Anthony McGowan is a prolific author, who has written for children of all ages as well as adults. I am pleased to welcome him for a Q&A about his latest book I Killed Father Christmas. This is a warm-hearted story about the pressure people feel under at Christmas. You can read my review of the book here.
Q. Jo-Jo’s parents are concerned about finances. Do you think modern Christmas puts pressure on people? What do you think could/should be different?
A. Christmas has always been a struggle if you’re poor. I was one of five kids, and it must have been incredibly hard for my parents to keep us all happy, presents-wise. Things have got worse – there’s a kind of arms race now with gadgets and gizmos. I suppose I Killed Father Christmas is a deliberate attempt to combat that materialism, by replacing the acquisitive urge to get and give material things with emotion. Jo-Jo is forced in the book to look beyond his own desires and cravings to see and understand the needs of others. And by the end he understand that Christmas is about the love, not the stuff.
Q. Jo-Jo overhears a heated comment and comes to the conclusion that Father Christmas is dead. Do you think imagination can be frightening as well as wondrous? How do you think Christmas plays on children’s imaginations?
A. Fear is as much the product of the imagination as joy – a basic principle of writing scarily for adults or children (which I’ve done a lot of) is to make them do the work by imagining horrors you only hint at. But in general fear isn’t a huge part of Christmas, for most children – other than the fear of not getting what you want. My own children used to love imagining the glories to come almost more than the reality. Even now they join in with the fantasy that Father Christmas really comes down the chimney, and my daughter (15) insists on leaving out a mince pie for the fat man in red, and a carrot for the reindeer.
Q. Jo-Jo delivers presents to other children in the neighborhood. What do you think are the most important values at Christmas?
A. Kindness, generosity, unselfishness. Actually, these aren’t just the values of Christmas, but the principles we should live by.
If You Could Create A Cracker …
– Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place?
A cracker without a terrible joke would be a monstrous sham. The Christmas cracker groan is as much a part of Christmas dinner as the turkey. An example? BNAG – that’s BANG out of order!
What sort of hat would you wear?
I have a surprisingly huge head – it doesn’t look particularly bulbous from a distance, but that’s deceptive: hats never fit me. Paper ones are always rapidly rent asunder when I try to don them. But one has to show willing. Could I wear my cricket cap?
What else would you hope to see inside?
Er, another cracker. It would continue, Russian doll style, each cracker containing a smaller doppelganger. The last one – smaller than a Quality Street – would contain a single sapphire, glittering with a cold, heartless brilliance.
Which fictional character would you pull it with?
Jesus. He’d definitely let me win the sapphire. Oh, but I suppose he’s not really fictional … Gandalf, then – he’d use his expertise with fireworks to make sure the cracker really went with a bang.