‘Tis The Season: Authors Talk Holidays 2016 with Hayley Chewins

‘Tis The Season: Authors Talk Holidays is a special seasonal feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which some of my favourite authors help me to celebrate the spirit of the season and spread a little holiday cheer. So, pour yourself a cup of hot chocolate and snuggle in by the fireside as they answer the question: “What does the holiday season mean to you?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!

About Hayley Chewins

Hayley Chewins grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, in a house so full of books that she learnt to read by accident. The second eldest of four daughters, she sang incessantly as a child. So incessantly, in fact, that she was sent to lessons twice a week in the interests of household peace. Hayley studied classical voice for a year before switching to a degree in English Literature and Italian. Since then, she’s collected an odd array of qualifications — including an LLB from the same law school that Nelson Mandela attended. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a house full of art and music and colour, with her husband, a small poodle, and a husky who moonlights as an escape artist. She believes in two things above all else: the magic of love, and the heroism of sisters. Her debut novel, The Turnaway Girls, will release from Candlewick in September 2018.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookPinterestGoodreads

A Place Called December

December is not a time of year. It’s not a collection of thirty-one days. December is a place. It takes thirteen hours to get there. 

The day before my husband and I leave, we pack bags of food and bottled water. Clothes and toiletries; guitars and books. All the essentials.

We make Italian sandwiches for the road, stuffed with so much mozzarella that we have to wrap them in foil to keep them from falling apart. We pour rich coffee into flasks. And then we sleep. 

Before dawn — long, long before dawn — we rise and stoop our tired limbs into the car. I choose the first song of the drive (Eddie Vedder’s “Setting Forth”) and pour a mug of coffee.

The streets are dark and quiet. The sky is clear as a sparrow’s eye. The highway is all ours.

Between where we live and where December dwells, there lies a litany of landscapes. Hills worn flat by violent rains, carved into stubborn anvils. Dry fields scattered with dirty sheep, bristle-furred horses and small, crimped trees. Long, flat stretches of narrow tar, red grass in blurs at our elbows.

Then the road we’re on starts to curve, slips between mountains like a graceful snake. Giants of stone lift their heads, first orange crags with craters for eyes and then mossy hulks, mist sweeping their ankles like organza skirts. Stone marries sky. We are the only witnesses.

I open a window and breathe in deep.

Mist means we’re getting closer.

We turn off the tarred road onto a lane of terracotta earth, dust in plumes around us like genies loosed from lamps. We follow this single, twisting path, lumbering up hills and tumbling into valleys. We turn, turn, turn again. It’s like we’re tunnelling into another dimension. A version of the world in which months are places, and places months.

December’s found behind a gate — the kind you have to open by hand. No magic of electricity here. I hop out of the car to drag it wide, but the wind snatches it from me. All I can smell is salt, hot sand.

We’re here, we’re here, we’re here. 

We roll down the hill, the car rocking as it kneads its tyres over ruts and rises, until we get to a small, white house. Green shutters. Thatch roof.

We walk through empty rooms, running our hands along the walls, breathing in time with tides. We stand on the sun-worn balcony and it’s like we’re standing on the spines of cresting waves. There’s so much blue that we swallow it. It swallows us. When the sun starts to sink, we make gin and tonics and watch the clouds imitate Monet. The wind rushes off the surface of the Atlantic, brushing our skin into prickles.

Here’s the thing. My family hasn’t celebrated Christmas in sixteen years. For us, this white house on a hill is the holiday, is December — the time and the place.

December is spending days on the beach, walking the shore’s sharp border of rocks. It’s running into the sea screaming, because it takes courage to do that here — to rush at dark, relentless waves.

It’s eating absolutely everything — pizza dotted with mushrooms and sage and baked over coals in a clay oven; mussels steamed with seawater; lemon-drenched prawns grilled on the braai; vanilla ice cream doused with whiskey.

It’s sitting under a glittering net of stars, the Milky Way a fine silk of shimmer. It’s leaving bruised nectarines for the monkeys before we go to bed.

It’s watching out for scorpions. It’s catching insects that look built for war, with striped shells and wings long as fingers, buzzing like electric razors against your palms.

It’s falling asleep to the sea’s singing and waking to the warning cries of birds who’ve spotted a puff adder in the woodpile.

It’s holding your breath when there’s a hare snatched in headlights, bigger than a dog and quicker than a cat, its rough fur tousled, its ears straight as broomsticks.

It’s reading the water for good omens: a whale’s fin raised like a flag above waves; oystercatchers dancing in foam.

And it’s leaving.

Because all Decembers, even the ones that are places, come to an end.

When it’s time to go, I almost always cry. We pack our bags slowly. We dust our feet. My husband squeezes my hand. “We’ll be back before you know it,” he says. I know he’s right.

Because December is a place. It’s only eleven months and thirteen hours away.

And we’ll return.

We always return.  

Title The Turnaway Girls
Author Hayley Chewins
Pages N/A
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Magical Realism
To Be Published 2018 by Candlewick
Find It On Goodreads

On the isolated, wind-whipped island of Blightsend, turnaway girls are trained to change music into gold for the city’s musicians — but they’re not allowed to make any music themselves. In fact, the last woman to attempt singing — the notorious Sea-Singer — was thrown off the cliffs for her efforts. 

Twelve-year-old Delphernia Undersea has lived in the turnway girls’ cloister all her life. But that doesn’t change the fact that she wants to sing. Night after night, she secretly crawls inside a hollow tree to hum songs in the dark — a distraction which results in her not being able to make any gold at all.

Unsurprisingly, then, Delphernia is not chosen by one of the Masters—gifted boy-musicians who dress in bells — on the day she’s supposed to enter the city of Blightsend. That is, until Dorin, a mysterious boy who speaks in poems, bangs on the cloister’s door.

And so Delphernia walks free.

But Dorin has secrets of his own, and Delphernia soon finds herself having to choose between her safety and her voice.

Because — in Blightsend, anyway — a girl can’t possibly have both.

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