The Christmas Surprise

By: Jenny Colgan


Okay, so normally I think, oh, introductions, these things are FULL of spoilers, and generally skip them.

But whether you are a complete newbie to the world of Rosie Hopkins, or read the last one a year ago, I would say, honestly, read this bit. I won’t spoil a thing, and it might well be really useful.

Now, I love a series of books as much as the next person. I grew up slavishly devoted to Malory Towers, the Chalet School, the Dark is Rising and the Chronicles of Narnia, and as an adult I am equally enamoured of Shopaholic, Game of Thrones, Rebus and so on.

BUT. There is a problem writing books in a series. First of all, can people come straight in without having read the earlier ones? (For example, you’re always going to have a good time with In the Fifth at Malory Towers, whereas I’d really really recommend you start with the very first of the Gormenghast trilogy, and even after that concentrate quite hard.)

And secondly, how do you quickly catch up when you have read the others? (Actually, Jen, believe it or not we do actually have other things to do in our lives apart from memorise the names and whereabouts of every single character in your novels. Seriously? You do? ☺)

So, aha! Here is something I really hope will help: my as-yet-unpatented Colgan OmniSequeliser. Glance down the bold headings, and all your questions will be, hopefully, anticipated and answered, whether you’re a total newbie or you’ve read one or both of the previous novels (if you’re reading all three over a big weekend splurge, I grant you permission to skip this bit).

SO. There is a summary of important bits, a full character list, a family tree, a map, and everything else I can think of so that I don’t spoil your enjoyment of the book by having a character walk by and casually dump tons of exposition on you like a dog having a spew. You know the kind of thing I mean: ‘Hi, Stephen, how are you?’ ‘Well I’m fine, thanks, after my terrible flashbacks to my landmine accident in Africa, triggered by that lorry crash at the school that gravely injured nine-year-old Edison, who’s also making a good recovery, thank you so much. How are you?’ I’m going to try very hard not to do that.

Then I am off to market the Colgan OmniSequeliser to Dragons’ Den. Except that my favourite was sexy stern American Doug with the glasses, and he doesn’t do it any more. I don’t like Duncan, he’s creepy.

Okay, time to put on my deep, dooming voice: PREVIOUSLY, in the world of ROSIE HOPKINS …

Who are Rosie and Stephen?

Rosie Hopkins was an auxiliary nurse working in London and living with her boyfriend Gerard when she had to move to a tiny village in Derbyshire to look after her ageing great-aunt Lilian.

She was dreading it to begin with and thought she’d stay for five minutes, but she fell in love with the little town – and with Stephen, the son of the local posh family. He was shut up in the desolate Peak House, nursing a wound he’d received when he’d been working as a teacher in Africa for Médecins Sans Frontières (his father had wanted him to join the army, but he wouldn’t). He’d been blown up by a landmine that killed the two small boys he was with. The guilt had haunted him ever since. Meeting Rosie helped to lift him out of this, but it is still, sometimes, a struggle.

His mother, Lady Lipton, has never quite forgiven him for following his vocation into teaching. His father died whilst Stephen was in hospital overseas; she knows she shouldn’t blame Stephen for this, but she does, a little.

Rosie, on the other hand, has flourished in Lipton. She has revitalised the sweetshop and turned it into a magnet for town gossip and treats, and met many good and true friends in the little community (she has also made one or two enemies, including Roy Blaine, the evil town dentist). She still cannot get used to country ways, but she loves Stephen and Lilian so much, she reckons this probably won’t matter.

Rosie and Stephen got engaged at Christmas – yay!

What’s Lilian’s story?

Lilian was born in the little cottage in Lipton that Rosie now lives in, and spent all her life there until very recently, when she moved to a really nice and very expensive old people’s home.

When she was a teenager in the war, she fell madly in love with a local boy, Henry Carr. Their short but serious romance was blighted when they found out he’d accidentally got another girl – Ida Delia, Lilian’s erstwhile best friend – pregnant before he and Lilian got together. Being Henry, he did the right thing and married Ida Delia, a marriage that was not happy, before he was lost in the war. Lilian mourned him all her life. That marriage produced a daughter, Dorothy Isitt, who still lives in the village.

Amazingly, last year, Henry was found: he had suffered head injuries and amnesia, and had started a new life on the other side of the dales. He and Lilian were reunited at the very end of his life, which Lilian mostly thinks is better than nothing.

Who lives where?

Lady Lipton lives in the huge crumbling Lipton Hall, which costs a fortune and is falling down. Stephen used to live in a tied house, Peak House, which belongs to his mother’s estate and is a formidable and draughty place on top of the downs. Now, however, he has moved in with Rosie. Rosie lives in Lilian’s tiny but cosy cottage, right next door to the sweetshop, and Lilian has moved to the old folk’s home.