Get It Up Front!

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This was me – or, perhaps, just a semblance of me – yesterday. I actually finished writing the second book of my Viking trilogy, Sons of Kings. I wrote the last sentence with a feeling akin to euphoria, as I’d been determined for weeks to get it finished by the end of November. (My personal version of NaNoWriMo, I think!) I’ve sent the last couple of chapters to my editor and – provided there are no massive amendments to be made – I hope to have the book on Amazon as soon as it’s been formatted. I’m aiming for Christmas, but I’ll see how things go.

Of course, I know only too well that I haven’t completely finished – and I’m not talking about all the promotion! I’ve now got to work on the ‘Front Matter’ (meaning, all the necessary information that goes at the front of the book before the actual story starts). And, of course, there’s the promotional blurb that goes on the Amazon sales page to do.

So, what does the Front Matter entail?

If you look at the front of any book – whether traditionally or digitally published – you’ll see several pages of details. Since my experience is only with ebooks, that’s obviously all I can talk about – and do remember that the front matter, and how it is organised, is down to individual authors.

With ebooks, after the cover design, there is usually a written title page, in large print, simply repeating what the cover says.

My book, Shadow of the Raven, says:

SHADOW OF THE

RAVEN

Millie Thom

SONS OF KINGS: BOOK ONE

I have this positioned in the middle of the page, but every author will choose his/her own style and where they want it on the page. I’ve seen some at the top, some similar to mine.

The Contents page that follows will link to all the chapters in your book. The links are simply so that readers can navigate their way easily around the book.

Next is often page with the Copyright © – plus related information. The ISBN if often included around here, if applicable. – Then comes a page with the dedication to the person(s) of your choice.

Some books have an ‘About The Book’ page, giving general information that the author wishes to be known. It could be background to the historical period, the book’s location – or whatever!  Other books have an Acknowledgements page.  Some books have neither.

 

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Sometimes maps are put at the front and/or family trees. Both of these are familiar aspects of ‘otherworld’ fantasies and historical novels. Family trees are also common in family sagas. Finally, authors with previously published books may wish to add a good review or two, or other praise about the previous books. Of course, to be able to quote praise from fellow authors (preferably successful ones) is any writer’s dream!

So, here I am, about to sort out what I need for my Front Matter and get everything ready for formatting. I’ve already done a List of Characters, so that’s a start!

Pit of Vipers Final (Small)

Book Two of my trilogy is entitled Pit of Vipers and continues the story started in Book One, Shadow of the Raven. The three novels follow the lives and adventures of King Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia. I’ve had the cover for a while now and the designer is currently working on one to match it for Shadow of the Raven. I was never happy with the one you see in my side bar, and I want all three to be in the same style.

With my second book to be on Amazon soon I’d like to mention that if any bloggers out there would like a copy of Shadow of the Raven in exchange for an honest review, please contact me at millie_thom@hotmail.com. Let me know whether you’d like a Mobi or ePub file.

To finish, here are a couple of quotes about self-publishing:

“Anyone who says it’s easy to self-publish a book is either lying or doing a shitty job.”  Nan  McCarthy

Authors today need a publisher as much as they need a tapeworm in their guts.”  

Rayne Hall

Colourful?!

The Pursuit of Happiness is a wonderfully varied blog with many pages covering different of topics. JF is a keen photographer and most of his posts give us examples of his work. His Home page, in particular, presents lots of photographs, most from around New York, where he lives. I really liked this post, entitled simply, Colourful? I certainly think it is.

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I’ve been following Elan’s blog for a while now and really enjoy his work. His is a blog for lovers of stories – anything from general and short stories, flash fiction and ghost stories. He also writes poetry. His writing is always thought-provoking and I find this piece particularly so.

The Horrors of the Blood Eagle.

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This incredible hazard sign was shared on Facebook on November 11th by The Heathen Mead Hall. It was one of my daughters who drew my attention to it. I don’t know where the sign came from, or who made it, but it’s quite hilarious – considering it refers to such a gruesome thing.

I’m sure that anyone who has been following the TV series ‘Vikings’ will already be familiar with what the blood eagle execution entailed. I haven’t watched the series, for the same reason that I haven’t read the wonderful Bernard Cornwell’s books about King Alfred and the Danes. I don’t want to be influenced in any way by what either say/show until I’ve finished my own books.

Here’s the blood eagle scene from the ‘Vikings’ Tv Series, uploaded to YouTube by Star Wolf:

Wikipedia tells us that the blood eagle was a method of execution, ‘performed by cutting the skin of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim’s back. Salt was sprinkled in the wounds. Victims of the method of execution, as mentioned in skaldic poetry and the Norse sagas, are believed to have included King Aella of Northumbria, Halfdan son of King Harald Harfagri of Norway, King Maelgualai of Munster, and possibly Archbishop Aelfeah of Canterbury’.

I’d like to add a couple of points about this barbaric ritual. I’ve referred to, and combined, a number of sources here, so if there are any mistakes, they are my own. Historians today are still in dispute over the authenticity of such accounts. The Viking Orkney website discusses whether the blood eagle was really a method of execution, or simply a literary addition, included for dramatic effect. It tells us that the blood eagle appears in several Nordic accounts, including one from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. In that we hear how the Northumbrian king, Aella, was executed by Ivar the Boneless:

“They caused the bloody eagle to be carved on the back of Ælla, and they cut away all of the ribs from the spine, and then they ripped out his lungs.”

It also appears in Norna-Gests páttr, where Regin executes Lyngvi:

“Regin then took his sword from me, and with it carved Lyngvi’s back until the ribs were cut from the back, and the lungs drawn out. Thus Lyngvi died with great valour.”

Some scholars firmly believe that the blood eagle took place. Others believe it could be derived from metaphors used in Skaldic verse – as in the saga attributed to Einar, in which the term ‘eagle’s claws’ represents violent death. Following Halfdan’s death, Einar recited:

“Mighty men of no mean race,
From divers mansions of the earth;
But for that they do not know,
These, until they lay me low,
Which of us the eagle’s claws
Shall bow beneath ere all be o’er.”

It’s been suggested that this could be the source of the blood eagle episode. But whether the practice was used or not is still highly debatable, although take a look at this image on the Hannars I Stone on the island of Gotland. It clearly shows a person lying on their front over a table and someone attacking his back with a weapon:

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A scene from the Stora Hammars 1 stone. Author: The Man in Question (from source: Sacrificial scene on Hammar). Creative Commons.

Viking novels and films have become popular in recent years – many of them including scenes of extreme violence and brutality. They make good reading or viewing. And as long as we don’t accept everything we read or watch as totally accurate, that’s fine. I even have a ‘blood-eagling’ scene in my own second book. But I take care not to present all the Vikings as totally evil and/or debauched. I even have some rather nice ones.

Another gruesome image – but not exactly primary evidence.

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Image from Pinterest

One Lovely Blog Award

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I have beeen nominated by the wonderful Elsa Holland for the One Lovely Blog Award.

I am truly honoured by this. It’s quite amazing to know that my five-month-old blog is not a total disaster. Yet. Thank you so much, Elsa.

The award requires me to Share Seven Lovely Facts about myself. Not the easiest thing in the world. I suppose it depends on how you interpret ‘Lovely’!  

Well, after some thought, here they are:

  1. I have been married (to the same man, that is) for 44 years. I’m not sure which of us is the more long-suffering!
  2. I was doing my teacher training in Liverpool at the same time as the Beatles were having fun in the famous ‘Cavern’. Manic, but what fun!
  3. I walk a lot. I can’t start my day before I’ve done at least four miles.  Then I go out again in the afternoon. When we first moved into this village I was quickly nicknamed, ‘the lady who walks’.
  4. The thing I like best about blogging is connecting with people all over the world. I could say it’s the geographer in me, but honesty impels me to admit that I’m also a chatterbox. My husband interprets that word as ‘nosy parker’.
  5. I like people who make me laugh. I’m naturally cheerful and love to keep that good humour going throughout the day. Life’s too short to be miserable for long.
  6. My husband and I never go to sleep at night without a goodnight kiss – unless we both fall asleep on our books.
  7. I’m a grand 5ft.2in. tall! I swear that everyone in my life puts things on top shelves just to annoy me. I have to climb on a chair whenever I need something.

Task two of this award asks that I name fifteen other blogs (or as many as possible) that I enjoy reading. Nominate the authors of those blogs to participate and do the same, linking back to the original Lovely Blog (that would be this page).

So, here they are:

The first is Elsa Holland who treats us to great writing, music and art.

I have enjoyed reading many others every week, including:

Tribalmystic

North of Andover

Storytime with John

Pursuit of Happiness

Elan Mudrow

talesbytink

O at the Edges

poetrycreations.org 

Why Do Writers Write?

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This probably sounds like a silly question, considering we could ask the same thing of people in all walks of life. Naturally I have my own reasons for wanting to write and I’ve come across other writers’ answers during TV interviews and so on. So I’ve attempted a summary of responses. Perhaps you can recognise your own reasons in at least one of them.  You may have some I haven’t touched on. Anyway, here they are:

  1. To write has been a long-held ambition.

Often, when young people are faced with the question of why they want to pursue a particular career their immediate response is, ‘I’ve always wanted to . . .’ Many years ago, at my college interview, I was asked, ‘Why do you want to teach?’ At school we’d had it drummed into our heads that if the question arose on interview, we did not reply, ‘I’ve always wanted to.’ I suppose the message stuck. This kind of question definitely needs a carefully thought-out response, even though the instinctive reply of ‘always wanted to’ may be quite true.

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So, where did this life-long desire originate? Many fiction writers will tell you how their love of stories from an early age inspired them to write – first listening to them being read to them, then reading the words for themselves. As a child I loved tales of adventure, which inspired me to write my own little stories, both at home and at school.  With most people the love of story ‘type’ gradually becomes more selective and certain genres appeal more than others.

2.  You have a story simply bursting to be told

Sometimes, an author has a story whirling around inside his/her head, begging to be told. It may have been lurking there for years, or have recently arrived with a sudden POW! Perhaps it was created entirely by the author’s imagination, or is a well-known story imploring a different manner of telling. In my own case, this is certainly true.

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  1. You want to share your own particular area of expertise

For non-fiction authors, the desire to inform looms high – whatever the subject. Many of us have relied on a variety of reference books in our time, and I certainly value the research done by these authors.

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With fiction writers, the need, to inform is still there. But in this case, the background, factual detail is undoubtedly best fed into the story gradually and discreetly. If not, the book will sound like a text book and probably put readers off.

  1. A realisation that you can actually write hits you

Sometimes, the wanting to write only surfaces after a person has already pursued a career in another profession. Perhaps that person took no interest in reading until then, or maybe someone recommended a good book. Perhaps the chosen job didn’t satisfy a creative urge that has only now manifest itself, or the job itself involves writing documents, letters and so on that others frequently admire. Who knows? But tales of people who veered into writing from completely different careers are everywhere. Unusual careers themselves often make good reading matter, whether fiction or non-fiction.

  1. You can express your thoughts and ideas better in writing

The need to apologise is a good example here. The coward’s way out, you may say. Yet the example illustrates my point well. Thoughts, especially emotional ones, are so much easier to write than say. So are lies, I suppose.

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The spoken word involves interaction with people and their judgemental, discerning eyes. The computer page, or notepad, does not have eyes and a writer can pour his/her heart out. And writers may draw on personal experience of events too difficult to talk about, assigning them more easily to fictional characters.

  1. You write for the sheer love of words

Words are the writer’s tool, and it is how individual writers use them that can determine whether a book is fascinating or utterly dull. I’m not saying an entire book should be written in elaborately flowery language – that would be as bad as having no particularly descriptive passages.  Nor am I overlooking the need for a great plot and memorable characters. Words are to be tested and sounded out before used; something writers are usually good at. They play around with different possibilities or, perhaps, use them in similes and metaphors, creating images that come to life as we read . . .

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Ah well, I always did love to read.

A Dream of Flight

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Dreams about flying seem to be quite common. Perhaps it’s the fact that we humans simply can’t do it without the use of an aeroplane that causes them. We simply envy the birds, and in our dreams we allow our innermost desires to come true. I don’t know, but I’m sure there are people who could explain it! Anyway, here’s a short dream sequence from my book:


Ulf seemed to be flying. He laughed as he glanced at his outstretched arms, a joyful sound that welled up from somewhere deep inside before rushing from his lips to be carried away on the wind. This must be what total freedom felt like. Beside him a flock of starlings swooped and spiralled in their exotic ritual, and he shared their sheer delight of the open skies. Then uncertainty hit, and he squinted into the blindingly blue expanse beyond the hazy, translucent clouds. Why was he flying? Was he now dead, not a solid body at all, but a spirit rising towards heaven? A woman’s voice reached his ears, passing by in its ascent. ‘Do not grieve for me. I am free of the cares of this world now.’

Far to the west the sun was sliding behind the Welsh hills, splashing shades of vermilion and purple haphazardly across the blue. Above the landscape he soared, over fields of grazing cattle, corn ripening with the season’s warmth, and winding blue streams. Soon he was hovering over the edges of a dense forest and instinctively he knew that it was Bruneswald. This beautiful, green land was Mercia: his home.

Then he realised it was not summer at all and he was not home. His mind grew angry and cast the scene away.


This sequence is really a continuation of the post of a couple of weeks ago, To sleep, perchance to dream . . .  In my book, Shadow of the Raven, this dream comes only a few minutes after the last. Eadwulf (Ulf at this stage, and still a thrall/slave) has been seriously concussed, knocked senseless by Bjorn – for his own good, as is revealed in the story. Following the period of concussion he falls in and out of dream-filled sleep. This one takes him to his beloved homeland across the Northern Sea – the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

The Value Of A Good Editor

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Once I’d finished writing my first book, and revised and edited it to death, I was in two minds whether or not to send it to a professional editor. Would it be at all beneficial? On the one hand, I supposed it couldn’t do any harm to have someone else’s opinion. (I must add that at this stage, no one else had read a single page of my sacred book. Not even my family. I’d certainly jabbered on about it – probably bored them to tears with it. But read it? NO! I didn’t want effusive praise simply because they felt obliged to give it. After seeing my devotion to my book, I know they wouldn’t have had the heart to criticise.)

So sending it off to an editor could be a good idea . . .

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But, on the other hand, I was absolutely certain that after all my own editing, I had no mistakes. My spelling, punctuation and grammar were perfect, my plot was well paced and my characters did not act inappropriately. In short, I really couldn’t see the point of shelling out good cash for someone to tell me I had no mistakes.

Where had this idea of such perfection come from? Of course, then the inevitable doubt set in.

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I knew very well there was more to a ‘good’ book than perfect spelling, punctuation and grammar. I needed someone to tell me whether the storyline was interesting, the characters sufficiently intriguing, the plot well paced and so on. So, after a careful scan online I selected the Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau. This agency offers a variety of services, from actual writing courses to different critique and editing packages. They deal with a variety of genres, including non-fiction, and their prices compare favourably with some better known agencies.

My editor’s name is Doug Watts and he’s an absolute gem – for so many reasons:

Firstly: he made me believe in myself and my writing – something every first-time writer needs so badly. His praise meant the world to me and helped brush away any self-doubt that had set i

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Secondly: Doug has a hawk-like ability to spot a spelling, punctuation or grammatical error from at least a hundred paces. I’m even wary when emailing him for fear he’ll send it back corrected.

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And I soon learned what he thought about the overuse of exclamation marks and italics. I also make the odd typo (which I fail to notice because my spell check has a nasty habit of cutting out less than half way through my books. Because of all the Anglo Saxon and Danish names, the malicious little programme virtually tells me I can’t spell and abandons me. And since I’ve no idea how to reinstall it, it stays off. I know – I fully admit to being a computer ignoramus.)

Thirdly:  Doug not only edits line by line, but appraises and critiques every two or three chapters. I really like this because if there’s anything to amend, it can be done in stages. Of course, I get an overall critique at the end as well.  His appraisal of different scenes, and to what degree they work in the plot, is invaluable. He’s also on the lookout for plot holes and other inconsistencies in plot, character or dialogue and is always ready to comment on sections that need a little more detail, as well as those that may need tightening up.

Oddly enough, I found it was sometimes a little more he wanted in some scenes – which I should probably explain. When I edited the book myself, I cut out a lot of what I decided was unnecessary detail. I’d read that agents frown upon books from new authors that are much over 80,000 words and at that time my book was still over 150,000. So I decided that some serious cutting was called for. By the time I sent the manuscript to Doug, I’d got it down to around 85,000 words. Fortunately, I’d kept everything I cut out in a ‘Deleted’ file, and simply put some of these sections back in when called for! Admittedly, I did have a couple of extra bits to add to as well.

Fourthly: I always feel that Doug is there for me. Not only does he give me tremendous support and encouragement, he is happy for me to email and ask for advice at any time. I really can’t praise him enough. One of the things he says to me is, ‘Believe in yourself . . . because I do.’ How heartening is that?

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A Viking sacrifice to Odin

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Norse mythology tells us that blood sacrifices to placate the gods took place at the key times of year – spring, summer, autumn and mid winter. Some archaeological and documented evidence also supports this. Blood sacfrifices were known as ‘blots’ -the Misumarblot, for example. Though fairly scant, there is evidence to support the idea that human sacrifice took place as well as animal.

Here’s my version of one such ceremony. It’s from my book, Shadow of the Raven. The manner of’ killing the victim I describe was selected from a few different methods I’ve read about. Gruesome stuff! Here it is:


In the sombre, grey light before sunrise, the people of Aros filed from their longhouses and followed their jarl in his flowing white robes. Guided by the fiery luminance of torches borne by a handful of thralls, the column moved in respectful silence along a narrow path that snaked between the cultivated fields and up the gentle slope behind the village. On the crest of the hill stood the sacred grove, a short way from the woodland where Eadwulf had recently collected kindling for winter fires. The ancient oaks loomed dark and ominous against the silvery-grey of the lightening sky and Eadwulf shivered, overcome with sudden foreboding.

The silent train streamed between the outer rings of trees to a clearing within. At its centre a solitary oak towered proudly over its attendants; a truly gigantic tree, the girth of its trunk of such immense proportions. Its lower branches were thick and sturdy, reaching out and dividing into myriad, twisted routeways; its still abundant foliage evidence of the oak’s jealous retention of its leaves long after most forest trees stood denuded and exposed.

The jarl’s small group positioned themselves into the shape of an arrowhead, tapering away from the wide trunk, the single figure of the jarl comprising the arrowhead’s tip. Behind him stood his sons, Bjorn, Ivar and Halfdan, and five of his men formed the rear. Amongst them was the brutal Ulrik.

Ragnar moved three paces forward, and turned to face the oak, his robes shimmering in the torchlight as he raised his arms.

‘O . . . di . . . in,’ he intoned, sinking to his knees. ‘All-Father, lord of wisdom, war and death, mighty god of all gods . . .’ Around the grove the people knelt, lifting their arms to the tree. ‘We are humbled in the shadow of your sacred oak, knowing that you are close. I, Ragnar, priest of the gods, beseech you, Father: hear the voice of your humble servant.’

‘Odin, Odin . . .’ The chanting began, rising to fever pitch before settling to a lilting hum; outstretched arms swayed like meadow grasses in the breeze. People were surely evoking the very presence of their god.

‘The wheel of the seasons has turned and winter will soon be upon us,’ Ragnar’s baritone rang out. ‘We bring our gifts of thanks and ask that you safeguard your people from the hardships of the frozen months. Let them live to serve you.’

A strong, unheralded gust swept the grove, whistling through the oak’s branches. Torches listed wildly and the droning stopped. ‘God of gods, lord of earth and sky, giver and taker of life,’ Ragnar intoned, his hands reaching up to two black shapes, now perched on the thick branch above his head. ‘We are unworthy to look upon your holy companions and avert our eyes in their presence.’

Eadwulf stayed on his knees, not understanding what was happening. He knew that Odin’s ravens, Hugin and Munin – Thought and Memory – were believed to be the god’s eyes and ears; awesome, black birds sent out each dawn to fly over Midgard, gathering information to report to Odin by the evening. But he’d always dismissed such a story as pagan nonsense before.

Ragnar rose and faced the kneeling crowd. ‘To your feet, my people, and witness our offerings to the All-Father, who has given his sign of acceptance.’

The wasted body of Cendred was dragged from the wagon, his wrists bound behind him. Panic and anger surged through Eadwulf and he drew breath to cry out.

‘Do not make a sound,’ Toke hissed. ‘Great insult to Odin if you do.’ His eyes flicked up to the tree’s thick branches. ‘Could be you or me up there next.’

Cendred slumped, seeming resigned to his gruesome end after weeks of imprisonment. His filthy clothes hung limp on his half-starved body; his hair greasy and matted from his bowed head, concealing whatever expression was on his face. At his sides two of Ragnar’s men stood grim-faced, and a few paces behind, Ulrik held a huge, heavy-headed axe. Close by, Bjorn carried a large coil of thick rope.

‘Odin!’ Ragnar shouted. ‘May the lifeblood of our people’s enemy please and strengthen you.’

Cendred was yanked to his feet and the heavy, flat handle of the axe-head crashed down on his skull. Eadwulf recoiled from the sickening crunch of shattering bones as Cendred’s head caved in like a crushed eggshell under the force of Ulrik’s strength.

The lifeless body sprawled on the rotting leaves, his blood soaking into the earth. Bjorn severed the bonds holding Cendred’s arms and rolled him over, rebinding his wrists above his head with one end of rope. The two warriors dragged the corpse beneath a thick branch close to the ravens and Bjorn hurled the loose end of the rope over it. Cendred’s body was hauled up high, where Eadwulf guessed it would stay, dangling by the wrists to feed the crows.

Bright-eyed and motionless, the ravens surveyed all.

Ragnar clutched the sacrificial knife above his head. ‘Odin!’ he yelled. ‘Remember our gifts when winter comes. Let the season be kind, our huntsmen find success, and our people survive!’

The ravens lifted their wings to take flight and the strange, gusting wind raged a second time. The flapping of silken feathers hummed through the grove, then the black shapes soared into the distance to continue their daily tasks for the All-Father.

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In this extract, Eadwulf has been a thrall/slave of the Danes for a few months, and is still striving to come to terms with their customs and way of life. This is his first experience of a human sacrifice to Odin, the highest of the gods and father of the great Thor. It takes place in late October – a few days after the horse sacrifice to Thor I described in a recent post – when people have the bleakness of  winter ahead of them.

Aros was in the region of modern-day Aahus.


 

A Penny For The Guy . . .

Spectators gather around a bonfire at Himley Hall near Dudley, on 6 November 2010. SJNikon - Sam Roberts Wikimedia Commons
Spectators gather around a bonfire at Himley Hall near Dudley, on 6 November 2010.
SJNikon – Sam Roberts Wikimedia Commons

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

This well known rhyme has been sung in Britain by generations of children as November 5th approached. It is still sung in primary schools as children are taught the historical significance of Guy Fawkes Night / Bonfire Night and why it is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks. Literacy, drama and art work of all types also stem from this colourful spectacle.

There’s more than enough online about Guido Fawkes and his co-conspirators, and why they wanted to blow up King James I and the Houses of Parliament, so I won’t elaborate on that. Guido suffered one of the most horrible deaths imaginable for his part in the plot – and being the one caught with the barrels of gunpowder. Execution by being hung, drawn and quartered seems beyond belief to us today, although in 16th and 17th century England, treason was seen as the highest offence. And executions of all types were common.

Of course, on Bonfire Night we burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire, with fireworks a further fiery spectacle of celebration.

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Nowadays there are many laws and restrictions regarding the sale and use of fireworks, the many horrendous accidents, particularly to children, being the reason. Now only adults (18+) can actually buy them. And the cost of fireworks has risen dramatically – so much so that most people tend to go to the organised displays, where they can see many, really expensive fireworks and a bonfire, for their entry fee.

Free firework display in Thornes Park, Wakefield, UK. Author: Stephen Bowler. Wikimedia Commons
Free firework display in Thornes Park, Wakefield, UK. Author: Stephen Bowler. Wikimedia Commons

How different this all is to years ago, when I was a child (way back in the Dark Ages) almost every household had its bonfire and fireworks in the back garden. Sometimes families grouped together for a communal bonfire and to share each other’s fireworks. Even when my children were young in the 70’s and early 80’s this was the case, although by then the big displays were finding favour too. But in my youth . . .

For weeks before the day we’d be getting ready. Tree branches and any bits of old wood would be grabbed by rampaging groups of kids and hawked back to gardens, to be defended to the death from other thieving kids!

Guy Fawkes Night at Chirk (North Wales) November 5th 1954. Author: Geoff Charles.  Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

At the same time, old clothes came out from chests and drawers to be stuffed full of old rags, newspaper and autumn leaves to make the Guy’s body. A bag stuffed with newspaper – or simply a big, tightly wrapped ball of it – formed the head, with a painted mask at the front.

Guy Fawkes Night in Caernarfon, November 3rd 1960. Author: Geoff Charles. Creative Commons. Public Domain.
Guy Fawkes Night in Caernarfon, November 3rd 1960. Author: Geoff Charles.
Creative Commons. Public Domain.

How we treasured our guys! Over the week before November 5th, guys would be displayed around the streets in wheelbarrows and carts, with a sign, PENNY FOR THE GUY. And many people freely gave. The money would buy more fireworks. Nowadays this practice has died out. I suppose most modern parents would strongly object to this ‘begging’ tactic. But it was seen in a different light in the 50’s and 60’s.

Ah well . . . I still have my memories, and I still make parkin, though not always on Bonfire Night. Treacle toffee was never for me, but I loved the chestnuts and potatoes roasted around the fire.

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At the modern, sophisticated displays we may see the impressive great mortars, but the little fireworks are what I remember:  Roman Candles and Catherine Wheels, Mount Etnas and Rockets, Golden Rains and Rainbow Fountains and my favourites, the simple, hand-held Sparklers. I really hated bangers, but most lads thought they were great fun.

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Image by stuartsclipart

Sparklers are as popular now as they were in my day. Who doesn’t love to make fiery squiggles and circles in the air on a dark night?

Having fun with sparklers on Bonfire Night in Battersea Park, London. Author: Gaetan Lee. Creative Commons
Having fun with sparklers on Bonfire Night in Battersea Park, London. Author: Gaetan Lee. Wikimedia Commons

We can also still buy boxes of mixed fireworks today, but I’m afraid that the community feel for the night has gone and will continue to fizzle away . . .

Just like a dying firework.

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Image from Teacher’s Pet Classroom Resources