CHRISTMAS is such a cosy, book-by-the-fireside time of year that I love the notion of curling up with a really good read over the festive season. The reality, however, may be slightly different - once I've done all the Mum stuff.
I always feel that someone has pressed the fast forward button on December, and time races ahead, leaving me in a tangle of tinsel, school plays, unwritten Xmas cards, present wrapping, catching up with friends, picking up Lego, doing the laundry, buying the turkey... oh, you get the picture. But let's, for the moment, like Marnie Martin, the heroine of my romantic comedy novel, Mr Make Believe, imagine that life is perfect and I will glide serenely into the Christmas break. My children will make fun crafts together at the kitchen table and my house will be pristine but yet homely, with cashmere throws artfully arranged and cushions plumped and ready for guests to arrive. In the fading light of the winter's afternoon, I shall take a moment's repose and put my feet up in my beautifully appointed sitting room to calmly enjoy some of the literature I have been meaning to read all year. Well, I can dream...
1. Don't Tell Alfred - Nancy Mitford (Penguin)
I love Nancy Mitford's wickedly funny sense of humour and I haven't read this book since I was a teenager, so I think it's probably about time I dived in again. It picks up the threads of the life of her heroine Fanny - from Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love - who is now a plain, middle-aged housewife, married to Oxford don Alfred. But everything changes when he is appointed ambassador to Paris and she is catapulted into society as a hostess, while managing the antics of her four grown-up sons. Mitford was ahead of her time and her comic turn of phrase never fails to make me hoot with laughter.
2. Dreamstreets - A Journey Through Britain's Village Utopias - Jacqueline Yallop ( Vintage)
I'm really excited to get my teeth into this book about the "model" villages of the 18th and early 19th centuries; not the toy model sort of villages you might expect, but communities which were purpose-built by philanthropists, out of a dire need to provide decent housing for a workforce living in poverty. This is Britain's hidden history. So much of the drama around my bestselling book Keeping My Sisters' Secrets involved the life of a 1930s London slum, it is really interesting to get down to the nitty-gritty of how social housing came about. Yallop gets right down to the bricks and mortar of everything from Arts and Crafts cottages to miners' terraces.
3. Crooked Daylight - Helen Slavin ( Ipso Books)
Having been seduced by Slavin's avenging librarian in her thriller, The Stopping Place, I'm ready to enter the world of The Witch Ways with her first in the trilogy, Crooked Daylight. It features three sisters, an unconventional gran called Hettie and childhood visits to Cob Cottage, which are at odds with their mother's world of reason and logic. When they return to the cottage as adults after Hettie's death, they begin to understand that they are bound together by more than just shared memories. I love fairytales, folklore and magic and how it is at odds with our "modern" way of living, so I'm definitely making some space on the sofa for this book. Perfect for winter evenings after a bracing walk through the woods near me ( watching out for fairy toodstool rings, portents and so on - I think my imagination could run riot).
4. The poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Penguin Classics)
I love poetry, always have, always will. It is my guilty secret and I'm often to be found snaffling my way through a book of verse. Tennyson is wonderful and my youngest has just learned The Charge of the Light Brigade at school, which brought his work to mind again. There is something inevitably tragic about The Lady of Shalott, weaving a way in her remote tower, under the threat of a curse if she leaves. It's all going well until Lancelot comes clip-clopping by on his fine steed. She sees the beautiful curls on his head, his shining armour and she declares herself to be "half sick of shadows". I just want to yell, "For God's sake, don't do it." But like all romantic heroines, she does and she dies tragically, inevitably. I bear Lancelot in mind a lot when I am writing the bad boys in my books. He provides endless inspiration, especially because she has sacrificed herself for him and all he can do is muse "She has a lovely face." The swine.