Publishing Perspectives Staff Report
‘What Christmas Is All About’In our last Rights Roundup, we looked at international rights sales for The Christmas Calendar, a new book by author Siri Østli—called “the Norwegian queen of feel-good—from Oslo’s Cappelen Damm. The book is being handled by agent Anette Slettbakk Garpestad.
The descriptive copy about the story gives you a hint of why the book already has sold into Denmark (Turbine); Italy (Garzanti Srl); and Germany (Bastei Lübbe).
Turning on a tale of surprise disaster and determined, managed response. Who, in the era of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, can’t relate to that? Here’s the book’s basic story:
“During breakfast on a totally ordinary Tuesday, Fie’s husband abruptly tells her that he wants a divorce and that she must move out. He’s a dentist, and for years Fie has been not only his wife but also his faithful assistant–without pay. Now, she’s banished to an impractical and charmless attic apartment on the other side of the city.
“Dazed and in despair that her life has been turned upside down, Fie tries to soften the blow with sedatives. Her grown-up son is embarrassed about his mother’s breakdown and doesn’t answer his phone.
“Fie’s sister Sara is the one who takes charge of the situation and demands that Fie get a grip. To speed things up, she gives Fie a challenging Advent Calendar with new tasks for each day leading up to Christmas. And with this, Fie’s despair turns into an adventurous and pretty nice holiday, after all.”
Østli: ‘Christmas Gave the Story a Framework’
The author, Østli, is also known for Girls’ Kisses and Devil Food Cake (2013) and The Gooseberry Sisters (2015). She points out in a recent interview with the Norwegian magazine Boktips (Book Tips) that she’s working in an older demographic this time and with a double challenge not always encountered in middle age.
“In previous novels,” she says, “I’ve written about young women. This time, I wanted to write about a somewhat older, fairly ordinary Norwegian woman. Divorce at that age isn’t rare, but women fortunately don’t tend to lose their jobs at the same time they lose their marriages. This upheaval includes losses both in financial security and in personal relationships. Before the divorce, Fie is feeling comfortable in her marriage, she’s happy.
“At the same time, she’s gotten used to her husband to such an extent that she no longer knows what she wants.”
The book, Østli says, was conceived at the time of the pandemic Easter “when everything was closed and it was raining. It was nice to be able to think of Christmas. Fie’s story could have taken place at any time of the year. It’s about experiencing a crisis and hopefully coming out of it a little bit stronger.
“However, Christmas gave the story a framework I could put Fie’s experiences into, which I liked very much. I’d love to write another Christmas novel.”
A key to how Christmas works as a framework, Østli says, is found in the fact that so many of us have mixed feelings about Christmas. “The gap can be pretty big between the perfect Christmas celebration we’re presented with through media and our own celebration that involves burned cookies, disputes, grumpy kids, and the eternal Christmas rush.
“Besides, Christmas can be bitter for many, with memories of people they’ve lost and places and traditions you’re no longer a part of.
“For people who tend to feel melancholy (myself included), Christmas can therefore be sad in the midst of all the Christmas joy. And not least, for some families, the Christmas celebration might include a high consumption of alcohol and violence, and therefore become a celebration you dread.”
Her family, however, sees her as a “proper Christmas-y person,” Østli says. “I always decorate on December 1 and go to all the Christmas events available.”
Garpestad: ‘That Fuzzy, Cozy Feeling’
Garpestad tells Publishing Perspectives that the market’s fondness for Christmas books has to do with that image of the holiday that Østli is talking about.
“Christmas books work because they contain just what many of us want just before Christmas. We want to be reminded of what Christmas is all about—spending time with our loved ones at the darkest time of the year. Seeing a shining light of hope and joy. And to have that fuzzy, cozy feeling that Christmas tends to bring out in all of us who celebrate it.
“And to be honest, what we all want this time of year is to curl up on our couch in front of the fireplace, with a nice glass of wine or a cup of cocoa and read something we just know will have a happy ending.”
If anything, Gargpestad says, pandemic conditions may be strengthening the Christmas market. “The second we all have a holiday or a vacation coming, we want to relax and to be entertained. We see this in music and films as well, and it’s still growing.”
In addition to its seasonal appeal, Gargpestad says The Christmas Calendar is a standout because “as well as being cozy, it’s also a really funny and entertaining read. You quickly come to love Fie, however hopeless she seems to be in the beginning.
“Her big heart and impulsive choices lead her into all sorts of unexpected incidents. But as a reader , you’re really rooting for her and look forward to everything turning out for the better in the end.”
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.