Away for Christmas – by Jan Ruth
Published by Celtic Connections
ebook available: 13 November 2017
107 pages (novella)
I’ve read one of Jan’s books before and very much enjoyed it so when she asked if I would like to review her latest novella, Away for Christmas, I didn’t hesitate in saying yes and I’m delighted to be sharing my review and a Christmas themed Q&A today on publication day.
| About the Book |
Jonathan Jones has written a novel. Losing his job a few days before Christmas means the pressure is on for his book to become a bestseller, but when his partner drops her own bombshell, the festive holiday looks set to be a disaster.
When he’s bequeathed a failing bookshop in their seaside town, it seems that some of his prayers have been answered, but his publishing company turn out to be not what they seem, and when his ex-wife suddenly declares her romantic intent, another Christmas looks set to be complicated.
Is everything lost, or can the true meaning of words, a dog called Frodo, and the sheer magic of Christmas be enough to save Jonathan’s book, and his skin?
Bookmuse Magazine: “If you’re a writer you will laugh, despair and sympathise with Jonathan Jones, and the trials and tribulations he faces as he battles to become a published author. And if you’re a reader, you’ll be captivated by the excellent story-telling that weaves Jonathan’s complicated life into a page turning drama. A real feel good novella, perfect to curl up with on a stormy winter’s afternoon…”
You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jojo Moyes, Jill Mansell, Erica James.
Ideal accompaniments: Hot chocolate with marshmallows and a plate of shortbread.
| My thoughts |
Away for Christmas was a perfectly charming story and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. It took perhaps a couple of hours in total to read but although this was a novella, it didn’t feel like a short read; the storyline didn’t feel rushed at all and the characters were fully fleshed out, warts and all.
It’s very difficult to review a shorter story without giving away too much of the plot which I don’t want to do but I have to admit that when I first started reading I wasn’t too enamoured with Jonathan Jones. An accountant desperate to be a full time writer, it seemed that he had put his own ambitions above that of everyone else, including his family. He had signed a contract with Tangerine Press, which may have been a mistake as a friend who had self published her book, seemed to be having far more success. However as the story went on and his personal and publishing woes got worse, I actually felt quite sorry for him. I did wonder whether the author had based some parts of the story on her own experiences, or at the very least had added some artistic licence as Tangerine Press appeared to be one to avoid at all costs!
Lovers of bookshops and dogs are well catered for in this story. Jonathan’s life was full of drama, much of it of his doing to be fair but this is a story of families and relationships, realising what is important and finding your way again. The storyline around the elderly bookshop owner Gwilym I found particularly moving and Frodo the dog was much loved addition to the story; there was a certain character who I really took a dislike to when they suggested that Frodo find a new home!
This is a perfect read to get you in the mood for Christmas. Set mainly in North Wales, there is an excellent sense of place with the snowy descriptions adding greatly to the atmosphere. Any book about a bookshop is a hit with me – I can definitely recommend this one although I wonder if Fireside Book Reviews would too!! (You have to read the book to get this reference!)
Finally, I have to give congratulations to the designer of the book cover. Its a real stunner and perfectly sums up the beauty of the book.
Away for Christmas is now available to download from Amazon (and if you’re in the UK, its just 1.50).
Welcome to the blog Jan. Can you please tell us a little about ‘Away for Christmas’ and the inspiration for this particular story.
Away for Christmas is about the joy and pain of publishing books, the joy and pain of fractured relationships, and of course, the joy and pain of Christmas itself. The festive period is not always fun for everyone, but most of all, this is a story about staying true to oneself and looking for the real Christmas spirit beyond the baubles and the glitter.
The story is set over three Christmastimes, and because I feel sure readers will be looking for a few hours of warm and cosy escapism at this time of the year, rest assured there’s a happy ending by the time Jonathan makes it to 2017.
Regular readers will know that my characters tend not to be in the first flush of youth, and that the joy and pain of relationships are often par for the course. Christmas is very much a family time and can unearth a multitude of unwelcome emotions and in the case of my character, present plenty of troublesome hurdles before the festivities can be enjoyed. His ex-wife doesn’t always make life easy, but Jonathan is determined to be a better dad, against all the odds.
And finally, the joy and pain of publishing books! There are some great publishers out there, ones who achieve results, look after their authors and understand the industry from the ground up. This story isn’t based on them.
It’s no secret that I’ve been round the houses and back again with regard to writing and publishing. Thirty years ago I used to believe that a good book would always be snapped up by a publisher regardless of genre, style, and content. In the real, commercial world, this just isn’t true. I see on a regular basis, writers excited by offers from vanity publishers, or those who operate under the guise of assisted publishing, not realising the implications until it’s perhaps too late. Even contracts from those real publishers with seemingly no pitfalls or upfront costs, can dissolve into a horribly disappointing experience. Of course, my poor character thinks he’s landed lucky when a small publisher offers him a three-book deal. What could go wrong? If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book or maybe you’ve just typed THE END to your manuscript, you might think twice about your next step…
Away for Christmas is mainly set in North Wales, an area that you very familiar with. How important is location to you and which comes to you first in the writing process, plot or characters?
There’s no doubt I’m in my creative comfort zone horse riding or tramping across the hills on a moody day. There’s no better way of busting that plot! I think character and plot, or theme, tends to be fairly equal in the writing process. Setting is hugely important to me. The castles and the rugged hillsides strewn with stone settlements, druid circles and Roman roads bring out the historical muse in me. To think that I am treading the same path as someone who lived in the Iron Age, is both fascinating and humbling. Moving to Snowdonia 20 years ago kick-started my stalled obsession with writing in a very positive way. All this talk of the past makes me sound as if I write historical-based fiction. Far from it. Much as I admire many other genres I tend to be very much rooted in current times and my work reflects a lot of my own life experiences. But this is where I find the two ideas merge a little because I am most certainly inspired by this Ice Age landscape. What has gone before certainly shapes what we see today, but does it shape what we feel, too?
I’m in awe of your gorgeous Facebook photos of the Snowdonia landscape. What are the best and also the more challenging aspects of living there?
In a nutshell, I love being close to such isolation and wildness, and yet my local supermarket is still only a ten minute drive away! (Does this make me a fake country person?) The landscape itself is often challenging, conditions can change in an instant and become dangerous, even in high summer.
Describe a typical Christmas Day in your household and do you have any family traditions?
It tends to be all pyjamas, opening the special booze too early and trying not eat before the main event. Because of this, I tend cook lunch for the middle part of the day so we can hopefully get out for a walk before dusk and sober up before repeating more or less the same scenario in the evening.
You can travel anywhere in the world – where would be your ideal place to spend Christmas?
I like being home, I really do. When we were busy working and the family were young, we always used to want to ‘go away’ somewhere for Christmas but now that we can, we invariably don’t want to.
Who puts up the Christmas decorations in your house?
Me! No point relying on the menfolk.
Do you have an all-time favourite Christmas book?
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas.
What is the best and worst Christmas present you have ever received?
Best pressie ever was a saddle when I was 21.
Quick fire questions:
Christmas Tree – real or artificial: real
Favourite Christmas song: The Pogues, Fairytale of New York
Favourite Christmas film: Hmm… not a film watcher.
Turkey (or something else?): Chicken with lots of extra special trimmings
Christmas pudding or plum pudding and Cream or brandy butter: Christmas pudding with cream for me, always with custard for my other half and neither for my son – he’d always choose chocolate pudding over the fruit ones.
Favourite Sweet or Savoury treats: Always savoury.
Queen’s speech or DVD: Oops, neither!
| About the author |
Jan Ruth writes contemporary fiction about the darker side of the family dynamic with a generous helping of humour, horses and dogs. Her books blend the serenities of rural life with the headaches of city business, exploring the endless complexities of relationships.