Since I started this blog in March 2020, I've written about everyday magic - the little jolts and surprises from the universe that lead us in a new and better direction, or give us the answer to a question we didn't even know we were asking.
I had a lovely Christmassy example recently. I'd decided to buy a bike for my 3 year old grandson - one of those balancer ones that gets them used to cycling motion and prepared for pedal power. I'd seen one in a shop on a long-past shopping trip, but hadn't picked it up at the time.
(Hey, if this year has underlined one concept, surely it's the notion of not waiting until a better day to do what you could now?! Doh!).
So the More Fool that is Me set off to a different shopping centre to find a similar bike. Three different shops, many different rummages through bike stands ... and nada. Nary a one. Turns out that some of the container ships who can't enter our waters due to Covid are stacked high with pedal-less bikes for toddlers.
There was nothing else for it. I'd have to go to the original shop in a far-off centre and hope the lone balance bike I'd spotted there was still in the rack. I strongly suspected I had two hopes of that - Bob and the other. With a sigh, I shot past my usual turn-off towards home and carried on instead to the motorway on-ramp to take me to Distant No-Hope, wishing I could think of another store, closer to home, that might stock what I wanted.
I swung onto the motorway behind a jeepy-looking SUV, which I barely glanced at to begin with.
But then I looked again.
Strapped to the back were two of the exact type of bike I was looking for. Furthermore, the name of the store was emblazoned across the bike, just metres before my eyes. (Torpedo 7, if you're interested.) I'm only suprised now that it didn't have a flashing neon arrow and a man with a loud-hailer pointing out the next exit, which is where I swished off the motorway, bombed along to Torpedo 7 (see what I did there?) and bought the first bike I came across as I walked through the door.
A little everyday magic for you, then.
As I parked the present in the boot of my car, however, I realised what the true magic is. It's that I've spent this year in New Zealand.
It's not a perfect idyll, of course, and it has its own problems - but it's sure been the place to be in 2020. I recognised the miracle of being able to go out in my car, to not one but two shopping malls, with just my phone track-and-trace and a squirt of hand sanitiser to worry about. I realised how amazing it is that I can see my grandson at Christmas, and watch him open his presents and then play in the park with all the other bike-receivers until sundown. I understood that - well, that I can barely comprehend the difference between the Christmas Kiwis are going to have, and the Christmas the rest of my family and friends are going to have back in the UK and US and other places around the globe.
I've had survivor's guilt all year about how much easier it's been here than for the rest of the world. Not for the first time, I want to swoop everyone up in my virtual arms and transport them to the Antipodes. And actually, if there's something to consider doing next year (open borders and vaccines and all that depending), it's that the rest of the world should come to NZ in July 2021.
You see, there's a tradition here, especially for expat Brits, of celebrating 'Mid-Winter Christmas' in late June or July. It's cold(er). The nights are dark. Lights twinkle. Snow falls on mountains. There's skiing to be had, and an excuse for gluhwein. In our family, we do Chrismas twice a year, throw up a sparkly tree at the end of June, and it makes our hearts light.
Quite honestly, I can't think how to make people's hearts light this strange and angry Christmas other than to give two things: gifts to entertain and distract, and something to look forward to.
So here are some gifts: two songs from my YA book Fanmail that were the result of an amazing collaboration. I've had some fantastically magical collaborations this year - with Madison Fotti-Knowles, the professional ballerina who also happens to draw fantastic illustrations; with Katie Gannon, corporate designer who threw herself heart and soul into book design and author websites; Shahzad on Fiverr who took everything I didn't know about vector images and logos and turned it around with such kindness from Pakistan; Gel Mathel who's so calmly managed some of my social media while setting up her own food blog ... and of course, Emma Topping of Viv Loves Film and Joanna of the Joanna Devereux Literary Agency, who jumped with gusto and huge experience and skill into the multiverse of SWAGG and Jill Marshall Books, and are stirring up even more great collaborations worldwide.
My gratitude and awe for these people knows no bounds! But perhaps one of my favourite collaborations of all was a very special one - with my own brother, Leigh. You may not know it, but Leigh Marshall was a famous heartthrob in his day. He was in a band. The band went on TV! They made sold-out live appearances in our home town of Denton, Manchester. He's vastly talented and I've always thought that it's a great shame he wasn't invited to be part of Take That.
So when I decided I wanted to record the two sets of lyrics I'd written for my Fanmail character, Jason Devaney of boyband Double Vision (yes, I even stole the name of my brother's band for the book), I knew just who to turn to. And as with all of the above collaborations, the end result was even more perfect than I could ever have imagined. This is why we HAVE collaborations, people! Because other people know what they're doing and meld their magic into the mix!
Anyway, here are the two songs from Fanmail: I CRY and Show Me Tomorrow. No catch, no sign-up, just some fun MP3s for you to sing along to over Christmas. And if you can't get hold of them via dropbox, let me know and I'll find another way for you to listen to them.
As for something to look forward to? Well, 2021 is very close, for sure. But if you can't wait that long, something that I'm looking forward to is from my all-time favourite musician, Neil Finn of Crowded House. In an earlier blog, I mentioned that these Fangradio sessions on Mixlr radio were keeping me going during lockdown. Back in March, Neil was in LA, but he's since moved back to NZ and will be broadcasting from his home in Auckland. (Yes, of course I'm tempted to stalk his home location as it's so near mine and listen for Don't Dream It's Over renditions! But I won't, officer. I promise.)
I'll be listening, so see you in the chat! And around that same time, I'll announce the winner of ALL 16 SWAGG PAPERBACKS, so that's something else to look forward to. I'll find a way to deliver some other free stuff, too.
And I will look forward to this: connecting and collaborating with you all in the wonderful years to come. Maybe even in person, at a Mid-Winter Christmas party next July.
For now, Merry Christmas. May yours be magical in its own perfect way.