I'll Be Home for Christmas, page 1
A Note from the Publisher
Home and Away – Benjamin Zephaniah
Ghosts of Christmas Past – Non Pratt
If Only in My Dreams – Marcus Sedgwick
Family You Choose – Cat Clarke
The Associates – Kevin Brooks
The Afterschool Club – Holly Bourne
Homo for Christmas – Juno Dawson
Amir and George – Sita Brahmachari
The Letter – Tracy Darnton
Claws – Tom Becker
Christmas, Take Two – Katy Cannon
When Daddy Comes Home – Melvin Burgess
The Bluebird – Julie Mayhew
Routes and Wings – Lisa Williamson
About the Authors
About the Illustrator
Discover more great YA from Stripes
Home means something different for everyone. Many of us are fortunate enough to count our home as a place of stability, love and safety; others are not so lucky. Fiction can be our first exploration of hardships that are very much part of the real world. By using fiction both as a means of raising money for Crisis and increasing awareness of the struggles faced by those who experience homelessness, this collection bridges the gap between the real and the imagined.
As part of the creation of this book, Lisa Williamson has generously donated her time to Crisis, giving a creative-writing workshop to members at the Crisis Skylight Centre in London. In turn, some of the Crisis members shared their stories with her. This exchange of ideas and experiences has in part formed the inspiration for Lisa’s story, ‘Routes and Wings’.
Stories of hardship and resilience are also the basis of Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem, ‘Home and Away’, and ‘The Letter’ from our competition winner, Tracy Darnton – a story that is powerful in its simplicity. ‘Amir and George’, a moving story from Sita Brahmachari, focuses on the experience of losing your home and coming to terms with a new one as a refugee, a situation that is tragically common in our world today.
Campaigns like Crisis at Christmas provide moments of hope in the face of adversity and this anthology is not without Christmas spirit. There are stories filled with the warmth of the festive season, from Katy Cannon’s ‘Christmas, Take Two’ to Non Pratt’s ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ and Juno Dawson’s ‘Homo for Christmas’. In not one of these stories is happiness easily found, yet it is recognized as all the more precious when it arrives.
Other stories in the collection are far from cosy. Melvin Burgess’s ‘When Daddy Comes Home’ casts a sceptical look at politicians and truthfulness and Marcus Sedgwick’s ‘If Only in My Dreams’ presents us with the uncertain future of our planet. These are stories that will stay with you well beyond their final lines, as is Tom Becker’s chilling vision of the demons unleashed by grief in ‘Claws’.
Yet even in the most difficult of circumstances and the most imperfect of homes, there are moments of beauty to be found. Julie Mayhew’s ‘The Bluebird’ sees a girl yearning for escape, Kevin Brooks’s ‘The Associates’ reveals tenderness in friendship and Holly Bourne’s ‘The Afterschool Club’ shows us that there is more to most people than there first appears.
In Cat Clarke’s story, ‘Family You Choose’, a group of self-confessed ‘waifs and strays’ are family for one another despite their differences, with heart-warming results. Here we present to you a family of sorts; a collection of wholly individual, beautifully written and thought-provoking stories, each one a member of the rich and varied family of UKYA writing. How fortunate we are.
Ruth Bennett, Commissioning Editor
Stripes Publishing – June 2016
A Note from the Publisher
In September this year, Stripes will celebrate its tenth birthday. We wanted to mark this important milestone in a meaningful and imaginative way. In publishing I’ll Be Home for Christmas our aim is not only to provide crucial financial support to Crisis, but also to raise awareness of the charity’s work among young adult readers, particularly at this time of year. Most of us take it for granted that we will share Christmas with family and friends, but for an alarmingly high number of young adults this isn’t the case.
Stripes is primarily known for its illustrated fiction, so this has been an amazing opportunity for us to reach out to the YA community in the UK. We have got involved in some of the fantastic initiatives celebrating YA fiction, including the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) and The Bookseller YA Book Prize. We also ran a competition to find a new voice in YA and are delighted to welcome Tracy Darnton to the anthology.
I am hugely grateful to all the exceptionally talented authors for their involvement in, and their commitment to, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and for their wonderful contributions – they have produced such a diverse and inspiring range of stories and poetry and each one has offered a unique response to the theme of home. We’ve eagerly awaited the arrival of each piece; some have made us laugh, some have made us cry – all have made us think…
And a massive thank you to William Grill for his stunning cover – it superbly captures the essence of the book and is the most delightful wrapping paper this Christmas anthology could have.
This has been a truly rewarding and exciting experience for all of us at Stripes – and a fantastic way to celebrate ten years of publishing. We go forwards into our next decade with renewed dedication and energy.
Jane Harris, Publisher
Stripes Publishing – June 2016
Home and Away
I’d like to be home for Christmas.
That’s where the rhythm wise hip-hop is,
That’s where the rock and the jazz is,
The place where I dream happy
Where I dance to sweet homemade reggae.
I’d like to be home for Christmas.
The world can be viewed from the back room,
It lights up in the soul full moon,
From there it’s my stars that I see
There dwells the real history of me.
I’d like to be where my heart is.
Childhood naughtiness I can’t defend,
Kids’ arguments that never end,
We shout and fight so endlessly,
Apparently that’s family.
I’d like to be where my toys are.
To hear the sounds of me back then,
To be ambitious and hope again,
To stay if I choose not to leave,
To hunker down, to chill, to breathe.
I left home one year – around Christmas.
I went off to do some big man things,
Me and mine we lived like kings,
My pad was smart, and safe, and lush,
Yes, we were ghetto fabulous.
But it all fell apart – around Christmas.
My safety net just up and went,
No insurance, no friends, no rent,
My descent was hard, painful and short,
And me – too macho to seek support.
I lost my way – around Christmas.
I suffered alone in many a crowd,
I begged where begging was not allowed,
I cried and prayed, but no one heard,
No god or statesman said a word.
I could not celebrate last Christmas.
The angry cold took hold of me,
The vermin would not leave me be,
And richer folk blamed me for crimes,
Inside my pride died many times.
So I’d like to be home for Christmas.
But now I am a refugee,
My family has disowned me,
Depression came and made me low,
I found me with no place to go.
We can’t all be happy at Christmas.
Can I get some peace of mind?
Turn your body, shift your eye,
The great and good just pass me by.
What makes a home at Christmas?
Is it he who offers me a smile?
Or she that stops to talk a while?
Some spare cash in an envelope?
Or they that stop and offer hope?
Crisis will be home for Christmas.
Compassion came and rescued me,
Advice with heart and empathy,
Touched me with a helping hand,
Now I have a better Christmas planned.
Ghosts of Christmas Past
I walked past our house today. It’s the first time I’ve seen it without a sign outside – FOR SALE – UNDER OFFER – SOLD. Somehow seeing it without any sign at all is worse, like the house is waiting for me to walk up the drive and in through the front door.
But I’m walking through a different door now. Late.
“Where’ve you been?” Nan says when I walk through to the kitchen, where she and Theo are.
She tuts. “You’ve obviously been somewhere, Samuel, or you’d have ceased to exist.”
Reckon she’d prefer that – always on about my ‘enormous’ shoes cluttering up the porch, how much food I eat, why there are so many of my clothes in the wash. Doesn’t help having ten-year-old Theo around being small and unsweaty and not having to watch his blood sugar because he’s not the one with diabetes.
I peer over his shoulder at his homework and point to one of the answers.
“That’s wrong,” I say, because I know how much he hates it.
“No, it’s not!” But he huddles over his workbook to hide the fact he’s correcting it.
“Leave your brother alone.” Nan hands me a plate of browned apple slices arranged in a wheel around a single oatcake that she’s taken from the fridge. I guess it’s good that she’s watching out for me, but it’s hard to feel grateful when she grumbles about what a faff it is and tells me off for helping my brother with his homework.
I take my sad little snack up to the bedroom because it’s the only time I get the space to myself. Not that it feels that way with Theo’s inside-out jeans on the floor, socks still bunched in the leg holes, and his stuff charging in every socket. I can’t even shut the door because of his rucksack hanging on the handle.
Getting my phone out, I catch up with Bazza about the party plans for Friday while googling tips on how to talk to girls. I’m none the wiser when there’s a knock on the door and Mum pokes her head in. I hadn’t even heard her come back.
“How come you’re skulking up here?” She sits on Theo’s bed.
“Doing Nan a favour by staying out of the way.”
“Stop being daft,” Mum says.
“I’m not! She’s always tutting about me leaving stuff in the wrong place, keeps wanting to know where I am or what I’m doing. Like she thinks I’m out dealing drugs or doing knife crime unless I’m sat next to her on the sofa watching Countdown and doing a jigsaw.”
“I don’t even know where to begin with that!” Mum’s expression wavers between annoyed and amused. “It’s perfectly reasonable for her to want to know where you are – and what’s all this nonsense about drugs and knives? And, since we’re talking clichés, my mother has never watched Countdown or shown any interest in jigsaws.”
“Maybe not, but she doesn’t have to tell me off every time I leave the bread on the side.”
“Stop leaving it on the side, then!”
“Yeah, but, what kind of psychopath keeps bread in the fridge?”
“The kind of psychopath who puts up with having an ungrateful scrote like you around.” Mum stands up as if to go, reaching out too fast for me to escape as she ruffles my hair. “Come down and lay the table for tea, scrote.”
On Friday I walk with Bazza back to his, my bag loaded with clothes to see me through tonight and on to lunch with my dad and Theo tomorrow. When we pass my old house I notice there’s still no wreath on the knocker, no fairy lights wrapped round the columns by the door or looped in the holly bush. No sign that anyone is looking forward to Christmas the way we all used to.
Makes me think they don’t deserve it.
It’s something I can’t get out of my head, a rut my mood gets stuck in. Hours later, even with the party up and running, all I do is drift round not quite clicking with anyone. In the lounge, I sip my watered-down orange juice and watch some girls perform an impromptu karaoke to ‘All I Want for Christmas’.
“Best Christmas tune ever. Discuss.”
There’s a girl next to me who wasn’t there a minute ago. She’s wearing a spangly top, her hair braided in a loose side plait, a careful cat-flick lining her eyes.
“I – er…” I manage.
“I know ‘Fairytale of New York’ is cooler, but I always think Christmas is for cheese.” She’s got a Scottish accent and although I’ve seen her around school, she only started after half-term and I don’t know her name.
“Cheese works for me,” I say, then there’s a long pause before I add, “I’m Sam. Wright.” Because I don’t want her to confuse me with Sam Bastian who is gay. I’ve enough obstacles to overcome without girls thinking I prefer guys.
“Amy Sparrow,” she says.
Neither of us know what to say next and I go with a desperate, “So – er – how are you liking St David’s?”
“It’ll do. For a school.” Amy does that thing where you nod along with your words as if that makes them last longer.
“A few…” She scans the room as if looking for examples. “Thought they’d be here, actually, but…”
More silence – lots of it.
“OK, so,” Amy says a little too brightly, “it was nice to meet you, but I’ve got to…” She gestures out of the door and before I have a chance to respond, she’s gone.
All that googling and I still don’t know how to talk to girls.
I decide to take a break and go out front, appreciating the way the door clunks shut to mute the party behind. Cold air laps at my skin and even though the step is bum-numblingly cold, the dull ache of it is weirdly comforting as I sit and stare out into the night.
The houses here are older and smaller, closer together and harder to tell apart than where I used to live. It doesn’t feel great to admit I pitied Bazza for living in one – doesn’t feel any better admitting I envy him for it now, living close to school with both his parents and a bedroom all to himself.
There’s a swoosh behind me and someone nearly trips over me on their way out of the house. I leap up as they right themselves by grabbing at a festive hanging basket and I recognize Amy Sparrow’s scruffy plait and sharply lined eyes, above a scarf so chunky it covers half her face.
“Oh, it’s you,” she says. “Hello.”
“And also goodbye.”
“No, I’ve yet to grasp the English language and don’t know what I’m saying.” She sounds more Scottish than ever. “Yes, I’m leaving. Nice meeting you, Sam Wright.”
Regret nibbles at my insides. Even though our first contact bombed, I was hoping there’d be a second…
“Would you like me to walk you home or something?” I blurt out.
Amy turns back and, although I can’t see her mouth, I know she’s smiling. “You don’t even know where I live.”
“I don’t have to know the way to keep you company.”
As comebacks go, it isn’t bad (for me) and she laughs. “I’ll wait while you get your coat.”
“Was it the flag painted on my forehead that gave it away?”
“Well, you hide your accent so well…” I try out her brand of sarcasm and she seems to like it.
“You should hear my sister – she’s at university in Dundee and jokes about how English I’m becoming.”
“How is it, living here?”
“Weird.” Amy kicks at a stick on the path. “It’s not the place so much…”
“…As the people?” I guess and she grins.
“Just one – Greg.”
“Boyfriend?” I feel a right tit the second I say it and
Amy gives me a funny look.
“Not mine – Mum’s.”
Does that mean Amy does have a boyfriend? I hope not.
Amy keeps kicking the stick until it snaps, then she sighs. “I’m not being fair. Greg’s all right – it’s just weird living with someone I’m not used to.”
“Does he keep bread in the fridge?”
And then I have to explain it, don’t I? Only somehow it doesn’t end up being about Nan and the bread. It becomes Mum and Dad getting a divorce – them selling up and me and Theo and Mum living with Nan because they said it was better for school even though Nan’s house is a twenty-minute drive across town and Dad’s flat is a ten-minute walk from the school gates.
But the flat Dad chose only has one bedroom. The silence that follows says more than my words.
Amy turns to cut across the same park Bazza and I did earlier. “I know what’s happening is hard,” she says – no trace of sarcasm in her voice, “but trust me: two happy halves are better than one miserable whole.”
Her gentle words soothe the raw edges where resentment’s been sawing away at me. It’s the first time anyone’s talked to me about this without getting awkward and changing the subject or trying to cheer me up – or doing so much of the talking that I never get to say anything.
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