Each year I am struck by the way Christmas is 'made' to happen. An act of collective, steely determination by a species determined to find something to help it through the winter. Each year I resist, through gritted teeth, then succumb. I am at the point of starting to succumb now. I have made a batch of mince pies. I have written two thirds of my Christmas cards. I have bought scores of presents, while still feeling, in some vague way, that there are scores more still to purchase. It feels like a mountain to climb, but one that I shall enjoy when I get to the peak, by which I mean that moment when I stare about me in blurred satisfaction at piles of torn wrapping paper and smiling faces an hour or so post the Queen's Speech on Saturday 25th, (the blur coming from a vast lunch that has included a couple of glasses of wine and a spot of port).
Christmas is only ONE DAY after all, as a wise friend counselled me recently, when I was fretting, about Work and Life and how to fit it all in. After it, God willing, there will be January. And February. The 'organising' part of me has made some preparation for these too, in the form of the acquisition of a super-lightweight snow shovel off Amazon (an American one…they know a thing or two over there about clearing their drives…on the East coast anyway) as well as a set of 'snow-gripper' thingamies to attach to my shoes/boots. This is not because I am totally decrepid. Not yet. I am relatively advanced in years, but also relatively fit. No, the problem is that we live in a 'dip' – surrounded on all sides by steep hills. During the last two snowy winters I discovered that this could mean even walking to the local shops was impossible, or at least mildly dangerous – the challenge of getting to the shops only surpassed by the far greater difficulty of slithering safely home again, overladen bags banging against one's knees.
For me the New Year holds the other, daunting prospect of starting to think about my next book. Till then I keep telling myself I am not 'allowed' to think about it, that it doesn't matter, that it can wait in line behind all the other things that must happen between now and 2012. It is only six weeks or so since I finished my most recent manuscript, you see, and so a certain 'rest' period is called for. It proved a bit of beast too, the last one, kicking and screaming till the end, as some of them do; a fact which I'm hoping means it might be my best yet. (I cannot be the only writer who likes to labour - under the illusion at least - of continued self-improvement!). So I feel I owe myself the indulgence of a brief guilt-free window, a patch of time in which I can savour the completion of one job before the pressure cranks up for the next.
It is hard, though. Well-intentioned enquiries from friends about the finishing of one manuscript invariably lead, often in the same breath, to questions about the next, as if the imagination is some kind of handy conveyor belt, pushing out ideas like sausages. If only. Mine, I have learned, requires periods not just of non-pressure but of wily nurturing. There is nothing it likes better than for me to pretend that I will have no need of it again. Ever. Then, like a hard-to-get to lover or a wayward child, it deigns – if I keep my back turned - to start playing ball.