With so many Christmas books on the market, it’s good to find one that isn’t only all about snow. K.R Murray’s novella The Christmas Heatwave avoids this with an unusual premise! The Christmas Heatwave was published on 25th October 2016 and is available in e-book here.
Today I’m interviewing K.R. Murray to celebrate a change in the genre.
The Christmas Heatwave
“On the radio today someone was saying this is the end of the world.”
“Well, this wouldn’t be a bad last day on earth would it?”
On Christmas day, Tom, Jessie and Olive each wake up alone. But they’re not too distracted by their own problems to overlook that there is something a bit different about this Christmas.
While the rest of the country reels at the news of a severe heatwave hitting the UK, the change in season brings a change in fortune for these three outcasts…
An Interview with K.R. Murray
Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and your novel The Christmas Heatwave.
Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m in my twenties and I live in London. I moved here about six years ago. I know it’s cliché to say but it’s quite a unique place, so I don’t think you ever really get used to it! Which means it provides lots of fodder for writing – lots to see and lots to do for inspiration.
Tell us a bit about The Christmas Heatwave too.
I had the idea for this story over two years ago and have been developing it very slowly – mainly because it is the first full(ish) length thing I’ve ever written. The whole idea started with an image that appears a couple of times throughout the book. I won’t give anything away but it involves a Christmas wreath…
The main idea was to flip the usual ideas and images we have of Christmas on its head – part of this was just a fun ‘what if’, but the real aim was to strip away the ‘decoration’ and see what the sort of ‘essence’ of the season is. Like all Christmas stories really.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I think telling this story has been a turning point for me because it made me realise that all the little day dreams I had, notes I made, symbols and patterns I noticed in life that caught my imagination could be harnessed by writing. Which is a really nice feeling. I wouldn’t say writing is always a comfortable thing but I definitely feel like I’ve found something that fits me – or that I fit.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I often write in my lunch breaks at my day job, in bustling cafes. I find it helps keep procrastination at bay – writing in little bursts with people around stops me being too intimidated by silence on top of the blank page in front of me.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
It’s a real mix. I’m making a conscious effort to read female writers, or at the very least stories that have a female lead. It helps me to find my voice and visualise my place in the world, and the world of writing in particular.
The last book(s) I devoured were the Neopolitan series by Elena Ferrante. They were on a whole other level of storytelling, I felt. At the moment I’m reading The Muse by Jessie Burton, and I’m also battling with Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I have to take little breaks from it because I find it hard to read, not just for the rape scene near the beginning, but all of the forms that coercion and a lack of agency you see Tess experience. Despite it being set so long ago it feels depressingly familiar still.
Oh, and I also have a Barabara Pym on the go. She is hilarious.
(You must keep going with Tess – it’s my favourite classic book of all time!)
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
I occasionally do life drawing, which gives me that same feeling of concentration and creativity but also a strange relaxedness that writing does. In my day job I work in the charity sector, which I love, and it inspires me: sometimes in sad ways, learning about struggles people face day-to-day, but also the in good ways, because of the people that work so hard to get themselves or others out of difficulty. It’s a very human area to work in in many ways.
So, why did you decide to shy away from snow and log fires to set your Christmas novel in a heatwave?
I think the idea came before I had a real awareness of the Christmas book as a sort of sub-genre. It was just an idea I had. I was reflecting a lot on the sort of bittersweet feelings I get around Christmas. I love the season but I do think it brings out extremes: part of me dreams that it will snow, and the other part thinks of people sleeping rough or without proper heating and thinking ‘No! Please, please don’t snow.’ And that was sort of the kernel for the story.
I wanted the heat to be a sort of ‘gift’ to the people whose needs and wishes at Christmas deviate from the set narrative. That includes people facing difficult circumstances at the time, like the main characters. But also for everyone to a certain extent – I think for most people our realities don’t match up to the Christmas ‘ideal’. I believe the key function of stories is to help people feel less alone, and that’s what I hope this one does that for anyone reading it.
Problems form the heart of The Christmas Heatwave. How far do you think problems are a traditional part of Christmas?
I think they’re an enormous part of it, for most people – if not everyone to varying degrees. Christmas magnifies everything. For some people it can really bring your problems or sadness to the fore, while for others it can be a way to distract from or put them to one side for the sake of the season. Either way, I think our problems are quite a significant driver for how we experience Christmas. And of course it’s a very particular time of year, so each year it will remind you of other Christmases you’ve had, good or bad – that’s something I touch on in the book.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
I think the easiest – or most fun – thing is walking around in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes it can be tough to bring that person to life, but I think when you work at it you hit on ideas or insights and you think ‘Wow, where did that come from? How can I possible know what it feels like to be that person?’ But it feels true somehow.
The hardest thing, I think, is battling with doubt. I read something the other day (I’ve no idea who said it or in what context I’m afraid) but it was something along the lines of ‘To write you will have to fight yourself.’ And I find that’s really true. It’s doubt in my abilities.
But there’s a more tricky voice to work with that I suppose is a sort of political correctness. It’s the voice that imagines how someone may feel offended or misrepresented by your writing or characterisation. This may be that I am a product of my generation, who – thanks to the internet – have access to so many more opinions and perspectives, ones they may not even have imagined existed (which I think is a good thing). And I certainly feel this voice has its place: I believe writers have to write responsibly, and that a crucial part of the work is doing justice to the intricacies of the human experience and people’s identities. But I’m working to keep that voice in check so it doesn’t completely paralyse me with fear. I think if you really tried you could take offence at anything anyone writes!
How then did you manage juggling a narrative from three perspectives in The Christmas Heatwave?
The thing I struggled with was giving them their own ‘voice’, or at least a unique atmosphere to each of the three different strands. I didn’t want the voices to vary drastically because these characters do have an affinity with one another, so they are similar in some ways. But I wanted the reader to be able to ‘feel’ they were with Tom or ‘feel’ that they were with Olive. I have no idea if I’ve succeeded! I hope I have.
The cover of The Christmas Heatwave isn’t what we usually expect for a Christmas read. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
That’s a great question. The reality is that this book isn’t the usual Christmas Novel in that there’s not much snow in it, for obvious reasons! In some ways, looking at all of the gorgeous festive book covers that are out there, I feel a little sad about that. But I didn’t want to miss-sell the book, and for people to be disappointed because it doesn’t match their expectations.
The second practical reason is that, because I designed and made the cover myself there was a limit to what I could do. I wanted to make use of the wreath image I mentioned elsewhere but just didn’t have the skills.
One thing I wanted to convey in the story is that the heat is this agent of benevolent mischief. I studied Ancient Greek civilisations, so I like this idea of forces working behind the scenes to bring about a twist in the fates. The cheeky splashes of orange and pink (hot colours) were meant to capture that.
And of course there’s the Christmas tree ice cream. The story is about Christmas turned on it’s head (literally in the image!) but if you look hard enough, the Christmas aspect is still there – just less obviously recognisable.
If The Christmas Heatwave became a film, who would you like to play Tom, Jessie and Olive?
Another great question! I actually thought about this as part of my method for writing, as I find that sometimes the physicality of my characters shifted slightly depending on the parts of my imagination I was tapping into, a little like happens when you’re dreaming.
They obviously aren’t exactly the characters as I imagined, but who would best represent them? I would say:
Tom: Sam Caflin
Jessie: Anna Shaffer
Olive: Somewhere between Eileen Atkins and Julia McKenzie.
Great choices! Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions today and good luck with The Christmas Heatwave.
You can follow K.R. Murray on Twitter.