Power cut inspires new escapist Christmas story

A power cut lasting five days which even robbed the family of water was the inspiration for the latest book from Sussex author Karen Swan.
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Christmas By Candlelight is the new escapist festive story from the Sunday Times bestseller – the latest in a number of books she has written in the Christmas category including Christmas at Tiffany’s, The Christmas Secret and Together by Christmas.

Karen, who lives just outside Horsted Keynes, said: “I never set out to write a Christmas book. My first-ever Christmas title was Christmas at Tiffany’s, but it was never actually a Christmas book for me. It was my editor that came up with the title. The action in the book is set over the course of a year but it did so well when it was published in that slot that I have continued and now there is always a Christmas slant or at least a Christmas background to the books that I do at this time of the year.

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“There is a genre called cosy Christmas but that's not what I am. Every time I try to write it I end up putting someone in a war zone! I just couldn't quite go there. But I don't really think of categories when I'm writing. I'm just thinking of writing a story. There is always a love story but that's not really the key element. It’s the backdrop. The reader knows that A and B will end up together. That's not a surprise but really it's about the journey of them getting there, and that journey changes vastly from book to book. I do change the way that I write my books from year to year. I write two books a year and my biggest fear is that I'm going to become fixed and formulaic. Readers are so sophisticated now and they would know if you became stale or predictable and I absolutely don't want that to happen.

Karen Swan copyright Alicia ClarkeKaren Swan copyright Alicia Clarke
Karen Swan copyright Alicia Clarke

“It is a great position to be in to be writing two books a year but it does come with quite a lot of pressure and the fact is that I've been doing the Christmas books for quite a long time. I have readers saying that when my Christmas book comes out they know that Christmas really is kicking off and people saying that they read a particular Christmas book of mine every year – so yes I do feel an obligation to continue though I do perhaps have more creative freedom with the summer books I write where I can push myself more.”

The latest book follows Libby Pugh, who has reluctantly agreed to stop in on a university reunion on her way back from a wedding with her new boyfriend Max. But with three days to go before Christmas, the group find themselves snowed in and tensions rise as secrets start to be uncovered...

“The book was triggered by something that actually happened to us last year. Where we are we get a lot of power cuts and we're used to losing the lights or the TV briefly but this one lasted four or five days and we actually lost water as well so we ended up having to travel to friends in other areas just to have a shower. It was ridiculous. We were trying to let people know that we were not in contact but we never have a mobile phone signal here anyway and no one could get hold of us!

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“And it makes you realise that you are so dependent on things like lights, electricity and so on and when you don't have them then you start moving and living in a different way. Because we weren't able to be on our iPads then we started playing board games. It was either that or go to bed and there was definitely a charm to it. There was a novelty factor which I'm sure would have worn off but actually playing board games by candlelight was really rather fun.”

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