…And Things That Go Bump in the Night

Francesca and Elaine talk about their take on Hallowe’en!

Francesca: From ghoulies and ghosties, And long-leggedy beasties, And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!

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Apple Bobbing

Who remembers that poem/prayer from long ago? As a child we’d recite it every Hallowe’en. At my infants school we did apple bobbing in the hall. Apart from this, we barely marked the occasion at all.

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Reluctantly celebrating Hallowe’en. Yes, the cat is me!

How different it is nowadays. I can’t believe the amount of ‘stuff’ there is to buy for Hallowe’en. ‘Stuff’ is my polite word for ‘tut’ (as in ‘rubbish’). It’s an odd kind of tradition to encourage children to honour, a bit of a throwback and an amalgam of several festivals from different traditions. I did mostly avoid it when my own brood were young – even at the risk of being called a spoilsport. The one time it was celebrated in my house was down to my mother-in-law, who decided to buy some ‘tut’, I mean Hallowe’eeny bits, for the kids.

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Mum didn’t just make up good ghost stories, she loved ghostly practical jokes too!

Having said all that, the occasion is rather a gift for writers. My mother was particularly adroit at telling her own made up ghost stories, although to be honest, they frightened the life out of me – which is maybe why I avoided Hallowe’en with my own children.

I’ve written only a few ghost stories in my time but I do enjoy tapping into the darker side of fiction now and again. You really can go anywhere with it, from a benign presence in a house to a full-on terror fest. Of course you don’t need to wait until Hallowe’en to write one but those nights rapidly drawing in certainly create a better atmosphere for them than the long summer days.

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

Pumpkins carved by my family

Pumpkins carved by my family

Elaine: It’s that time of year again when old people are afraid to open their front doors and children and adults dress up as all things evil. I have never celebrated Hallowe’en and my children weren’t encouraged to either. I was more of a Guy Fawkes child, although you no longer see any homemade guys outside shops. There is something about Hallowe’en that does scare me a little, which is probably why I have only written one short story about this time of year. However, I do know from family and friends that I am in the minority.

I have watched enough films and programmes where this time of year has been part of it. You may have guessed I don’t watch scary films either, but I always thought the house decorations and the people dressing up was just part of the film. However, on my trip to Boston I discovered that is not so.

Faneuil Market Place, Boston, New England

Faneuil Market Place, Boston, New England

Early one morning, my husband and I visited Faneuil Hall Market Place, in Boston, New England, which is a beautiful market with historical buildings around it. On our way we passed dogs wearing red capes and horns and other such costumes, which made us smile, as they were being lead by their owners in similar outfits. I didn’t really think anything of it; I truly thought these people were a little eccentric, mainly because they were dressed similarly to their dogs. That was until we stopped to eat in the food court, where everyone shared long, wooden tables. My face must have looked a picture as we sat with an elderly witch, with all the accessories and her face painted, as well as a skeleton, a red horned and tailed devil, and a werewolf. I looked around to discover we were very underdressed and probably the only people in the market, at that time, not in fancy dress. There was a party atmosphere with everyone laughing, joking and admiring each other’s costumes.

If, before travelling to America, I had given it more thought I would have realised that the Salem Witch Trials had taken place just over the water.

@RobertsElaine11

Link: The History of Hallowe’en

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Ill Advised?

Francesca’s been investigating the death certificates of her ancestors in the hope it will help her with research for her novel.

For anyone who’s been watching the TV series, Poldark, you’ll know that one of the characters died of something they called ‘putrid throat’. (I won’t say which, in case you haven’t caught up with the first series.) This revolting sounding affliction, it would appear, is what we in modern times call Diphtheria. There have been other names for it over the centuries like ‘putrid fever’ and ‘membranous croup’.

mother-and-sisterAlthough I tend to write more contemporary then historical fiction, I’ve recently been writing a novel set in 1915. In it, one of the characters, a young woman, dies, and I’ve had to consider what might be the cause. Her mining village is based on the one some of my ancestors lived in around this time, so I thought this might be a good place to start.

A couple of years ago I ordered a few certificates – birth, marriage and death – from the General Register Office, having found several family members on an ancestry site. I discovered that three of my female ancestors – my great gran’s mother (M), sister (S) and daughter (D) – died at age 42, 16 and 28 respectively, in 1891, 1899 and 1935.

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‘D’ in c1932, with her first child.

S is recorded as dying with phthysis, D with phthsis pulmonales, while D died of pulmonary tuberculosis. Clearly the last one was TB, but I was surprised to discover the first two were also.

TB is clearly a strong contender for the death of my character. But why did so many people contract it? What conditions caused it? Was it rife in that area? Why did it only seem to strike the women in my family? These are all aspects to look into to make my story stronger.

It seems unlikely that everyday Victorian folk referred to the disease as phthisis. More likely they called it tuberculosis, TB, or consumption. Other terms over the years have included lung disease, scrofula and white plague.

Looking at death certificates for the other side of my mother’s family, I’ve discovered one great-great grandfather died in 1892, aged 46, of apoplexy. Until I read that, I thought apoplexy was a description of someone getting extremely angry. Medically it’s a type of stroke. Worth remembering.

His son died on the operating table aged 36, in 1927, during a second operation for appendectomy complications. mor-father-and-sonTalking to a friend about it she asked how it would have been paid for before the NHS came into being. Good point. The 1911 National Insurance Act provided only basic medical care. This great grandfather was also a miner, and I believe that hospitals were often provided by mine owners or jointly by them and workers via subs. Could they have paid for him to go to the Cardiff Royal Infirmary for the op? Perhaps my family simply had some savings?

Considering all this has certainly thrown up more questions than answers so far. Finding out what they died of is only the beginning. There is much scope for research.

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Great Gran, c 1964, who suffered much loss in her long life.

If, like me, you can mine family records, (sorry, no pun intended), they can be a good start for research. A word of caution: discovering family deaths and their circumstances can be harrowing. I cried when I found out why sixteen-year-old S had disappeared from the census. I cried again when the certificates confirmed my mother’s story of not only D’s death from TB, but that of her prematurely born baby a month later.  I try to imagine how Great Gran must have felt, losing all those family members. She was ninety-seven when she died, but never talked about it. She also lost a toddler son in 1922 and two other sons in World War Two. Life was cruel.

Perhaps if I can inject a little of that emotion into writing about a character’s death, I’ll not go far wrong.

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

A big thank you to my cousin Janine who lives in Australia. She also has undertaken much interesting research into our shared family.

Links:

Another word of caution: if you’re interested in finding your ancestors’ certificates, whether death, birth or marriage, the various ancestry web sites are a good place to start, but don’t buy them from those sites, as they’ll cost you three times as much than they will from the General Register office, which you can find here.

Another interesting web page about old names for illnesses, The Glossary of  Old Medical terms, can be found here.