Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Writer's Christmas Survival Guide

Christmas is a time of myth, fable and magic - for everyone except writers. Because we spend the rest of our year surrounded by these things, it seems that Christmas is invariably the time when real life decides to get its own back. Presents, decorations, weather, flu, travel delays, sick relatives and ungrateful children - all of these elements conspire to keep us from our fantasy lives. So, in the spirit of that half-forgotten Christmas novelty publication The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, I offer you this gift - a guide to daydreaming your way through the festive season:


A perennial Christmas "favourite", care should be taken when preparing and cooking this vegetable to ensure the "unique" flavour and texture are preserved.
  1. Wash the sprouts and remove any brown outer leaves.

  2. Slice off the stems and cut an X in the top of each sprout.

  3. Wonder what people would look like if they had an X-shaped mark in the tops of their heads. Wouldn't that make styling their hair really difficult? Resolve to check whether Scott Westerfeld has had that idea yet.

  4. Place the sprouts into a saucepan of water.

  5. Oh no! The X-in-the-head world has flooded! All the little X-in-the-head people are bobbing around, unable to climb up the sheer Teflon cliffs. Who will save them?

  6. Bring the saucepan to the boil, stirring occasionally.

  7. This is getting serious! Undersea volcanic activity is causing sea temperatures to rise dramatically. Little Johnny and Jemima X-Head are seconds from a grisly death! Quick, Johnny, clamber up that giant wooden contraption and escape into the Steampunk kingdom above!


No matter how hard you plan (yes, even writers plan sometimes), there will always be something you've forgotten that is essential for making Christmas "special."
  1. Go grudgingly outside in the snow and attempt to move the car. Get halfway off the drive in first gear and then stop as the wheels begin slipping on the frozen surface.

  2. You are a champion drag racer! Spinning your wheels on the start line, sending clouds of smoke into the cheering crowd as you tense for the green light!

  3. Give up with the car idea because you have just sprayed your neighbours' house and children with filthy grey snow. Get out and quickly hobble away from the sound of uncontrollable crying, towards town.

  4. Discover that many of the shops are shut through lack of staff, except Poundland, which has half the population of England inside. Walk slap-bang into the middle of a violent argument over the last bottle of Domestos.

  5. You are Buzz Lightyear of Star Command! With your heroic bravery and courage, you can resolve this dispute and avert a galaxy-wide crisis!

  6. Trudge away nursing a split lip and the resolution to never argue with an eighty-six-year-old again. Buy some of the things you need, plus a lot of unnecessary chocolate and a jumbo tub of Latvian Pringles.

  7. Pack all of your items into a carrier bag, which then bursts in the street, dumping your purchases into the slush. Curse loudly, squeeze the soggy objects into your rucksack and walk home with a roll of gift-wrap in each hand.

  8. You are Kick-Ass! Twirling your twin clubs of justice before you, taking on the snowy forces of evil!

  9. Slip over on the ice and bruise your hip because you can't put a hand down to break your fall. Limp home using one of the gift-wrap rolls as an impromptu crutch.


What you will need:
  • A ruthless ability to get to the pile of presents first.
  • A large pair of scissors (unsuitable for running with, though you will anyway)
  • A nose that can sniff out packages containing chocolate or alcohol at twenty paces.
  • The receipts for the gifts you are giving your family, so you can threaten to take them back if they haven't bought you better stuff than last year.

How to proceed:
  1. Approach the present pile, rejecting anything that is squashy or not box/bottle shaped.

  2. Pick up a small, hard, intriguingly lumpy present.

  3. Realise that this could be the Holy Grail of writers' gifts - stationery!

  4. Scream like a banshee and attack the parcel, all the while fantasising about the projects you can finally start now you have the right materials.

  5. Discover that the present has been wrapped by some obsessive-compulsive freak who has covered the whole thing in thick foil paper and taped down every possible edge

  6. Scream louder and start hacking away at the paper with the scissors while your family run for cover.

  7. Finally unwrap a pink spiral-bound notepad with five matching fluorescent gel pens.

What to say:
  • "Thank you, this WH Smith value notebook will be the ideal thing for writing my next bestselling novel in."
What not to say:
  • "I wanted a Moleskine, idiot! I want to stroke the crisp pages and slide my used bus tickets into that cute little pocket. I couldn't write a shopping list in this crappy excuse for a notepad! You think my muse is even going to bother to show up for this 60gsm recycled paper? Think again, buster!"



  1. Excellent list. Could slightly translate to Chanukah. The better half has finally worked out a present to give me, so I get several a year now - notebooks, in all their glorious covers. But I never tire of them!

  2. And I thought I would be using my two weeks off at Christmas for writing!!!

    P.S.: Ryman do a nice, cheaper version of Moleskine that is more sturdy. Crisp pages and cute little pocket included. They have it in different sizes: http://www.ryman.co.uk/0320265001/Ryman-Notebook-A5-Ruled-Soft-Feel-192-Pages-96-Sheets/Product

  3. Love it. :)

    I tend to imagine the rolls of wrapping paper are lightsabers. I spin them about making the noise, hit my boys on the head and run before they hit me back. Then I wonder why all the parcels look wrinkly.

  4. Spot on, Nick - especially the Latvian Pringles! Thanks for the Christmas cheer - made me smile through my lurgy:)

  5. aaahh, love it. The inside of your head is a strange and wonderful place, Nick. Thankfully!

    Christmas is a very surreal time. Have just sent husband and son off to buy my Christmas present having explained carefully where M&S is, where the ladies jumpers' section is, what size I am, and what kind of thing I like. And then giving them the money to buy it with. They still looked a bit nervous and shifty. Perhaps I should have asked them for Latvian pringles instead.

  6. I shall be reporting you to Fairy Cabbages* - you evil sprout boiler, you!
    (*Formerly known as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to X in the Head People.)

  7. Brilliant! Have always wondered about those x's on brussel sprouts. I swear it is an alien thing...

  8. Fab post Nick - I'll never look at Brussels sprouts the same way again - Save the Sprout People!!

  9. Brilliant! I am expecting a special Moleskine notebook this year. We'll see....

  10. LOL very funny. I was just talking with a friend about how writing for children has made me start seeing magic and strange worlds everywhere - steampunk sprouts ftw!

  11. This is too funny! Wish I'd seen it BEFORE Christmas - could've used some tips!