In celebration of the UK publication of The Mischief of the Mistletoe, my British publisher had me respond to some Q&A.
Here they are below, along with an extra that had to be cut for length reasons– but as Queen of my Website, I get to be as long-winded as I like over here. (Cue seasonally inappropriate evil laughter.)
Q. What are your favourite Christmas reads?
A. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Little Women! In addition to Little Women, I like to revisit Liz Young’s Fair Game, which I associate with the Christmas I lived in London; Jo Beverly’s Regency-set story, The Christmas Angel; and Elsie Lee’s Silence is Golden (your classic Victorian heroine-meets-brooding-hero-with-insane-appendage story—don’t ask how it made it onto my Christmas list!).
For me, Christmas is also all about experimenting with new books. I spent most Christmas afternoons munching lopsided gingerbread people and reading through whatever books had shown up in my stocking. Santa had a taste for historical biographies and bodice-rippers, so it could be anything from Antonia Frasier to Johanna Lindsey, depending on whatever the last minute shopping (er, I mean sleigh-packing) had yielded.
Q. What made you decide to write a Christmas book?
A. There’s a magic about Christmas. It’s a time when anything can happen: reindeer fly; obese men squeeze through chimneys; there’s chocolate for breakfast and movies in the middle of the day. In short, the ordinary rules are suspended. I had a rather unusual hero for whom I wanted to write a story, a blundering, warm-hearted soul known to his friends as “Turnip” for his lack of whatchamacallit in the brainbox. Basically, he’s Bertie Wooster in knee breeches—or, as Jane Austen puts it, during a cameo appearance, “quite definitely a Bingley”. What better time than Christmas for someone to see underneath that bumbling exterior to his heart of gold?
Q. Your book is set in 1803 and features Jane Austen as a side character. What would Austen’s Christmas have been like?
A. Not as we imagine it! So much of what we associate with a traditional Christmas came along later. Christmas trees only became popular during the reign of Victoria and many of our favorite carols, including “Silent Night”, didn’t exist yet. There were, however, all sorts of fun and interesting traditions, including the bringing in of the Yule log on Christmas eve, decking the halls with boughs of holly, and big Twelfth Night celebrations, complete with Lord of Misrule. And, naturally, plum pudding!
Q. Is it true that the hero of The Mischief of the Mistletoe takes out the villain with a Christmas pudding?
A. Do you really think I’m giving that kind of information away? Let’s just say that, as the hero observes, Christmas puddings make deuced good projectiles.
You could say that Christmas puddings form a sort of leitmotif throughout The Mischief of the Mistletoe. The action kicks off when the hero and heroine find a mysterious message—in French!—hidden in a Christmas pudding, which sets them on the train of espionage, intrigue, an incredibly awful Christmas pageant (haven’t we all suffered through those?) and, yes, more pudding.
Basically, I was trying to think up lots of ways to use Christmas pudding that didn’t involve actually eating it!
Q. What’s your favourite Christmas carol?
A. We Three Kings of Orient Are. Hands down. There’s something so mystical and haunting about it—you can just see those ornately garbed kings on their camels laboring through the desert in search of that little manger in Bethlehem. That’s quite a trek without GPS. (Can’t you just hear the quarrels? “I told you we should have turned right at that last oasis!”)
I have other reasons for remembering the song affectionately. One of the traditions at my tiny all girls’ school was to make all the fathers, brothers, uncles, and any other unwary males unfortunate enough to be there get up on stage and sing “We Three Kings” at the annual holiday concert. The looks of trepidation on their faces as they sheepishly and reluctantly climbed up onto the risers always sent the whole school off into giggles. There was a reason my brother refused to attend….
What’s your favorite carol?