I have two lovely new stories to talk about.
I mentioned them in passing in my last A to Z, but they deserve a little more attention than that.
The first is a story for children, and the second is a story for grown-ups.
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A few years ago I was charmed by Frost Hollow Hall, Emma Carroll’s wintery novel for young readers, and when I learned that she had written a short story for Christmas I had to read it.
I met Pearl, who was growing up in a poor family in a small town in Victorian England. It was Christmas Eve and she was building a snow sister. It was something that she did every winter, every time it snowed, in the hope that it would help her to miss the sister who had died a few years earlier just a little less.
A letter arrived, summoning her father to Bath, to claim his legacy as the main beneficiary of his late brother’s will. He sets off straight away, and Pearl’s mother sends her to buy the ingredients for a Christmas pudding to celebrate the event.
Pearl runs into trouble on her outing and she tumbles into an adventure. She has a carriage ride, a visit to a grand home, and she learns an important lesson before she arrives back at home again.
And at home she finds that her father has inherited something far more valuable than the money they had hoped for.
Pearl was a wonderfully engaging heroine, her story was beautifully told in lovely descriptive prose evoked the time and the place perfectly. It was delicately done; the focus was always on Pearl and her story.
There are plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting; and though the moral of the story is less than subtle it is unequivocally right.
The ending was bittersweet, and if it was sentimental it was sentimental is the right way.
‘The Snow Sister’ is very much a story for children, but I’d venture to suggest that it is a story that grown-ups would be very happy to share with them.
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‘A Quiet Winter’ is a prequel to Hurry Up and Wait , Isabel Ashdown’s second novel; and I loved meeting Sarah Ribbons again and understanding her story a little better.
Sarah’s mother had died when she was very young and her father, who had become a father very late in life, did a wonderful job bringing up his only daughter alone. She appreciated that, there was a strong bond between them, and when she discovered he was ill, she left her job and flat in London to care for him at the family home in Dorset.
He died, leaving Sarah to spend Christmas on her own.
Claire, Sarah’s best friend, told her that she hadn’t seen her for weeks, that it was time to go out and meet people again, and that she really must come to spend Christmas with her and her family. Sarah appreciated her concern but she knew that she needed time alone, to make changes to the house, to come to terms with what had happened, and to work out what she was going to do next. She knew that Claire would be unwilling to take no for an answer, and so she booked a holiday cottage in Cornwall for the holiday period to settle the question.
Isabel Ashdown tells the story of this turning point in Sarah’s life with real empathy and understanding. She drew me in and she made me care. She drew out all of the important details, and she is particularly good at evoking period details – this story is set in the 1980s – and at drawing relationships between women and dogs.
There was a hint of contrivance, but nothing that it wasn’t easy to live with.
It was lovely to meet Sarah again, and to learn what made her accept the invitation to that school reunion. You don’t need to have read the story of the reunion in ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ before you read this book; but if you read this book I’m sure you’ll want to.
And it was lovely to read a proper, grown-up story that spoke quietly but profoundly about what really is important in life.
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Now tell me, what is your favourite seasonal short story?