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    Seven little festive and heart-warming doses of Ra

    A Snow Garden is a volume of seven Christmas-themed short stories by award-winning British actress, radio playwright and author, Rachel Joyce, who explains that these are the characters who have been cut from other works: “Sometimes I picture all these characters stuffed in my (writing) caravan, making a nuisance of themselves, and the racket is quite something. So I loved the idea that I could clear them out, as it were, by giving them each a story of their own.” In A Faraway Smell of Lemons: It may be Christmas, but Binny’s life has fallen apart: the faulty shower, the broken glass pane in the front door, the smashed crockery on the kitchen floor, the unbought Christmas cards, food and gifts; it’s all Oliver’s fault. What sort of Christmas Binny’s children, Coco and Luke are going to get this year is anyone’s guess. Binny has just a few hours to fix it, and a staggering lack of enthusiasm for the task. Trying to avoid another school mother in the High Street, she slips into a shop that sells nothing Binny has ever wanted, but she somehow finds exactly what she needs. A sweet story that may well bring a tear to the eye. In The Marriage Manual: Alan and Alice are in their DIY conservatory assembling the racing bike that their son Will doesn’t want, on Christmas Eve. Theirs has always been described as a textbook marriage: their story is well-told; their routine is well-rehearsed. But this night, as Alan tries to construct the gift without legible instructions, Alice notices a crack in the wall of the conservatory; and the couple begin to depart from their script; uncomfortable truths are revealed. As certain walls come crashing down, they realise that even without an instruction manual, being married and bringing up children can work out OK. In Christmas Day at the Airport: the reader gets all the elements of a nativity scene, but not in the conventional sense. There is indeed a very pregnant young woman (Magda) and her partner, Jo(hanna), three kings (Mrs King and her two daughters), a donkey (among other animals), (shop assistants dressed as) angels, and lambs (fluffy-toy-type). Also six Santas and a choir. Probably not a messiah, though… In The Boxing Day Ball: eighteen-year-old Maureen is surprised by a genuine invitation from the local girls. They really seem to want her along, although her mother doesn’t approve. Maureen has no idea of just how life-changing a dance in the parish hall could be. In A Snow Garden: Henry, divorced, disconnected from his sons, has the boys for six days over Christmas while Debbie goes on vacation. He has promised Owen, a sweet, innocent ten, and Conor, a sometimes snarky fifteen, snow; he has even, to the amusement of his sister, bought them sleds, at a marked-down price (the weather is balmy, snow is definitely not predicted). Henry is at the point of despair when he sees a snow garden, and then is once again concerned for his sanity. In I’ll Be Home For Christmas: when busy, much-in-demand pop star X (formerly Tim) tells his mum he’ll be home for Christmas, he asks her not to make a fuss. But Sylvia is so looking forward to seeing him again, her teenaged son made good, the one thing that proves she’s the equal of her fancy sisters, that she goes a little overboard, and forgets (sort of) that she also has a daughter. In Trees: much to Sal’s annoyance, Oliver agrees to his elderly father’s request to bring trees. It’s New Year’s Eve, his pregnant girlfriend wants to party, but his father has decided he needs to plant twenty trees to atone. He’ll need to borrow his ex’s van, but Binny is kind, and Oliver finds himself wishing for the company and comfort of her home, what used to be his too, before he messed up his life. There are nebulous connections between the stories; main characters in one are glimpsed in another; and a red coat worn by a girl in the snow appears in each one. Seven little festive and heart-warming doses of Rachel Joyce.
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