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  • Published: 5 October 2022
  • ISBN: 9781529136388
  • Imprint: Century
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $32.99

The Twelve Topsy-Turvy, Very Messy Days of Christmas


The Day Before the First Day

Chapter One

What is the worst present you’ve ever received for Christmas?

A pair of socks?

A pair of scratchy socks in a vile colour?

A pair of scratchy socks in a disgusting colour that rub your big toes with every step you take?

A pair of coarse socks in a foul colour that rub your big toes and you’re forced to wear them because your grandmother gave them to you and she’s coming to stay?

That’s pretty bad. But for Will and Ella Sullivan, the worst thing they ever got for Christmas was a dead mother.

Apologies for going so dark before the first page is even over. Apologies if, in your shock, you allowed your biscuit to plop into your tea. But the simple truth is, people die every day. Statistically speaking, someone unfortunately has to die on Christmas Day. For Will and Ella Sullivan, it was their mother.

So when Christmas rolls around – as it does every year – and all the houses on one particular modestly gentrified London street are festooned with Christmas lights and decorations, one large, decaying Victorian end-of-terrace house with chipping paint remains unadorned. This is the house where Will and Ella Sullivan live with their father, Henry. It remains an island of sombre darkness that seems to deny the existence of Christmas, fortified by a seasonal gloom against any encroachment of jollity that may try to breach its borders. For at this time of year in the Sullivan house, stockings go unstuffed, tinsel unstrewn, gifts unbought, mistletoe unhung, chestnuts unroasted, holly undecked, carols unplayed, puddings unbrandied and a tree un-visible.

Not only did Will and Ella lose their mother five years ago, they also lost Christmas. (To be absolutely clear, though, they didn’t technically lose their mother. They know exactly where she is. In a tastefully decorated burial plot in the cemetery. At least, she’d better be there because, if she’s not, she’s a zombie or something and these poor children – who have surely suffered enough – risk being subjected to a whole different kind of emotional trauma.)

The house itself is not to blame. It was built in another century – pre-TV and internet, if you can imagine such barbarous times – with adequate rooms and space to absorb the bustle, noises and smells associated with a busy, vibrant family who had to amuse themselves without the help of Instagram or Netflix.

It was the generous proportions and original features of the house that attracted Henry and Katie Sullivan. It certainly wasn’t the colony of obstinate mice who had taken up residence. Or the peeling wallpaper. Or the pipes that rattled and popped when taps were turned on. And off. Or the kitchen full of the most modern, space-age and technically advanced appliances that money could buy . . . around the time of Elizabeth II’s coronation.

Despite those negatives, which had chased away all previous sane potential buyers, Henry and Katie Sullivan knew the house was the one for them the moment that they walked in with little Will and Ella toddling around their knees. The task ahead of them was daunting, but they would have a lifetime to fix it up.

Unfortunately, ‘a lifetime’ in this case was to be just four short years.

Not knowing they had so little time, Henry and Katie slowly did what they could afford to do to make the old house a home. Modern plumbing and moderately priced new appliances were a good start. And new paint, rugs, curtains and comfortable furniture went a long way to brightening up the place.

But the key ingredients were love and laughter. You may not know this, but it’s an accepted fact that no room is completely done until furnished with a child’s giggle. And there was no shortage of those at the Sullivan household.

While Henry was responsible for most of the work on the interior of the house, Katie spent her time outside. Not because she’d forgotten her key or wasn’t house-trained.

But because the house had an unusually large walled private garden behind it. Big enough for flower beds, vegetable patches, paths, trees and a fountain. Big enough for children to play long, exhausting games of tag or even hide-and-seek. This was where Will and Ella’s mother spent her days and her energy, up to her elbows and ankles in soil, turning the overgrown, muddy patch of scrubland into an Eden.

A unique, jazzlike energy and rhythm had surrounded the four Sullivans whenever they were all together, which was almost constantly. But after their mother’s death, that energy and rhythm ground to a halt as the ensemble, over the weeks and months, drifted apart.

Those happy days seemed like a long time ago to Will and Ella, who each now retained a diminishing number of increasingly foggy memories from those laughter-filled years. And Will and Ella, who had once been as thick as thieves, had grown apart . . . Will having grown louder and Ella having grown quieter.

Nowadays, even when they were technically together, they were essentially apart. Mealtimes were quiet affairs with tepid food and equally tepid conversation, to be endured rather than enjoyed as they had been in the past.

Restaurants, cinemas, clothing boutiques, sweet shops and parks – in addition to Christmas – became luxuries for other people and not for the Sullivans. As did hugs, understanding, enthusiasm, and a general interest in each other’s thoughts, dreams and problems.

Unable to confront his own emotions, Henry was tragically unequipped to understand his children’s. Not that he felt he ever had time to try. He was at his wits’ end just keeping them fed, watered, clothed, healthy, educated, safe and largely polite.

The lovely big garden behind the house had two entrances. A back door allowed access from the kitchen, and a gate allowed entry from the alley that ran alongside the house. Soon after his wife’s death, Henry added a heavy dead bolt to the first and a forbidding padlock to the second. As with so many parts of his life that he had once enjoyed, Henry now ignored the garden. He was too sad to cultivate it himself and too protective to let anyone else. Untended, it soon grew dark and wild, which is nature’s way with almost anything that doesn’t receive the attention it craves.

The Twelve Topsy-Turvy, Very Messy Days of Christmas James Patterson

One family is in for more than festive cheer in this new modern Christmas tale by bestselling author James Patterson.

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