Twas The Mystery Before Christmas

 

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‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

How can so few words conjure up so much nostalgia and capture our imagination, year in, year out? This much-loved seasonal rhyme is the basis for so much of the folklore surrounding good old Santa Claus – what he looks like, his reindeer names and how he gets down the chimney! But what is especially intriguing is that it was first published anonymously in 1823 and ever since then, the authorship has been somewhat questionable.

Who would have the generosity of spirit to write such a magical poem and never claim the kudos? ¬†Well, in 1837 the poem was attributed to the American poet, Clement Clarke Moore (they just don’t name ’em like that these days!) and in 1844 he included the poem in an anthology, claiming his authorship of the poem.¬†¬†However, a professor of English in New York by the name of Donald Foster, challenged the authorship and believes that it was written by Henry Livingston Jr., a New York poet with Dutch and Scottish roots.

Having analysed the text, he was convinced that the phraseology and the optimistic approach was much more consistent with Livingston’s style than Moore’s. ¬†But the real argument (in my opinion) is Livingston’s Dutch heritage. ¬†The references to Saint Nicholas are very closely related to the Dutch ‘Sinteklaes’ tradition, with the reindeer names originally printed as ‘Dunder and Blixem’, Dutch for thunder and lightening.christmas-1876438_1920

Despite the fact that Livingston’s children also claimed that he had read them the poem before its publication, he never claimed authorship himself. Could it be the spirit of Christmas, to gift something so wonderful to the public without seeking recognition? There was even a mock trial held as recently as 2014 in New York, which reached the surprise verdict (hold on to your hats people) that Major Henry Livingston Jr is the true author of ‚ÄėTwas the night before Christmas‚Äô.¬† Read all about it here http://christmastrial.com/

Maybe it’s just the fact that I always root for the underdog, but for whatever reason, my money is on Livingston. Unless of course it is as Virginia Woolf once said – For most of history, anonymous was a woman. Maybe we’ll never know the true author, but either way, it is the most magical Christmas poem ever written and you can enjoy it in full here.

And if you’re looking for a book to lose yourself in over the holidays, why not get a copy of The Story Collector – there is no authorship controversy and I take full responsibility for the magic that inks every page!

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Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Ye Olde Book Recommendations

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The year is coming to a close and we’re laden down in listicles, so it would be remiss of me not to jump on the bandwagon with some of my favourite reads of 2018. Now I should point out that I don’t necessarily mean books that were published in 2018, because that would be too straight-forward and I prefer to read in more of a zig-zag.

Eagle-eyed readers will remember that I got a bit trigger-happy during the summer and called my three favourite historical novels in May here (*spoiler* they were The Vanishing Of Audrey Wilde, The Mermaid & Mrs. Hancock and The Essex Serpent). So here are another three for the latter half of the year, which I would highly recommend.

The 7√ā¬Ĺ Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleOMG this book. If you want to know what it’s like to be trapped inside a game of Cluedo, then read this book. You know that a murder will happen, but you have to figure out who commits the crime by seeing it (literally) with fresh eyes every day. Because the day will repeat over and over until the mystery is solved. Turton has done something truly wonderful with this story – he has taken a formula we are all familiar with (murder mystery) and created something original. (The bastard). I’m also angry that he has written one of the best opening sequences I’ve read in a long time. You are instantly in the middle of the action and rooting for the poor Sebastian Bell, who appears to have lost his memory but is adamant on finding a woman he thinks murdered in the woods. Since reading it, I wonder if the characters were written in a sequence to capture the reader, as much as they are to catch the murderer. THAT’S how clever it is! If you enjoy some retro Agatha Christie in a Groundhog Day mash up, all served with a twist, then this is the book for you.

26046312Time for some contemporary fiction. It’s hard to find a good contemporary novel that straddles the genres of literary fiction, humour and romance, but when you find a good one, it’s certainly worth the wait. The Clasp is clever, funny and utterly unsentimental. It’s strange how books find you at the right time. I’d been seeing an acupuncturist (for acupuncture – not dating) and we often spoke French together (because we’re total eejits) Anyway, she recommended I read some short stories by Guy de Maupassant and I found a copy of The Necklace in my local bookshop (Charlie Byrne’s literally has every book under the sun). As it turns out, The Necklace is a famous short story (with a twist that I won’t spoil) and it forms the basis of the plot in The Clasp, which fell into my lap a few weeks later. Three disenchanted college friends, who meet up at a friend’s wedding years later, are all trapped in the bourgouis pretence of trying to look happy and successful, while leading rather unfulfilling lives. But the legend of a priceless necklace sets them on an adventure that will shake up the status quo. It’s a story within a story and as I said in my Goodreads review, it reveals a universal truth; sometimes we just need to believe in somethingorder to believe in ourselves.

36589609Last but not least, a novella that was first published in 1978 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The Book Shop is a story about a determined young woman who wants to open a bookshop, despite the fact that the building is haunted and certain figures in the community do not want her there. Beautifully written, I only wish it could have been a bit longer, but that is the charm of novellas – the author uses such an economy of language to create the greatest impact. Reminiscent of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat – where an outsider comes to a community and their mere presence seems to shake things up, but not always for the better. Penelope Fitzgerald is a new author to me and one I plan to read more of in the future.

So there you have it, three very different and very absorbing reads. Of course, if the mood takes you, you might fancy something with a bit of magical realism, historical AND contemporary fiction…. Then look no further than my latest novel, The Story Collector. Inspired by a young anthropologist from Oxford University who came to Ireland in search of fairy stories in 1910 – it’s described by the Irish Times as having ‘all the warmth and charm of a fairytale‘. You can even read a preview on Amazon to see how BRILLIANT it is ūüôā

It’s The Most Repetitive Time Of The Year

 

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If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then Christmas really takes the biscuit. ¬†Is it just me, but when you reach a certain age, don’t you just kind of think ‘Christmas, again? ¬†Really??’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total Grinch. ¬†I mean, I used to love Christmas…. or at least I did the first 30 times! ¬†Like I used to love clubbing till 5 in the morning or wearing platform boots, but you grow out of these things. ¬†You mature. ¬†Your tastes become more refined. ¬†You move on. ¬†But Christmas won’t let you move on. ¬†Regardless of your age or your circumstances, Christmas demands to be observed, every year, for what has now become a two-month torture-fest celebration.

From November onwards, it’s the same old Christmas songs you’ve been subjected to every year ad nauseum, ringing out from every public space. ¬†There’s no getting away from the countdown or the brainwashing to join the masses and start shopping for a meal that will take place in two months time. ¬†Every half-cooked Nigella impersonator is telling you how to disguise your brussel sprouts so they don’t taste vile – I mean honestly, is there any other veg that has built its entire career around one meal?!

But that’s just the food. ¬†The latest shopping frenzy to hit our shores, Black Friday, swiftly followed by Cyber Monday, only serve to remind you of the annual (vain) search to find vaguely novel gifts for the same people. ¬†If, according to the ‘desire theory’ of Jacques Lacan, our desires can never fully be satisfied, I think we can safely assume the ‘perfect gift’ does not exist. ¬†It’s just shit you got from the shop wrapped in sparkly paper. ¬†And anyone with kids (including inner children) will know that the wrapping inevitably ends up being more fun than what’s inside!

The pressure to create a saccharin, picture perfect, roasting chestnuts on an open fire kind of Christmas inevitably spoils the entire thing. ¬†Most people set themselves the unattainable goal of trying to re-create the magic and nostalgia of their own childhood memories, instead of breaking out of the mould and creating new traditions. ¬†On top of the emotional cost is the actual cost of the aptly named ‘silly season’. ¬†In Ireland, each houshold will spend approximately ‚ā¨1,400 this year – unlike the Dutch who will spend a rather sobering ‚ā¨211! ¬†(And as far as I can tell, they invented the whole thing with the original Sinterklaas – so when you get your credit card bill in January, blame the Dutch!)

It can’t be December already?!

And besides, when you’ve reached a certain age, if you really want something, you’ll buy it for yourself. ¬†Unless you’re a child, you’re hardly waiting for December to come so you can start dropping hints about that Swarovski watch you’ve had your eye on (oh, did I just say that out loud?!). ¬†I have enough stuff (although it would be great to have the time constantly available on my wrist, in crystal form) and so does everyone else in my family. ¬†I’d rather give to people who really need help this Christmas and just spend the holiday being greatful for what I have. ¬†Maybe the best way to survive enjoy Christmas is to ditch the idea of a perfect day and try to have an enjoyable one instead.

Just to show that I’m not completely immune to the charms of the festive season, or averse to a new old Christmas song, here is a beautiful waltz from Lisa Hannigan. ¬†Merry Christmas everybody (again!)

A Visit From Saint Nicholas

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‘Twas the night before Christmas,¬†when all thro’ the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

This much-loved seasonal rhyme is the basis for much of the ‘folklore’ surrounding good old Santa Claus, but what is especially intriguing is that it was first published anonymously in 1823 and ever since then, the authorship has been somewhat questionable.

I always felt that it was such a generous gift – to write a magical poem such as this and never claim the glory for it. ¬†Who would have the generosity of spirit to do that? ¬†Well, in 1837 the poem was attributed to the American poet, Clement Clarke Moore (they just don’t name ’em like that these days!) and in 1844 he included the poem in an anthology, cementing his authorship of the poem. ¬†Apparently, an acquaintance of his had sent the poem to the Troy Sentinel, as it was something he had written for his children and did not consider it to be anything more than a frivolity. ¬†Which is a convincing argument – I remember reading that the composer Camille Saint-Saens was reluctant to publish his ‘Carnival of the Animals’ as it would detract from his more serious work. ¬†Equally, this is probably his most popular work, so you never know, do you?!

Anyway, getting back to The Night Before Christmas, a professor of English in New York by the name of Donald Foster has challenged the authorship and believes that it was written by Henry Livingston Jr., a New York poet with Dutch and Scottish roots. ¬†Having analysed the text, he was convinced that the phraseology and the optimistic approach was much more consistent with Livingston’s style than Moore’s. ¬†But the real argument (in my opinion) is Livingston’s Dutch heritage. ¬†The references to Saint Nicholas are very closely related to the Dutch ‘Sinteklaes’ tradition, with the reindeer names originally printed as ‘Dunder and Blixem’, Dutch for thunder and lightening.

Despite the fact that Livingston’s children also claimed that he had read them the poem before its publication, he never claimed authorship himself. ¬†Maybe it’s just the fact that I always root for the underdog, but for whatever reason, my money is on Livingston. ¬†Maybe it was his gift to the world at Christmas and he didn’t require any recognition. ¬†Either way, it is the most magical Christmas poem ever written and you can enjoy it in full here.

And if you’re looking for a book to lose yourself in over the holidays, why not get a copy of The Heirloom or The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris… ¬†There’s no controversy over the authorship either!