Lauren Child 'why I love Christmas'
- Credit: National Trust/Christo Nicolle
Primrose Hill author Lauren Child has distilled her love of Christmas into a new Clarice Bean adventure.
Clarice Bean Think Like An Elf follows our heroine's eager preparations for the festive period over a 12 part chronicle. From singing The Twelve Days of Christmas and the arrival of the first round robin letter, to writing lists, inviting extras to dinner, and making cards for all the neighbours - even the ones she doesn't like.
And a small thing like mixed up parcels and a dropped turkey won't spoil the magic of carol singers, winter walks and sharing a festive meal. As Child says: "My childhood memories of Christmas are all good - even the things that went wrong."
"It's based on childhood memories, even the bits that didn't happen," she adds.
"The sense of it, the anticipation, the looking in shop windows, planning and making cards are all based on a nostalgia for that feeling of looking forward to Christmas. It's so different when you are a child, time moves slowly. It's hard to feel the same way as you get older, when Christmas starts in October and seems to come round every six months."
The book recognises this mismatch between adult's and children's festive expectations - indeed Child's ability to tap into both mindsets is part of her appeal.
"As a child, the logistics and the hard work of preparing for all these people to come and stay never occurred to me. It was like magic. Everything appeared as you wanted it."
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After the grimness of 2020, when many were unable to share Christmas with loved ones, she deliberately set out to write an upbeat intergenerational seasonal celebration.
"I was meant to be writing about something more gritty but it didn't feel the time to write about things that are anxiety provoking. We've had enough of dystopian books and thrillers, I wanted to get away from that."
With text that crawls around Child's trademark illustrations, the book plunges readers into Clarice's north London neighbourhood, which she says is a hybrid of Kentish Town and Primrose Hill.
"Reading books can be like losing yourself and I want mine to be visually immersive as well - so you feel you have entered a world."
She has written about Christmas, carol singers and church services, because "that's the festival I knew as a Child," but says many other celebrations "follow the same patterns and rituals".
"They are usually about a gathering, food, decoration, and music. I wanted to show how delightful those simple things are like decorating your house and lighting it up with candles, inviting people in you don't know very well. At its best Christmas can be community focused and about thinking outside yourself. It's not wonderful for everyone, for people struggling with poverty or mental health, it can be lonely and isolating."
Child, who burst onto the children's book scene in 1999 with Clarice Bean, closely followed by Charlie and Lola in 2000, says: "Primrose Hill was the first bit of London I ever stayed in when I was 16. It was scruffy but lovely and I always longed to live there".
Now that she does, she loves it: "It's very inclusive and has a community heart. The library is run by volunteers and at Christmas people donate to the community centre and cook meals. But it's sad when shop rents and rates make it impossible for little businesses to exist. Some have to set their prices high and become unaffordable places that exclude the community. It's inevitable that chains will come in and make it more soulless."
Her next projects aren't for children but older readers; an adult novel and a "how I think book".
"I found it very hard to work during lockdown I don't work well in a vacuum I enjoy meeting people, seeing friends and discussing ideas face to face. But also the anxiety was almost palpable you are sucking that in, wondering will there be any books published next year? I felt everything I was writing about was not relevant or not right for now."
And she misses the "lovely collaborative relationships" of working with editors.
"It might take years going back and forth, but you had this energy, nowadays it's hard to find someone who will give it that time. But things don't get created in vacuums, thoughts don't just come from your head and turn into something. The great artists of the 20th century met in groups and talked about their work. The pandemic made us realise how vital art is, but it sparks from one to another through meeting and talking."
Clarice Bean Think Like An Elf is published by Harper Collins Children's Books £14.99.