Writing both Driving Home for Christmas and my current paperback release The Heart of Winter provided me with a wonderful feeling of indulgence. Why? Because both books centre around my favourite time of the year.
I have always loved Christmas and all my childhood memories from this time of year are warm and fuzzy. My own children are now teenagers and I’ve instilled a love of all things Christmassy in them too. Well, if I’m perfectly honest, they’ve had to wade through tinsel trees and decorations since they were able to crawl.
Time marches on and so many things change in our lives but Christmas traditions remain the same chez nous. There’s a gorgeous sense of familiarity connected with the annual rituals that comforts me greatly. We go next door to my parent’s house every year. Christmas dinner means shoehorning as many siblings cousins aunts and uncles as possible into my parent’s dining room.
Mum and I transform the place into a twinkling cave with entwined holly, ivy, seasonal flowers and tiny lights that any fairy or elf would be proud of. The table is set with a Christmas crackers taking pride of place at each plate. Believe me the cracker choice is a serious business. The deliberations are careful as the cracker choice dictates the colour scheme for the room each year.
I trained as a chef when I left school, so I love nothing more than rolling my sleeves up and helping Mum with preparations. We usually cook as much as possible the day before. So turkey stuffing, carrot and parsnip puree, pate for starters and the now customary meringue roulade are prepared. The meringue came about when my son decided he doesn’t like Christmas pudding – I’m still working on him, how could anyone not love pudding?
We start Christmas day in the wee hours of the morning, although teenagers are not quite as eager as tiny tots to wakes the house. Santa Claus still comes to us all, filling stockings for the humans, while Santa Paws comes to Tom the cat and Herbie the dog and this year our maramalde kitten, Mango will receive his first stocking. Once the flurry of unwrapping ends we have enough time to dress and venture to Laragh where my in-laws live. There we share breakfast and exchange more gifts.
By midday we’re back in Bray and I immediately don an apron. We feed a minimum of eighteen people, some years it’s more. My Dad is a wine buff and plans the vintages and specific choices weeks in advance. We all eagerly help him drink it. Aren’t we kind?
Once the food is almost ready to go we congregate in the living room and our guests arrive. More gift exchanges happen, this time accompanied by champagne! Are you beginning to see why I love Christmas so much?
We always sit down to eat around five. This gives us enough time to savour each course. Everyone must wear his or her paper hat and all cracker jokes must be read out loud. Yes, this is a militant rule and there are no exceptions.
Each year we also pass around an added extra for each person to wear. Last year the men got Christmas jumpers and the ladies got flashing earrings and snowman head boppers that had to stick out of the paper hat. Yes, it’s a classy looking affair.
As the courses are consumed, the volume rises. When the children were younger they would dip in and out of the dining room, preferring to play with their visiting cousins while us adults digested slowly. Now they’re of the age that they enjoy sitting and joining in more which, is fabulous. How else would us adults know that most of the things we say are wrong? We also need constant reminders of how embarrassing we are. Ah, to be a teenager once more. Back then I knew everything too…
My brother is chief pudding-setter-on-firer and does this with great fanfare and enthusiasm each year. It’s verging toward bonfire rather than pudding at times, but miraculously the ceiling hasn’t been charred so far.
After cheese and port we resist the urge to lie on the floor groaning and clear the table for a game of something like Trivial Pursuit. We split into teams and the cheating is appalling but it’s the best craic!
As you might’ve noticed, Christmas is my ideal day. It’s everything dreams are made of and I’m always surrounded by the people I love. Each year without fail, I am appreciative of the gifts I’ve been given. By that I don’t just mean the ones I’ve unwrapped, most of all I mean the ones that have been bestowed upon me as I cherish each passing year.
So now perhaps you might understand why I felt compelled to write two Christmas novels!
The one in the shops right now The Heart of Winter revisits the Craig family from Driving Home for Christmas. I had such a good time writing it – it was Christmas in my head even though it was Spring time outside. Result! It’s a warm hug of a story about a family coming together to support and help each other. They’re not exactly like The Brady Bunch and have plenty of issues – in other words they’re a normal family! I sincerely hope you’ll all enjoy the story and I’m ecstatic about the fact the cover is glittery. I am a total magpie and was thrilled beyond belief when I saw the paper back cover.
I think The Heart of Winter would make a fabulous Christmas pressie and I would encourage you all to buy it – but then again, I’m bias.
No matter how you spend your Christmas this year, I hope you spend it with the people who matter to you the most.
Wishing everyone at writing.ie and all the lovely readers out there a merry Christmas and a happy healthy new year!
Love and light.
(c) Emma Hannigan
About The Heart of Winter
The Heart of Winter by Emma Hannigan, author of the Irish Top Ten bestseller The Summer Guest, delivers a glorious and warm family novel that will delight fans of Patricia Scanlan and Cathy Kelly.
With the promise of December in the air and the hedgerows laced with frost, Huntersbrook House has never looked more beautiful.
Once the Craig family’s beloved home, the house has been transformed into a magnificent countryside venue. And its first booking couldn’t be more perfect – the Christmas wedding of a well-known film actress.
Yet, behind the scenes, the Craig children are feeling the chill. Pippa is skating on thin ice with her reckless personal life; Joey, preoccupied with the business, is blind to his fiancé’s struggles. And Lainey’s future is dealt a cruel blow.
As the wedding approaches, everyone hopes the house will weave its magic. But can the Craigs put their differences aside and pull together as a family once more?
The Heart of Winter is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!
About Emma Hannigan
Emma Hannigan is from Bray, Co Wicklow in Ireland. She is married with two children. Writing became her passion and life line in 2006, quite by mistake. Having discovered she carries the cancer gene BRCA 1, Emma chose to have a double mastectomy and her ovaries removed. Alas, she developed cancer a year after her radical surgery. Determined to battle and become a true cancer vixen, Emma fought the good fight!
To date Emma had beaten cancer a remarkable 9 times. ‘I like to keep score,’ she jokes. ‘So far it’s cancer 0 – Emma 9
Emma’s fight with cancer is detailed in her memoir ‘Talk to the Headscarf.‘ Emma is a glass-half-full type of person and cancer hasn’t changed that.
‘I wrote ‘Talk to the Headscarf’ to show people that cancer doesn’t always win. When I was diagnosed at first, I wanted an ordinary person to tell me I could live through this awful disease. This isn’t a misery memoir. It’s not there to scare people. It’s all the things you ever wanted to know about cancer, but were afraid to ask! I laughed out loud writing parts of this book and I hope readers will too.’
Emma’s writing career began in the chemotherapy unit. ‘I wrote because I was bored. But most of all I needed an out let at the time. I discovered I adore creating characters and telling stories. I feel truly blessed to have found this wonderful and exciting new career.’
Find out more about Emma at www.emmahannigan.com