Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas and Inspiration, Part II

WRITING UPDATE: I actually forgot my write-every-day pledge yesterday. And I do mean 'forgot'. I was meeting a friend and totally forgot that I'd have to write before I left because I'd be home late. I may get my pledge tattooed on myself somewhere. Inside my eyelids, perhaps.

Okay, you thought I was sappy yesterday? Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy post.

The other thing that my family do at Christmas is visit our extended family. This follows a familiar pattern - show up. Talk. Eat food. Talk more. Drink tea. Talk more. Leave.

A fairly standard extended-family Christmas experience, then.

Most of the talking involves telling stories. Like most families, these vary little from year to year. We all know the fake Rolex story, and the coal man story, and the rolled-up chewing-gun wrapper story, and the Kimberly biscuits story. They're all good, but we've heard them all before.

Somehow, though, it doesn't matter. There is something different about listening to them at Christmas. The twinkly lights, the fire, the piles of wrapping paper in the corner. The room grows oppressively warm as the day wears on and Some Like It Hot plays in the background with the sound low, and everyone pauses for the good lines and trots out conflicting points of view regarding what Tony Curtis did or didn't think about Marilyn Monroe. And they tell stories.

And every year in the car on the way home, I look out the window and think 'This is going to be the year. When I get home, I'll dig out a notebook and I'll write all these stories down, before they're lost.'

I never do, of course.

And this probably won't be the year, as quite a few of the family are away at Christmas and I may not see them all. But there's always next year. And there's the fact that between us, my mother and I probably know the stories by heart so if our DVD player breaks on Christmas Day, we can always amuse ourselves by transcribing them all.

That's the other reason I find Christmas inspiring. I get to spend part of it with people who revere stories. Yes, we revere them to a fault sometimes. Yes, otherwise fit, healthy, sober people have dozed off during them. Yes, if some Martians landed they would wonder why the hell we spend time doing this voluntarily. But the strange alchemy of Christmas family yarns has always done something to my imagination that I can't explain, and that annual car journey home is probably the most creative period of my entire year.


  1. I had a lovely comment all typed out when internet explorer decided to crash on me. It went something along the lines of...

    Family stories are wonderful sources of insperation. I love hearing about both my grandmothers and I long to write their stories.

    I also love when a new one crops up, one that some how managed to avoid being told for so many years.

  2. This post captured my heart and my imagination. Thank you, Ellen.

  3. Zoe, in our family stories are either told ad nauseum or not told at all. Both kinds can be very inspiring - my current WIP is all about stories not being told.

    GhostFolk, thank you for the comment. It's always nice to know something I wrote affected someone.

  4. What a lovely post. Thanks for sharing. I wonder if you could tape them and then transcribe later. Then you could just enjoy the stories without worrying about remembering them all...

  5. Ellen, thanks too for talking about Dublin. I appreciate it. 1 million isn't a huge city, indeed.

    Your Family Christmas Stories are a perfect set-up for a novel. Oh, you might have to add one or two. :-) I wonder if some family stories don't hold a secret yet revealed, even though often told.

  6. Ellen, I just tagged you in my blog. I tagged Zoe, too. Come play Tag and answer some cool questions about your writing life.

    And it's okay to miss out a day here and there. The trick is to sit back down again when you can. I only managed a half an hour yesterday, but it was one more scene managed and one less to write as I creep ahead.

  7. Hi Christine, thanks for the tag - nice to be able to make a post without having to think of a topic :)

    GhostFolk, if we do see the family this year I must make an effort to listen extra-closely!


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