I first stumbled upon #VanLife on Instagram a few years ago. I’d been intrigued by these Millennials who had given up regular jobs of 9-to-five, and swapped the comfort of their homes for life on the road with minimal possessions. Curated and filtered snapshots of their journeys made me downright envious. These nomads didn’t need to worry about mortgage payments and electricity bills, it seemed all they needed was a map and some enthusiasm.
Surely, it couldn’t be that rosy in reality? I had to know more, so soon I was clicking past their bright beautiful pictures, reading their blogs and watching their YouTube channels. Like any social media, some Van Lifers only showed the positive side, the picturesque highlights, or what branded shoes they hiked in in their sponsored posts.
So I looked for the more authentic blogs, the Van Lifers who talked about the fear of the unknown, the anxiety about running out of money when they didn’t sell enough at pop-up markets, or when their online shops were quiet. I wondered how that would feel, being in a foreign country, your whole life lived in this one small vehicle with the worry about how to make enough money to feed themselves, fill the van with petrol and continue the journey. Once I delved deeper in this whole new world I saw Van Lifers promoting others. It was obvious it was a tightknit a community if you opened up enough and shared your story online like so many of them do. There was always someone giving back, offering advice or help, in most cases to a stranger or someone they only knew online. The appeal of this nomadic lifestyle was evident to me and I couldn’t wait to write about it, hoping to show the good the bad and the ugly of what such an undertaking would mean.
Most Van Lifers work as they go, as digital nomads, or they sell wares from their vans at markets and festivals. Others use their huge social media followings and are paid for advertising and sponsored posts. While it looks like freedom to most, once I dug down it was clear that they all spent a lot of time hustling to make ends meet. As though they could never rest on their laurels, they always had to be thinking about how they’d fill the coffers next.
In terms of using this for my book, I figured it gave me plenty of scope for conflict. What if the van broke down? Would my heroine have factored that into the costs associated with her trip? What if this tightknit community didn’t reach out to help her? Just how much pressure would this add to her arc?
On Instagram at least, Van Life looks like a perfect, albeit retouched world, but I knew this wasn’t the reality. I set about writing a story that lifted the curtain on it in a romantic comedy way. When disaster struck, and doubt crept into my heroine’s mind how would she cope? Just when she thought she had it all figured out, I’d pull the rug from beneath her feet again and see just how well she handled it, because I knew from my research into real Van Life, that’s exactly what happens when you choose that lifestyle. As the story progressed my heroine Flora became more adept at handling these situations, she grew into this new life, new country and culture and worked out how to speak up and stand up for herself when she needed to. It became the making of her and she wouldn’t have had these challenges and grown into the person she was meant to be if she’d have stayed in her unhappy life back home.
By choosing an exotic location to set the book, that also opened up another dimension to the story. Flora adores Christmas and has a pop-up Christmas shop selling decorations and gifts. She’s a self-confessed Christmas tragic and lives like it’s the silly season all year round. She’s quirky and funny but just can’t seem to find her place in the world. By sending her off on this once in a lifetime adventure, it also opened the door for her to jump from her comfort zone and try new experiences in Lapland. I set about researching Lapland and their Christmas traditions, when I found out there’s a word for a Christmas sauna – joulusauna – and it’s a time honoured tradition, I knew I had to include that in the book. Next was researching sauna etiquette and finding ways to make this into an amusing scene that really pushed the limits of Flora’s comfort zone. The further I delved into Finnish Christmas traditions the more I realised I could add them into the story organically, without them being an info dump. Flora tries Finnish Christmas bread at the markets, and learns how to handle a reindeer ride. Instead of bombarding the reader with everything Lapland has to offer, I slipped those experiences in as Flora tries to make the hero believe Christmas isn’t a con! That way, it seemed a natural progression, and helped show the reader all the best parts a winter wonderland Lapland has to offer. I really enjoy writing stories about escapism and pushing my heroines to try new experiences and researching that is the fun part!
(c) Rebecca Raisin
About Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop:
’Tis the season for mulled wine, mince pies, and magic under the mistletoe…
Flora loves Christmas more than anything else in the world, so she’s gutted when her Scrooge-alike boss fires her from Deck the Halls Christmas emporium. But now she finally has a chance to follow her dreams – and what better place to start than the home of Christmas?
Before she can say ‘sleigh bells’, Flora’s on her way to Lapland in a campervan-cum-Christmas-shop. She can’t wait to spend her days drinking hot chocolate and taking reindeer-drawn carriage rides, but something Flora didn’t expect was meeting Connor, a Norse god of a man who makes her heart flutter and snowflakes swirl in her stomach. There’s just one problem: Connor hates Christmas.
Can Flora convince Connor of the joys of Christmas – and will she find a festive romance along the way?
The perfect Christmas romance for fans of Debbie Johnson, Holly Martin and Jenny Colgan.
Order your copy online here.