A Victorian Christmas
14th Nov 20

A Victorian Christmas

In Sally Nicholls's latest book, A CHRISTMAS IN TIME, two children go back in time to discover what a real Victorian Christmas would have been like. We asked Sally Nicholls to tell us more!

In A CHASE IN TIME, Alex and Ruby discovered that they could step through a mirror into the past, where they can help solve family mysteries, and learn more about what life was like in Edwardian times.

In their latest adventure, A CHRISTMAS IN TIME, the brother and sister step back in time to the Victorian era where they discover just how cold but also how wonderful a Victorian Christmas could be.

We asked author SALLY NICHOLLS to tell us more about her latest adventure:

Q: Can you tell us a little about your Chase in Time / A Christmas in Time books?

A: Two children step through a magical mirror in a Georgian house. The mirror takes them back to different time periods in the house's history, where they have to help someone out before they can step back.

In a Chase in Time they have to foil a robbery, in A Christmas in Time they have to save a child from a cruel charity school. I'm aiming for the feel of some of the books I loved as a child, by authors like Enid Blyton, Margery Alligham, Phillipa Pearce... but with a modern twist. The children are very much of the smart phones generation.

Q: Why do you enjoy writing stories set in the past?

A: I find the past completely fascinating, particularly the social history. Georgian women didn't wear underwear, because it was too fiddly to lift up all their skirts to pee. Edwardian children had afternoon tea of bread and butter and sometimes cake every day. You wouldn't stay for the dancing at your own wedding. These sorts of titbits are enormous fun to write about.

Q: How much research do you do into these periods for each book?

A: Yes, I did a lot of research for each book, and read a lot of novels written at that period, particularly novels for young people. I think if you get the dialogue right that makes a big difference. I actually find the research quite stressful, as I'd much rather be able to jump straight in and get it right first time. But it is interesting!

Q: Why did you decide that the children's adventures would focus on the same house and family?

A: I love magic mirrors, and I always loved the idea of looking into a mirror and seeing another face look back. So that was my starting point, and once you had that, it made sense to move between the mirror's history. But it does annoy me in time travel books that with the vast eternities of life to travel between, people tend to spend their time within the last couple of hundred years. Surely you'd be spending most of your time with the dinosaurs? So it felt right to have a logical reason why their adventures are limited.

I also liked the idea that, while the Pilgrim's house is undoubtedly a desirable residence, they are a squarely middle-class family - their relations are parsons and doctors, not lords and ladies. So much of historical fiction is obsessed with aristocracy, and I liked that the Pilgrims are a bit more normal.

Q: Did you create a detailed family tree for the family, the Pilgrims?

A: Not too detailed, but I do know roughly how the families in the first few books are related. One thing that was interesting is realising how close the different time periods are. Great-Aunt Joanna, who is still around in modern-day Applecott House, is only a few generations apart from the Victorian family in A Christmas in Time, which was surprising.

Q: In the books, Ruby and Alex reflect on how the past seems more recent, once they've visited those periods. Do you hope your readers will feel the same?

A: Yes, definitely! People are people the whole world over - it's fascinating looking at modern events and realising how people's responses are extremely similar to how people responded to the second world war or the Suffragettes.

Q: If you could step through a portal to another time, where would you go and which of your ancestors would you like to meet?

A: Victorian England would be fascinating. So would meeting the dinosaurs! But the ancestor I'd most like to meet is my father, who died when I was two.

Q: Which eras do you plan to return to with Alex and Ruby?

A: Next up is Georgian England... followed by the Great Winter of 1947!

Q: Where and when do you do most of your writing? What are you writing now?

A: Mostly in bed! But right now I'm on the sofa in my living room. I tend to write on a laptop on my knees - I've never got on well with desks...

Q: What do you enjoy doing when you're not at your desk?

A: Reading, walking, playing complicated board games, seeing friends...

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