Saturday, 27 December 2008

Two Solstices Meet in Me - Charlie Butler



When Susan Cooper created her Christmas/Solstice/New Year classic, The Dark is Rising, she wrote some of the midwinter scenes while on summer holiday in the British Virgin Islands. As young Will Stanton, her hero, crunched over the snow, peering through frosty breath for a glimpse of the Sign of Iron, Cooper  was sipping at a piña colada, perhaps, or shielding her eyes from the glitter of the Caribbean.
Part of me feels a little queasy when I think about that, but I wonder why? I suppose I’d rather imagine the author right there, watching Will and taking notes. For some books it might not matter, but for that one – so firmly rooted in its territory of Buckinghamshire and Windsor Great Park, and so snowed in with winteriness – it does. (I’ll be forever grateful that my first winter at college, in 1981, was a snowy one, for I lived at Runnymede of Magna Carta fame, just a short walk from the Thames and its islets, and a slightly longer one from the site of Herne’s Oak.)
I know I’m being unreasonable. It’s one of the glories of writing that it can transport readers far from their own time and place: it’s only fair that it should do the same for writers. Yet still I feel uneasy. Maybe it stems from having watched too many Christmas Specials on television as a child. They were mostly recorded in summer, and were replete with fake snow and mufflers. Thinking of Val Doonican in a Santa beard, glistening with unseasonable jollity under the studio lights, makes me feel anything but festive.
Then there’s me, right now. I know this post is due to be published on December 27th, but on that date I’ll be enjoying a short break with my family – far, far away from an internet connection. Luckily, the wonders of Blogger allow me to set things up so that the post will appear at the right time (fingers crossed). In actual fact, though, I’m writing it in June. Wimbledon’s on the telly, and this time I just KNOW that Andy Murray’s going to go all the way. (Right? Don’t tell me if I was wrong – I don’t want to know.) 
It’s a strange life. Here I am, watching Nadal about to serve for the set – and at the same time I’m raising a glass of mulled wine to the good folk of ABBA, and munching a metaphorical roast potato.
Confused? Tell me about it. But that’s the wonder of fiction, I guess. As John Keats put it, “She will bring, in spite of frost/ Beauties that the earth hath lost.” (These days, the same is true of Tesco.)
So, Merry Christmas, everybody. Strawberries and cream for all.

2 comments:

asakiyume said...

She wrote that while on holiday in the Virgin Islands?! Wow, unbelievable.

She must have really taken herself out of herself, imagined the cold winds and the slush and the numb fingers to the point where she was shivering over that piña colada. The people watching must have been perplexed.

That's imagination for you!

Lucy Coats said...

How odd, Charlie. This is the first year for ages that I haven't read that story over Christmas. And now you've reminded me. I shall read it with new eyes.