Operation Finland- Day 14 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Tommy Arrigan.

“Gentlemen, ladies, please. Order!”

A general sort of settling-down ensued, although not without mumblings and grumblings from the assembled personages. Medals of honour twinkled and tinkled as well-fed buttocks shifted in search of comfort, straining the pants of uniforms that had once fit better. A morning of discomfort awaited. Their room, small and windowless, was sparsely decorated, just some plastic chairs facing a whiteboard, a squat lectern and a projector.

“Now,” General Falstaff resumed. “As you all know, we’re here today because this,“ he looked around, “venerable institution, has for many generations been home to genius, to a proliferation of rare and brilliant minds who have provided us with so many advances over the years. Advances which, no less, have helped to protect our preeminent nation from the constant threat of foreign invaders.

“And,” he continued, “for this they need money. Funding.” He paused to take in his surroundings. A single strand of tinsel had been draped atop the whiteboard.

“Perhaps they need it more than we realised. But, we need to treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen. In exchange for our money we need to see progress. Results! So with a long day ahead of us let’s jump right into our two morning presentations. We’ll break then to enjoy some of Professor Kennedy’s homemade mince pies and eggnog before resuming.”

A wistful half-smile drifted dreamily across the General’s face. He’d been coming to the Halem Institute for many years, and had been younger and more vigorous, once. As had Professor Kennedy.

“First up: Gerstmann. Operation Finland.”

He nodded towards the opposite corner as he sat. Unnoticed there until now stood a calm-looking, scrawny young man clasping a laptop. His festive bowtie and braces jarred garishly with the rest of his ill-fitting attire. All-in-all he looked as miserable as the whiteboard.

George Gerstmann, twenty-three year old genius, walked over to the lectern, where he spent far too long fiddling with his laptop before he finally straightened and turned towards his audience.

An array of powerful faces faced him, but they were the faces of men and women that, once lean and ambitious, had been softened by too many years of comfort and success. Their steel lay underneath a puff-pastry crust. Except for one.

She sat in the second row, whippet-lean, upright, hands resting lightly on her knees. She was among the oldest of them, sixty at least, perhaps seventy. Cropped silver hair crowned a neat, dark uniform, with none of the trappings of ceremony save for a single angular insignia that none of the others displayed. Her grey-blue eyes were fixed on George.

He had heard of her. Everyone in the faculty had. Susan Schumer, Head of National Intelligence Operations, answerable only to the President. Known to all as Sun Tzu. She was a brilliant strategist, a crystal-clear thinker with a reputation for knife-sharp incisiveness that had cut many a funding pitch into ribbons.

George breathed calmly before beginning his presentation. He’d practiced. He believed in the science. This was going to be easy.

He clicked his clicker, and a familiar figure appeared on the projector screen. A ripple of chuckles spread through the audience. Perhaps this would be more entertaining than they expected.

“Now,” George began. “I bet you’re all wondering if this is a joke, right? The time of year being what it is. I assure you that it isn’t. We’ve been tracking this person for many years now, and let me assure you that both he, and the threat he represents to us all, are very, very real.”

A titter escaped the lips of Admiral Bailey in the third row. Sun Tzu turned her head just the smallest fraction, and he snorted loudly in his haste to swallow it.

“The primary goal of our research has been to understand just how he does it. We believe he’s utilising technology that could be invaluable to our national security, and which, if it falls into the hands of a more hostile nation, could spell disaster.

“Think about it. Millions of homes, all over the world, in one night. No security system exists that can stop him. Incomparable reach, which means incomparable power in this world of connectedness and big data.”

There was some uncomfortable shifting of chairs. The entire thing was laughable, but still, no-one liked this kind of talk.

“And nobody knows how it’s done,” George continued. “No-one’s ever been able to study him closely enough.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Until now.

“Last Christmas Eve, one of our interns hid in a rooftop snowdrift for many hours until, when our subject was busy downstairs, she managed to plant a tracking device on his sleigh. It beamed a wealth of GPS information and other data back to our satellite relays, which have proven invaluable in helping us to understand how he operates.

“The tracker had a five-year battery life, and transmitted five years worth of data to our systems. Everywhere he went, how long he spent there.” George regarded them solemnly. “All in the space of twenty minutes, before its battery died.“

Charts and graphs followed, as well as detailed maps of the subject’s movements. George moved to the whiteboard to better illustrate the science behind it all. He sketched swiftly, excitedly. This was his passion project, his particular pudding.

“See. We tend to think of time as continuous and linear, always moving forwards. Sure you get time loops where time circles back around and so on, but it can still be quite easily imagined as having point-to-point linearity. Just like, say, a festive ribbon. Now, imagine if you had the technology to generate, in physical space, a bubble—“

“More like a bauble,” someone in the back row interrupted. A quick glance from Sun Tzu silenced the general mirth.

“—a bubble, inside which time is turned sideways, relative to external time, for the duration of that bubble’s existence.”

George glanced around. Confusion abounded.

“Let me explain what I mean by sideways. Lay a deck of cards out on a table, side-by-side and they’ll run to a certain length. Imagine those cards to be segments of regular time. Now, what if you take up some of those cards, and turn them sideways,” he twisted his outstretched hand from horizontal to vertical, “so that only their thinness contributes to the overall length? You can fit a large amount of sideways time into a short span of regular time.

“We now know, thanks to the GPS timings, that this is what Santa Claus is somehow doing inside the bubble. He’s stacking slices of time sideways, spending ten, twenty minutes in each house, which for everyone outside the bubble seems to pass by instantly. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the real magic of Christmas, and one of the most significant discoveries in this Institution’s storied history.”

They got it now, George could see. They understood. A ruckus erupted, people too used to being listened to all speaking at the same time. He had them. He raised a hand for silence.

“And here’s the really big thing. It seems that molecular ageing somehow stays in regular time. This contradicts what we know of lightspeed travel but, if true, will let us spend near-infinite time working on something before presenting the results a moment later. We could storm an enemy stronghold in an instant. They’d be inside the bubble with us too, but there’d be no time for outside help to arrive.

“The only downside we’ve discovered is that the energy expenditure is tremendous. We think that’s why he eats all the Christmas cake and drinks all the whiskey, why the reindeer eat so many carrots.

“But we’re just at the beginning of this really, there’s so much more to learn. We need funding to infiltrate their facility in Lapland and-”

Cries of “Done!”, “Well done boy!”, “Give him as much as he needs!” rang around the room; the excitement of schoolchildren swept up in the moment.

But one among them was silent. Susan Schumer was thinking, thinking hard. She already understood far better than any of them what this meant. She could see the immense change that this augured, and the repercussions.

But she wasn’t just thinking; she was remembering also. Remembering a particular winter’s night almost sixty years ago. A night with magic in it, that had stayed with her as a twinkling star of gold against the darkness of her difficult, sometimes brutal life. It had lost none of its lustre, and in some ways was the only shining, innocent thing she had left. A night of truancy, hiding under the sofa, peeking, gleefully seeing, finally, black boots stamp softly in the candlelight, shedding coaldust and melting snow. And then hearing a softly uttered Ho-Ho-Ho.

As Susan slowly came out of her reverie she noticed General Falstaff looking her way quizzically. She seemed unlike herself. He raised an eyebrow. She shook her head, just once. He sighed and nodded. It would be done quietly, but Operation Finland was no more.

Red Robin – Day 13 of Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar

A poem by Helen Carroll.

Red Robin,
Pale coffin,
Distant thunder rumbles
Like a bauble tumbles
From a withered tree.
I see your image haunting me
As glass shatters on the presents,
A ghost of Christmas past and present,
No future ‘cause it’s dreaded.
The wrapping paper’s not torn, it’s shredded.

Christmastime will never be the same,
Watching robins through the windowpane,
I’m writing nativities on walls in red glitter,
Saw how your tiny wings panic and flitter,
Struggling against the storm; against the snowdrift.
I’m rattlin’ around this empty house. These empty gifts
Were once full of your laughter from last year.
The silence of your absence is so loud I can’t hear
My own thoughts, my own blood boiling at the memory
Of the glances and murmurs in the cemetery.

Cause what angers me most is the way they were right:
You were too turbulent, a brutal hurricane in the night,
Too young for the fight. But you were always fighting though.
Ever since birth, Fate, Herself, had made you a foe.
How could I abandon you to a life of criminality?
Had to channel your rage, a battle of integrity.
But your animosity for this city was too strong.
And now you’re gone, you’re gone, you’re gone...
I cannot accept your journey ended with a bomb!
It’s like you’re gonna breeze into the room like nothing is wrong,

But there’s broken decorations, smashed bottles
All around. I see you shattered; see you throttled.
Your little robin wings are mangled,
And as these thoughts are untangled,
The wind howls louder now,
Drowning out the carols. How
Dim are the fairy lights
On a winter's night,
Now you’re dead,

My Robin Red.

Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar – Day 12, Pocket Prompts

Time for some shameless self-promotion! In October, I launched a new product, called Pocket Prompts – writing prompts and creative thinking tools to help stories develop and blossom.

A deck comes with 25 double-sided cards, providing a total of 50 prompts across three categories: Character, Plot and Setting.

For the sake of creating something that would offer the most amount of options to people, each card comes with a Plot prompt, and the remaining 25 prompts are split between Character cards and Settings.

My aim with the cards was to be a genre-neutral as possible, which I expand upon on my blog when writing about the cards – a simple prompt of ‘Something explodes’ can mean so much more than a literal explosion, for example.

In 2020, I will be resuming the blog with an expansion of more cards, and exploring ways of using more than one card in a story to turn things on their head.

In the meantime, if you want to get your hands on a deck, they are available through my Gumroad store – otherwise, you can ask about them IRL at a Cupán Fae meet-up or at events whenever I’m tabling. (Like DCAF this Saturday!)

I may be biased, but I think they’ll make an excellent gift for the writers in your life.

Snow Day – Day 10 of Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Paul Carroll

Christmas was coming. The date was marked on the calendar, encircled with a red permanent marker. In the run-up to Christmas Eve, Jack Frost’s social life was busy, and involved his peers. A couple of weeks before Christmas, the Winter Folk held their Winter Ball, an event to which all three must attend, with an assortment of other figures – many of them made from living snow.

Jack was not overly fond of the Winter Ball. It was a formal occasion, its origins lost to him. He had attended ninety eight times, now, and still looked thirteen years old. His body was frozen in youth. The power he had over the Winter March didn’t work, otherwise.

While Jack considered himself the joker of their trio, he still took his duties to the Winter March very seriously. Despite his lack of regard for the formal affair of the Ball, an event from which he would not stumble home from until Christmas Eve, the March was significant for him. It marked the time of the year when he was free to unleash a storm of cold and snow. He was allowed to bring about snow days when the climate was just right, and even when it wasn’t. Jack was allowed to play jokes on the world that wasn’t supposed to know he was really, and truly, a living boy. Technically speaking.

He had once asked Nick – the consistent leader of the group – why it was called the March, when Jack soared on the air as light as a snow flake, followed by a magical carriage. He received a mince pie in response, and that was that.

Now, on his ninety eighth Winter March, Jack soared through the sky over America. He had grown up on a farm in Connecticut, in the days before he could really remember being himself. He wasn’t Jack Frost then. He wasn’t anybody worth mentioning at all, then.

Sometimes, he couldn’t even remember becoming the boy wonder. It was lost to him, hidden behind a snow storm in his mind.

He saw a farm that might have been his down below, and lead the March across its fields. Great snow clouds were bulging overhead, waiting for the signal to unleash a flurry of snowflakes. He slowed to a halt at a window, watching a girl and a boy at work in the house. Jack guessed that the boy was nine, and the girl fourteen. He tried not to think that she looked older than he did.

“Why can’t Santa come early?” the boy asked her.

She smiled, and handed him a plate for him to dry. She was standing by the sink, washing up after dinner. “Because, silly, Christmas wouldn’t happen if Santa came early. Everything has to be just right before Santa can come.”

The boy sulked, and Jack couldn’t stop himself from smiling. “But Allie, it’s not fair. Everybody else in my class already has everything I asked for. Why can’t we ever get anything nice?”

She lowered the plate into the sink and put her hands on his shoulders. “How many of your friends in school have a sister who would do anything for them?” she asked him.

“I don’t know.”

“How many of your friends give out about their older brothers and sisters all the time?”

“A lot. They don’t like them. They always say they’re not allowed hang out with them.”

Allie smiled at her younger brother. “And how many of my friends love having you with us while we watch movies mom and dad don’t want you to see? Or just like having you eat with us?”

“All of them?”

“All of them. Because they like that I like having you around.” Jack didn’t want to stay. He didn’t want to keep watching them. He could already feel an icy tear clinging to his cheek. “We might not have a lot in this world, Ken, but we have each other. We’re friends, not just brother and sister, and I promise you that will mean so much more to you when you’re older than whether or not you have the latest X-Box game.”

Jack pulled away from the house. He couldn’t take it. Vague and hazy memories returned to him of life without enough coal to keep the fire going through winter, and days spent running through the trees and the fields because he didn’t have anything else to do. He held on to the last memory that came to him, when he was happiest in the winter: snow day.

He wiped his eyes with a chilly sleeve and turned his head to the clouds. “Order up!” he cheered.

In the response, the clouds exploded overhead, thick white snowflakes falling by the thousands in a matter of seconds. The house was immediately coated in the tell-tale signs of winter. Even from way overhead, Jack could hear Ken and Allie as they ran into the garden in delight, their parents following them with coats and laughter.

The Winter March, by its nature, was practically invisible. Aside from the trio that made up the Winter Folk, nothing could ever be seen or heard by accident. With this in mind, Jack lowered himself once more to the ground, hiding behind the house as Allie and Ken danced in the snow storm.

The family still had a coal shed, its supplies running low. “Nobody gets a sack of coal for Christmas, even when they need one,” Jack said to himself. With a click of his fingers, the shed filled to the brim, nearly overflowing. “Merry Christmas, kids,” he whispered, taking to the air once more, and leading the Winter March away.

Mere moments later, Allie discovered his footprints, clear as the snow was white. She followed them to the coal shed, her jaw dropped. Just before he vanished from sight – and she never really believed it – she saw him, hovering in the sky over the fields, taking the Winter March with him.

Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar – Day 9, On Writing

Review and gift idea presented by Róisín Tuohy

For nigh on forty years, Stephen King has been bashing out powerful stories and iconic characters, not to mention terrifying the hell out of people.

On writing is a different kind of book. Written in 2000, as King made a slow recovery from a horrific road accident, it’s a thoughtful reflection on the part words and stories have played in his own life.

King reminisces on the events that made him a writer, a not always easy childhood, an early adulthood that was filled with professional rejection, until he struck gold with a story his wife fished out of the bin (it was, of course, Carrie).

King dispenses advice that makes it all seem so easy, but even for us lesser souls there are pearls of invaluable wisdom.

If you’re a seat-of-your-pants kind of writer, you’ll love his advice on splurging your first draft onto the page and fixing later. “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open,” he says. If it’s good enough for the Master of Horror, it’s good enough for the rest of us.

Reading this book is like chatting with an old friend. Pop it into a stocking for the writer in your life. 

The Professor Who Saved WinterTide – Day 8 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

“…and the fallen bridge has cut us off completely, so we can’t get any special food for WinterTide and my little brother and sister won’t get their presents this year.” Robin read again, “Please help us, Professor! Everyone says how clever you are – you invented the telephone and those Hopper machines that carry the post…” 

She set the letter down. It was a rather sweet and affecting story to be sure, although –  “Odd place to build a house, on a rock spur in the middle of a canyon,” she noted, looking out from the edge of Higham Canyon towards the house in question.

From the other side of the wooden frame and rails they were putting together, Professor Wilson Scarecrow beamed benevolently at her.  “Well, with house prices as they are, dear assistant, I suppose some people have to take what they can get.”

Robin did her best not to seethe at the ‘dear assistant’, instead she looked across at the house on the spur. “Will there be enough space for you to land?” she asked.

“Of course! Dear assistant, I have planned for every eventuality!” The scarecrow simpered smugly. “I have a scientific and exacting mind, you know. You could learn a lot from it.”

Robin clenched her fists. Generally, the Professor wasn’t a bad old stick to work for – well, broom-handle actually; he got very annoyed at the implication that his backbone was a stick. He paid well; working hours were good. He’d given her a three week holiday for WinterTide, and had bought her a ticket on the new train the Dwarves were running, that would take her nearly all the way to Naughtingham. She was greatly looking forward to that. It felt like an age since she’d Left Home To Seek Her Fortune. However, good though he was, when he was enthused and active, the Professor could get – well, ‘pompous’ and ‘condescending’ barely covered it. 

She took a deep breath. Once he was flying, she could be off home.

She began setting up the counterweight on the frame, as the Professor moved his large ‘Plain-Sailor’ flying device onto the frame’s wooden rails and connected it to the rope from the counterweight. It was a larger Plain-Sailor than the other ones he’d experimented with – it had to be. As well as the presents that the postman hadn’t been able to bring across the gorge, there was the fearsome array that the Professor had bought for himself, together with three large hampers of festive food and drink, a spool of metal wire, and a tin horn to connect the house to the phone-lines.  As he got the Plain-Sailor settled on the rails and clambered in, the Professor chuckled to himself. 

“Ah, dear assistant, it’s a fine thing we’re doing here today. Helping someone in need at WinterTide, when they’re marooned and in danger of having the holiday spoiled by the uncaring ways of the State.”

“Actually, the bridgebuilders reckon they’ll have the bridge repaired in a week.” That would too late for WinterTide, but Robin felt the Professor was getting a little overblown. As usual. 

“But they their humble entreaties reached my ears!”

“You don’t have ears, Professor.” Which was true – the grass-haired football he had for a head had some nice ears painted on, but not actual ears. 

And I shall save WinterTide with Science!” the Professor bellowed. 

“It’s the kind of thing they write heartwarming festive stories about,” Robin said caustically. She agreed it was a nice gesture, but he was making a bit of a meal out of it.

“Indeed!” The Professor affected to look modest. “The Professor Who Saved WinterTide. It has a nice ring to it, wouldn’t you say?”

And who was it who spent the last two hours helping you assemble a frame in snow? And was up all night helping you make the Plain-Sailor? “Quite.”

“And your diligent service will not be forgotten!”

Robin sighed. “Ready to go?” she asked.   

“Indeed! People in need, as posterity too, wait for no man – or, more correctly, for no scarecrow!

Robin moved towards the lever to release the counterweight. Then paused. “Er…Professor?”

“Launch!”

“But… you’ve overlooked something!”

The Professor swelled up with pride, looking mortally affronted. “Indeed I have not! Nothing has been overlooked! Mine is a keen, finely-honed mind. It overlooks nothing! Certainly nothing you could have discerned!”

Robin growled, “Very well, Professor. Launching.”

She yanked the lever. There was a loud thud, then the Plain-Sailor was hauled from the rails. It shot forwards, sailing majestically over the gorge and trailing the telephone wire behind it. As that played out, Robin took out her mobile telephone-horn and length of wire, and hooked it onto the longer wire. 

Watching, she saw the Plain-Sailor come to a halt – very nearly going off the other side of the spur in the process. She saw the Professor, very far away but just discernable. She watched as he clambered out and was swarmed by children. She could only just see him then, as he began to dispense packages and hand the huge hampers to a woman. Then, taking up the wire, he carried it proudly to the house.

Robin waited, then heard the horn whistle. “Hello?” she said, her voice travelling clearly across the taut wire.

“I landed!” the Professor boomed. “It worked! And you should see all these happy faces! My word!”

He did, to his credit, sound happy at the joy of others. So Robin felt a slight pang of guilt before bursting the bubble. Only a slight one, though.

“How are you going to get back?” she asked.

“Eh? Oh, I’ll launch…” A long pause followed as the Professor trailed off. “Ahhhhh… I may have made a blunder!”

“No! Surely a keen and finely-honed mind such as yours couldn’t have made a blunder!”

The Professor coughed. “I…I wonder, dear assistant, could you…”

“Oh, I don’t think I can do anything, Professor! Not when I have so much to learn from you. After all, if you can’t work something out, what could I do?”

The Professor coughed again. “I…eh, I believe that I may have been somewhat hasty, dear assistant, but…”

Robin grinned. “The bridge should be finished in another week, Professor. I’m sure that the Professor Who Saved WinterTide will be welcome in the family home until then. Merry WinterTide!” She unhooked the wire as she turned to walk away. 

This would be a good holiday. She wasn’t the least bit worried about her job. Where else would the Professor find someone willing to put up with him?

Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar – Day 7, Bird by bird

Review and gift recommended by Róisín Tuohy

Bird by bird by Anne Lamott is the kind of book you give a writer in dire need of a pep talk… or possibly a psychotherapist. 

Writing isn’t easy and Lamott feels your pain. Crammed with practical advice and exercises, as well as stories from the author’s own life, some hilarious, some harrowing, some both, it’s an insightful look at what it means to be compelled to write. 

This book is for anyone who is tiptoeing on the diving board of writing. Maybe you’ve got an idea nagging away at you, but you’re afraid it’s embarrassing, or just not very good. Maybe you’re afraid of what your mother will think. Lamott encourages you to jump into the pool, dive deep and find new worlds. It won’t be easy, and what’s great about this book is that the author recognises it won’t be easy. She also recognises that it’s important, and you should carve out time for writing, if it’s important to you. 

The title comes from a story Lamott tells about her brother struggling with a school project on the birds of North America. “bird by bird buddy, just take it bird by bird, “Lamott’s father tells him, and so…bird by bird, word by word.

George’s Christmas Present – Day 6 of Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Mark Kielty.

We run a tight ship here at the North Pole. Because to travel around the world in one night is no easy task. We all have our roles to play to make it happen. We’ve got the workshop-elves, who make and wrap the presents. We’ve got the elves at the sorting office, dealing with all the children’s letters and getting them ready for Santa to read. And we can’t forget about our wonderful reindeer who travel at lightning speed to get Santa to where he needs to be. 

Then, of course, there are the lists. You know, THE LISTS – the ones that tell us who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Santa is in charge of those. He studies them every day throughout the year, hoping that the naughty list becomes smaller and the nice list becomes larger. 

But there is another list that people don’t know about. The one I’m in charge of. Because you know what they say; behind every great man there’s an even better woman. And I am no exception. After all, I am Mrs. Claus. 

So, what’s this other list? I hear you ask. Well, as you know, Santa reads all the letters he receives from children across the world. He loves reading them and he remembers every single one. However, it isn’t the letters he receives that I’m worried about, it’s the letters he doesn’t. It’s my job to make a list of all the children who don’t send any letters at all. 

Believe it or not, not all children send letters, which is fine. Not everybody believes and everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, there are some children who do believe but don’t send anything. And that’s a problem.

Nine times out of ten, they just didn’t send it on time. No panic though, I usually visit them and collect their letters directly. Or if they didn’t get a chance to write anything down, I simply ask them what they want and pass on the message to Santa. 

Just in case you get any ideas and “accidentally on purpose” forget to send your letter – just to meet me – then you’ve got another thing coming!  I use a memory spell so the children don’t remember meeting me. I have to. If I didn’t, everyone would catch on and I’d never get any peace. 

There are other times though, when children have other reasons for not sending their letters and it’s up to me to find out why.

That’s how I met George. Eight years old and he hadn’t even a word or an idea jotted down. It was Christmas Eve and time was running out. It would’ve been a shame if there was nothing under his tree on Christmas morning. 

When I went to the orphanage where he lived, I was delighted to see how well the reception area was decorated. There was a beautiful tree with a gorgeous angel sitting on top. Hanging from each branch were coloured baubles and purple streams of tinsel were wrapped around the tree like scarves. 

One of the walls had a lovely, life-sized, cardboard cut-out of Rudolph. It had a red light-bulb nose that really lit up. It made me swell with happiness to know that this orphanage took such great care of the children living there. 

“Can I help you?” the kind receptionist asked with a smile. 

“Oh, I wish you could, Vanessa, I really wish you could,” I said with pitying eyes. 

I pulled a handful of fairy dust from my pocket and blew on it. The gold glittering powder jumped from the palm of my hand and filled the room. It went flying through the doors and up the stairs until it filled every corner of the orphanage.

Vanessa stopped what she was doing and sat very still, staring into space with a goofy smile. 

Hopefully she won’t have to drool like that for too long, I thought. 

She was frozen and, if the spell did what it was supposed to do, everyone else in the building would be frozen too. Everyone except for George, of course. 

“Excellent,” I said to myself. “I have five minutes.”

As I walked through the orphanage, golden fairy dust hovered in the air. However, I knew that as soon as the glittering gold disappeared, it would mean the end of my spell. 

I searched every room until I came to the only one with a child who didn’t look like he was playing musical statues. Sitting on his bed, reading a book, was George.

I’ll never forget that sweet brown-haired boy. He sat there, wearing a red Christmas jumper which had a large snowman stitched into its front. He was reading a book about a boy who discovered he was a wizard and attended wizarding school. I loved that story. And I loved that he loved magic.

He looked like a normal, healthy boy. In fact, he was extremely clever for his age. So why hadn’t he written his letter to Santa yet?

“George, I am here to talk to you about Christmas,” I said. 

The little boy looked up from his book. He noticed the golden sparkles that floated in the air and when he looked at me, I could tell he recognised my outfit. Red was always a good colour on me. It brought out my rosy cheeks. 

“I knew it!” he whispered. A large grin began to stretch across his face. 

“Knew what?” I asked.

George snapped his book shut and shuffled to the edge of the bed.

“You see, I write a letter every year, so I knew if I didn’t write one this year, Santa would get worried and he’d try to find out why – maybe even send somebody to investigate. But I didn’t think he’d send you of all people! I thought I’d meet, like, an elf or something,” George explained.

“That was a risky move, how did you know he’d send anybody? You could have been left with no presents on Christmas morning!” I said.

“I knew Santa wouldn’t let me down. And besides, I’m not sure you can give me what I want anyway!”

“What makes you say that?” I asked. 

“Don’t you see? I knew if I pulled this off, it would be the best thing I’d ever done! But I also knew if Santa were to send somebody, there’d be a catch! I know that when morning comes, I won’t remember any of this. You’ll cast a spell to make me forget and I won’t remember meeting you. I won’t remember the best day of my life,” George explained with a saddening face. 

“And you know this how?” I asked. I knew George was clever, but I hadn’t expected this. 

“Because, if children remembered, you’d have every kid in the world pretending to forget to send their letters – just to meet you. And you wouldn’t have time for that.” he said.

“No, I suppose you’re right,” I answered. “But there must be something you want for Christmas? How about you tell me what you really want and I’ll see what I can do?” 

“I want to remember meeting you,” he replied. “I want to ask questions about the elves and the North Pole. And I won’t tell anyone, I promise. I just… I want something magical to happen to me. I don’t have many friends and life here can be a bit lonely at times. I just want something special to happen to me for once.” 

“Well, what you’re asking for George, it’s never been done before,” I answered. “I’ll… I’ll have to think about it.”

When I left the orphanage, I was stumped. I was kind of hoping we’d just cobble an Xbox together and leave it under his tree. But unfortunately, what George wanted couldn’t be put in a box and wrapped up with a bow. He wanted something different. 

I thought about the book he was reading. I wondered had he hoped that on his eleventh birthday, a friendly giant would come along, tell him he was a wizard and take him away to a magical school.

Then it hit me – an idea. But could I bend the rules just for George? Could I give him what he wanted? 

I returned later that night, fairy dust at the ready and hoped that Vanessa wouldn’t drool quite so much this time. She left a little bit of a mess before and it wasn’t flattering to say the least. But I suppose it wasn’t her fault. 

George sat on his bed, patiently waiting for me.

“You didn’t wipe my memory,” he said excitedly. “Does that mean you’re going to give me what I asked for?” 

“Hmm, I did think about it,” I replied. “But we have a saying in the North Pole. Why give someone what they ask for when you can give them what they want?”

George raised his eyebrow, confused. 

“You say you want to ask questions, about elves and such,” I said. 

“Yes, I want to know everything!” 

“I thought as much,” I continued. “And of course, you’ll want the memories to go with it. I’ll just have to make sure that this is a night you’ll never forget. We could tell you what you want to know, but wouldn’t it be better if we showed you?” 

Right on cue, Santa stepped into the room. He wore his iconic red suit and gave that smile which always made my heart skip a beat. 

“Merry Christmas, George,” he said. “Want to go for a ride?”

Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar – Day 5, How Not to Write a Novel

How not to write a novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman is one of my most thumbed books. I don’t say that lightly. It’s got a big crease down the spine and more than a few loose pages.

Most advice books tell you what to do. This one, as the name suggests, tells you the opposite. Shabby spelling, clichéd plot devices, downright offensive characterisation… it’s all here. It’s rip-roaringly funny, and I often get the urge to reread it.

Of course, you, intelligent writer (or the intelligent writer friend you’re buying for) know not to fall into flat description or overblown hyperbole.  However, the authors are in fact editors, and have come across all this stuff during the course of their work. While the examples are comically exaggerated, any would-be author will cringe at one or two (in my case, overstuffing a manuscript with a cast of thousands). The final section deals with getting published and usefully highlights some common pitfalls in traditional publishing.

Broken up into easy-to-read sections, it’s a perfect for dipping in and out of. Plus, there’s something oddly inspiring in looking at just how bad it could be and doing it anyway. 

Gift idea and review presented by Róisín Tuohy.