Christmas Fiction: Emily Stone

Emily Stone

In our Christmas Fiction author series, we’re chatting to some of your favourite writers about their latest Christmas releases – and you can win all the books from the series here!

This time we’re delighted to be joined by Emily Stone, as she chat’s about The Christmas Letter, and reveals the book she’s enjoying reading now.

Can you tell our readers about your latest book?

My new book is called The Christmas Letter and is about Holly, who turns to a “Dear Stranger” letter club while she’s reeling from a tragic accident. Every Christmas, she writes a letter to a stranger who is spending Christmas alone – and receives a letter from another lonely person. It’s a way to make people who are spending Christmas alone feel like they have someone out there to turn to. Usually the letters go unanswered – they are supposed to be anonymous. But when Holly reads this year’s Christmas letter, from an older woman called Emma, Holly knows she has to track the sender down. Not only does Emma write of a sadness that Holly can relate all too well to, but she also mentions a place from Holly’s past. Holly offers to help Emma reconnect with her estranged grandson – Jack. But when Holly tracks Jack down, she realises she’s met him once before – and the connection was electric.

Why do you enjoy writing about the festive season?

It feels comforting in a way that the festive period often does, but I also like it because Christmas is a time that can often throw up a whole load of feelings. We often think of Christmas as times to be with family and friends, for instance, but in my novels I like to explore characters who are struggling a bit around the festive period – whose problems are almost thrown into the light because of it. Christmas can be a wonderful time for so many people, but there are also complicated relationships to deal with, the pressure of having a good time, perhaps feeling lonely or left out, worrying over where you’re going to spend Christmas this year. While I hope my novels are warm, they also delve into these problems and can be quite emotional! And I think that’s such fun to write about.

Why do you think readers enjoy reading Christmas-themed novels so much?

I think a lot of readers love to get into the spirit of Christmas by reading a Christmas-themed novel! I certainly do. There’s something comforting about curling up under a blanket by the fire at Christmas and reading. I think it can also be a way of switching off during the hectic holiday period – as well as both ending and beginning the year on a feeling of hope, which most Christmas novels seem to have to some degree.

What inspired you to first start writing about Christmas?

It was actually an accident! I didn’t realise there was such a big holiday-themed book market until I started writing it, and as I’m also published in the US I really noticed it there, too. It was more the story in my first novel – Always, in December – and how that fit at Christmas, because it’s about a woman who doesn’t celebrate Christmas after the death of her parents at Christmastime when she was little. My mum died when I was seven, and for a long while Christmas didn’t feel right without her. I knew the beginning of the novel was at Christmas, and then the novel spans a whole year, ending at Christmas again. I have stuck with that format – starting and ending a novel at Christmas, but with a whole year or longer in between – since then. But I didn’t set out to only write Christmas books, so I’m an accidental festive author, I think!

What books or authors (Christmas or non-Christmassy) are some of your influences?

Oh, so many. Cathy Bramley and Jo Thomas are both wonderful, and their Christmas books are always brilliant. I love Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes – I grew up in my teenage years reading them, and I used to buy the hardbacks even when I couldn’t really afford them. I read a lot – both in the genre and outside of it – and I often come across books that really inspire me, both as a reader and a writer. I’m reading Happy Place by Emily Henry at the moment – I think she’s great, of course, and always inspires me to push to be better with the next book. But really, there are too many books and authors to name!

If you’re writing about Christmas during the spring or summer months, is there anything in particular you do to get into the spirit?

Do you know, I thought about this recently as I was trying to write a Christmas scene in July! I’m always writing the book in spring and summer, because that’s the way the deadlines work. Because my books have (so far) been year-round, I think that can help with the summer scenes, but obviously a big part of them is Christmas, and I think I just try to imagine it. I’d love to say I put on the Christmas music, but I don’t! I do spend a lot of time looking at photos on Google for settings, so I do end up looking at lots of photos of snow-covered mountains, Christmas-decorated ski chalets and Christmassy cottages.

When the world is particularly tough, do you think there’s more of a need for these kinds of novels?

I think there is a need for all kinds of novels when the world is tough. We need books to challenge us as well as books to comfort us. But as we (or a lot of us) think of Christmas as the end of the year, I think having a good, comforting book after tough things happening can allow us to switch off and gain a slice of peace, and that’s wonderful. As I’ve said, Christmas can be a hard time for some people, and having novels to turn to if things are hard is so important. Occasionally, I’ll get a message from a reader on social media saying something nice about my books, and that’s a total joy and makes it all worth it – but even better, there have been a few times when a reader has said that they are going through something, or still processing something hard that happened years ago, and my book has helped them to process or understand their grief around that. And that is something I feel incredibly honoured by.

How do Christmas novels fit in with the rest of the literary world – what is their place and how do you think they can maintain it?

It seems that Christmas novels are becoming more and more popular – in America there are whole tables in Barnes & Noble dedicated to “Holiday Reads” (I sometimes get tagged in the photos on Instagram!). And there are some really cool, fun titles that are Christmas themed coming out this year – like One Christmas Morning, which is a debut I was lucky enough to have an early proof of last year. I think it can be tricky, because people tend to only want to read Christmas novels at Christmastime, so the mood has to be right. But ultimately, I think they fit in and offer an escape into a different world. I think, as with the debate about romance recently, it’s about realising that a good Christmas novel is just a good novel that happens to be set at Christmas – and then more people will hopefully pick them up. But I’m not really sure – I just hope people keep reading them so I can keep writing!

What do you take away from writing festive stories?

I think it’s probably the same thing that I’m guessing readers enjoy. You get the fun and the joy of Christmas by writing about it! But ultimately, when I’m writing it’s about the story and the characters first, and then Christmas comes after that. Christmas is the backdrop rather than the thing I set out to write about. So really, it’s what I’d get out of writing any fiction – I love telling a story, I love trying to work out what makes the characters tick, and I really love writing about complicated relationships. A lot of that happens at Christmas or because of Christmas in some way – but even if I took Christmas away I’d still enjoy it. I think what Christmas adds to all that is that warm feeling, which I hope I’m able to capture.

The Christmas Letter by Emily Stone is out now and available from Amazon (Headline, PB £9.99)

Also in the series

Jenny Bayliss and her new Christmas book

Don’t miss our interviews with Jo Thomas, Sarah Morgan, Sophie Claire, Andreina Cordani and Jenny Bayliss as they talk about their new Christmas novels!