Books can be your saviour at the festive dining table

red and yellow flower bouquet on table

Christmas is the time when everyone is welcome around the dining table. Isn’t that a lovely sentiment?

Yet it can be stressful for some. The frazzled cook battling lumpy gravy when the meal is already three hours late. The young couple stuffed to bursting point after eating two dinners, one with each set of parents. The widow trying to be the life and soul of the party while she’s sobbing inside. The singleton sure he’s there on sufferance wishing he’d opted for a ready meal at home alone.

If any of that resembles your reality, let me remind you of your superpower. Yes, it’s fiction! You know you’ll survive because you’ve read about worse scenarios in books.

One of my favourite uncosy Christmases is Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections – you can read about why by following this link to my blog.


If that doesn’t suit you, that post contains a link to another eight fictional Christmases you might enjoy.

Another potential downside of the everyone-is-welcome narrative comes when the food is perfect, the guests congenial but you’re stuck beside the sole bigoted bore. You can’t get into an argument on the supposed most wonderful day of the year. But you’ll be miserable if you suffer in silence.

Once again, fiction could be your saviour. How about countering their prejudices with fiction rather than fact?

Your companion lambasts some group as scroungers, ne’er-do-wells and whingers? You come back with a novel that reveals their humanity.

Moving the conversation onto fictional characters can take the pressure off. Who knows, you might even entice your neighbour to read a story that will turn their assumptions upside down. Think about how Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped change attitudes towards the slave trade.

I don’t expect my own fiction to have such an impact. Nevertheless, social justice is one of my recurrent themes. My debut novel, Sugar and Snails, is about a woman with a marginalised identity. Underneath is the story of an unsavoury character who was once an unloved child. The protagonist of Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home has a serious psychiatric disorder which would make her difficult company in real life but delightful on the page. My novella, Stolen Summers, is the tragic yet tender story of a victim of twentieth century misogyny, forced to surrender her baby for adoption. My latest novel, Lyrics for the Loved Ones, features the Windrush Scandal and the pressures on care homes during the pandemic. The stories are laced with hope and humour and, with gorgeous covers, make appealing gifts.


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