Patrick Redmond on Christmas

Before I start I should stress that I DO love Christmas and haven’t changed my name from Ebenezer. It’s great to gather together with my loved ones and celebrate another year packed full of highs and lows, joys and sorrows, happiness and . . .

Oh God, stop right now. I’m starting to sound like one of those Round Robin Christmas letters!

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Actually, I’m not bashing them. After all, if your Christmas card list is epic then it does make sense to include a standard brief summary of what you and your family have been up to. But the key word here is BRIEF. One page tops or maybe one and a half if you won a Grammy, discovered the meaning of life or were abducted by aliens. It’s the ones that go on for ever that are an absolute hoot – particularly when they come from people you haven’t seen for years and didn’t know terribly well to start with. You know the sort I mean – where you reach the end of page 4 and encounter the line ‘And so we turn to March . . .’

Every holiday is described in detail, as is every theatre trip and the week when the bathroom flooded. The best part usually comes at the end with reference to a wonderful party they hosted for all their dear friends and you think ‘So where was my invitation?!’  However it’s always good to know that if you do ever bump into the sender you are fully up to speed on what they thought of Fifty Shades of Grey and how their cousin’s daughter’s best friend is doing after having her wisdom teeth removed.

But enough of this and onto the bestowing of presents – the best part of Christmas if you’re a child, which I was far too many decades ago. For my cousins and I the build up to Christmas was overwhelmingly exciting: counting the day until Christmas Eve when we could hang up our stockings and then enjoy the contents – and usually gorge ourselves silly on chocolate – on Christmas morning. So far so traditional and all tremendous fun.

In our family the rule was that main presents were to be opened after lunch – probably to delay the inevitable ‘but didn’t you realise it needed batteries?’ complaints that would follow, so in the morning my uncle would take us children to church while my mother and aunt slaved over what was always a fabulous Christmas lunch. And once that had been digested, crackers and wishbones pulled and Christmas pudding sixpences accidentally swallowed it was all speed to the living room for the official present-giving ceremony.

And ceremony it certainly was. All the presents were piled under the tree and one of the adults (usually my uncle) dressed as Santa and with many a ‘ho ho ho’ would start distributing them. One at a time. Absolutely NO faster than one at a time.

christmaspressieSo lucky child A would be given a gift and everyone would gather round, watching as they spent five minutes raving about the beauty of the wrapping paper and how exquisitely the sellotape had been applied. Then they would open said gift, see that their brother or sister had bought them a soap on a rope in the shape of a duck and spend another five minutes raving about how it was the greatest present in the history of the world while the rest of us all stood around telling them that it was indeed a splendid gift and that when it came to luck their cup really did runneth over.

And then on to the next one and another fifteen minutes of collective euphoria.

I think the theory behind it was that as Christmas came but once a year it was important to make it last as long as possible. Unfortunately there were a lot of us and after three hours of this procedure it began to feel like Christmas was going to last until the next Millennium and dissention began to spread amongst the ranks. Santa would attempt to bestow another gift on lucky child A, only to be told ‘But I’ve already opened four and child B has only had two and anyway, I know what the rest of mine are except that one so I want to open it last and have a surprise’. At this point Santa’s festive spirit tended to run dry and his ‘ho ho ho’s would be replaced by reminders that when he was a boy there was a war on and it was about time we all realised just how lucky we were.

Child A – ‘What’s lucky about duck shaped soap?’

Child B – ‘You should be grateful. You smell!’

Child A – ‘Look who’s talking!’

Mother/Aunt – ‘Play nicely, children!’

Child B – ‘Yes, and try not to smell!’

Eventually Santa would throw in the proverbial towel, tell us to open the presents as we wanted and march off in search of a very stiff drink!

My cousins and I are all adults now and most have children of their own. We still all gather together at Christmas and though we’ve wisely made the present ceremony a little less formal we still reminisce about the Christmases we shared as children and all agree that the simple fact of the whole family being together made them some of the most magical times of our lives.

Patrick Redmond is the author of psychological thrillers All She Ever Wanted, The Apple of My Eye, The Puppet Show, The Wishing Game and The Replacement. Click here to read an extract of The Replacement!

Writing Process Blog Hop

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I’m very pleased to have been asked to join in a tagging process – and no that has nothing to do with repeat offenders!  Writers are inviting each other to answer questions regarding their work.  I’ve been tagged by my friend Marie Macpherson, author of “The First Blast of the Trumpet” and links to her book and blog are attached below.  Next week the baton will be handed to the author Lauren Gilbert and you can find more information about her and her books below too.

 

So on to the questions…

 

What am I working on?

At the moment I have three projects on the go.  Firstly I’m doing the final tweaks to a ghost story I wrote a couple of years ago.  It’s a bit of a departure for me as I’ve never yet tackled the supernatural so head-on.  There’s loads of mind games and psychological angst too so it’s still essentially a Patrick Redmond book!

Secondly, I’m working on a novel about a silent film star.  Cinema’s silent era has fascinated me ever since my stepmother gave me a copy of Kenneth Anger’s gloriously scandalous “Hollywood Babylon” one Christmas.  Up to then I barely knew the names of any silent stars outside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and pictured them as faceless nobodies who ran around gesticulating madly in a way that would seem comical today.  As I began to study the subject I realised just how wrong I was.  Not only are many silent films astonishing works of art – I’d particularly recommend F.W Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925) starring the great Lon Chaney – but the stars who appeared in them were often far more colourful characters than many of the stars we have today.  It’s amazing that something as simple as using one’s voice could wreck so many brilliant careers and as sound arrived at the same time as the Wall Street crash the end of that career was often accompanied by financial ruin.

Finally I’ve started planning a novel set in the 1950s about a young couple whose relationship grows increasingly toxic.  I’ve always been interested in criminal couples – Brady and Hindley, Leopold and Loeb, Fred and Rose West to name just a few – and love exploring the idea that two people together can often commit crimes that neither would have been capable of as individuals.

 

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Good question – and one to which I really don’t know the answer!  Years ago I read a rather barbed review of one of my books that described it as a psychological thriller without the thrills. Ouch!  However looking at the comment in a positive light I think there’s an element of truth.  My books aren’t packed with murder and mayhem but the drama is in the way the characters play with each other’s emotions, usually leading to a violent climax.  I believe we all have the capacity for violence, and I like exploring situations where previously mild mannered people are pushed relentlessly towards it.

writingprocess2Why do I write what I do?

By accident, really!  When I started my first published novel “The Wishing Game” I intended it to be a dark and violent supernatural thriller – something akin to Stephen King who is a writer I very much admire.  However as the book progressed I realised that it was the shifting relationships between the characters that was exciting me and, as a result, changing the nature of the book.  The supernatural element became background drama to the increasing tensions between the characters and I came to realise that it was the psychological element of dysfunctional relationships that I wanted to explore in my writing.

How does my writing process work?

I don’t really have a set process but I do usually have a clear idea of a plot when I start writing a book.  That said, I often find that as the book progresses the plot often has to change as the characters I’ve created simply won’t do some of the actions I’ve planned for them.  I’ve actually written another blog on this subject, charting how the evolving character of Richard Rokeby in The Wishing Game changed the book’s scope and direction.  Click here to read it.

 

Here are the links for the authors I mentioned at the beginning of the blog.

Marie Macpherson

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You can visit her blog here :-Blog

You can order her book here :-Book

 

 

 

Lauren Gilbert

 

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Growing up, Lauren Gilbert was surrounded by books.  Her  family were all readers, and books were everywhere.  Travel was also an early interest, with both parents having been in the travel industry.   Lauren was introduced to English authors early in life (from classic literature such as PERSUASION by Jane Austen and JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte, to period romances by Margaret Campbell Barnes, Victoria Holt/Jean Plaidy/Philippa Carr (all one person!), Georgette Heyer, and others, and to the mysteries of Dorothy Sayers, Patricia Wentworth and Agatha Christie).   Lauren is fascinated by England and its history, and multiple visits to England have only heightened her interest.  A member of JASNA since about 2001, she attended the Annual General Meetings in 2004, 2007 and 2013.  She was privileged to present a break-out session at the Annual General Meeting in Ft. Worth in 2011.   Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel was released in 5/2011, and she is a contributor to CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors released in 9/2013.  A long-time resident of Florida, she lives with her husband Ed. 

You can visit her website at http://www.lauren-gilbert.com .

Her blog is at http://laurengilbertheyerwood.wordpress.com/

Twins and Sibling Rivalry

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“So why twins?”  That’s the question I always expect when telling people what my novel “The Replacement” is about.  Only I never seem to get it.  Instead my answer often leads to a lengthy discussion on that very subject.  It seems that twin relationships fascinate many people.  They certainly do me, and here is why…

Mine was a solitary childhood.  I was an only child whose parents divorced when I was five and though I loved my home it sometimes felt empty.  Like many only children I grew used to my own company and embarked on love affairs with books and history that have never ended.  But in spite of my developing self sufficiency I still longed for a constant companion of my own age.

All my friends at school had siblings.  My four cousins were siblings too.  Of course they didn’t always get on.  By the time I was ten I’d lost count of the number of times I’d listened to pleas that a particularly annoying brother or sister be flattened by a passing tank!  But at the end of the day that bond of affection was still there.  They bickered but they made up.  They fought but would usually stick up for each other.  And I envied them that.  I wanted that sibling bond too, and who better to provide it than a twin?

Over the years I’ve met many people who shared the same childhood fantasy.  Some were only children like me.  Others had siblings but still felt a sense of something missing.  It was only recently that I stumbled across a medical condition called “Vanished Twin Syndrome” and began to understand why this might be.  It is estimated that around 20% of conceptions are of twins but only 3% result in twin births.  One twin is lost at an early stage in the pregnancy.  The mother does not have the normal signs of miscarriage and the twin essentially vanishes in the womb – its foetal matter being absorbed by the mother, the placenta or by the surviving twin.  If, as many believe, memory begins at conception then there may well be an unconscious sense that someone is missing together with a desire to try and recreate that lost bond.

As a child my notion of twin-ship was very simplistic.  Twins were best friends.  They did everything together.  They liked the same games, laughed at the same jokes and always kept each other’s secrets.  It’s only as an adult, both through meeting twins or reading books and articles about them that I’ve come to see that the relationship can be far more complicated than I ever imagined.  Though many twins view their twin-ship as a blessing there are some that view it as a curse and it was these toxic types of relationships that I wanted to explore in the book.

There are advantages to being an only child.  One never has to deal with sibling rivalry.  It is inevitable in all sibling relationships but imagine how much more intense it can be between twins.  You are exactly the same age, you may be physically identical, and will pass through every childhood milestone together.  And with such closeness inevitably comes comparisons.  What if your twin is better than you at everything?  How does that make you feel, both about yourself and about your twin?  No one likes to feel second best.  To have that feeling permanently must cause immense resentment that can continue long after childhood is over, especially as your bond is often seen as a blessing by other people who are continually telling you how lucky you are to have it.

And what is it like to always be one of a set?  What if you really are extremely close?  I’ve met twins who’ve told me that as children the only friend they wanted was their twin.  Does that closeness impede the ability to form relationships with others?  What happens when, in most likelihood, the day approaches when you have to part ways to go to different colleges or to take jobs in different locations?

I read an article where parents of twins talked about how previously peaceful twin relationships suddenly became violent as the day of separation approached.  In a way it makes perfect sense.  All your life you’ve had this other person by your side.  Suddenly they won’t be there anymore.  How will you cope?  What if you can’t?  What if they can?  What if they don’t seem to need you anymore?  You lash out because you realise that there is a dependency there and you resent the other person for causing it.

In some cases of course that dependency can last a lifetime.  I remember watching the film “Dead ringers” in which Jeremy Irons played identical twin doctors whose bond was so complete that neither was capable of functioning without the other.  It made me wonder how twins who have so intense a bond can go on functioning if one of them dies.

There is actually an organisation called “Lone Twin” where bereaved twins can meet and share their stories.  In a documentary about twins one such twin said that he had formed so intense a bond with another bereaved twin he had met through the organisation that it was causing problems in his relationship with his girlfriend.  She was jealous of this new relationship but he had told her that she would just have to come to terms with it.  I guess what he was really telling her was this new “twin” did and would always come first.

So if I was ten years old again and had the power to conjure myself a twin would I still do it?  The honest answer is that I just don’t know.  If we could have that wonderful close bond I’d always dreamed of and neither of us would have to lose the other until very late in life then I think the answer would be yes.  But relationships aren’t like household appliances. They don’t come with guarantees.  So thank God for my family and friends, for books and history (!) and the fact that I will never have to make that choice.