I blame Christmas. After seeing more and more special Christmas e-books popping up all over the internet, I felt the urge to get in on the act. Here was a gang I wanted to join—not for profit, or for clever marketing reasons, but simply for the fun of it. The more I downloaded onto my Kindle, the more I wanted to launch one of my own.
And so, on an evening when I should have been writing my Christmas cards, I found myself glued to my keyboard, formatting a Word document for Kindle—the classic DIY scenario. Self-publish in haste, repent at leisure, I kept telling myself, but I wouldn’t listen.
Revived From A Christmas Past
Actually, self-publishing The Owl and the Turkey was not quite as reckless a gesture as perhaps I’m making it sound. The story had already been tried and tested on my blog a year ago, and it was selected by the prestigious British parenting website, Mumsnet to appear in their 2012 Advent Calendar.
Even so, publishing it as a stand-alone e-book had never been part of my plan until last night. So why the sudden compulsion? It’s not as if I’m religious (and nor is my story). I rarely set foot in a church, other than as a tourist.
I ‘d not paid much attention to the imminence of Christmas until last weekend, when I downloaded and enjoyed a couple of festive e-books published by friends. But I also read a self-help book without feeling the urge to publish a story about counselling.
The Christmas Compulsion
I’m not the only one who has been surprised to find themselves drawn to publish a Christmas e-book. Here on this blog a few weeks ago, my friend the novelist and poet Orna Ross reported her astonishment at the need to compile a book of Christmas-themed poems. (She’s clearly better at advance planning than I am!)
And there are very many more, as a few minutes’ searching on Amazon will reveal. There are hundreds, even thousands, of Christmas e-books out there, with covers bedecked with snowflakes and tinsel-covered trees. They range in length from the flimsiest (I found one of just six pages) to huge boxed sets pictured lavishly wrapped with festive ribbon (the biggest I came across was a mammoth 11 books in one).
Some are old classics, others are brand new. Pricing varies enormously. Some are free, some are cut-price, others are costly. I found one priced at an astonishing £618! (What?!!)
Some are self-published, some are trade published.
And so on. In short, there are A LOT of Christmas e-books out there, in very many forms. Does the world really need another Christmas e-book?
Why Do It At All?
I certainly had no commercial imperative. Launching so late in the run-up to Christmas, I’m not expecting to sell very many copies. Nor do I have religious zeal. I’m an atheist, and the focal point of my story is feeding the body, not the soul.
Maybe it’s to do with wanting to be part of a community, of bonding with others by sharing stories around a figurative fire, lighting up the dark and doing something life-affirming together. (We’re approaching the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, where I live.)
It’s also to do with the transformative power of storytelling. At this time of year, it’s nigh impossible to feel unaffected by the feeling of impending change: the subtle shift from shortening days to lengthening ones, at least in my neck of the woods; the imminent farewell to the old year and the welcoming of the new. This makes me want to commune with people, to share thoughts, plans, ideas, comfort and humour. As a writer, my first recourse is to write.
Leave It To Dickens, Master of Christmas Fiction
But, in the final analysis, none of us can ever hope to better the ultimate Christmas story of transformation. Er, no, not that one (sorry, I told you I’m not religious) but Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, immortalised for 170 years in many forms besides the original book. Not only have there been many different print (and now digital) editions. There have also been endless dramatisations on stage and on screen. I’ve even taken part in one—an amateur dramatic production, decades ago, in which the ghost of the Christmas past was memorably played by a burly chap with a domestic torch incongruously strapped to the top of his head, and I, refusing to wear my glasses, nearly fell off the stage in the middle of a dance scene.
In the 21st century, when half the civilised world shuts down for days around Christmas time, it’s easy to forget how seminal that book was in shaping how the western world spends late December - especially when its presence on Amazon is swamped by a positive plague of other festive books. Consider them online ghosts of the Christmas Present, if you like.
Driven by his urge to raise awareness of the void between rich and poor in Victorian England, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol very quickly—just six weeks from start to finish—and self-published it at his own expense, at a time when he was not especially wealthy. It was first published on the very day that I’m writing this post—17th December—in 1843. His first imprint of 6,000 copies had sold out by Christmas Eve, and the book has never been out of print since.
The instant success of the book with critics and readers alike elevated Dickens’ reputation as a writer for evermore. It also changed the way the world thought about Christmas, promoting the notion of Christmas as a time of charitable giving to the poor. It also influenced the way people spent their Christmas Day. When I first encountered A Christmas Carol, I could not understand why any of its characters were working on 25th December. How could Scrooge expect Bob Marley to come to the office, how could he possibly send a boy to buy a goose on Christmas Day? Surely all the shops and offices would have been shut? That those scenes are unthinkable now is in no small part due to the book’s influence.
Surely A Christmas Carol will never be displaced as the greatest work of literature associated with Christmas. Nor has it ever been so easily accessible, because you can download it from Amazon free of charge. You won’t be the only one to do so: I’m pleased to report that it’s currently ranked #1, on Amazon UK at least, in the Fiction Classics category (and not only among books about Christmas).
So if you read only one book this Christmas, make it A Christmas Carol.
But if you want to read my new Christmas e-book too, I won’t complain!
Interested in The Owl and the Turkey (Amazon LINK)? Check out a post Debbie's written about her Christmas e-book on her website HERE, which also contains further links to other festive items, including an imminent blog hop for the winter solstice which involves a number of ALLi members.