"A writing colleague called me years ago and said I ought to write a ghost story anthology film, with A Christmas Carol in mind," said Silva. "Victorians loved ghost stories. They sat around by the hearth on Christmas and told these wonderful, mysterious tales."
As romantic a notion as that is, as Silva researched the backstory of A Christmas Carol, she discovered that one of the most famous holiday stories in history wasn't born by a fireside. Instead, Dickens was inspired following a visit to the Field Lane Ragged School, where half-starved street urchins were sent to learn how to read and write. Dickens was shaken to the core by the experience, as he was in danger of being sent to debtors' prison. He needed to write something for his publishers, which is how, 174 years ago this month, A Christmas Carol was born.
"I ended up writing four different versions, four different screenplays, sold to four different movie companies and had a few heartbreaking near misses with turning this into a big-screen project," said Silva. "Eventually I decided I wanted to give [Mr. Dickens and His Carol] another chance, but this time giving it life as a novel."
Although there are a few real-life characters in Mr. Dickens and His Carol, Silva's tale is a work of fiction, and much of her prose would make Mr. Dickens proud:
"Church bells pealed; the streets thickened with hansom cabs, omnibuses, costermongers and muffin men. Eager children gripped their mother's hands. Standing in long queues at the butcher's shop, the poulterers, the bakers, the grocers; all counting the minutes to the long-awaited Christmas feast. A light wind had snow-kissed the cobbled streets of the city, and what had been smog and soot just days before gave way to a soft winter light that tamed all it touched. The metropolis seemed to sigh with one breath, beat as only holy heart. Even birds caroled overhead. Dickens' own icy breath floated like glitter on the air."
This is Silva's first novel, but it's already attracting raves from literary notables. Idaho author Anthony Doerr, famous for his novel All the Light We Cannot See, calls the book, "a charming, comic and ultimately poignant story about the creation of the most famous Christmas tale ever written," adding, "I read it in a couple of ebullient Christmassy gulps."
Silva was just finishing her book when her mother, Beverly, passed away.
"It was quite difficult for me, but I continued to hear her voice," she said. "She would have delighted in the success of the book." Silva says she's grateful for her mother's influence, in person and in spirit.
"She was so kind, so gentle, so forgiving and loving and sensitive and compassionate," Silva said. "She was a wonderful woman, very much like one of Dickens' characters, one of his nice characters."