Snufkin’s forest

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year…’ The Christmas tree glitters proudly as the fire blazes merrily in the hearth; the wind buffets the house but finds no way in to penetrate the cosy calm of the lamp-lit living room, where you might just find a writer scribbling away the hours; her little dog curled up beside her…

TreeWell, every other year that might have been the case. This year, such nights are few and far between, as I now work almost all of them in Belfast. However, they are not non-existent, which is, of course, the main thing. I was once told by a well known writer that, quite bluntly, writing ‘by candlelight’ so to speak, or indeed, by fairy lights and the glow of a fire, romanticises the process and often results in rather poor writing at the end of it all – that is, what may sound brilliant in the atmospheric gloom can, in the cruel light of day, present as saccharine, self-indulgent gloop.

I agree with this in some ways, but in some ways not. I see the potential for falling into such a trap unwittingly and getting carried away by the mood of it all but then again, if you’re writing children’s fantasy stories, I rather think it adds to the magic of it all. We all have our own conditions in which we like to write and, although I will write just as easily on a cold, dull day as I will on a sunny, rainy or snowy day – the night is when I seem to work best. Fairy lights optional…

Normally at Christmas, I am surrounded by books – literally. For the first time in about six years, I will not be in Waterstones this festive season, temping away the weekend and perusing the myriad bestsellers, beautifully illustrated children’s books and festive special editions, as I try to display them without adding more and more titles to my mental list of ‘must buy’. It has to be the best place to work at Christmas time and, in the little town of Coleraine, on the north coast of Ireland, books are still flying off the shelves.

Every year – of the whole of Northern Ireland – the Coleraine store exceeds all expectations in book sales, beating the other shops hands down – an incredibly encouraging feat in my opinion. Yes, in the age of the Kindle, e-reader and everything else, people here still love buying books and come, arms full, to the checkout to prove the point. A steady stream of shoppers flow in and out of the shop all day long and they continue to come on Boxing Day and into the New Year.Library

Working in a bookstore can be both inspiring and slightly unnerving. There are so many titles – stuffed floor to ceiling – so many new releases, old classics, recent reads, soon-to-be-published, that it seems impossible that anyone could ever stand a chance of getting published any more. But they do and the other way of looking at this of course, is that it shows the market is still healthy – although, caution comes attached. Look a little closer and it’s a lot of ‘celebrity’ autobiographies, celebrity children’s books, novels from long-established authors, well known adult writers turning their hands to young adult and children’s stories and so on….

It can be overwhelming but it’s good to also keep up to date with what is selling in your own particular market. Yes, like it or not, everyone writes for a market – mine being the children’s (8-12). There is always a flip side though and this one is – what is selling now won’t be by the time your novel would hit the shelves (if, indeed, it ever makes it that length). You need to be fresh-thinking/innovative/trend-setting…


Anyway, as Christmas creeps upon us, I for one will simply be appreciating the fact that people can still be called ‘book-lovers’, that publishers are still eager to publish (where they can…) and that no matter my winter schedule, books will always be part of it.

SnufkinI called this post ‘Snufkin’s Forest’ and you may be wondering why. Well, to be honest, for no other reason than because it strikes a cord with my inner writer. The writer is stereotypically a solitary soul – a thinker, an observer of detail, a pensive sort of a person – and old Snufkin, as he plods into his forest of silence, reminds me of this.

He shuns the hub of activity for the peaceful, solitary and unknown forest – just as I think a writer, to write well and as he/she so desires, must also do from time to time – shut out the busy world for a while and explore the mysterious, unchartered territory of their very own ‘silent forest’ and see what they find. I for one, intend to do just this. Will it lead me down the path of a follow-up book, a completely new story or… something else altogether? Time will tell.


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