Given that there are still 44 days to Christmas (that's almost one-eighth of a year!) you might be forgiven for doing a double-take if you'd peeked inside the main hall at Our Lady's Abingdon this afternoon. Christmas jumpers, reindeer antlers, santa hats, and 350 children shouting 'Merry Christmas' at a man standing at the front of the room clutching a microphone, trying desperately to increase the readings on a Christmas 'Barometer of Hope'...
...but it was "snow mistake". On Thursday, Nov 10, children children, teachers, librarians and parent helpers from seven schools welcomed bestselling author Matt Haig to Abingdon, to talk about his book 'The Girl Who Saved Christmas'.
The event was raucous, very Christmassy, and definitely full of hope.
The book is the follow-up to 'A Boy Called Christmas', one of the hits of 2015, and the true story of the boy who would grow up to grant children's wishes around the world.
The girl in question is Amelia, who seeks out Father Christmas to grant her a wish, but discovers Christmas in danger of being cancelled. Father Christmas has more than impossible wishes to worry about, including upset elves, troublesome trolls and reindeer dropping out of the sky. What can be done?
Matt is a remarkable author, and given that he was in the middle of an awesomely ambitious round-UK tour, full of energy and enthusiasm, as he pitched half the audience against the other in a game of 'Elves v Trolls'.
Matt's Christmas books are illustrated by Chris Mould (no stranger to Abingdon) and even though Chris wasn't able to attend, there was plenty of video of him showing how the illustrations make the book come to life, and how the look and feel of the characters - including a certain Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria and Soot her cat.
Children came from Thomas Reade, Thameside, St Edmunds, Rush Common and Dunmore Primary Schools, and their were pupils from both OLA Juniors and Seniors.
It was a triumph of organisation and hard work by all the schools involved, particularly by the host school, OLA. Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.
Particularly thanks to OLA librarian Barbara Hickford and her team - every child attending received a special Christmas snowman cookie - and year 7 pupils met the schools on arrival and showed them to their seats.
Matt signed books for children - and also books for the shop, so if you wanted a beautiful signed copy for 44 days time, please do call in. But while Matt signed away, we were able to ask him a few questions about his writing life. Take it away Matt...
Five questions with...Matt Haig's Writing Life
1. What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on two things. Another novel for grown-ups (my first since 'The Humans') about someone who is 400 years old, and I'm about to start on my third 'Christmas' book!
2. What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Write exactly the book you'd want to read. In the early days of my writing career, I guess I had a bit of 'stage fright', and tried to write something I thought other people might want to write.
3. What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing is that writing for children is very 'freeing' for a writer. Children may have a smaller vocabularly, but they have a much broader, wider imagination, which means you can go anywhere and take them with you. The worst? Being asked your age at school events!
4. Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing of snack essential before you can start work?
I can pretty much write anywhere, I'm a 'sit on the sofa with a laptop' kind of guy. Snacks? Well, peanut butter toast provides fuel!
5. What was your biggest breakthrough?
I think last year (2015), when I published 'Reasons to Stay Alive' and 'A Boy Called Christmas'. After writing for twelve years, last year was definitely the year I felt I'd made it.
(Book blogger and great friend of Mostly Books Annabookbel came along to help - and she wrote her own blog about the event - take a look here!)