My inspiration for The Christmas Swap

Out now!

Cover of The Christmas Swap
A beach in the lower half with a couple sitting next to two bathing boxes
A snowy mountainside view in the top half, a couple walking into a ski lodge

I am super excited about this book, as it celebrates one of my favourite times of the year, Christmas. I decided in June last year that I wanted to write a Christmas book, and as I do for all my books, I turned to my own travel experiences for inspiration.

You see, I am an ‘Aus-Meri-Pom’ as my grandma Joan used to call me. I have an English father, and American mother and I was born in Australia. I have lived in all three countries and consider the UK and the US my second homes, especially as I have so many loved ones in both countries.

With so many Christmases to choose from – some snowy, some wintry and cosy (but no snow), many hot, I considered how to pack more than one Christmas into one book.

That’s when I got the idea to have three childhood friends swap Christmases. This way, I could dive into what makes each one special, seeing each Christmas through fresh eyes.

The UK

My sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and great aunt all live in the UK, and we’ve had a couple of (lovely) Christmases with them in recent years (in 2014 and 2108). I LOVE how beautifully and traditionally Christmas is celebrated in the UK. Yes, we had chocolate oranges in our stockings; yes, we had plum pudding and brandy sauce; yes, we went to Christmas Fairs and Winter Wonderland, and sipped mulled wine and hot chocolate; yes, we watched the Queen’s speech; and yes, we even had a(n early) traditional Christmas lunch in a 500 year year old pub! All the yeses to this kind of Christmas.

I’ve also had many Christmases in the US, but one that has stuck with me all these years is the Christmas I visited a dear friend and his (lovely extended family at their mountain cabin in Colorado, then met up with my partner, Ben, for a ski trip to Breckenridge and New Year’s in Denver.

It is a stunning part of the world, and Breckenridge is one of those towns that looks like a filmset of a Christmas movie. These pics are from our drive into town.

And this was the “cabin” we stayed in for Christmas:

Large log cabin nestled in the snow surrounded by fir trees

There were 13 of us for Christmas – and we all had beds, with some to spare! Me in Colorado, all rugged up. Look at those mountains and that sky!

Most of my 51 Christmases, however, have been in Australia. It’s hot, sometimes swelteringly so, and we celebrate traditions that are as much about the family gathering together in summertime as they are about the holiday.

I always make a pav(lova).

We have a fake, but festive, tree (thanks to Ben for the gorgeous pic on the left).

There are salads, fruit platters, champagne (lots of bubbly), Christmas carols (even the snowy ones), some sort of roast, cheese platters, maybe a baked salmon, or some prawns or crayfish on the barbie, and I’ll always bake my fave Chrissie bikkies, Russian Tea Cakes (recipe for you).

We go to the beach, play boules after lunch, call our loved ones far and wide, play games out on the veranda, like Trivial Pursuit and Cards Against Humanity, while we sip crisp, white Aussie wine – you, know, Christmassy, family stuff – Aussie style.

With my dad and step-mum at Light’s Beach, Denmark, Western Australia

I absolutely LOVE Christmas, and if you do too, I hope you will love The Christmas Swap (buy links included). It’s out now!

Window seat

I am not a window seat kind of a girl.

I say this metaphorically, and literally.

In life, I do not like to sit by the window and watch. I like to get out there in it, and invariably I end up a bit mucky for my efforts. But this is my preference. I actually feel for the ‘watchers’, those people who say stuff like, “I wish I could do that” or “If only I had [insert attribute or asset here], I would be happy”. I much prefer being an active participant in life, and sometimes I get injured or have a set back, but I often feel great joy.

I am not a window seat kind of a girl on a plane either. I prefer the aisle – the aisle affords me freedom.

Two days ago, I flew from east to west to visit my family and friends. Still at the terminal, I sat in my aisle seat patiently waiting for those who would be seated next to me. They didn’t come. As the plane pulled back, I realised I had three airline seats to myself, a rare pleasure.

I stayed in the aisle seat for about as long as it took for the young family across the aisle to make more noise than young families should in a confined space. I moved to the window seat, and stretched my legs across the other two. I had appropriated 2 pillows from the overhead locker above my head, so I was as comfortable as a person can be in coach.

My ‘special meal’ came 30 minutes before the meal service started, and I watched a film I had wanted to see for some time. Does airline travel get any better than this? (Well, yes, if you’re Ben who gets upgraded every time he flies, just for showing up.)

I even had a nap. For forty-five minutes!

When we started to make our descent, I lifted the window shade I had lowered for my movie viewing. The sun streamed in, as although it would be raining on landing, we were above the cloud line. We descended through the clouds and I watched as the earth emerged through the wisps of white.

I rarely see this type of view, because I almost always sit on the aisle.

The topography changed several times in as many minutes. It was beautiful, and the best part of a really good flight.

I felt a twinge, because I knew how many times I had missed this exact feeling.

I took shot after shot. The earth was drenched, and the colours vibrant – every shade of green. Then there were scars, great gashes of red earth ripped through the bush. Farms presented a patchwork of neat borders and varying shades and textures. Vineyards appeared, with their perfect rows of vines pointing the way to grand houses and wineries. And then the outskirts of Perth itself, where trees pepper an urban landscape in dark green tufts.

patchwork

earthen scar

Vineyards

Outskirts

It is my home.

I love Sydney, which is why I have lived there nearly eight years. I love other places around the world, and I am sure I will love living in Seattle next year. Western Australia, however, is home. I will always come back here to see it, and my loved ones who live here.

It is so easy to take the familiar for granted, but on Saturday I got to see my homeland through fresh, somewhat misty eyes. I felt pride mostly, because it truly is incredibly beautiful and I cannot wait to show it off to Ben.

And I had this small, but significant joy all because I took a window seat.