Escape for Christmas

By: Ruth Saberton

Chapter 1

“And that’s to be the last book! We haven’t any more in stock I’m afraid, folks. We’ve totally sold out!”

The manager of the Truro branch of BookWorld had an expression on his face that hovered somewhere between absolute joy and total disbelief. Only two hours earlier, fuelled by a caramel macchiato and aided by two of his keener Saturday staff, he’d lugged one hundred and fifty hardback books down from the stockroom and to the front of the store, where they’d been piled hopefully on a table placed slap in line with the doorway. Ordering such a large amount of expensive hardback copies in these uneasy days of eBooks and Amazon domination was something of a gamble, but he’d had a hunch about this one and his hunches tended to be worth trusting. At half past eleven on this sunny winter’s morning the manager was very happy indeed that he’d had faith in this one.

Today’s book signing was a huge success by any standards, even for a Saturday in the run-up to Christmas. Such days were always busy, with the pretty cathedral town packed with happy Christmas shoppers, the car parks full by ten a.m. and an air of anticipation keeping the Cornish cold at bay. On Lemon Quay a mini Christmas market did a roaring trade. The coffee shops were crammed with shoppers enjoying gingerbread lattes and mince pies while they got the circulation back into their fingers after lugging carrier bags all around the town; meanwhile, the traditional horse bus, complete with coachman in full Victorian garb, was giving its passengers a leisurely tour of the main streets. Strains of carols drifted on the cold air as the cathedral choir rehearsed for the big day, valiantly competing with the usual Christmas anthems emanating from the shops. Outside the bookstore the pavements were three deep in pedestrians, all wrapped fatly in their winter coats and scarves, and determined to shop until the daylight started to fade and the sun slipped behind the cathedral’s spire.

Yes, the book trade was always good on a brisk December Saturday, what with people browsing the shelves for a novel or Jamie Oliver’s latest offering – but this morning’s activity had been something else entirely. From the minute the cathedral clock had chimed nine and the doors had been unlocked, the store had been rammed. Under normal circumstances, authors sat at their tables, pens clutched in trembling hands and adrift on the sea of carpet while shoppers took the longest route around the shop to avoid making eye contact. When customers did find themselves near the book-signing desk, they generally felt obliged to talk and to buy a novel they’d never really wanted in the first place. Sometimes a savvy author – one who’d read up on marketing or whose agent was switched on – would bring sweets or postcards to tempt the shy book shoppers with goodies. Even so, the queue was never more than a few interested folk or some family and friends recruited to create a buzz. Today, though, it was a very different story. The queue for the signing had even snaked outside into the street, the customers seeming more than happy to stand in the frosty air, hands wrapped around hot drinks from the bookstore’s coffee shop, and wait their turn. Inside, the tills were ringing as joyously as the cathedral bells and the entire bookshop was bustling with excitement. As the last customer made her way to the cashier, thrilled with the signed book in her hands, the manager only wished that he’d ordered twice as many.

I should have listened to my daughter, the manager thought ruefully as he apologised to all the disappointed people who’d been unable to buy a signed copy. Sixteen-year-old girls tended to have their fingers on the pulse of the zeitgeist, and this was certainly true of his daughter: when Melanie had heard that Angel and Gemma from Bread and Butlers were signing the show’s Christmas cookbook in his store, she’d almost popped. He’d been amazed she’d heard of them; One Direction was generally more his daughter’s thing than cooking. “Come on, Dad, get with the programme,” she’d teased, rolling her eyes. This wasn’t a lame cooking show! Bread and Butlers was a reality show and everybody watched it. It was the best thing on the telly; Cal was hot, Laurence was even hotter and Angel had the best clothes ever! The bookshop manager had listened in a rather bemused fashion. These days it was almost as though his daughter communicated in a foreign language. Mel’s speech was peppered with gangsta slang and text talk: it was all LOL this and lush the other – as well as his personal worst, CBA, which was usually used in reference to homework. Still, once his ears had tuned in to teen speak, he’d managed to gather a few facts and felt even older than his forty-eight years.