Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Let's Talk Christmas Books with Liz Curtis Higgs



A Wreath of Snow is your seventh work of historical Scottish fiction and your very first Christmas novella. Where does your passion for Scotland come from? 
In 1995 the Lord whispered into my heart three words that made little sense at the time: “Scottish historical fiction.” At that point in my life, I’d never been to Scotland, hadn’t earned more than a B- in any history class I’d ever taken, and hadn’t even considered trying to write fiction! That’s how I knew this had to be God’s idea.

I certainly loved the look of Scotland, as all the calendars around my house would attest. And I loved the music of Scotland, which my collection of CDs made clear. What remained to be seen was if I could tell a story set in Scotland.

Still, God’s leading was undeniable, so off to Scotland I went. And went. And went. I also collected resource books about Scotland (nearly 1,000 line my shelves now), interviewed Scottish folk, attended fiction writing workshops to learn the craft, and prayed about what story God might want me to tell.

All those years of research and a deep, abiding affection for Scotland have been poured into every book since my first historical novel, Thorn in My Heart, was released in 2003.

This Christmas novella is set in 1894, the Victorian period, which is quite modern compared to your other Scottish novels. Why did you choose this era?
Every period of history has its own appeal. For a story set on a train at Christmastide, the late nineteenth century seemed a perfect fit. Once I discovered books like Victorian Scotland and The Romance of Scotland’s Railways, the story was off and running.

Of all the years of Victoria’s long reign, I chose 1894 because it was exceptionally cold and snowy in Scotland that December and because two of my most useful resource books were both published that year: Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Scotland and Mountain Moor and Loch, with pen-and-pencil sketches of the West Highland Railway.

As for the novella’s title, a wreath is not only something displayed during the festive season; it’s also the Scots word for “a bank or drift of snow.” Once I discovered that juicy tidbit, the story quickly took shape.

For years readers have been begging me to lead them on a tour of Scotland, so this December we’ll embark on “A Victorian Christmas in Scotland.” The first week-long tour sold out in just six days, so we’ve added a second tour, December 2-9. What a blessing it will be to experience the Victorian areas of Glasgow, Loch Lomond, Stirling, Pitlochry, and Edinburgh with my readers! [http://www.tinyurl.com/VicScotLiz]

What did you learn about Victorian Christmas traditions?

I was surprised to discover that after the Scottish Reformation, the General Assembly in Edinburgh tried to abolish Yuletide! Bakers who made special holiday breads were fined, though their punishment was lessened if they revealed the names of their customers. Well!

When the Victorians came along, they virtually reinvented Christmas, helped by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who brought his German traditions to the British Isles. A decorated Christmas tree was first displayed at Windsor Castle in 1841, Charles Dickens’s classic, A Christmas Carol, was published two years later, the first Christmas cards were printed in 1846, and Tom Smith’s Christmas crackers came soon thereafter.

Some holiday traditions were uniquely Scottish, including Black Bun, a rich fruit cake infused with whisky and baked in a pastry-lined tin. Christmas Eve was the Night of Candles, in which candles were placed in each window to light the way for the Holy Family. Shopkeepers often gave their customers candles, just as we see in A Wreath of Snow.

What themes of Christmas did you want to be sure to include in your story about two lonely travelers who meet on a snowy Christmas Eve?
Through most of my twenties I lived away from the Lord and far from home, so Christmas was anything but ho-ho-ho happy for me. I was single at the time and usually had to work on Christmas Day. The working bit was fine, but going home to an empty apartment was tough. Gordon and Meg, the hero and heroine of A Wreath of Snow, knew well that kind of loneliness, which only God’s love can ease.

As a writer, I’m always drawn to flawed characters with imperfect lives. Not only are they more interesting; they also provide an opportunity to learn something. They might teach us to be more compassionate. To look at a troublesome situation from all angles. To extend grace wherever and whenever it’s needed.

Christmas can be an especially difficult season of the year when family members are far apart—not just geographically, but also emotionally or spiritually. A Wreath of Snow addresses such issues, bringing things to a redemptive close by story’s end, with the promise of a happy new year indeed.

We only chatted about Liz's new Christmas book which is her 30th book! If you would like to know more about her writing, here's a link to her website. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these - off to see if I can load these up for my wife's Kindle. Have also found a new one by English author Amanda Egan, although I see a Scottish theme running here!

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