Dec 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I was originally planning to keep blogging throughout the Christmas holidays, but we've got so much going on, as I'm sure most people do, that I think I'll join many of my fellow bloggers and take a break for a while.

Here's to us all having a happy, safe and peaceful Christmas. I'll see you all in 2012.

Here are some puppies:

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Dec 21, 2011

Conor's First Christmas

As most of you know, my wife and I had a son earlier this year, who passed away after only three days. We named him Conor and gave him the middle names William and Henry, after our grandfathers. This should have been his first Christmas. It's been a hard time for us. We have friends who have new babies, or are expecting, and while we're thrilled for them, we miss our son.

However, as hard as this first Christmas will be, we are determined to enjoy it. We know Conor is with us, watching us. No matter what form his presence has to take, we won't let our son's first Christmas be a sad affair. His life meant too much to too many people for us to let him down like that. He taught us about the importance of those we love, and the strength that comes from expressing that love. That's what Christmas should be about.

So we're going to celebrate this Christmas and see it through. I know Conor would want us to be happy, not let our favourite time of year pass in sadness because he can't be with us in the way we wish he could.

To anyone reading this, I'll say the same. This can be a stressful time of year. It's expensive, it's crowded, it's loud. You may find yourself having to spend time with people you'd rather not, because a friend is bringing a guest you don't know, or you fell out once with a particular family member. Or there may be someone you dearly wish was there who can't be.

But this is also a time when we gather around those we love. We share gifts to show how much we care. We offer help to a friend or a stranger when they need it most. We do the most amazing things just to see another person smile and help their Christmas be that much better. We are thankful for the good in our lives. We forgive those who have hurt us. We offer peace and goodwill.

Life's too short, and there are enough times when we feel frustrated, miserable or afraid. Let this one time of year be spent with good in our hearts, each helping one another to be happy however we can. And maybe, just maybe, some of that feeling will stay with us when he season ends, and we can keep it through the year.

Merry Christmas.

Dec 19, 2011

Ring Christmas Bells

Just a few days to go until Christmas. To help celebrate the final run up I'd like to share something from Carnival Moon, a band that my friend Ash's husband is in. They've recorded a cover of Carol of the Bells with a really creepy, fairy-like tone. It's available for free download and I love it, so here it is:

Ring Christmas Bells

Dec 16, 2011

Last Minute Shopping

It's just about the last weekend before Christmas. Uncharacteristically, I actually have everything sorted as regards Christmas shopping, with just a few specific food items to get in. Every year I see people packing shopping trolleys to the brim with cartons of milk, soft drinks, alcohol, bread, butter, and all manner of other foodstuffs as though they were preparing for the zombie apocalypse. My wife and I don't do a massive stock-up at Christmas. It's too stressful and too expensive. Instead we just make sure to have a fresh batch of home-brewed wine on the rack, a bottle of port, some nice cheese and crackers, and the stuff we need for Christmas dinner. The shops open again on St Stephen's Day. It's not like we're going to run out of milk in a single day.

The only reason we even get in our turkeys and such so far ahead of time is that we don't want to risk shops running out. We're just not stressful shoppers. We both saw too much of that growing up so we try and keep ours as relaxed as possible. So our last minute shopping will just be for a few minor bits and pieces for the sake of convenience, rather than desperately trying to track down the last jar of cranberry sauce on Christmas Eve.

What about you? How are your preparations going? Do you like to get everything done well in advance or do you love the throngs of crowds as Christmas gets closer and closer?

Dec 14, 2011

Favourite Christmas Songs

Everyone's got their favourite. That one Christmas song that just fills them with all the good memories and positive feelings of this time of year. I've listed three of my favourites below:

Old City Bar - Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Part of the Christmas Eve and Other Stories album, this song has a place in a larger story about an angel sent to find the greatest thing done by man in the name of Christmas. It's a beautiful, simple song about how we can change the world for the better through simple acts.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Originally from Meet Me in St Louis, everything about this song exudes Christmas dinner, warm fires and friends all around. Plus I really enjoy the wishing for good times in the future.

Fairytale of New York - The Pogues, featuring Kirsty MacColl

My all-time favourite. As soon as I hear the opening piano notes, everything is good. I was in a youth theatre as a teenager and on our last day of workshops before Christmas we would always gather around a piano and sing Christmas songs, including this. Aside from having one of the best piano melodies ever, I love that at its heart, it's about two people who fell in love, went through hard times, and despite everything still admit they love each other.

What about you? What's your favourite Christmas song?

Dec 12, 2011

Christmas Shopping

I love Dublin at Christmas. The lights look amazing and there are choirs up and down Grafton Street. It's not a proper Christmas unless we get to see the streets all lit up and hear the music playing.

It's great to spend time wandering the shops. While online ordering often has great deals, you really can't beat that feeling of picking out a present, taking it to the register, then bringing it home. We've managed to get pretty much all of our shopping done now, and the Christmas tree is looking great with the presents wrapped underneath it.

My wife and I always spoil each other a little at this time of year. As well as getting presents for each other, we pick out some things like DVDs we've wanted that we'll put under the tree with both our names on. We believe very strongly that Christmas should be enjoyed as much as possible, and we indulge our childish side more often this time of year than any other, which is saying something.

Once we get all our shopping done we still like to wander around the shops, taking in the atmosphere and stopping for tea or coffee. Christmas Eve, especially. It was on Christmas Eve that I proposed, in the morning in St Stephen's Green next to the fountains. There's nothing like a Christmas Eve where everything is done and you can just enjoy yourself.

What about you? Do you have any Christmas shopping traditions or preferences?

Dec 9, 2011

Writing Update

It's weird to think I only have 9 more blog posts for 2011 after today. That's assuming I don't take a bit of a break over Christmas. Still, I have been thinking about the things I want to talk about as we wrap up the year.

For now I thought I'd give a bit of an update of where the year has left me, writing-wise.

My third round of edits on Locked Within has been sent back to my editor. Things are going really well, I think. Kristine is a huge help in figuring out my weaknesses and playing to my strengths. I know there's still plenty of work to be done, but I'm looking forward to it. I can see the book becoming much stronger as we go.

I've been neglecting Nightfall for the last couple of months. Not that I'm letting it go, by any stretch, but Nathan's story has been so strong in my mind that I'm finding I have try hard not to get ahead of myself. I'm currently preparing to re-draft Silent Oath to take into account feedback from my crit partners and beta readers, as well as major changes which have happened to Locked Within. My goal is to have Silent Oath ready for querying in time to make a 2013 release, if it's accepted.

As well as that, I've decided to start writing the third book of The Memory Chronicles in the new year. I'm seriously looking forward to this, but I'm keeping a lot of it under wraps for the time being.

I've also been getting more and more ideas for other books, independent of The Memory Chronicles. A dark fantasy series, and a couple of ideas for MG or YA Christmas stories.

What about you? Where are you with your writing, or what are you reading that's really grabbed your attention?

Dec 7, 2011

New Additions

This week my wife and I adopted another puppy. He's a Japanese spitz mix who was part of an unexpected litter an elderly man's dogs had. He wasn't able to care for so many dogs, so he offered the puppies up for adoption.

My wife brought home this little dote yesterday:

We've named him Jasper. He was brought to the vet today and it was confirmed he's about five months old and very underweight. We need to at least double his weight, but aside from that he's quite healthy and has such a sweet personality.

Once our other dog, Pepper, has taught him how to play, there'll be no stopping the pair of them.

Dec 5, 2011

Me and Christmas

We have a pretty powerful relationship. I simply love Christmas. I see it as a time to be thankful for all the good things in your life and hopeful that the future will bring more of the same. We gather around our loved ones to share this joy and, when necessary, find strength to get us through the tougher times.

I don't view Christmas as a strictly religious holiday. In today's world it has evolved so much further than something any one religion can lay claim to. I think it should be treated as a universal celebration of love and togetherness. It's date was even chosen to coincide with older pagan winter celebrations. As I see it, Christmas is meant to be all-inclusive. A time to welcome everyone of every faith and background.

This will be a tough Christmas, but we're going to make it a good one. It means a lot to me to have a good Christmas. Part of our annual tradition is to host a Christmas Dinner for Friends, nick-named "Not-Christmas" by some of our friends. It's the highlight of the season for us and we can't wait.

As it happens, this year I've had two ideas for Christmas-themed novels, and settled that the fourth book of my Memory Chronicles series will be set at Christmas time.

Dec 2, 2011

The National Craft and Design Fair

As I said on Wednesdaty, my wife and I went out to the National Craft and Design Fair in the RDS. I thought I'd share some pictures from our day out to start the Christmas season.

This fair is on every year and really does have some great selections from Irish businesses. There's very little in the way of chains present, and if you look around you'll find things to suit most budgets.

It's great seeing the place decked out with Christmas lights. People were also generally polite and helpful. Great Christmassy atmosphere.

This stall was selling a new type of syrup they've invented, made from apples. It's like a kind of apple honey, called Highbank Orchard Syrup. We tasted some and just had to buy a couple of bottles.

There was a craft section dominating the center of the main hall, with people working a pottery display right there at a stall.

Almost everything you see there is some form of biscuit. Yum.

This is another stall that drew us in. Banshee Legend is a new whiskey-based liquer with a hint of ginger. Very nice, and I'm not normally a whiskey drinker. We picked up a bottle, but it's also available in the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street in Dublin.

A close-up of Banshee Legend. I love the design of the bottles.

Lots of the stalls have some really great and unique gift ideas for kids as well as adults.

Everything here is hand made and beautifully glazed. Unlike a lot of the pottery on sale at the fair, this stall had some really reasonable prices, too.

If any of you ever get the chance, I can only recommend going to the fair. Tickets are €10 and if you get a return pass before leaving, you can come back any day during the fair for no charge. It's a great way to get into the swing of things for Christmas, though it can be tiring to walk around all the stalls, so small children are likely to get bored easily.