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December 4, 2010

Anne Fortier on Holiday Magic

Posted by Anonymous

AnneFortier.jpgAnne Fortier --- the co-producer of an Emmy Award-winning documentary and author of the New York Times bestseller, JULIET --- reflects on the magic of the holiday season and remembers how, one Christmas, TREASURE ISLAND turned her mother’s dining room upside down.

When I think of the holidays, I think of books. Long, cozy, December afternoons curled up on the sofa with Mom, all lights off and candles burning, reading wonderful stories to each other. Sometimes Mom would be hard at work finishing a present for someone, and she would be settled in the old corner armchair, sewing or knitting, while I would sit on the footstool, reading some story or chapter aloud to her. Often, I would read one of our favorite holiday stories, or a particularly funny bit from a book I had just discovered; at other times, Mom would take down a dusty novel from one of our many bookcases and hand it to me with some ceremony, saying, “I think you are ready for this.” Whereupon I would sit down and start reading it to her, while she would keep encouraging me from the armchair and gently correcting my mistakes.

This was how --- at nine years old --- I discovered the old classic, TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson. Mom had taken it down from the shelf with some hesitation, saying, “When Grandpa read this to me as a child, I had terrible nightmares.” Of course, I had to read it! And I became so engrossed in the book that I read it day and night, and sat daydreaming about pirates and tall ships the rest of the time.

That year, there was only one present under the tree with my name on it. It was big and square, and Mom explained that it was a gift from the whole family. It was a pirate ship! I was so excited about it that I barely ate any of our homemade candy that day, and I was not the only one. As soon as the dinner table was cleared, my grandfather and my uncle started “helping me” assemble the ship, and we all had such fun with it that they both came back again the next day to “help me” with the last details.

For at least a week, our big dinner table served as the Seven Seas; Mom put on a blue table cloth to make it look like water, we “built” an island out of a brown blanket, and my uncle brought over a miniature kit house to serve as a cabin. My grandfather, being the naval specialist, spent most of his time loading up the canons and positioning men with guns and sabres, while Mom kept reminding him to “stick with the story.” But of course, after we had re-enacted TREASURE ISLAND, we began making our own stories, creating our own characters, and it is probably no coincidence that my first finished manuscript --- which I wrote when I was 13 --- was about children stranded on a desert island.

Even now, as an adult, I still think of the holidays as a time of inspired creation, where the laws of physics can be bent, and the world of the imagination lights up dark winter days. To me, that is part of the magic of the season.

Visit the Holiday Author Blogs tomorrow as Anne Perry reflects on a holiday gift that’s changed her for the better.