There are a lot of bits of Oxford that don’t get written about enough. Two of them close to me and featured in my latest book Pam Dickens Keeps Christmas All The Year are Templars Square, known as Cowley Centre to those over thirty-five years of age, and the Littlemore Fish Bar.
I used to spend my pocket money here and there are great local shops. The bridge goes from the car park to the shopping centre and offers views in two directions. Good, eh?
Another great asset to the community is the Littlemore Fish Bar.
Fish and chips is the grandaddy of take away food. If you want to get close to cod you should visit.
As well as these two locations, a lot of local garden centres, Oxford city centre and Summertown also get mentioned by Pam Dickens. It was fun to write and I hope is fun to read, even by those who are not local!
Back in July I finished the second of my Christmas themed books, Sherbets and Herberts & Other Christmas Stories, and what with it being the height of summer I didn’t mention it much online at the time. It’s fair to say my books don’t really launch, they sort of sidle up to the six or seven people who like to read my stuff and then cough politely until they get noticed.
Sherbets and Herberts contains twelve short Christmas stories. The first, called The Float, is an introduction to the two villages of Sitton next the Water and Padlin on Flooze. These villages are inspired by the many Cotswold villages I’ve visited. The next four stories give the book its title and are about a pub and the regular customers, Don, Alan and Brian (in my mind I’ve cast them as Russ Abbot, Philip Jackson and Toby Jones). I’m a bit afraid that their world of the pub is beginning to disappear, so I wanted to write about it. The sixth story, The Bus Blues, is about a musician. I love writing about musicians.
The seventh story, Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World, takes us back to the late 1970s and the punk era. Story eight, Everything Stops For Tea, made me hungry when I wrote it and is a bit whimsical. Story nine, Chas Change and Terry Thinkthrice Soothe Sad Decembers, is a story which has at its centre my belief that humans can be helped to heal. The tenth story, The Perfect Stocking, is about surprise and also about planning. Story eleven, Snowhenge, is about a cosy day indoors. The final story in the book, A Resolution of Retail Rivalry, is about two business men who become pals.
The photo for the book cover was taken on a table purchased in the 1950s by my maternal grandparents and at which I’ve sat for the family Christmases of my childhood and some of the family Christmases of my adulthood. It’s a jolly nice table and can be extended.
You can download Sherbets and Herberts & Other Christmas Stories here.
It’s free on Kindle on 13th and 14th November 2021. Happy reading!
I love Christmas books and I love diary books. I have whole shelves dedicated to both. I noticed that I had never read a Christmas diary book. All diaries contain some Christmas, that is how years work, they all have a December 25th, but a really Christmassy diary book? I couldn’t think of one. So, as Toni Morrison said “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I created a placeholder on my shelf, between diaries and Christmas books for this as yet unwritten book.
I wrote Pam Dickens Keeps Christmas All The Year between May 2020 and October 2021. Despite this being the coronavirus pandemic times the book has no mention of it, because it is set in 2018. It’s very much an escape, a virus free oasis, with baubles. I read 111 Christmas books while writing it! I set it very locally, because that was the only place I was going! It’s a gentle book, stress free and easy to read in short bursts.
So, here’s what it’s all about; Pam Dickens will be released from paid employment this year and she is jolly pleased about it. Join her as she gets used to retirement and occupies her time very pleasantly by focusing on her favourite festival. Meet her husband Malc and see what marriage looks like after more than four decades. Meet her family and friends and enjoy the bits of Oxford that locals inhabit.
If I had a magic wand in December is the last story in my Christmas stories book. It’s actually more of a list. Anyway, if I had a magic wand in December I’d make every Christmas morning white.
Glitter would stay where it was first put.
The end of the sticky tape would cooperate rather than hiding.
There would be three things, instead of just two, that are actually wanted in a three for two price promotion.
Queues would be patient and tut free.
Postage stamps would feature Roy Wood and Noddy Holder.
Weight loss diets would not be mentioned.
No one would refer to Christmas as the C word.
Velvet dresses would not attract fluff.
Flatulence would smell of cinnamon.
No-one would catch a Santa smoking in a car park behind his sleigh.
Blown up balloons would be easy to knot.
Factory workers would make paper snowflakes to decorate the windows.
The tuneless would be able to sing carols well.
We’d write a letter to Denmark thanking them for creating Danish butter cookies.
Pop up Christmas markets would be less like a budget shed showroom (I’m looking at you, Milton Keynes).
Cream would be offered with everything sweet.
Sage and onion stuffing would be offered with everything savoury.
Hats from crackers would be adjustable for those with a non-average head circumference.
No-one would draw attention to someone else’s non-average head circumference.
Fortune telling fish would tell everyone they were passionate (and so they would be, who argues with a plastic fish?)
Accounts departments would take disco dancing lessons.
Everything would come with batteries included.
Balloon phobias would resolve.
Sequin dresses would not shed their sparkly discs.
Everyone would find time to light an advent candle and be still for five minutes, appreciating the season.
Vivienne Westwood would make a wearable, affordable Christmas jumper.
Scoffed chocolate Christmas tree decorations would reappear every morning.
Jeffrey would work on the till in Toys R Us.
Either Nigella’s Christmas or Delia Smith’s Christmas would be on every day.
Only the people who like figs and dates would actually buy them.
Fairy lights wouldn’t tangle.
Woolworths would reopen and the Woolies Winter Wonderland catalogue would be distributed to every home in the land.
Traffic wardens would be excused their usual duties and would instead hand out chocolate coins to motorists.
Hangovers wouldn’t happen.
My spontaneous jokes would get a warm reception. Sample joke: Who is the Queen of Soul at Christmas? A-wreath-ra Franklin!
There would be a TV channel dedicated to people opening advent calendar windows.
Everyone would wear red silk underwear. The first day of wearing it would be known as winter draws on day.
Things that are better left unsaid by elderly relatives would remain unsaid.
Municipal Christmas lights would be switched on by a proper celebrity (not someone from reality TV) or a good old fashioned Mayor or Mayoress complete with gold chain of office.
Doctor Marten boots given as gifts would fit comfortably and wouldn’t need months of wearing in.
When making a Blue Peter advent crown the coat hangers would readily take on the shape required (and safe baubles would be used instead of fire risk candles, have a word with your dangerous nineteen-seventies self).
The Christmas pudding flavour Kitkat would be made again.
Denmark would write back thanking us for our thank you letter and sending us a tin of cookies big enough to use as a swimming pool once all the cookies have been eaten.
Hairdressers would be able to book you in the day before the big party rather than the day after.
All pastry would be light and crisp.
One hit wonders The Sultans of Ping would rewrite their hit to be about a Christmas jumper.
Putting mistletoe under your pillow would allow you to dream of the person you’d kiss next.
News bulletins would end with Boris Johnson reading Christmas cracker jokes.
Grown men would get the train sets they had always wanted.
Grown women would get the train sets they had always wanted.
Donkeys in churches would behave well.
Tights and stockings would not ladder.
Satsumas would be wrapped in bright tissue paper.
Josephs would not go missing from nativity scenes (this happened to me so I replaced him with a Count Dracula of about the right size).
Poinsettias would be hardy.
Nesselrode pudding would be in every supermarket freezer section (Google it, it sounds yummy).
Office managers would stop work early to read stories to their staff.
Everyone would be allowed a day off for Christmas shopping.
Satsumas would not be aggressively squirty.
Party dresses bought online would fit.
No one would wet themselves during a nativity (even if frightened by a Count Dracula).
Homemade gifts would turn out as imagined instead of looking like the work of a slapdash, badly co-ordinated six-year-old child.
Brazil nuts would be easy to crack.
Cats would sleep peacefully under Christmas trees instead of leaping up them to attack something invisible once every four hours.
Wives would smile indulgently at husband’s novelty ties.
No hamsters, rats, gerbils or other family pets would die.
Stomachs would not require Rennies.
People who like Marmite or Guinness would receive Marmite or Guinness rather than some coasters or an apron with the Marmite or Guinness logo on.
Nail varnish would not chip.
Octagonal boxes of Turkish delight would come pre-gift wrapped.
Russ Abbot’s “Atmosphere” would be played in shopping centres.
Noggs other than egg would be available for vegans (Veggnogg?)
Everyone would take a turn at working in a shop.
Carol singers would know the second verse.
Battenberg cakes would be seasonally altered. They would be red and green sponge squares with white marzipan.
The Queen’s speech would have a couple of good jokes and Prince Phillip would appear at the end in a party hat.
Gloves would remain in pairs with the strength of childhood sweethearts.
Everyone would believe in Father Christmas.
Grown women would get the rainbow legwarmers they always wanted.
Grown men would get the rainbow legwarmers they always wanted.
No one at a work do would resort to the safe but dull topic of work.
Free parking spaces would be available for late night Christmas shopping.
All drinks would have a mulled option.
Everyone would have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year.
I chose this book as my third Christmas read because it would be easy to pick up and put down in the busy week leading up to Christmas. The full title of the book is Once Upon A Christmas – Memories And Recipes From Your Favourite Celebrities. It was published in 1996 to raise money for the ChildLine charity and it’s got a real mix of people and writings in it. This book drew my eye because it was displayed in the window of the Mencap charity shop in Salisbury where I was having a festive day out. It is signed by Esther Rantzen whose work on the behalf of vulnerable young people and old people, and kind heart I admire.
As you’d expect, this book was very varied. The strangest celebrity inclusion was Mr Blobby. However this book was published when Blobbymania gripped the UK. Also included was a story from Jeannette Charles who is Her Majesty The Queen’s lookalike!
I enjoyed Martin Jarvis’s memory of visiting a Father Christmas in Croydon with his son. I liked Doc Cox’s coining of the phrase “peppermint sheep” as a synonym for “Bah! Humbug!” Toyah Wilcox’s contribution ended beautifully with these words; “Christmas to me, is a place where I wish time itself would stand still and embrace us all, for ever, in that feeling of love, security and happiness”.
I haven’t yet decided what will be my fourth festive read. Perhaps I’ll go right back to Dick Bruna’s The Christmas Story, which was my first ever Christmas read.
Whatever you’re reading, I wish you a cosy, wordy Christmas!
The second festive book I’ve read inspired by the Writerly Yours Christmas Readathon was Nancy Mitford’s Christmas Pudding. It begins with a prologue that reads “Four o’clock on the first of November, a dark and foggy day. Sixteen characters in search of an author.”
Immediately I wanted to know who these sixteen people were. Some of these sixteen characters are a little bit awful! The book reminded me that personalities don’t change at Christmas! There is a mix of young and old thrown together, again a theme which is very Christmas.
This book was first published in 1932 but is very readable today. It’s set in Compton Bobbin, in the Cotswolds and since I live in Oxfordshire I found it easy to imagine the surroundings. It contrasts the excitement of London with the sleepiness of the country. If you enjoy P. G. Wodehouse, you are likely to enjoy this.
My next Christmas read is going to be an anthology of celebrity stories, recipes and memories, called Once Upon A Christmas, edited by Esther Rantzen in 1996 to raise money for ChildLine. I’ve chosen this because it’ll be easy to dip into and out of at this busy time of the month.
One of the things I like best about the Christmas holidays is having time to do a lot of reading so when I saw an invite on Twitter from Writerly Yours to a Christmas readathon I thought I’d join in. The idea is that lots of readers and writers tweet about what they’re reading this Christmas. I have fifty books on my Christmas book shelf but always love discovering more! All of these inspire my own Christmas stories and so I like to read a wide range of festive tales.
My most recent new Christmas read, which I’ve just finished is Terry Pratchett’s Father Christmas’s Fake Beard. I read most of it on a snowy Sunday afternoon and I didn’t want it to end. These are children’s stories but Pratchett writes in such a non-patronising, engaging way that I stop noticing that these are children’s stories. I usually re-read Pratchett’s Hogfather at Christmas and I heartily recommend reading anything and everything by Terry Pratchett.
My next Christmas read is going to be Nancy Mitford’s Christmas Pudding. I’m looking forward to it because it is set in the Cotswolds, near where I live so I should be able to picture the scenes with ease.
Come and join in the readathon fun if you’re a fan of festive reading. Just follow Writerly Yours on Twitter and use the hashtag #WYchristmasreadathon when tweeting about your jolly holiday reading.
Tales to Take You to Christmas is 24 short festive stories. You can read a story a day and use it as an advent calendar or read it all at once and immerse yourself in a seasonal world.
Ho, ho, how much is it? You might be asking. It’s free on Kindle today and tomorrow 🙂
I mostly write books about metal bands and teenage girls who love metal but I’ve also written a book of twenty four short Christmas stories. It’s the sort of book you can dip into and out of and doesn’t contain anything rude enough to shock your Mum. It’s a rather jolly tome, if I do say so myself. I ruddy well love Christmas. If you do too, you can download it here: