Most of the people involved in those shows are now either dead or in jail (it’s a strange life, being a ’70s child); but amongst writers at least the unseasonal arts have flourished much longer. Keats noted in an age before fridge-freezers that Fancy "will bring, in spite of frost,/ Beauties that the earth hath lost”; and Susan Cooper has described writing the snowy chapters of The Dark is Rising – a Christmas staple in all sensible households – in the middle of a Caribbean summer.
A few months ago I had my own taste of this experience. In April I was asked to provide a story for the December edition of the Bloomsbury website 247 Tales. The idea is that every month an author writes a story of 247 words or fewer, and young writers then offer their own stories on the same theme. I duly wrote a creepy Christmas story while the daffodils swayed outside my window; then I snuggled down and waited for winter. Unfortunately, as you will have seen if you clicked on the link, the 247 Tales site is undergoing technical problems. It seems my story will not appear there after all.
What shall we do with the poor orphan story? Can the doors of ABBA be opened to give it shelter at this season of goodwill, and bring it shivering out of the cold? They can, you say? Why, God bless you!
Here then is my Christmas squib. Enjoy it if you're able - but remember, April is the cruellest month…
Jack lay coffined in a cardboard tube. He was trussed tightly, arms bound above his head. The half-darkness revealed outsized objects filling the cramped space: a huge plastic whistle; a bale of crêpe paper; a broadsheet riddle. His mouth was gagged with Miss Jago’s gingerbread.
The gingerbread had been bait, of course. Old Miss Jago might seem friendly, but from the moment they’d met, Jack had guessed she was a witch. He’d known that even before she caught him pulling the tail of her mangy cat. She’d told his parents – so unfair!
Christmas dinner was his parents’ peace offering. They’d sent Jack with a polite invitation and Miss Jago had come, bearing fresh-baked gingerbread and homemade Christmas crackers. That gingerbread had smelt delicious. Coming across it in the kitchen before dinner, how could Jack not try a slice?
Immediately he’d felt a sickening blackness – a violent blurring – and then he’d woken here, trapped in this cardboard prison. Nearby, wine glasses chinked. He could smell turkey.
“Where’s Jack?” he heard Dad ask, very loud, very close. “I’m starving.”
“He won’t have gone far,” said Miss Jago. “Why not pull a cracker while we’re waiting?”
“Oh yes, let’s!” said Mum.
Jack’s world lurched as a giant fist seized him by the arms. Another crushed his feet. In mute agony he was lifted into the air and stretched out tight.
“Go on!” cried Miss Jago merrily. “Don’t be shy!”
Laughing, Jack’s parents pulled their Christmas cracker. One – two – three – snap!