It’s an annual tradition in the village where I live to have aScarecrow Trail each September, organised by Louise Roberts. Each year I try to tie it in somehow with the Little Free Library on my front wall, and this year I chose Roald Dahl’s Matilda, possibly the most well-known and best-loved booklover in fiction.
Free Roald Dahl Books to Borrow
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been raiding local charity shops to find secondhand (pre-loved) copies of Roald Dahl’s children’s books, and I’ve amassed about a dozen – so this week only, the children’s section of my Little Free Library (the one on the right in the picture) will contain exclusively Roald Dahl books for young visitors to borrow. (Donations of more Dahl books will be most welcome.
Happy 30th Birthday, Matilda!
By chance I discovered last weekend that this year is the thirtieth anniversary of Dahl’s Matilda, and this autumn there will be special editions of the book published featuring cover illustrations of what she might be like by the time she’s 30 – doing great things in every one!
How to Visit the Scarecrow Trail
The Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail runs from today through next Sunday, and there’ll be tea and cakes served in the Methodist Hall from 3pm until 4.30pm both Sundays. Everyone welcome!
For more information about the wonderful Roald Dahl, here’s his official website: www.roalddahl.com
(This post was written for the November issue of the Tetbury Advertiser, which was published prior to both Guy Fawkes Night and the US Election)
“We don’t do Halloween in our house, because it’s all about fear and ingesting too much sugar,” said a friend of mine halfway through October. With two children under five in her household, the second point alone was something to fear.
While her comment didn’t make me cancel the Halloween party I’d promised my daughter (13), it did remind me that prior to becoming a parent, I’d been anti-Halloween too.
I’d preferred Guy Fawkes Night, believing it to be a more patriotic tradition until I discovered recently that Halloween was a British export to America.
Who’s That Guy?
Even so, when I was a child, we never celebrated Halloween. My first taste of trick or treating was when I spent a year in the USA at the age of eight. No-one over there had ever heard of Guy Fawkes Night. Fireworks, they told me, were for the Fourth of July, not the Fifth of November.
Back on home turf, we resumed our annual family Guy Fawkes parties. As a child, chucking an effigy on a bonfire and watching it burn never bothered me. These days, that spectacle horrifies me. Even if Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed in the act of attempted mass murder, burning him in effigy for hundreds of years afterwards is hardly a civilised response. It’s not far removed from reenacting a public hanging with a mannequin, or seeing a dressmaker’s dummy hung, drawn and quartered.
Variation on a Horrid Theme
These days most Guy Fawkes Night parties have moved away from the original cast, losing any historic justification in the process. Some communities even have elections to choose who to burn in effigy. I daresay there will be plenty of Donald Trumps atop our nation’s bonfires this month. To be fair, his hair would make a great firelighter.
I hadn’t realised how strongly I felt about this issue until I read a request from our local Fireworks Party committee to send along the scarecrows from the recent village scarecrow trail to grace this year’s bonfire. I was aghast, and not only because four new IKEA lime-green blankets went into the giant Very Hungry Caterpiller in our front garden. Most of the other scarecrows had been equally lovable figures, including a sweet elderly couple with a zimmer frame outside the local retirement home. I imagined local children being traumatised by seeing their favourite storybook characters go up in smoke, their parents worrying that granny had wandered into the danger zone by mistake.
So my vote goes for a humane rethink of Guy Fawkes. By all means keep the bonfires and the fireworks. I’m even happy for you to make a Guy. But when you’ve finished, please don’t burn him at the stake. Just chuck him in your cellar, lock the door, and throw away the key. Or export him to the States to stand as president. They could do with a good guy as candidate.
A quick ponder about the merits and demerits of the way we celebrate 31st October and 5th November
As we were clearing away the debris of Halloween late last evening, blowing out the candles that lit trick-or-treaters to our front door, my thirteen-year-old daughter turned to me and said “So next up is Christmas, then”.
I was taken aback when I realised that 5th November, aka Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night in the UK, was completely off her radar, despite a regular community bonfire party in our village and a family fireworks party at my brother’s house.
My incredulity was compounded when, by chance watching the Sherlock episode in which some children pass Holmes with a guy* in a pushchair calling “Penny for the Guy“, she had to ask what that was.
A Different Era
The last time I felt such a disconnect was when, some years ago, in the PR office in which I worked at the time, I was complaining about something being difficult and said “This is as bad as decimalisation.” Cue a chorus from the pool of young secretaries in whose office I happened to be holding forth: “What’s decimalisation?”
For information, because even fewer people will remember it now, and for the benefit of my non-UK readers, decimalisation** was when British currency changed from the old system of pounds, shillings and pence (20 shillings to a pound, 12 pence to a shilling) to decimal currency (100 pence to a pound).
It makes me feel even older to recall that this was the office in which I first came across that weird new gadget, the computer mouse. I thought it would never catch on.)
A New Beginning
This was a timely wake-up call, because today I’m starting my third annual NaNoWriMo stint to draft 50K words in a month, and this year I’ll be using it to write the first draft of Trick or Murder, the second in my new Sophie Sayers Village Mystery. This is set in October and November, and in it a new vicar comes to the village of Wendlebury Barrow and tries to ban Halloween and replace it with Guy Fawkes Night – something that most of the village children have never heard of. A vicar inciting parishioners to burn someone in effigy at the stake? As it turns out, all is not what it seems with this curious new addition to my colourful cast of characters.
But hang on, I hear you cry – if this is your third NaNoWriMo project, how come you haven’t yet published any novels? Watch this space! Early in 2017 I’ll be publishing the first in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Best Murder in Show, which was my 2015 NaNo project, and my 2014 NaNo has morphed into #6 in the series, Murder Your Darlings.
Yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s a cosy mystery series (or cozy to you, my American friends), and it’ll be packed with what Mari Howard, reviewing my short story collection Marry in Haste, “the Debbie Young brand of sly and wry humour”. More news to follow soon. If you’d like an advance preview, join my free Readers’ Club, as I’ll be sending out a free sample to my mailing list prior to publication. You’ll also receive a free short story to read in the meantime when you sign up.
But now you’ll have to excuse me – I’ve got to dash to write my first daily 1667 words …
*For the benefit of those who don’t know what a guy is in this context, it’s an effigy of Guy Fawkes, who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Ever since, he has been burned on bonfires, amid celebrations with fireworks, on the anniversary of his gunpowder plot, 5th November. More information is inevitably to be found on Wikipedia here.