Christmas can be an emotional time for people and sometimes this holiday can come with regret and sadness. I wanted to bring these two ideas together in my latest book, Christmas Eve at Cranberry Cross. It was also influenced by the Victorian style of gothic fiction, with themes throughout the book from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and even the Edwardian book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
In The Turn of the Screw, the story starts on Christmas Eve, with an unnamed narrator reading a manuscript by a governess about what happened at Bly Manor when she worked there. We then go on to hear one of the most spooky and uneasy stories about the happenings in this old gothic house.
Likewise, in Jane Eyre, some of the darkest moments happen to Jane at Christmas time. For example, when she is left out of festivities by her Aunt Reed, or the Christmas frosts that are mentioned that reflect her inner sadness and the coldness the world seems to have against her pursuit of happiness.
I have always been fascinated by Victorian gothic literature, and the Spiritualist movement that influenced these times. While I am not an expert in any of the topics I have mentioned above, the fascination with hauntings, madness and death is something I have always taken an interest in since I was young.
Perhaps it started with my first Tarot card deck when I was fourteen and learned as many patterns as I could while creating my own Tarot Deck interpretation book. This amateur book was a combination of Jung’s interpretation, numerology, and the classic meanings of the cards.
Like most young people, I dabbled in seances with friends at sleepovers and tried to speak to the dead. I was also fascinated with the Victorian rules around death, from the mourning period dress code through to the mourning jewellery. I read about the Victorian concept of automatic writing, where people wrote as though channelling a spirit, and was also seen as a way to communicate with the ‘other side’ during these times.
The power of the word continued through the focus on the last words of people who were dying, which was common in a world where germs were not even a concept and there was no such thing as an antibiotic to treat the ill. People would wait at the bedside to see what the dying person would say, in case it was a message or an insight into what comes after we die.
The memento mori phrase ‘remember we all die’, prevalent in this time, sometimes with the dead memorialised in photos often posed as still living, have fascinated the generations that came after them. So much of Western society is terrified of death yet I see a tender sadness about the people in the photos, with the care and love of the posing and the clothes and the living children sometimes in the same image.
While my new book is set at Christmas time, its themes of life, and locking away people and memories influence the story, with my heroine, Eve, bringing the sort of sensible energy of Martha from The Secret Garden, or even Jane Eyre herself.
The children in Christmas Eve at Cranberry Cross are a pastiche of Myles and Flora from Turn of the Screw with a touch of little Adele from Jane Eyre, and The Secret Garden’s Mary Lennox. And my hero, Edward Priest is influenced by so many Victorian men of literature at that time, with him being offered a chance to grow and learn and trust himself and the love of the people around him.
When I re-read these books, I remember that it is love that heals Colin in The Secret Garden. It restores life and eventually sight in Mr Rochester. I thought about how Christmas can be a painful time for some. Not everything is merry and bright but sometimes through the pain we can find meaning and love again, especially at Christmas time.
Kate Forster’s latest book, Christmas Eve at Cranberry Cross, is published by Aria on 10 November in paperback for £9.99