BY KAREN BYROM
Heidi Swain is a Sunday times bestselling author with a new Christmas novel just out! We caught up her to ask how she feels about writing, and just what Christmas will be like in the Swain household…
You’re already a Sunday Times bestselling author! How excited are you about publication of your new book Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls at The Winter Wonderland? Can you describe the feeling you get when you see your novel in a shop?
I’m always excited about publication days, but there’s something extra special about the day a Christmas book is launched. Snowflakes and Cinnamon is my third festive title and seeing the three beautiful books together makes my heart swell with pride. Knowing the titles are being given as Christmas presents is such an honour and I always make sure I pack as much festive feeling as I possibly can into the plots to keep my lovely readers satisfied.
Seeing the book on the shop shelves when there are carols playing and air is full of Christmas spice is the best present ever. I always feel as if I’ve opened my Christmas present early when I head out to take #shelfies!
Tell us a little bit about Wynbridge and Wynthorpe Hall, the setting for your Christmas books. How real is Wynbridge to you?
Wynbridge is a small market town set in the heart of the Cambridgeshire Fens and Wynthorpe Hall is an impressive but homely grand country seat set in the surrounding countryside. Both the town and the hall have a variety of rural traditions including fairs, auctions, bake sales, sleigh rides and markets and there is a strong sense of community and inclusion. I would happily live in either the town or the hall and lots of readers tell me they feel exactly the same.
Wynbridge is completely real to me now. I could walk around the market square and the shops with my eyes closed. I only wish I could actually go and visit. It would be the perfect place for Christmas shopping!
What’s your inspiration for Wynbridge and Wynthorpe Hall characters? How do you choose their names?
I find it quite difficult to talk about inspiration because it sounds faintly ridiculous to say that folk just seem to show up but that’s exactly how it happens. I’ve lived with both the Wynbridge and Wynthorpe Hall characters for so long now, it’s impossible to think that I created them.
I always start with the setting. The hall for example was fully formed in my head before the family and staff started walking in to occupy the rooms. Wynthorpe is a little community in itself and so I wanted there to be a mix of ages and personality types living and working there. That solitary idea was enough to encourage characters to walk in and make themselves at home. I hope that makes sense? It’s a difficult process to pin down and put into words.
Names can be tricky. When I think I’ve found the right one – quite often after trawling through a baby name list – I’ll offer it up to the character and let them wear it for a while to see if it fits. Mostly we can work it out between us but thankfully I have an extremely willing editor and agent on hand to help if things get out of hand.
The cover is so lovely and Christmassy. How important in general do you think a book’s cover is – do you think people do “judge a book by its cover”?
Thank you, I’m absolutely thrilled with it. I adore all the covers my publisher has created and I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite. I think the cover is incredibly important – especially a Christmas cover. You should be able to really get a feel for what’s going inside when you look at the cover and if “Christmas” features in the title then the story has to deliver!
An author chum of mine, Jenni Keer told me that if a cover leaps out at her during the mad dash around the supermarket the book goes in her trolley and I think that’s the same for lots of us. If we’re in a rush, it’s the most impactful cover which leaps out at us and ends up on the nightstand.
Who are your favourite authors and which Christmas books will you be reading this year?
Three of my favourite authors are Trisha Ashley, Mandy Baggot and Milly Johnson – or Dame Milly as she’s known in our house.
I’ll be reading A Christmas Carol, of course, as well as Christmas at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry, One New York Christmas by Mandy Baggot, A Christmas Gift by Sue Moorcroft and The Mother of all Christmases by Dame Milly. That’s quite a brief list at the moment but I’m writing this in October so I know it will grow out of all proportion during the next few weeks!
Do you have a favourite-ever Christmas book?
I absolutely love A Christmas Carol. I have four different copies, my favourite being a Clothback Penguin Classic which I was given last year. I admit I already have my eye on another edition, but do I really need it? I always plan my Christmas reading list around Dickens and make sure I can meet Scrooge at bedtime on December the 1st.
Tell us a little about your Christmas plans. Will your own Christmas be “Wynbridge” style? Any unusual traditions you follow?
The run up to Christmas where I live in Norfolk is idyllic. There are plenty of rural craft fairs to visit and Norwich itself is an absolute gem. Jarrolds – a local family run department store – is always stunning and I spend hours in there. Literally! I love to visit local events in and around our village so yes, I would say my Christmas is definitely Wynbridge style.
After the excitement of wrapping, making, buying and baking, the big day itself is spent with immediate family at home. This year will be even more special as my daughter will be home from university for the first time and this alone will ensure I go over the top on all fronts!
I don’t think I follow any particularly unusual traditions, but I am always settled for Carols from Kings on Christmas Eve and we always read The Night Before Christmas at bedtime, even though the kids are 18 and 22! We also have a stack of festive films which we work through during December in a very precise order, each one cranking up the excitement ahead of the 25th.
What’s your favourite Christmas carol or song, and why?
Step into Christmas by Elton John is my absolute favourite festive song and The Angel Gabriel is beautiful. It’s no coincidence that my latest hero is called Gabe.
What would you like to find in your Christmas stocking this year?
This is the question I’ve left answering until last because I’m one of those annoying people who never knows what she wants for Christmas! That said, you can never go wrong with stationery and of course books. The more the merrier I say! A chocolate orange would be most welcome and something fleecy to snuggle up in.
Your novels all celebrate romance. Who would be your real-life sexy Santa?
Oh my… if it’s sexy we’re aiming for… it’s going to have to be Chris Hemsworth! I wonder if I should have suggested finding him in my stocking…
And finally, sprouts – yes or no?
A definite yes! Mountains of them!
Thanks so much for chatting to us Heidi.
It has been my absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me along. May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!