The Big Gay Fiction Fest welcomes Garrett Leigh to talk about her holiday romance Christmas Mountain, which brings an HEA to two characters readers may recognize from her Darkest Skies series. Be advised, our chat might make you hungry as we talk about mince pies and puddings!

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Show Notes

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Jeff: Hello, rainbow romance readers. We’re about to get an English perspective on the holiday. One of two that we’ve got in the Big Gay Fiction Fest. But before we talk to Garrett Leigh, this is the appropriate moment to talk about holiday foods and what some of our favorites are.

So, Will, what is on your holiday food list that you want during the season?

Will: Well, here’s the thing about holiday food. I don’t have strong emotional attachments to food items, meaning that I have to specifically eat them at a specific time of year. If I want to eat something, I’ll go get it or I’ll make it. Which probably isn’t the festive answer you’re looking for.

Jeff: Well, I’m kind of right there with you in a lot of ways. Although there are certain things that are easier to get, whether it’s the item itself or the ingredients to make it, in the holiday season.

Will: For sure.

Jeff: Like over the past few years, we’ve become addicted to mince pies that you can really only acquire them if you’re going to do store-bought because you know, it’s a lot of work to make a mince pie. You can really only find them starting right after Halloween and then only going through a very specific timeframe through the end of the year. We tend to stock up where we can so we can like bleed them into the new year.

And that’s true for gingerbread also. Like, I love gingerbread, gingerbread cookies, you can make a gingerbread cake. It’s easier to acquire all that stuff in the season, which is kind of where some of the food comes from.

I will say that while you can have stuffing at any time of year. That’s really what I want on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving. I don’t care about the rest of the meal, give me some stuffing and I am happy. Which I think Will has learned about me over the years.

Will: Jeff has emotional attachments to bread items.

Jeff: I do. Bread items in general. That it’s very true. But the stuffing thing comes though, because I remember… it’s one of the few Thanksgiving memories I have is that the stuffing would get made in the kitchen sink because we’d make so much of it.

It was like putting the foil down in the sink, putting the bread crumbs in, stirring it all up because that became the big bowl and then some of it would get stuffed in the Turkey. And then some of it would get put into like a casserole dish. And to this day I need stuffing on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. And if you want to give it to me other times of the year, I’m good with that too. But, definitely on those days.

Now we bring up food here because we’re going to get into talking food with Garrett Leigh. We talk about mince pies and we talk about steam puddings. So be ready to maybe get a little hungry during this session.

Garrett’s holiday book is “Christmas Mountain,” which connects to her “Darkest Skies” series. I found it quite interesting how she took characters from a darker, grittier series about reformed gangsters and addicts who are working to get their lives back on track, and created a Christmas romance with some of the side characters from that series.

In this case, “Christmas Mountain” follows two guys who worked at the prison that’s featured in “Darkest Skies” and sends them on their way to their HEA.

Featured Author: Garrett Leigh

, welcome. We are so glad you’re joining us for the Big Gay Fiction Fest. Our first holiday edition.

Garrett: Oh wow. Thank you for having me. It’s an honor and a privilege as always.

Jeff: You’ve got a brand new holiday book out called “Christmas Mountain.” Tell us a little bit about this story.

Garrett: Well, I spent the last year and a half writing a series called the “Darkest Skies” series. That was quite gritty, and quite angsty and you know quite hard work. Then the third book “Salvation”, there’s a character called Dante and he’s released from prison at the beginning of the book.

And at the beginning of the book, you see his personal officer in the prison, helping him leave the prison. Then throughout the book you get glimpses of, his probation officer, which I suppose in the US is the same as a parole officer maybe.

Jeff: Yeah, I believe so.

Garrett: They kind of supervise offenders being reintegrated into society. The probation officer’s a man called Rami and the prison officer’s a guy called Fen.

And I was always writing “Salvation,” I thought, oh, wouldn’t it be nice if these two were friends and obviously they turned out to be more than friends, and because I’d spent about a year and a half writing some really kind of very gritty urban books, I thought it’d be nice for me actually, it’d be a real pallet cleanser to take this in a very different direction.

So I took him to the top of the mountain and I left them there. It was great.

Jeff: There’s nothing like going to the top of the mountain too, to force you to stay together a little forced proximity action.

Garrett: Yeah, and I must say as well, this is a British mountain. Say if you’re thinking about anything too huge, we’re actually just talking about a giant hill, really. In the Lake district, which is at the top of England. It’s, what’s called a fell. So rather than a big, you know, Everest style mountain, we’re talking a kind of very big kind of craggy hill really.

Jeff: But, you know, British Christmas on a mountain, as big as of a mountain you can have there, it sounds, really quite lovely.

Garrett: It’s still got the snow and the fireplace, there’s all the food. I would have to have the food or I’m not coming to be honest, so.

Jeff: Food is a big part of the holiday, for sure. So I’m glad to know you’ve written some food into the book

Garrett: There’s definitely food.

Jeff: What was it like to spin from the gritty series that you had these characters in to then moving them to a holiday romance and kind of pivoting what we were used to seeing with these characters.

Garrett: It’s actually really refreshing. So like I said, it’s like a pallet cleanser and it’s like, you know, if you’re writing something and you suddenly change the font or you go from writing, I don’t know, in Microsoft Word to writing in Google Docs or something like that. It’s just spins your brain around. And because it’s different to what you’ve been doing, it actually helps you think more clearly.

Where as when you’ve been doing the same thing over and over again for a long time, it all starts to sound the same. So to take these two characters out of that world and put them somewhere very different meant that they sounded very different to the world that they were originally introduced to, which was good for me. And hopefully it will be good for the readers as well.

Jeff: What made their story, the perfect one to set over the holidays?

Garrett: With Fen, he’s kind of a big, burly bloke, kind of a gentle giant, but obviously it’s never going to be that simple. You know, he’s got his past, the romance thing that you need all blokes need a past. But I wanted it to be different. I didn’t want the prison where we first see him to be his story, because we’ve done that already with Dante and with Luis in book one. So I wanted to do something different. So I took him out of the prison and took him back to the mountain where he’d grown up.

A lot of the book is him showing Rami where he grew up and what it means to him and trying to persuade Rami that this is the place for you after you’ve spent so long in that dark gritty environment to. Come here and kind of be set free from it a little bit. So Christmas helped with that a lot, because I think if you’ve got people marooned at the top of a mountain, you need the weather to do it.

Jeff: Nothing like a good well-placed snowstorm, perhaps, you know?

Garrett: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure.

Jeff: What was your favorite scene to write in this book?

Garrett: Well, this is very out of character for me as well, but there’s a lot children floating around at this top of this mountain. It’s a bit like an Enid Blyton novel. And they were actually Rami’s nieces and nephews, but they’re very close to Fen as well.

And Fen and Rami ended up taking them down the mountain and into town to this kind of Christmas festival. And they take the children to see Father Christmas. And they obviously sit in his knee and, you know, Rami takes a couple of the kids in and then Fen’s left with the girl who’s tender name is May. And she’s very much based on my daughter who is 13 now, who was not a believer in father Christmas. And, made it very clear to whoever, whatever poor fellow was playing Father Christmas, she let them know. “I know you are really called Dennis really, mate.”

I found that scene hilarious to write. Hopefully it will make people laugh too, and hopefully we’ll make parents laugh too. Cause they must’ve had a child who was a demonic as mine.

Jeff: We just finished a few weeks ago Roan Parrish’s “The Lights On Knockbridge Lane.”

Garrett: Oh wow.

Jeff: It has a very, precocious is a little much, she’s a very curious child. She speaks her mind. She’s been told not to lie. And she goes around telling more than a few children her age, and she’s like eight, that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. So I can only imagine how parents receive that, if they haven’t broken that news yet.

Garrett: When you tell children to be honest and you know, not to hide how they feel and to always speak the truth. And sometimes they do, and it’s not always convenient to be honest.

Jeff: Exactly

So I could see this child being kind of in that same vein and even your daughter being like, I know you’re not real.

Garrett: Yeah, very much so. The type of books I write don’t normally involve children much because of their nature, you know, that could be quite dark and whatever. But for this, because it was, you know, it still has its emotional moments, but you know, the general vide of it is warmth and family and home. And with that, unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on where you stand on it, comes children.

Jeff: Now, I have to ask, cause we’ve already talked about food a little bit. What’s some of your favorite food that you wrote into the book.

Garrett: Well, you don’t have them so much in the U.S. but we have mince pies over here.

Jeff: I love mince pies, I have to tell you.

Garrett: My mum makes the best mince pies. She makes this, this pastry with ground almonds and it’s got Armagnac in the mincemeat and stuff like that. So they went in the book, more than once. Definitely. Cause Fen loves them. And there’s like goose fat roast potatoes. There’s actually um, the Scottish donuts with the cider and the powdered sugar, which we call icing sugar over here. There’s all kinds of things actually, but for me to mince pies, definitely because they, you know, they remind Fen of home and that they remind him of his father cause his father used to make them. And it’s just really sweet. Really nice. Yeah. I would say mince pies.

Jeff: We love mince pie season. Will’s made it once. It turned out really good. It’s a pain to make, you know.

Garrett: We make lots of little ones over here.

Jeff: Walkers makes them and they import them here to one of our markets. And as soon as they’re on sale for the season, it’s like, we go and stock up.

Garrett: There are sale now already. But if they come on in stock before the Halloween stuff in the shops over here and, what you need, you need, my mom. I’m going to be honest, you need my mom’s to come and make them for you.

Jeff: Well, send her on over. We’ll welcome her with open arms.

Garrett: You can keep her to be honest, but she does make good pies.

Jeff: Now, this is not your first holiday romance. You are known for some of those more gritty elements, but you’ve done a couple of holiday books. What kind of brings you to that holiday season to set a romance?

Garrett: I, you know, I don’t read holiday romances, so I did find them quite challenging. Cause it’s always kind of as, as a creator, as a writer, it’s my instinct to kind of inject more, you know, grit and stuff into it.

So I think, you know, I don’t really know how it happens. I’ll be honest, you know, somehow I find myself doing it, regretting it halfway through, but being quite pleased with it by the end. But no I like it. I think also it’s change of pace in the market for readers for, for the, for the authors as well.

I think, it’s just probably about five to six weeks where, you know, you’re going to pick up a book and it’s just going to be nice. I think it’s, it’s the break from trials and tribulations. I think we all need sometimes obviously we have to start that process in July if we want to be ready.

Jeff: Right, so you do the whole Christmas in July, Christmas in June sort of thing, when the last thing you’re thinking about is mince pies and cider.

Garrett: When I was writing “Christmas Mountain” it was a heatwave over here and we don’t have air conditioning in our homes over here. It’s just not a thing. So it was very warm. So I’m going to say and I was not wrapped up.

Jeff: It’s like writing Christmas in Australia if you’re having to think about it during the heat wave.

Garrett: Yeah. Yeah. It was, it was hard graft at some points, but, you know, what can you do? The editing is fun cause when you get to the editing it’s normally starting to get a bit colder and you think oh well this is nice.

Jeff: What do you think are some of the must have elements in a holiday romance?

Garrett: Wow, definitely snow. Well, not necessarily, but I think it being cold outside and warm inside is always a good thing to romance novel I think. And obviously we talked about the food as well, and I think even if you’re not writing a romance that involves a big family, I think the element of family is important, even if it’s a totally unique brand of family, be it just, the couple and their dog. That’s still a family, you know, and that, that warmth and that real sense of home that you get from a family. I think that’s what makes a Christmas romance novel in my opinion.

Jeff: And you say you don’t read them often. Is that a challenge as you prepare to write one or do you just go into it with what your own creator sense says it needs to be for you?

Garrett: Ever year, I go, “Right, I’m going to read a bunch of these before I go and write one, just to make sure that I’m, you know, setting the right tone, that I’m getting the right beats and it’s, you know, it’s what the market expects.” But I just, I just never get round to it. Like I said, I download them all and I just don’t read them, apart from the ones that I proofread, because I proofread for J ay Northcote, Con Riley and Annabelle Jacobs. Apart from those books, I couldn’t tell you the last Christmas romance I read.

Jeff: Within your own family, what are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

Garrett: We have a thing over here. We have Christmas pudding, which is this kind of steamed pudding made of, you know, dried fruits and stuff. And every November, there’s a day called Stir Ups Sunday. And if you’re making your own Christmas puddings, that’s when you make them and your family come around and we all stir the mixture and you make a wish.

And then the mum puts them in the bowls and she steams them. We don’t do it every year, because quite often she makes enough for a couple of years because they keep for a long time. But we’re having one this year actually. And, obviously we didn’t do one last year because of lockdown, you know, Christmas was canceled and stuff.

So I really liked that because my brother brings his children. I bring mine and it’s that one time before Christmas, actually, that we all are in the same place. So I’d definitely say Stir Up Sunday is my favorite.

Jeff: That sounds lovely.

Garrett: Yeah.

Jeff: That reason to kind of get together, pre-holiday

Garrett: I don’t remember the exact day. I think it’s maybe the third, Sunday in November. Something like that. I always, I know when it is, because she tells me, not cause I know,

Jeff: You know when to turn up because you’re told. I have to ask, why do you make the Christmas puddings in November?

Garrett: Because they need to mature. You know, like if you make a fruit cake or something like that, their fruit is all steeped in alcohol. My mum puts Guinness and brandy in hers, and then she steams them and then they sit and they mature in time for Christmas. And we quite often make Christmas cakes like that too. You start steeping your fruit in like September, and then you’re supposed to have your cake baked by the end of October cause it needs to mature before you start eating it in December. It’s a bit like wine, making wine.

Jeff: And the fact, like you said, that they can last, you know, for a couple of years so you may not do this every year is also pretty impressive.

Garrett: I think my mum’s Christmas pudding could survive nuclear war.

Jeff: Be good to have it around for the survivors to eat, right? We did get a little morbid there for a second.

Garrett: You get some that are quite dense as well as they could be used as cannonballs I’m pretty sure.

Jeff: Going back in your past, what was the favorite present that you got as a child?

Garrett: We used to have these things when we were kids, these Fisher-Price roller skates and you could adjust the size as you grew. It didn’t skate very well. But I remember as a child they would be the present to have and I was lucky enough to get some, so probably that

Jeff: Nice. I remember those.

Garrett: They were rubbish.

Jeff: It was great they could adjust for awhile.

Garrett: Yeah.

I don’t remember them moving very well over the concrete. I don’t remember them being particularly mobile. But they look cool.

Jeff: And I was always terrible on roller skates, so they never worked for me well, anyway,

Garrett: For me I would blame user error.

Jeff: What can you tease us about that’s going to be coming from you after the holidays, as we start to get into 2022.

Garrett: Well, I’m involved in a free project that I can’t say too much about. So there’s gonna be something free coming from me that will be free all year long. And it’s an addition to a well-loved series, but I can’t say too much about that. But going back to what I said about palette cleansers, after I finished writing Christmas novel, I needed to go back and do something really nasty.

Jeff: That palette cleansing works both ways.

Garrett: Yeah, it does. It does. So I started writing a biker book set in a fictional town in Devon. And that I think at the moment, that’s going to span about three books. And then from that is a different spinoff series, further down south in Cornwall.

That’s a little bit gentler, but there’s relations between the characters from both series. The series kind of run alongside each other. There should be about six books from that if I organize myself properly. So yeah, it’s all bikers and seasides next year. Bikers and fishermen.

Jeff: Bikers and fishermen, that’s a combo.

What is the best way for people to keep up with you online so you can get the news about the free project when it’s available and all about this new series?

Garrett: Well, I have a newsletter which is quite regular that goes out at least once a month sometimes more often if I have more releases, if I have more going on. You can sign up for that through my website. That’s at the bottom of every page on the website. But other than that, you can find me pretty much on every social media I’m even on TikTok. I don’t know how to use it. But I am there from time to time. My children do it for me.

Jeff: It’s good to have your social media manager.

Garrett: But yeah, I’m on TikTok. I’m on Instagram. I’m on Facebook. I’m on Twitter and if you just type my name and you should be able to find me because there’s nothing complicated about user handles.

Jeff: Fantastic. We will link to all that stuff, and the books we talked about, of course, in the show notes. Thank you so much for joining us on the Big Gay Fiction Fest holiday celebration. Have a wonderful holiday season.

Garrett: You too. Thank you so much. I’ve had a lovely time.


Jeff: Thanks so much to Garrett for being part of the Big Gay Fiction Fest. It was cool to hear how her daughter helped inspire one of the children in “Christmas Mountain.” And, interesting too that there seems to be a trend in children debunking Santa within the pages of m/m romances this year. Of course, that’s if you’re willing to call two books a trend, and frankly I am. And, of course, looking forward to the prolific 2022 that Garrett has planned with the companion series focused on bikers and fishermen.

Will: Now hang tight and make sure that you check out everything we’ve got coming up on the Big Gay Fiction Fest, including our interview with fellow Brit, Charlie Novak.