I received an email from a reader in Holland this week, asking me if I’ve written anymore Christmas stories besides the ones in JOY TO THE WORLD. The book was published in the UK by Frances Lincoln in 1998, followed by an American edition from Harpercollins and a Dutch one from Flachs. I assumed the reader had bought the Dutch edition but it turns out he’d purchased the English version off amazon.co.uk to share with his kids.
Sadly, I haven’t had the opportunity to write any more Christmas stories, although I have produced two novelty titles for toddlers, one of which features an interactive version of The Nutcracker, although I do not consider that one a Yuletide story. For me, a Christmas story has to be about the Nativity, or at least a narrative with some kind of Yuletide sentiment. Dicken’s A Christmas Carol comes to mind, and The Polar Express, although I’d say Tolstoy’s Papa Panov’s Special Day is the ultimate Crimbo yarn.
The five stories in Joy To The World are based on legends taken from the apocrphyal gospels, and they all come from countries where Christmas still has a strong spiritual appeal. Initially I did a longlist of twenty stories that I trialled in storytelling sessions around the country [this was at a time when I still had the time to fit two school sessions a week alongside the writing schedule]. The ten that had the strongest appeal where then put into a proposal which I showed to Janetta Otter Barry at Frances Lincoln. Five more were then weeded out, leaving stories from Ghana, Mexico, Russia, Syria and Italy.
It was felt that the tone of the Italian one, about a wily woman who plays a horrible trick on Mary and Joseph on their way to Egypt, did not quite fit in with the others. Instead we put in a a European miracle story which I’d heard from a storyteller at Sunday School in Malta. We based it there in his honour. We also tried to include an Australian story, but the only good one I could find was a 20th century true-life drama about a choir. Needless to say, that didn’t fit in the book either, although it is a very inspiring story I plan to use for another project.
The illustrations were done by Sheila Moxley, and she produced some vivid work with jewel-like colours inspired by naif art. It really brought the book to life. Many of the pictures are often copied by kids in schools, even inspiring one Year 4 class in Brighton to write and direct their own cartoon.
I’ll be posting one of the stories online closer to Christmas. The Syrian one about the wobbly camel, perhaps, or the Russian one about Babushka, the old woman who turned down the chance to accompany the three wise men to Bethlehem. But right now, I need to get back to work……….
Buy Joy to the World: Christmas Stories from Around the Globe from amazon.