Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas reading. With added gruesome.

In spite of the fact that it's supposed to be the season of goodwill, there's a great tradition of associating Christmas with all things scary and gruesome - ranging from Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot's Christmas to the annual ghost story readings of M.R.James.

I'm pleased to say that I have added to the store of Christmas grisliness with my novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. The story begins with a freak accident at an Advent dinner and ends a year later with grim death in the December snow. I'm venturing therefore to put it forward as a possible gift idea, for those who like a bit of mystery and murder alongside their turkey and roast potatoes!

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was my debut novel and was inspired by Bad Münstereifel, the town in Germany where I lived for seven years. We had many very snowy winters when we lived there, plus a couple of actual "white Christmases". I remember one year when my son was small enough to be in a pushchair and the temperatures dropped to -19°; I used to have to take my gloves off to take him out of the pushchair and strap him into his car seat, and in that short time my hands would go numb with the cold! Brrrr. But the freezing weather was more than compensated for by the wonderful German Christmas customs.

Bad Münstereifel has its own Christmas market (as do larger towns and cities in Germany) and it was lovely to go and drink a glass of Glühwein, whilst admiring the Christmas lights. In Germany, Santa Claus, "der Nikolaus", visits children on the eve of St. Nicholas' Day, which is 6th December, so he visited our kids that night too - in fact he still does! We have kept up some of our German customs even though we no longer live there (not to mention the fact that the kids are technically far too old to have visits from Santa any more).

It's also the custom in Germany to have an "Advent crown", which is a table ornament with four candles in it; every Sunday in Advent a new candle is lit during dinner. One of these Advent crowns features in the freak accident I mentioned above, naked flames being a bit risky when there is flammable stuff around...

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is suitable for teens and adults. I'm pleased to say that it was recently named as one of the Times' 100 Modern Children's Classics of the Past 10 Years - although it's definitely at the Young Adult end of "Children's". It was also shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the Booktrust Teen Award in the UK, and won an ALA Alex Award in the USA. So I suppose it's as "respectable" as a book can be that mentions an exploding grandmother, a disappearing Snow White and housebreaking children...

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