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The top 10 winters in literature


Ghost stories by the fireside and perilous journeys in the snow: from Emily Dickinson to Raymond Briggs, great writing that gets to the heart of the coldest season

Winter is the night-time of the seasons: the darkness grows, the cold surrounds us and the world we once knew sinks from sight. But these privations also present the opportunity to come together and share what we have, including stories: people who otherwise have little time for reading find that they are compelled to light the fire, hunker down on the armchair and open a book.

Winter literature has its own niches and sub-genres – children’s books, festive chick-lit, Carol Ann Duffy’s individually published poems. My own favourite is the Christmas ghost story, something which came about in the Victorian era but has been periodically revived. For me this is more than mere personal affection, and I work closely with a number of others – writers Jenn Ashworth, Alison Moore, Emma Jane Unsworth and Tom Fletcher and artist Beth Ward – to publish a bespoke anthology of “Curious Tales” each year (this year’s volume is Poor Souls’ Light: Seven Curious Tales). But ghost stories are only one of the ways in which the written word engages with the season. Taken as a whole, the myriad descriptions and depictions of winters past serve as an extended narrative, charting a course of the human imagination.

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