The last two weeks have seen a colourful array of autumn ‘celebrations’ in the UK – we’ve had Halloween, with ghosts and zombies aplenty, Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes Night), with attempted fires (it’s been raining rather heavily the last few days) and fireworks, and Remembrance Sunday (for those who fell during WW1, with wreaths laid and poppies worn). As both reader and writer, it is wonderful to see how fact and fiction intertwine and influence real life.
Halloween, apparently, originated as one of the many (globally-speaking) celebrations for the end of the harvest, with mentions in early Irish and Welsh literature. Then stories linking to the start of winter morphed (with the help of Christianity) to the ones associated with Halloween today. Then there’s the dressing-up, which this year (in the adult world) seemed to be dominated by the film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (yes, it was originally a novel). And the stories people spin their children during Halloween, full of witches and cauldrons and ghosts, span beyond the usual story-telling individuals – something great to see.
Bonfire Night, for the uninitiated, is a celebration of the foiling of a plan to blow up the British parliament in 1605. Cue fireworks and sparklers, but also a myriad of stories about the past – putting history into the context of a modern world so very different from the 1600s.
And then there’s Remembrance Sunday, which in the UK is signalled by the advent of poppies on lapels and coats and footballers’ shirts. This, and what it remembers, has given birth to so much historical fiction and fabulous poetry. A reminder that at least something beautiful can occasionally spring from the ashes of death.