December 9, 2012

Ghost Stories for Christmas - Part 9

Cold Christmas by Nina Beachcroft (1974)

Yes, it's a kids' book rather than a film, but "Cold Christmas" is one of the few books which I read when I was in the intended age range for it. As someone who was reading James Herbert instead of the patronising and unrealistic "approved" books in English lessons when the teacher wanted some peace and quiet, I still think that "Cold Christmas" is one of the best of its kind.

"Cold Christmas" is out of print, but there are plenty of copies available to buy from eBay and Amazon. I got mine from a church jumble sale back in the early '80s. I don't have it now as I passed it on to another jumble sale along with all my other paperbacks in the early 2000s. "Cold Christmas" is not a rare book by any stretch of the imagination although I can't tell you how many times it has been reprinted. I had the Piccolo version as in the picture above which I know didn't have the original cover art.

I don't understand why nobody ever thought of adapting "Cold Christmas" into a TV miniseries or a film except that maybe it would have turned out to be too much like "The Amazing Mr. Blunden" (1972) or "The Watcher in the Woods" (1980). Nowadays, with filmmakers cloning every other success, this wouldn't even be an issue.

"Cold Christmas" isn't really like "The Amazing Mr. Blunden" or "The Watcher in the Woods" though. It doesn't have quite the same childish vibe to it. Give or take some of the dialogue, if it's similar to anything then it's a lot like Robert Westall's books in the way it handles the perspective of a lonely child caught up in a more adult situation than the child realises. The closest thing to it that I can think of would be Robert Westall's "The Scarecrows" (1981) which was, of course, written later and meant for slightly older readers, but there are superficial similarities to a lot of Enid Blyton's stories, Barbara Sleigh's "Jessamy" (1967), Penelope Farmer's "Charlotte Sometimes" (1969), Antonia Barber's "The Ghosts" (1969), and even Philippa Pearce's "Tom's Midnight Garden" (1958). Most children's fantasy books are in the same vein, but "Cold Christmas" feels a little bit more modern.

So what's it about? Basically, due to changes in her family circumstances (i.e. remarriage), a neglected little girl named Josephine spends Christmas in a large Georgian mansion, and discovers that the mansion is haunted. Just like every other children's ghost story, it features an alienated lead character and the "Cassandra" trope as what Josephine sees isn't believed by the grown-ups until the very end.

Apparently, Nine Beachcroft saw a house in a Hertfordshire village called "Cold Christmas" and was inspired to write a story about it. The real house has no such legend, but it's described so well that the you can really imagine the place existing and having a ghostly mystery to solve.

The atmosphere is very sad, and the whole family situation is very "upper working class" or even "lower middle class", but that's hardly a hindrance to a child's imagination. I'd hazard a guess that the book was intended for girls, but that doesn't matter so much either. How many boys have read "Twilight" or "The Hunger Games" in recent years? Gender specific books don't seem to phase anyone who wants to read something. Hell, I used to read "Misty" comic along with my weekly "2000 A.D." because the girls' comicbook was the only thing with horror stories in it at the time.

It's a pulp children's novel for sure, but if you've never read "Cold Christmas", I recommend that you do so. It's one of the great Christmas ghost stories no matter what your age is.

Here's the Amazon link: Cold Christmas: A Ghost Story

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