The Winter Secret spent 4 weeks in the top ten of The Sunday Times paperback fiction bestseller lists, which was just about the best Christmas present I could have asked for. When we first started publishing the books at the beginning of December, back in 2012, I was told to get the publishers to change it. It was a recipe for disaster, apparently – the ‘graveyard’ slot, a time of year when no one bought books for themselves, only as Christmas presents. So it was impossible to challenge the big Christmas books.
But it turned out this received wisdom was wrong. For one thing, the big Christmas books are published in October (another piece of received wisdom – everyone is shopping for Christmas in October. Not in this house!) and have been around for quite a while by December. And for another, Christmas isn’t just about presents. It’s also a holiday. Lots of people look forward to a bit of quiet time (maybe after the big day) to relax and read a book, escape a little and have some time to themselves. So slipping a treat into the basket while you’re out doing your gift buying is not so weird.
And then there’s the nature of winter itself. Not Christmas, but winter – darkness, cold, candlelight, crackling fires, stories, secrets… We respond to this, the duality of winter that is both threatening and embracing. Like being inside when a storm is raging, or getting cosy when it’s freezing. It speaks to our imagination somehow, and sparks something that says ‘Yes, I fancy a bit of that’. I really look forward to a Christmas thriller on the telly, and it’s a ritual to have a bit of Poirot at some point. Winter is a time for telling tales. I suppose, historically, there was nothing much else to be done when nature had shut down outside and there was no light to see by, so it felt allowed to gather by the fireside and listen to a storyteller.
So my publisher didn’t listen. The books came out then, with the beautiful Macmillan-designed covers that spoke of all those wintery things. And slowly, readers responded. It was such an amazing thrill, to feel that not only was the received wisdom wrong, but that we were changing the mindset.
The only problem is that it’s possible to be a victim of your own success. The publishing industry is very good at spotting a new opportunity, and now the big guns also come out in early December, so my competition is a lot stiffer. That’s the reason I’m so very delighted to be in the top ten alongside huge authors and wildly popular books – and for four whole weeks. It’s honestly been amazing, and I’m grateful to everyone who’s read the book, tweeted or Facebooked me, and passed on to their friends, posted on Instagram. It’s been so exciting.
Right. Time to think about the new one now!