Those who know me at all know that I don’t celebrate Christmas. I tend not to say this publicly between the months of October and January in order not to spoil the party of those who get all excited by tinsel and glitter and trees and presents and the meaning and or ephemera of the season.
But this year, while I’m not celebrating Christmas, I appear to have broken with tradition somewhat as I’ve just edited a Christmas Book. ‘A Cameronian Christmas and other winters’ tales’ is already available for purchase as an ebook from Ayton Publishing (£2.49) and Amazon (£2.99) or $4.49 in US and will be published as a paperback on 16th November. It’s a print on demand publication and you can pre-order it from Ayton at the bargain price of just £6.99 with free UK postage HERE. Up till 10th November I can guarantee delivery for publication date and after 16th November I’d suggest you buy early for Christmas, since POD is subject to Christmas bloat like everything else, and so it could take up to 2 weeks for your book to reach you (or the person you’re giving it to!) You see, even in this super modern world, not everything can be delivered instantly. Thus my apologies for advertising early!
But what about the book itself? It’s Christmas Jim, but not as we know it. It’s a compilation of stories by writer S.R.Crockett, featuring six short stories and four excerpts from his novels. As such it’s a great ‘way in’ to his writing. For anyone interested in Galloway and/or Scottish history or Scottish fiction, it might make a change from the usual Christmas fare.
S.R.Crockett, the author, was brought up by Cameronian grandparents – I like to think of them as the last of the Cameronians. He went on to become a Free Church minister (because The Cameronians merged with The Free Kirk in 1876) till fame and fortune came knocking and he became one of the late 19th centuries best selling authors. He died in 1914 and his writing fell out of fashion. There are still people who know of him, who read his work avidly, but the wider public still knows very little of him and even less of his writing. As 2014 saw the anniversary of his death, Ayton Publishing reissued 32 of his Galloway based novels to bring his work back into public awareness on the basis that you can’t like something you don’t know exists.
For those who don’t know, the Cameronians were a branch of Presbyterians who had their birth in Covenanting times, came to a level of maturity in the 18th century, started dying out around the time of ‘The Disruption’ in 1843, and finally merged (or sold out?) to the Established Kirk in the late 19th century. From today’s perspective we might see the Cameronians as something of a religious fundamentalist group, and their extremism was based on a refusal to accept the power of those in authority. They would not recognise civil government while the Head of State was the ‘uncovenanted’ Head of the Scottish Kirk, and as a group they were actually very egalitarian, and community minded. The fundamentalism of equality is something I sometimes think I might like to see, not just for Christmas, but for all of us, and for the future of Scotland.
The biggest surprise to a modern reader might be that The Cameronians did not celebrate Christmas. But then Scotland itself has historically been more than ambivalent about that festive date, preferring Hogmanay. Scotland didn’t have Christmas as a public holiday till 1958 and it was the norm for many Scots to work Christmas Day right through the 1960’s. We still have two full days off for Ne’er, though now consumerism is the religion of choice for many, it’s possible to shop right through the festive season – even online while digesting the turkey.
At Christmas time, we all, the readers amongst us, gather round the literary fire to pay homage to Charles Dickens and his transformative, redemptive visions of Christmas as illustrated in his Christmas stories, most notably ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Some of Crockett’s Christmas stories are set contemporaneously with Dickens most popular – but they tell a completely different story. Far from the cosy hearth, Crockett’s characters contend with the harshness of a Galloway winter, domestic based murder, rural poverty and a world where you can be assured of a white Christmas but are unlikely to get anything more than porridge to eat. While there isn’t the redemptive transformation of Dickens, there is plenty of couthy Scots humour (which in and of itself can be an acquired taste) and a real insight into a world long gone.
So why not have a change from the Dickens diet this festive season and buy ‘A Cameronian Christmas and other winters’ tales’ for yourself, or as a gift for a reader friend. There’s no money back guarantee, reading is, after all, a risky business, but you might just find a whole new world of great writing – Crockett’s lifetimes output numbers some 67 works. So even if you read a book a week you’d still not be finished his complete works by next Christmas!