Nothing says visiting relatives at Christmas quite like wheel-spinning out of a cul-de-sac at the crack of dawn heading for home. Most writers hate Christmas, as their alluringly private work finds itself exposed and appears to look more like sitting around doing nothing at a time when you should be acting busy, or at least wrapping presents. It’s hard to slope off to the local cafe when it’s shut.

It’s also hard to know the worst thing about going away at Christmas, at least it is until someone books an 9am ice skating slot. I mean who wants to go ice skating at 9am. What’s an ice rink even doing open at 9am? Admittedly it defines first world problem and the staff are having an even worse time, but still, this is volunteered fun. And everyone knows how hard fun is to spell before lunchtime, particularly when it involves clutching to advertising hoardings to stay upright. This is the sort of entertainment I left behind at university, although that involved far thinner ice.

Now, did anyone get Amazon’s Alexa for a present? Even if you didn’t, you’ll know who she is. She’s a personal assistant, who promises the world, without moving, like a fortune teller. In dulcet tones she claims to not understand perfectly reasonably requests, while arranging unrequested Amazon deliveries with liberal use of your bank details. Humorous interactions throughout Christmas are gong to look less funny when Elton John’s entire back catalogue and sixteen spare chairs arrive in January. She’s basically a parent that when is asked to turn your music down, actually does.

It’s all gadgets these days, making one feel like having been thrown forward in time without paying attention to what year was entered into the machine. One young relative spent the day with a virtual reality plastic box over his head. At least it means he couldn’t see enough plastic toys and wrapping destined for landfill to speed up planet Earth’s demise by a decade.

Christmas obliterates the week and the hardest thing is not knowing what day it is. You can ask Alexa, but she’s too busy negotiating musical requests that barely give a song longer than its opening 4 bars, before someone yells for Chris Rea again. When asked ‘Who’s round is it?’ she claims to not understand, so in some ways she’s more human than is comfortable. It might be funny to ask her bra size, but she’s likely to delay answering this until someone rejoins you in the room.

Not only is finding the time to write a struggle, but you’re surrounded by so many cliches that it’s hard not to think in them. Of course Christmas is all about the children, even the one who got a new recorder without any previous knowledge in how to play it. Strangled notes of Three Blind Mice played with the musical prowess of a whistle stuck in a vacuum cleaner prevented any adult from recovering the 5:00am Christmas dawn start, although probably saved the elderly relative from dying on the sofa.

Staying with people means you need to be sociable (not a leading characteristic of writing, which mainly involves swearing at yourself for poor plot turns). And you don’t know where anything is. Even the port. All you want to do is take your bloated cusk to the gym, although your gym is a 100 miles away, which is probably for the best, as they would be invariable refuse entry to anyone smelling that strongly of stilton and surplus crackers., while calling everyone within earshot Alexa in the hope they’ll do what demanded.

The WHSmith Fresh Talent novel, The Life Assistance Agency is available now and can be purchased with book tokens, hard cash and by asking Alexa to order it.

available here –  

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –