This week on the blog we’re joined by Anthony McGowan! We caught up with Anthony and asked him a few questions about his tender-hearted, feel-good Little Gem I Killed Father Christmas. Don’t let the title fool you, this gorgeous book is a perfect festive warmer for all the family!
Over to you Anthony…
Hi Anthony, welcome to the blog! Tell us a little about I Killed Father Christmas.
I had an idea for a Christmas story, which came in a flash – a little boy thinks for some reason that he’s killed Father Christmas, and decides that therefore he must take over the job. I wanted it to begin in sadness, and then emerge into a glorious light. I wanted it to be about self-sacrifice and love, and I tried to find the ‘truth’ of Christmas, under all the tinsel and trash. After that initial idea, it was just a matter of working out the whys and wherefores. I first thought of it as a short picture-book, with perhaps 7-800 words, but it soon grew a little beyond that. I always knew that it had to be illustrated, and that the illustrator had to be Chris Riddell.
You’re well-known for writing fairly gritty YA – this is a bit of a different book…!
I think if I’ve got one defining characteristic, it’s that I’ve got no defining characteristic – in other words, I’ll turn my hand to anything. I’ve written dark stuff, and mad comedy before, and I’ve written for every age. But I suppose there’s a sweetness to I Killed Father Christmas, which is not especially common in my work… But there’s also a grittier element to the story, and a hint at seriousness – it begins, after all, with Jo-Jo’s parents having a terrible row about money.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Did you approach it in a different way?
It was quite nice only having to write a couple of thousand words! But, also, I knew that I’d be pulling at the heartstrings, and there’s a paradoxical fun in making people sad. And then there’s a big payoff when you make them happy again. But the greatest moment came when I saw Chris’s illustrations, and suddenly the idea had taken material form, and that form was wondrous.
The collaboration between you and Chris Riddell makes this book really special and the perfect Christmas gift! Did you cook up the plan together?
The idea for the original story was all mine, but I never imagined anyone else illustrating it. The ‘book’ is a very different thing to the ‘text’ – Chris’s illustrations give it so much more warmth and compassion and beauty. So, although it was my idea, I provided the grit around which Chris laid down his pearl.
What does Christmas mean to you?
My own Christmases as a child were slightly manic – five kids, visiting relatives, huge fights, emotional makings-up, huge box of Quality Street, satsumas, more fights, more makings-up. It was a loving upbringing, but a bit hectic. We have two children, and that, of course, makes Christmas terrible. I mean wonderful! My daughter, in particular, still gets incredibly excited about it, and you’d have to be a miserable git not to be infected by that joy. Underneath all that, I was brought up as a Catholic, and so the religious meaning of the festival still forms a bedrock. And perhaps the hope and innocence of that first Christmas story has worked its way into I Killed Father Christmas.
Tell us a little about what else you are working on at the moment!
I’ve started a sort of follow-up to I Killed Father Christmas – it’s aimed a little older, and is more in my gross-out style. It’s called The Assassination of Santa Claus…
Join in the festive fun and read the first chapter of I Killed Father Christmas below. And don’t forget to pick up this tale of “pure Christmas magic” in time for the big day!