posted on December 9, 2013 by Rhys Bowen

In Search of the Perfect Christmas

twelve cluesI always get a little nostalgic around Christmas time—longing for a simpler, gentler time when Christmas wasn’t commercial.  That was one of the main reasons for writing my Lady Georgie book, THE TWELVE CLUES OF CHRISTMAS. It’s set in a little English village in Devonshire. Stone cottages, a brook running through it, a hunt on Boxing Day, some strange and silly village traditions… oh, and a village curse too. What’s more it’s in the nineteen thirties, — the perfect Olde English Christmas, the one we are all constantly searching for.  Have you noticed that people try harder and harder every year to locate that true spirit of Christmas? They put up more lights, leaping reindeer on their roofs, animated snowmen on their lawns. The TV advertises bigger and better gifts. How many times have you been surprised by finding a Lexus under your tree? Me neither (unless they make a brand of hand cream called Lexus).

All this hype and yet Christmas never seems to live up to our idea of what it should be. Maybe it’s because we still have memories of a perfect Christmas of our childhood—crisp snow, going out to cut down the Christmas tree, grandma’s secret stuffing recipe—all those elements that made the day magical. And maybe it’s because we have too much during the rest of the year. When I was a child in England the only time we saw a turkey was at Christmas. Tangerines only appeared in stores for Christmas, and nuts and dates. Presents were smaller and simpler. We were thrilled with a new sweater, a book, a long-playing record (yes, I know I’m dating myself but things were simpler in England and probably still are).  I can remember waking in the cold pre-dawn and making out the shape of my pillow-case at the bottom of my bed. It was full! I’d drag it into bed with me and start opening presents.  We’d go to church and sing all the lovely old carols. After a huge Christmas lunch we’d play silly family games—charades, word games, hide and seek and musical chairs. There would be indoor fireworks and crackers (the kind that go bang) and a big iced cake for tea. The family was all together: grandparents, aunts, uncles.  It was all perfect in my memory.

xmas UKSo in writing my book, THE TWELVE CLUES OF CHRISTMAS, I have sought to create everything I loved about the old-fashioned English Christmas—going house to house carol singing, being invited in for mince pies and hot wassail bowl. Silver charms in the flaming Christmas pudding. Elaborate games of charades and hide and seek. A family pantomime with my father dressing up and being silly—all things that don’t exist any longer and I wish they did. And I’ve set my story in the perfect manor house. Not quite as grand as Downton Abbey, but still very comfortable with roaring fires, scones and cream for tea, plenty of servants to make sure everything ran smoothly.

Of course my books are mysteries so the perfect English Christmas does have a few flaws—like the bodies that start showing up, one a day, during the twelve days of Christmas. But don’t worry. Georgie is on the spot to solve a really complicated puzzle. And just in case Darcy shows up…there is a sprig of mistletoe in the doorway.

As an added bonus there is a compendium of Christmas recipes, games, traditions at the back of the book, making it the perfect Christmas gift… and it’s now out in paperback for stuffing stockings!

Rhys will give away a copy of THE TWELVE CLUES OF CHRISTMAS to two people who comment on today’s blog!


Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen’s mysteries have been nominated for every major mystery award, including the Edgar for best novel, and she has won nine of them. She currently writes the Molly Murphy Mysteries, set in turn-of-the-century New York City and featuring a feisty Irish immigrant woman. In 1997 she began a new, lighter series, this one about a minor royal in 1930s England. The first book was called Her Royal Spyness. It has been described as Bridget Jones meets Charade as told by Nancy Mitford and described in a Booklist starred review as "A smashing romp." The first book has appeared on many bestseller lists and award nomination slates, including the Dilys award for the book that independent booksellers most enjoyed selling. A Royal Pain and Royal Flush are now in stores and Royal Blood comes out this fall.

Rhys was born in Bath, England, of a Welsh/English family, and educated at London University. She worked for the BBC in London, as an announcer then drama studio manager. She sang in folk clubs with luminaries like Simon and Garfunkel and Al Stewart, and also started writing her own radio and TV plays. Needing to escape from the dreary London weather, she accepted an invitation to work for Australian Broadcasting in Sydney. While Down Under she met her future husband John, who was on his way to California. She married and settled in the San Francisco area, where she has lived ever since, raising four children. (Although she now spends her winters in her condo in Arizona.)

Finding nothing like the BBC in California, Rhys started writing children’s books. Her first picture book was named a NY Times best book of the year. More picture books followed, then Rhys moved to young adult novels, writing many best selling titles. She also wrote some adult historical sagas and some TV tie-ins. When she felt she had exhausted her enthusiasm for writing for teenagers, Rhys decided to write what she likes to read: mysteries with a great feel for time and place. Her childhood memories of her Welsh relatives were the inspiration for her first mystery series: the Constable Evans novels. The stories were immediately well received. The second book, Evan Help Us, was called "a jewel of a story" by Publishers Weekly and nominated for a Barry Award. Evan’s Gate received an Edgar Best Novel nomination.

Wanting to try her hand at something different and edgier, Rhys conceived Molly Murphy—brash, fearless Irish immigrant in New York City. The first book in this series, Murphy’s Law, won three awards including the Agatha. Every subsequent book has received starred reviews and award nominations. For the Love of Mike won the Anthony Award at the world mystery convention. Oh Danny Boy won a Macavity. The ninth book, The Last Illusion, will be published in March 2011.

Rhys also enjoys writing short stories and has achieved much critical acclaim for them. Doppelganger won the Anthony award and was included in the world’s finest mystery and crime stories anthology. More recently her story Voodoo was chosen to be part of the anthology of the best of 50 years of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Rhys is a past national board member of Mystery Writers of America. When not writing she loves to travel, sing, hike, play her Celtic harp, and entertain her grandchildren. She blogs at Jungle Red Writers and Rhys’s Pieces.

24 thoughts on “In Search of the Perfect Christmas”

  1. Avatar David Roberts says:

    I already have it — as good as her others.

  2. Avatar Kathy Gonzales says:

    This time of year is so magical, and we should embrace the spirit of the season!

  3. Avatar Josie Roetemeyer says:

    For me it is being with family, my mom and dad always focused on the spiritual side of Advent and Christmas – since we’re older now we don’t give gifts but we celebrate the meaning of Christmas – go to Mass – spend time with family – play games and eat.

  4. Avatar Greg Chaisson says:

    Also remember the spirit and teachings of Christ.

  5. Avatar Raquel M. says:

    I loved reading this post. It really makes you think of how times have changed. Wouldn’t it be lovely to get back to the simple ways described by Rhys above? I am so looking forward to reading The Twelve Clues of Christmas. Such a great series.

  6. Avatar Charlie says:

    I think a lot of what we miss has to do with family now being spread far & wide. When I was young both sides of the family lived within several miles of each other so getting together was easier.

    Plus, you didn’t see any ads, decorations, etc until Thanksgiving had passed. Now, we are bombarded starting as early as September. By the time even Thanksgiving arrives I am fed up with hearing about Christmas.

    And, as you said,,,expectations for gifts were simpler. Now, size & cost seem to take precedence.

    It would be nice sometimes to have a Brigadoon type of day available where, even for the day, you get to step back to those more relaxed, more heartfelt times..

  7. Avatar trisha kilpatrick says:

    What makes this time of year special to me is all the little things that I still see. For instance, I went to the store before an ice storm somewhat expecting people to be somewhat nervous or ill-tempered (that is the local stereotype for impending weather issues), but instead an older lady (as in older than myself) knocked a display of Pringles potato chips over. The half dozen or so people who happened to be shopping nearby (myself and my children included) stopped and immediately began picking them up. She was so apologetic, but everyone reassured her that it could have happened to anyone, and that none of us saw a thing. 🙂 It is letting people go ahead of me in line at the grocery store or offering to return someone’s cart to the cart corrals in the parking lot. It is making a point to tell people when I am happy with their service rather than just waiting to inform people when things go wrong. I love going to Customer Service to tell them what a wonderful shopping experience I had that day. That usually catches them off guard. There are so many simple things we can do to spread holiday cheer. I enjoy challenging myself to seek out more and more ways.

    Your book sounds amazing, by the way! I am definitely adding it to my must-read list.

  8. Avatar suekey12 says:

    We keep Christmas simple at our house–no big presents, but a big dinner. My favorite Christmas activity is reading a good Christmas themed book.

  9. Avatar Leigh Higgins says:

    I so enjoyed reading about your childhood Christmases and agree that it is too commercial.

  10. This is my favorite time of the year! Festive, family and lights!

  11. Avatar Sandy says:

    I already have the book on my Kindle. Waiting for the perfect time to start reading. Today could be it. We are having freezing weather and its snowing and blowing.

  12. This year will be a difficult one for my sisters and I we just lost our mom at the end of Nov. She was a single mom, Irish style for most of our lives, but she always made Christmas special for us. I have lived away Waterford for a good many years, however I I still try to make her turkey stuffing recipe every year and I never get it just right……Cheers to a great Mom.
    I look forward to reading all your books as they always cheer me up.

  13. Avatar MaryC says:

    Christmas is the only time of year the extended family is together. The day is all bout sharing food and catching up on all the family news.

  14. Avatar Kathi says:

    I am so happy I discovered you just a few months ago. I was indulging my Pinterest addiciton looking for Christmas pins and The Twelve Clues of Christmas appeared and immediately caught my eye. I can’t tell you how much I love your writing and finding you was like an early Christmas present.

  15. Christmas’s such as what you described are what I look forward. Sharing the love ot the Lord and the blessings of the year with friends near and far and simple gifts mean far more than the fanciest, most expensive gift ever could.

  16. Avatar Penny Mettert says:

    I love your books. 🙂 I love Christmas. Sounds like a perfect match.

  17. Avatar Barbara J Williams says:

    Having children in the house makes Christmas much more fun. My grandchildren are all grown now but we still exchange gifts. And we enjoy a feast for dinner, not turkey, but some wonderful beef dish cooked by my son-in-law. I bring along something, may be cherry pie. And we’re not too high falutin’ to play games and be a bit silly.
    Church attendance is an important piece of the celebration for me.

  18. Avatar Kathryn Benson says:

    I will definitely read this book…. it sounds delightful and I love the premise of Christmas past! I love the Miss Read books about teaching in a small, rural English village for the same reasons that this book was written — a kinder, gentler time when life and people were kind and time was patient with us.

  19. Avatar Rhyan says:

    I would love a copy of the book. I got it as a eBook when it came out but would love a copy to add to my collection.

  20. Avatar Christine L. says:

    My perfect Christmas would include a visit to Trisha’s town to experience the especially wonderful holiday spirit exhibited by its residents. I’d love to spend a quiet Christmas day with family who are not forcing their cheer (so pretty much with my mother, ha ha) and reflect on the reason for the season.

  21. Avatar Linda R says:

    Love Rhys Bowen’s A Royal Spyness series! And, this time of the year!

  22. Avatar Marguerite Guinn says:

    I have such wonderful memories of my childhood growing up on a farm in Oklahoma. There was never an excess of gifts, but a very, very rich sense of traditions and rituals that defined our family. I was also blessed to grow up “across the garden” from my grandparents and great-grandparents! Not many kids get that experience!

  23. Avatar Audrey says:

    Thank you, Rhys, for reminding those of us who are older of the simple pleasures that are greatly missed today. Christmas is the celebration of the birthday of God’s son, Jesus. May we always remember the reason for the season. Blessings to your family.

  24. Avatar Elizabeth Koehler says:

    Been listening to this book on my commute for several days now – indeed a simple delight! For awhile, my mother was sending us girls a Christmas-themed book for the holidays every year. I don’t know why she stopped, but I miss the tradition, and it’s part of the reason I took this one up. I think Mom will be receiving a little Christmas mystery under her tree this year….. shhh!

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