Guest Post: Christmas Carols and the King of Hearts by Mark Stibbe @markstibbe @malcolmdown @LoveBooksGroup

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King of Hearts tells the gripping story of Jake Graystone, a struggling teacher, husband, and father, who looks for easy money playing poker. When his wife Sally exposes his secret addiction on Christmas Eve, he walks out and heads north for Casino City, leaving his family for a dark world of gambling, prostitution and murder.
How will the cards fall for Jake in this brutal, urban wasteland? And, as the stakes get higher and higher, will this modern Desperado ever come to his senses?

King of Hearts is a winter, festive story to sit alongside It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. Raw yet redemptive, it is a Christmas tale you'll not be able to put down.

At the end of each chapter, you will want to twist, not fold.  

Guest Post:

CHRISTMAS CAROLS AND THE KING OF HEARTS

It’s that time of the year again already. Christmas adverts are infiltrating our screens and Christmas products are creeping into our stores. It won’t be long before many of us are singing “Away in a Manger” at school nativity plays, or “Once in Royal David’s City” at a carol service. 
Pretty soon, we’ll all be coming home for Christmas.

And Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol. For all of Dickens’ overtly Christian values – so obvious in the transformation, no, the conversion, of Ebenezer Scrooge – our increasingly secular culture still loves this story, still feels drawn to it.

And yes, you’re right, the Muppet film version is still the finest of all - Michael Caine’s portrayal of Scrooge surpassing even that of Sir Alastair Sim. It’s a story that continues to speak powerfully to our souls, even today. Its impact is universal, enduring, timeless, profound - even in a secular age.
And that’s been true for me too. Ever since I was taken as a boy by my parents to a cinema in Norwich as to see what was then the most celebrated movie version, I have been entranced by this supernatural, winter’s tale of one man’s discovery of the true meaning of Christmas in his heart.
So, you’ll probably not be surprised to learn that when I came to my own Christmas novel, King of Hearts, I pay homage to this classic in the life of my hero, Jake Graystone, over the course of his three fateful Christmases. 
You’ll find Christmas carols throughout my story, all offering a background commentary in one way or another to the moral descent of my protagonist in the foreground of the story.
You’ll find a character near the beginning of the novel whose surname is Marley (like the Marley of Dickens’ tale) – an old friend of Jake (my hero) – whose role at the start is critical in Jake’s growing addiction to Poker.

Most of all, you’ll discover, if you’re observant, that I have designed the whole story so that it’s in five chapters, just as Dickens’ is. He called his five chapters “staves”, a musical term to match the carolling theme in his title. My final chapter is called “The End of it All,” the same as his.
And that’s not all.

You’ll find other references and resonances – particularly in the three interventions in Jake’s life - from the Priest, the Daughter and the Trucker - mirroring the interventions of the three ghosts in A Christmas Carol.

At the same time, my story is very unlike Dickens’, so it’s important not to obliterate the differences. It’s a modern tale, set in an urban landscape, with underworld crime, prostitution, gambling, homelessness and other harsh, dark and gritty realities which I’m sure Dickens – who also wrote with a social conscience – would have highlighted through his storytelling if he was alive today.
It’s a story about one man’s powerlessness in the face of a growing and obsessive compulsion, his descent into chaos, his story of hitting bottom, his discovery of traces of a higher power - rumours of angels, indeed - in the thick, gloopy darkness of his life at ground zero.

As the Christmas songs start to play and as the Christmas pulp fiction begins to appear on our supermarket shelves, King of Hearts owes something to A Christmas Carol, both in its structure and ethos, ending as it does (like another classic, It’s a Wonderful Life) in the singing of Christmas songs.
I hope by the end of it all you will be carolling too!


About Mark Stibbe


Mark Stibbe, “An acclaimed Christian author,” New York Times.

Mark started writing when he was very young, publishing his first book - an anthology of poetry entitled The Drawing out of Days - when he was just 17. Since then, he has been a prolific author and professional writer, with over 50 books published, and countless articles in broadsheet newspapers, journals and magazines. One of his most successful recent books has been Home at Last, offering a faith-based journey of recovery for those who were deeply affected by the trauma of being sent away to boarding school. He has also ghost written over thirty books, of many different genres.

In 2013, Mark migrated from writing nonfiction to fiction and this resulted in the co-authored historical spy thriller The Fate of Kings and now his debut, single-authored novel, King of Hearts, a raw but redemptive Christmas tale in the tradition of A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life. In early 2020, as the official storyteller for the award-winning Arokah Puzzle Game, he and Steve Brazier, the inventor of the puzzle, will publish the first in a series of Sci Fi Fantasy novels based around Arokah and starring Khali, an autistic, mixed-race hero. These are aimed at the 9-13 age group.

Mark runs BookLab with his wife Cherith, a company dedicated to equipping aspiring writers to become great authors. He is a frequent and much in-demand speaker at workshops for writers and conferences in which the subjects of his books are featured. He has often been interviewed on BBC (Radio and TV), Channel 4 and other media, and writes articles for The Times. Having been brought up by an adoptive father who dined fortnightly with CS Lewis, his whole life has been devoted to books and to writing. He lives in Kent with his wife Cherith and their Black Labrador, Bella.
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