Christmas in October: Matt Haig’s Creature Workshop

By Lizzie Arnold 

Back in the church for the second day in a row, and although it’s a little chilly, the sunlight coming through the stained glass windows warms the room. 

Author Matt Haig begins by letting us know that even though it’s October, he wants to create a ‘Christmassy feel,’ much to the children’s delight. He asks if anybody can work out how many days there are until the day itself, and we discover that there are only 80 days left. Gasps of surprise and excitement fill the room.  

He lets the children know that they’re going to be doing a bit of work later on, but ‘fun work:’ they’re going to create their very own ‘creatures.’ Matt gives an example of his own, reading some passages from his book The Girl Who Saved Christmas in which the protagonist Amelia has a run-in with a ‘truth pixie’ – a creature that, no matter how naughty, must tell the truth – to his enthralled audience, who are giggling indulgently at the witty, inventive writing. 

Matt asks the group, ‘How many of you write your own stories for fun?’ Over half of the room have their hands high in the air and Matt is delighted. One boy even writes comic strips, earning some ‘ooh’s’ from his peers. 

Somebody asks Matt what inspired him to write his Christmas-centric children’s stories. He points to the corner where his partner, two children and utterly adorable dog Betsy are situated. ‘My son over there.’ He tells of how when he was much younger his son once asked him what Father Christmas was like as a boy, and how this inspired him to come up with the answer in a children’s novel. 

After further enchanting his audience with some beautiful extracts from his forthcoming children’s book, Father Christmas and Me, he asks us if we can recall all the names of Father Christmas’ reindeer, letting them know, ‘Blitzen is my favourite!’ Together the children manage to remember them all, and Matt is royally impressed. 

He asks for a volunteer to help hand out the character creation sheets that he has prepared, and asks if anybody has a cool name for their creature. ‘Darnold’ and ‘Tessa the Evil Fairy’ are in the running. He gives the kids five minutes to fill in their sheets and then asks who wants to read theirs out. 

Jack’s creature, ‘Snowball’, makes a purring noise, and he would like to meet him because he is very cuddly. Annabel’s ‘The Creepy Unicorn’ lives in the Underworld, his favourite word is ‘darkness’ and he has telekinesis. Ben’s questionably-named ‘The Creepy Clown’ is 21 (as am I, which makes me feel great about myself), has a sharp knife and ‘always kills children.’ Ben would not like to meet him.  

Rounding up the session, Matt leaves us with this last piece of solid writing advice: ‘A good story always has good characters, and creatures always make good characters.’ Smiling, he adds: ‘I hope that you all have a magical, brilliant Christmas,’ asking who already knows what they want to get for their present. The entire room puts their hands up.