Garbhan Downey's One-off Christmas Present

Derry writer produces new limited-edition novelette in the space of a month, making for a perfect last-minute stocking filler

A new limited-edition novelette from Derry writer Garbhan Downey will hit the shelves in bookshops throughout the city next week. The Christmas Present, part inspired by the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, is being published by Guildhall Press in conjunction with Creggan Enterprises.

A run of just 250 of the books, all hand-signed by the author, will be made available in the week before Christmas – though many copies are said to have already been pre-ordered.

Set in 21st century Derry, The Christmas Present contrasts the lives of two band members involved in a failed robbery, one of whom goes to jail while the other, who is less talented, escapes and becomes a huge success on the West End.

Many years later, however, when the star returns home for a special Christmas concert, his old friend’s jealousy emerges. This causes all kinds of conflict and chaos – particularly when, through a bizarre set of occurrences, the two men switch lives.

As ever, with Downey stories, there is a comedic twist in the tail, which ensures the reader is kept guessing until the last minute. Downey, who has been developing a new collection of short stories as a follow-up to his first set Off Broadway (2005), decided to write the story as a one-off just a month ago.

He explains: ‘A few weeks ago, I picked up an anthology of Damon Runyon stories to check a quotation and found myself hooked into reading the whole book from first to last.

‘One of the selection was a magical story called 'Dancing Dan’s Christmas', set in New York in the Roaring Twenties. And this motivated me to pen a companion piece to my own short story, 'A Christmas Carol', which was the opening story from Off Broadway.

Downey continues: ‘So I started working on a piece, originally entitled 'It’s a Wonderful Wife', which, as you’ll gather, was loosely inspired by a Capra film of a very similar name.

‘My story is very different, though. My hero is a frustrated singer who, instead of wishing he’d never been born, wishes he’d never met his wife. And in a twist, his new life turns out a whole lot better than he could ever have imagined. At least to start with.’

Book cover

Guildhall Press agreed to publish the story as a novelette and, with the support of Creggan Enterprises, it will be in local shops early next week – ‘in time for the eggnog’.

Also included in the book, as a special bonus feature, is Downey’s earlier festive short story, 'A Christmas Carol'.

‘Both Guildhall Press and Creggan Enterprises deserve major credit in getting it turned around and out on the shelves so quickly,’ says the author.

Paul Hippsley, MD of Guildhall Press, says the book is perfectly timed for the last-minute Christmas shopper.

‘It’s a different approach for us,’ he explains. ‘We could typically spend anything up to two years working on a novel with an author. But this is almost guerilla publishing, with a turn around, from concept to print, of less than a month. It’s a great challenge – but we thoroughly enjoyed doing it.

‘And The Christmas Present really is the perfect stocking filler. It’s seasonal and funny – and it’s the type of story that people of all ages will very much savour. And who knows, in a few years time, because we’re only doing a very limited run, these books might become collectors’ items.’

Downey’s last novel, Once Upon A Time in the North West (2015), is a newsroom thriller set against the backdrop of the Derry newspaper industry over the past century. It has been well-regarded by critics, with the Irish News describing it as ‘a love letter to Derry’, while Culture NI said it deserved to be ‘widely read and widely acclaimed’.

Since 2004, Downey has published a total of eight novels. He has also written several works of non-fiction including Creggan: More Than A History (2000, with Michael McGuinness), City of Music: Derry’s Music Heritage (2009, with Declan Carlin) and 2013: A LegenDerry Year. He edited Emmett McCourt’s Feast or Famine: A Culinary Journey through the North West of Ireland, which won two World Gourmand Book awards.

Copies of The Christmas Present, priced £4.00, will be available in Little Acorns, Foyle Books and Easons bookshops from Tuesday, December 20. They can also be pre-ordered from Guildhall Press.