Review – Christmas with the Shipyard Girls

“Sometimes in life, love has to be sacrificed for a greater love.”

Yes, that time of year seems to be upon us once again. No, not just me getting prematurely excited about Christmas before the clocks have even changed, but me getting excited about a new installment of my favourite saga which features the best girl-power tribe since the Spice Girls. Although, The Shipyard Girls is set fifty years before Girl Power stormed into our lives one platform shoe at a time, so maybe our squad of welders were actually the original? The timeline boundaries between fictional and non-fictional feminist heroes are not entirely clear.

As usual, I digress. Christmas with the Shipyard Girls is, maybe second only to the Gavin and Stacey reboot, the Christmas special we have all been waiting for. I love Christmas, and as you’re all well aware by now, I love this saga; so I felt an odd mix of excitement and apprehension ahead of reading it, with my main thought being “please, please don’t mess this up, Nancy.” Needless to say, of course Nancy Revell has once again, smashed it. I love a Christmas spin-off of an existing saga – like a TV special, it’s always exciting to see your favourite characters against a festive backdrop, but a common mistake with Christmas editions is to have a short novella which, although usually festive enough that you can practically smell the roasting chestnuts diffusing from the pages, don’t actually have much of a ‘point’. Christmas with the Shipyard Girls however, I was pleased to discover, is actually a full-length novel with a good, meaty plot which happens to take place around the festive season; i.e. not one of those mistletoe-infused, pointless novellas which are clearly just marketing ploys to boost royalties (she says like she doesn’t also buy those whenever they come out).

Ironically for a Christmas story, I think this is possibly the darkest intstalment in this saga so far. Not in a depressing way, but we’re now almost half way through the war and that is clearly starting to take a significant toll on our characters. We’ve had some really impactful, emotional moments in previous stories (still not over the air raid at the end of ‘Victory’), but this was the first time I’ve read a Shipyard Girls book, or anything for that matter, and felt consistently emotional throughout – I found myself reading the entire thing with tears prickling in the back of my eyes. Having said that, I think it’s definitely important to include the darker or more challenging sides of the characters’ journeys, it would’ve been really easy for Nancy Revell to turn this into a Bing Crosby-esque yuletide scene of all our principal characters enjoying the festivities by a warm fire as if they were drawn on a Christmas card. Unfortunately, although they certainly made the festive season as magical as possible, the sad fact remains that this is a group of people who are existing in one of, if not the most, tumultuous and challenging periods of modern history.

The relationship between Polly and Tommy is very much in the foreground at this point in the saga, and although I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t finished yet, I initially found myself firmly cemented on ‘team Polly’. It reminded me of an ongoing discussion within my friendship group, in which most of us are in agreement of ‘I could never have a boyfriend who was in the army, imagine that lifestyle and periods of not knowing where he was, why would you do that to yourself?’. Thankfully, we are all lucky enough to live in a period where we have that choice, but unfortunately for Polly, and most other women of her time, sometimes that choice was taken away from them, and the context in which she is living intensifies every emotion like petrol on a bonfire which, as always, Nancy Revell evokes perfectly for the reader.

“Polly and Tommy’s love had become another casualty of this damned war.”

Despite the darker elements of the story, as always Nancy Revell has graced us with yet another gripping plot, which is also peppered with little pockets of emotion which remind us of the intense bond shared by these characters. My favourite part was when Martha and her parents receive the gift basket in true ‘A Christmas Carol’ style. Although this made little, if any, difference to the overall plot, it was the most genuinely touching moment – and Martha going to bed on Christmas Eve with her hot chocolate and biscuits gave me an image of her as Tiny Tim which, for any existing Shipyard Girls reader, is just heartwarmingly hilarious.

Although Christmas with the Shipyard Girls isn’t explicitly ‘Christmassy’ throughout every chapter; the generosity, selflessness and love between all the characters flows through every page, showing the ‘true’ meaning of the season of good will, before building up to the festive finale which is sure to ignite that warm, festive feeling in even the most ‘humbug’ of grinches.

Why not have a look at the rest of the blog tour?

The C Word

So I was in Superdrug today just minding my own business, buying mouthwash and cotton wool (crazy spender, I know – treat yo self indeed), and I noticed they’ve started putting the Christmas gift sets out. Let’s get one thing out of the way right now, I fucking love Christmas. The earlier the better if you ask me, but I overheard some other customers giving it the old ‘bah, humbug – keep Christmas in December’ nonsense, and you know what? I feel like I need to stick up for Christmas now. Poor thing can’t turn up to the party a little bit early without getting told to go back to the North Pole until the first door on the Advent calendar is open. It’s okay, Christmas, Esther wants to hang out with you and you can cry on my shoulder when people are so mean about you.

Here’s the way I see it. Christmas, or December in general if you don’t personally observe Christmas as a holiday, is the reward for getting through the year. It’s like Friday nights, even if you have nothing special planned, that feeling starts building  the moment your alarm goes off and by 5 p.m. when you get in your car and start that journey home, you know that’s your time – your chance to relax and do whatever you want as a reward for getting through the week. December is a full month of ‘treat yo self’, whether you observe Christmas or not. It’s the only time of the year when it’s totally acceptable to gain weight, wear jumpers and leggings every day, meet up with friends and family you haven’t seen for ages and just  generally spoil yourself. Everyone is in such a good mood in the run-up to Christmas you can’t help but get caught up in it and no matter what you’ve done that particular year, you deserve that break. Personally, I’ve had an absolute shitter of a year so I cannot wait to laze around and do nothing from mid-November onwards. Once that John Lewis ad airs and people start saying “what the hell, it’s Christmas” I am done, don’t expect to find me doing anything more strenuous than slicing cheese to go with my crackers and stretching to put the star on top of the tree.

There is a lot of pressure around Christmas though and I totally understand that side of the argument. People spend money they don’t have buying things they don’t need to impress people they don’t really need to, and there’s such a focus on being with family/friends/a significant other that when you’re on your own it can feel like hand sanitiser over a papercut. I’ve been on that side of the coin; I lost my mum when I was a teenager and my sister moved abroad shortly after so the family Christmases I grew to know and love were taken away from me before I really got the chance to really appreciate them. Hell, one Christmas Eve I woke up to the news that one of my closest friends had been found dead the night before. I’ve spent many a Christmas morning in tears and have been known to spend Christmas Day eating frozen pizza and doing dissertation research, so I get it when people have personal reasons for finding Christmas hard and therefore feel bitter about it seemingly arriving earlier every year. However, to those people I ask – why are you stressing yourself out about it? Just because you might not be able to have the day exactly how you want it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it in your own way. How many people dream of getting married at the Plaza in a Vera Wang dress but still have a magical day in a hotel marquee wearing a high street dress and suit? Just because you might be without certain people or your life might not be exactly where you want it doesn’t mean you can’t veg out in front of Home Alone having some ‘you’ time with a sharing box of cheese and crackers.

December is the reward for getting through the arduous task of life for another 11 months, so stop being so bloody miserable and find a way to enjoy it. I’ve been on both sides of the Christmas debate, and the lesson I learned was that life is far too short and we work way too hard not to treat ourselves somehow, and who doesn’t love the feeling of being snuggled up in your PJs in front of a favourite childhood festive film with a box of chocolates, even if you are on your own. Me personally? I prefer it that way anyway!