Eighteen years of tales from the Christmas table

Coquitlam author David E. Burnell with his new book, Dad
Coquitlam author David E. Burnell with his new book, Dad's Christmas stories
— image credit: JANIS WARREN/the tri-city news

In the early 1980s, David E. Burnell came up with a family Christmas tradition.

At the time, he was trying his hand with creative writing, taking night courses here and there, when he suggested to his two sons and daughter that they pen a story to be read out after each holiday meal on Dec. 25. “I was trying to encourage them to write, too,” the Coquitlam author remembered.

In the first year, Burnell composed The Doctor’s Legacy. The next season, he came up with A Matter of Honour, a western. He found he could bash out the short stories in about a week, a month before they were due.

But his storytelling custom petered out just a few years later, he said, and soon Burnell was the only one of the four to honour his word and to entertain the family with a good, old fashioned festive narrative.

This year, Burnell compiled his Christmas tales told over the past 18 Christmas suppers and had them published by Vivalogue of New Westminster as part of an anthology, aptly called Dad’s Christmas Stories.

And, despite his limited training in creative writing, the words flow freely and the subject matters are varied and interesting. For example, Christmas and Tom Hobbs tells of the spirit of giving while The Second Horseman deals with war. “It’s the theme that pops into my head first,” said Burnell, a retired engineering technologist. “I get an idea — I don’t know where from — and I build my story and characters around it.”

Historical plots are his forte, having grown up near London during the Blitz. His first novel, The Elevator, came to him while travelling in a creaky shaft in Munich; the book centers around Nazi Germany.

And, next year, Burnell plans to publish Shades of Blue, a fictional piece about a fatigued Canadian pilot who falls for a doctor’s daughter, also during the Second World War.

That work took him 14 months to write — compared with seven years for The Elevator — “and I think it’s my best one yet,” he said, laughing that the title “came well before I had ever heard of Fifty Shades of Grey,” the erotic romance that’s been on the New York Times’ bestseller list for many months.

Meanwhile, Burnell has also been busy finishing his sequel to The Coven of the Unholy, called Satan’s Shadow.

As for his Christmas anthology, which was published in September, Burnell has already received good feedback. “People like different stories in the book,” he said, noting The Fickle Lady is his favourite, “and that’s okay with me.”




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