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How Belfast inspired Hollywood star Amanda Peet's festive book for children

By Claire McNeilly

Belfast city centre would probably not be the first place you'd consider as a source of inspiration for a Jewish children's book about Christmas.

But that's exactly where Hollywood actress Amanda Peet got the idea for her new children's novel Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein.

New York native Peet, star of movies such as Something's Gotta Give, Syriana and 2012, has homes in Manhattan and Beverly Hills but spends her summers in Belfast with husband David Benioff, co-producer of Game Of Thrones.

Her book relates to how Jewish children can often feel out of place during the Christmas season, and how Christian children struggle to understand Hanukah, the eight-day Jewish festival that takes place during the festive activities. "It all came about when my co-author Andrea Troyer and I were in Belfast looking for Hanukah presents for our kids - and that wasn't an easy task," said the 43-year-old.

"We both live in Belfast every summer while our husbands shoot Game Of Thrones there, and on that shopping trip we started talking about what Christmas is like for Jewish kids and how left out they feel."

Peet said that Northern Ireland had become one of her favourite places.

"We first came here around five years ago and found it very special," she said. "I know that, to people who haven't been here, Belfast doesn't seem like a really hot travel destination, but we have a really wonderful time here. We first came to Belfast five years ago when we had our newborn baby Molly and my husband was working on GoT. Now I really love Northern Ireland; it's a very special place."

Peet, whose daughters Molly, now five, and eight-year-old Frankie attend a south Belfast daycare centre when in Northern Ireland, said she started writing books after turning 40.

"I started to realise then that I needed another outlet," she said. "I had written in college and tried to write for many years, but everything I wrote was not decent enough to show anyone outside of my family. In the last couple of years, what with being over in Belfast and having the girls, I started to feel like I needed something that I could do at home, so I started getting much more serious about writing."

The new book has attracted excellent reviews. Publishers Weekly said: It said: "Actress Peet and her friend/co-author Troyer, both newcomers to children's books, handle Rachel's obsession and her family's strong sense of religious identity with equal empathy and humour."

And Booklist added: "Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein will help introduce young readers to other cultures while allowing them to preserve the magic of their own".

Peet, a regular on hit US show The Good Wife, is currently starring in HBO's Togetherness.

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