 little pockets. That was 2009, and my children were aged six, three and one. Then someone else gifted them chocolate advent calendars, and my snowman seemed somewhat superfluous. But I am now very grateful to those unexpected chocolate advents, because without them, I might never have come up with my alternative idea – a story told over twenty-four days, building up to a big finish on Christmas Eve.
That first year, my story was pretty simple. It was the tale of two sisters and their surprise encounter with an elf with a broken wing. The elf’s job is to deliver Christmas lists to Father Christmas, and he needs the girls’ help to get back to the North Pole. The girls were called Ella and Izzy – named after the imaginary friends of my younger daughter. It was a bit of a rushed job, all written out by hand in brightly coloured pens. The episodes were very short, and I kept the language simple in the hope that my elder daughter would be able to read it for herself. I don’t think she did, but they loved the story and my idea was so well received that I knew I would be repeating it the following year.
For 2010, I got more organised. I planned my story in advanced and made sure I could print it off. This enabled me to tell a much more complex story. It was a Dickensian style tale, with an orphan boy and a Scrooge-like uncle, and a stray puppy that gained the ability to talk at midnight on Christmas Eve and deliver a few home truths to the uncle. There was, of course, a very happy ending. (I still think this story would make an excellent play for a primary school Christmas production and once started on adapting it. I might go back to it one day.)
In the forthcoming years, my idea became a regular part of Christmas. I don’t think my children were just humouring me with the excitement of each 1st December to find out what the story was going to be that year. I was very much led by them in the story subjects. The Very Special Christmas Star had been a more serious story, so I followed it up with a fun caper at the North Pole, where two toys were magically brought to life and went exploring. This was particularly popular because the two toys were based on Mr Bunny and Lick, my daughters’ most treasured soft toy companions. The year after that, I used a personal connection of my own, creating a childhood adventure for two characters from the novel I was currently working on. For the next story, The Advent Diary of Amanda Brown, I was inspired by something my younger daughter had once said, which became an incident in the story. Disaster at the Christmas Pudding Factory was a chance to channel my inner Roald Dahl, going for absurd and silly in a way that I would never usually write. The Carol Singer was a short story that I had written many years before; it draws on the great tradition of a Christmas mystery and was inspired by a real bus journey I used to make. And then, because my children still talked about the Bunny and Pup story, I returned to Father Christmas’s workshop and wrote a new adventure in that setting, this time featuring the elves and an unfortunate incident with some holly.
All the time I was writing these stories for my children, I was wondering if there was anything else I could do with them. I thought about approaching publishers and seeing if I could sell the idea, but I knew people wouldn’t really want to buy books to cut up, so publishers wouldn’t find it a particularly commercial idea. However, it stayed in my mind that this was a good idea, and I wanted to share it. As a writer, sharing my stories is my main goal. By this time, I had lots of stories I wanted to share, including a brand new novel. I had already decided that I was going to try self-publishing on Kindle, just because it would be an easy way to share my work between friends and family. With all this material, I was beginning to see that I needed a website to promote my portfolio of work. And with another brainwave, I realised that I could use my Advent Stories as part of that promotion. With my own website, I had a platform on which to share them, offering them for free in return for any extra traffic to my site. If you’re reading this now because you came looking for an advent story, then yay, you’re very welcome. I hope you like my stories. They have brought a lot of pleasure to me and my family and I truly hope they will do the same for you. Now I really must stop – I have a new story to write before 1st December!