Rom Com author Beth Good talks about her magical Christmas story, The Oddest Little Gingerbread Shop.
Beth Good is a Kindle All-Stars winner for top ebook sales. Born and raised in Essex, England, she was whisked away to an island tax haven at the age of eleven to attend an exclusive public school and rub shoulders with the rich and famous. Sadly, she never became rich or famous herself, so had to settle for infamy as a writer of dubious novels.
Beth has been writing and publishing fiction since 1998, and no longer has to rely on a string of husbands to pay her bills. She writes under several different names, mainly to avoid confusing her readers – and herself! As Beth Good she writes romantic comedy and feel-good fiction with a high Cute Factor. She also writes psychological
thrillers as Jane Holland, historical fiction as Victoria Lamb, and Tudor and Regency romance as Elizabeth Moss.
Beth currently lives in the West Country where she spends a great deal of time thinking romantic thoughts while staring out of her window at sheep. (These two actions are unrelated.)
Christmas, falling at midwinter, is the time of year most associated with magic. Midwinter is the darkest time, the cold drawing inexorably in – ‘Winter is coming!’ as George RR Martin eerily puts it in Game of Thrones – that we as human beings have been conditioned over millennia to fear. Yet the dark is traditionally a friend to magic. Night was once a blessed cover for witches whose activities might otherwise have led to their deaths if undertaken during daylight hours. Many spells and rituals need to be performed at night. And while the dark of the moon is often considered a time for potent or dangerous magic, it’s also a moment when we can pause for reflection, seeking within for spiritual sustenance. Planting seeds and waiting for them to grow.
We need light for seeds to grow, of course, and light to hold up against whatever may be lurking in the dark. The festival of lights that is Christmastide sprang out of a need to illuminate the darkness. So, in the Christian religion, midwinter becomes the time of Christ’s birth, the Lord of Light. The strange, eclectic figure of Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas as he is sometimes known, links into that tradition, a Western blend of pagan and Christian beliefs, bringing gifts to ‘good’ boys and girls as the wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus.
Santa is more fairy tale than belief system, however, only believed in by children until they grow and see the deception. With links to the Norse god Wodan, he has become a fat and jolly Jupiter, appearing out of the dark at Yuletide, with his white beard of wisdom and his reindeers’ noses glowing bright. Flying reindeer? Squeezing down chimneys? Receiving gift requests via the fire, and mysteriously knowing every child in the world? Magic is afoot here. And not mundane magic, but a universal magic, intended to bind us all together in a global community of souls. The midwinter magic of rebirth and continuity, always returning, always to be relied upon to lift our spirits and give our children hope.
In the same way, magic plays a powerful role in fairy tales. What might be illogical or impossible in the ‘real’ world is not only possible in fairy tale, but essential to its proper functioning.
The fairy tale is surreal by nature, and frequently takes place in an ‘otherworld’ reminiscent of a Christmas landscape: dark and glinting with magical intent. Just as we step out of our usual routines and behaviours at Christmas, everyday realism is put aside in fairy tales to allow metaphor to walk among us, disguised as characters from the dark wood of our earliest imaginings. Magical creatures such a goblins, fairies, dwarves and elves rub shoulders with princes in disguise and imprisoned princesses – the same children who wait for Santa in our world, and try to make sense of their lives through dream logic and wonder.
‘Once upon a time’ is the magical invocation to this otherworld, granting us access to conceptual metaphors that might otherwise seem bizarre and meaningless. In my contemporary romantic comedy, The Oddest Little Gingerbread Shop, written as Beth Good and set at Christmas time in a dark wood, two strangers nearly collide on a forest road. Following a sign, they set off towards a distant light spied through the trees, in search of a telephone. What they find instead is a gingerbread shop in the middle of the forest, a place straight out of fairy tale, like the gingerbread house where Hansel and Gretel are imprisoned. Here, they are required, in true fairy tale fashion, to undertake a ‘mission’ by taking the place of a third character until he returns.
This third person is Nick, the cheery but cryptic Santa-like owner of the Gingerbread Shop, where locals trek through the snowy wood for their daily orders of Nick’s speciality, gingerbread. No time limit is placed on their task, and indeed there is no sense of ‘real world’ time in the shop. There, as in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia under the spell of the White Witch, it is always winter and always snowing, but never quite Christmas Day.
Only this is no cold, wretched Narnia, but romantic, enchanted territory. Festive goods for sale in the bakery appear magically every day, as do their supplies for living, and every evening, the snow locks them into a cosy intimacy again. Days in the dark wood merge into one never-ending Christmas season, where my couple, previously total strangers, have years to get to know each other, to fall in love, and grow old together. All while waiting for ‘Nick’ to return and take up his apron again.
Obviously, the magical elements of this story could never exist in a straight contemporary romance, where they would be dismissed as ‘illogical’ and unrealistic. But the beginning and end ground my couple in reality, a necessary ‘frame’ that allowed me to make the impossible seem possible. It was also important to keep the story short and relatively simple in terns of structure, following the simplicity of a traditional fairy tale, as this strips away complications and allows metaphor a stronger voice.
Is there a moral to The Oddest Little Gingerbread Shop, or is it simply a vehicle for a quirkier than usual romance?
Perhaps the moral is, don’t venture into a dark wood unless you are prepared to be changed irrevocably by the challenges you find there. My couple are given a choice at the end of my story, to reset to where they were at the beginning, or retain the knowledge gained from their experience. This echoes one of the dilemmas of real life. We can learn and adapt, or we can keep on making the same mistakes, as in the surreal wintertide film Groundhog Dog. The particular magic of Christmas is that we come back to it afresh every year, filled with wonder at all the lights and sparkle amidst the dark, and prepared to believe – even if only while the season lasts – in miracles.
You can find Jane online here:
Find more author interviews and book chat in the Fiction section, or visit my brand new Facebook Page, The Story Cave.
Head shot and book cover copyright, Jane Holland. All other pictures are from www.123rf.com. Number, in order, are: 32925255, 31531323 and 30705228.