Thievery: Dying For Christmas
On Thursdays, I invite my favourite writers to share the inspirations behind their work. Here’s one from complex and compelling novelist Tammy Cohen (better known as Tamar Cohen).
“Chances are, by the time you finish reading this, I’ll already be dead.
Three interesting things about me. Well, I’m twenty-nine years old, I’m phobic about buttons. Oh yes, and I’m dying. Not as in I’ve got two years to live, but hey, here’s a list of things I want to cram into the time I have left. No, I’m dying right here and now.
In a sense, you are reading a snuff book.
So, why did I go along with it? That’s a tricky one, that question of motivation. Maybe it’s because I was caught up in the Christmas spirit and feeling kindly disposed. He told me I was beautiful.
Also, it didn’t hurt that he was handsome. He looked a bit like that guy from Silver Linings Playbook, the one who always plays nut jobs. Maybe that should have given me a bit of a clue.
Oh well, you live and learn.
Except in my case only one of those is true.”
‘We’re thinking of doing a Christmas themed crime novel,’ my editor said. ‘Have you got any ideas?’
I’d wanted to move into crime for ages (writing it, rather than doing it, I hasten to add). I love reading crime books. I like how you can always be sure something is going to happen (amazing how many books you read where nothing much happens at all), and how you’re always having to think ahead and second guess everything, and how you never really know who to trust. More importantly, all my crime-writing pals seemed to have such a hoot, going to conventions, speaking on panels, sticking Noir on the end of random words. This was my big chance to join them. All I had to do was come up with an idea. How hard could it be?
Quite hard, was the short answer.
For a whole day following my editor’s call, I grappled with different scenarios, each more outlandish than the last, but there was one I kept returning to. It was an image of a Christmas tree with twelve presents under it. One for each of the days of Christmas. But clearly there had to be something sinister about it. The presents were a shrine perhaps? To someone missing? Or even dead?
The obvious idea would have been to give it some kind of family setting, after all Christmas is when families traditionally gather together – perfect fodder for tensions stretched to snapping point, old feuds being reignited and buried secrets brought to the surface. The shadow of Agatha Christie loomed large.
But the problem with that was it felt too familiar. My last four books – The Mistress’s Revenge, The War of the Wives, Someone Else’s Wedding and The Broken had all featured dark goings on within family set-ups, and I wanted to try something completely different. A mysterious stranger, a split-second decision that leads to a nightmare situation. I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s Misery. I love that creeping claustrophobia that comes from two radically different people being thrown on each other’s company for a long stretch of time, the shifting dynamics between prisoner and jailer. I knew writing what was essentially a two-hander would be a massive challenge – but it would also give me the chance to go much deeper into those two characters’ lives and minds (even if sometimes I would wish I hadn’t!)
As Christmas is a time for family, removing my poor protagonist Jessica Gold, from all that is familiar and holding her hostage in an anonymous warehouse flat in Wapping, at the mercy of an evil psychopath, felt deliciously anti-festive. I don’t know about anyone else, but sometimes the relentless sickly-sweet yuletide diet of mince pies, Quality Street and the John Lewis ad leaves me crying out for a touch of something dark and bitter and just a little twisted. This idea certainly ticked that box.
The twelve presents over twelve days device meant there was not only a ready-made and rather festively pleasing structure to the idea, but also that there was an inbuilt countdown in the set up which would automatically keep tension levels high (I hoped). What’s in the last present? What will happen when there are no presents left?
So now I had the premise and I had the characters. All that was left was to work out what actually happens.
Piece of cake.
Christmas cake, naturally.
Dying For Christmas is out now from Transworld.