‘The very evident signs of the Christmas season came as a shock.’
I wrote a novel about a Scottish girl, Stella, working in London, who has to rush home to Melrose when her grandmother is taken to hospital, unconscious after a fall. Her sister Maddie seems to have gone missing from her flat in Edinburgh, a mystery emerges from their granny’s background, and on top of that Stella doesn’t want to bump into her ex-boyfriend, Ross, from whom she parted acrimoniously.
An early draft of the novel won the (unpublished) Romantic Novel prize at the Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference in 2014. When I rewrote it some time later I thought it would add to the drama to set the novel at Christmas time. Edinburgh, where I live, has become a winter destination as well as a summer one with a wonderland of delights in the city centre. Even if you have a lot of worries on your mind, as Stella does, the lead-up to Christmas is hard to avoid, so that became part of the story from the moment she emerges from Waverley Station and sees the Christmas tree on the mound.
Extract from Stella’s Christmas Wish
By Kate Blackadder
Published by Black and White Publishing
‘Waverley Station. This train terminates here. Please make sure you have all your luggage with you.’
The announcer’s voice jolted Stella out of her thoughts. She picked up her shoulder bag and her handbag, took her jacket from the rack, and walked down the train to retrieve her suitcase.
She hadn’t been back in Scotland since last Christmas. Maddie was right. It did smell different. Not necessarily better, here in the station, just different. It sounded different too. Funny how one’s ear became attuned to the sounds of another place.
And it was different in temperature – a chill wind whirled around her as she walked out of the station and along Waverley Bridge. She stopped for a moment to look around, at the heart of the city she’d spent her student years in, and her working life before she went to London.
There was Edinburgh Castle, on its rock above Scotland’s capital city, imposing its presence on the place as it had done for the last seven hundred years. It was up there, on the castle ramparts, that Ross first told her that he loved her. She averted her eyes, quailing at the thought that everywhere in the city there would be a reminder of him – they’d had so many good times here.
Considering how unfestive she was feeling, the very evident signs of the Christmas season came as a shock. On the Mound stood the tall spruce tree – one was donated to the city every year by the people of Norway, Stella remembered. Beside the dour grey towering Scott Monument a colourful fairground ride whirled incongruously and, further along, a gigantic wheel lifted customers above the rooftops. Silvery-white lights were wound round the trees along the edge of Princes Street Gardens, and on the other side of the street party dresses and gifts filled the shop windows.
The clock on the Balmoral Hotel showed half past twelve. She was about to hail the nearest taxi when she heard someone saying her name.
‘It’s Stella, isn’t it? Maddie’s sister?’
The friendly face, framed by shiny brown hair, did look familiar but Stella couldn’t think where she’d seen her before.
‘Isabel. I share a flat with Maddie.’
Of course. Maddie’s new flatmates were Isabel, who she knew from art college and whom Stella had met briefly once, and Skye who had the workshop next to her.
‘Isabel, of course. Do you work near here?’ Stella tried to gather her thoughts.
Isabel indicated the large department store across the road behind them. ‘I’m a buyer in the homeware department,’ she laughed. ‘So much for the art history degree. I’ve taken a half day’s holiday to do some Christmas shopping – didn’t expect to see you! Have you got off the train?’
Stella nodded. ‘My – our granny’s ill. She had a fall.’
‘I’m really sorry to hear that. That will be a shock for Maddie when she’s so far away,’ Isabel said, her face concerned.
‘Where is Maddie?’ Stella found herself reaching out and gripping Isabel’s sleeve. ‘How can I get hold of her?’
Isabel looked very surprised. ‘Didn’t she tell you? She went to Australia on Sunday. There was a stopover somewhere but she’ll have arrived by now.’
‘Yes, it all happened very quickly. I never know what Maddie’s going to do next but this was sudden even for her! Ross and Skye took her to the airport.’
‘Ross and Skye?’ Once again Stella echoed Isabel’s words.
‘Ross Drummond, you know, from … yes, of course you know him, sorry.’ Isabel looked embarrassed. ‘Skye’s our other flatmate – Maddie only got to know her this year so you’ve probably not met her. But what about your granny? You call her Alice, don’t you? Is she in hospital?’
Stella burst into tears. Isabel drew her to the side of the pavement out of the way of people rushing to and from the station.
‘She fell off a ladder,’ Stella hiccupped. ‘I’m on my way to see her. They don’t know yet if there’s any brain damage.’ She wiped her face almost angrily. ‘But I don’t understand about Maddie. Why – was it something to do with her work?’ Although she couldn’t imagine that was likely. ‘Will she be back for Christmas?’ But that was hardly likely either – the twenty-fifth was less than a week away. And how come ‘Ross and Skye’ were involved, she wondered, but not aloud.
Stella’s Christmas Wish by Kate Blackadder is out now published in e-book by Black and White Publishing priced £0.99.