Debbie Young Debates: Halloween or Guy Fawkes' Night?

photo of Debbie Young outside a Cotswold barn
Cotswold cosy mystery novelist Debbie Young
Writing a series of seven seasonal cosy mysteries, it was a no-brainer to make the second novel, Trick or Murder?, focus on Halloween and Guy Fawkes' Night - two traditions that divide my characters (and my readers) into different camps.

In Trick or Murder?, the strange new vicar makes his mark on the sleepy Cotswold parish of Wendlebury Barrow by banning the PTA Halloween Disco. Realising he may have alienated his congregation before his first service, he tries to redeem himself by inviting them to an impromptu Guy Fawkes' Night party at the vicarage. Naturally, mayhem ensues, during a fun romp that celebrates both traditions.

A fun seasonal read for October
Post-publication, I asked friends which occasion they prefer, and why - asking only British friends because, beyond our shores, Guy Fawkes is unknown, which I allude to in the opening chapter of the book. (I also explain what it is during the course of the story, for readers who know nothing about it.)

Most British friends rejected Halloween as a US import at best - which actually, it's not. 

The Celts exported the ancient post-harvest festival of Samhain to the States, from which it morphed into its present form, before rebounding back to here with new associations. To be honest, I only realised this relatively recently myself, when attending a glorious Samhain celebration at the Scottish Crannog Centre, an Iron-Age settlement recreated on the banks of Loch Tay.

So where do I stand on the issue? 

I have fond memories of childhood Guy Fawkes' parties in our family home, and also of trick-or-treating, American style, when we spent a year in California, when I was eight years old. In the village where I now live, we have both a strong Halloween tradition and an annual community Guy Fawkes party, both of which are much enjoyed by villagers of all ages.

These days both events make me equally uncomfortable for different reasons. 

Modern terrorism makes it hard to embrace a night that focuses on a plot to blow up the cradle of our government, even if what we're celebrating is its thwarting. The notion of burning an effigy of anyone, for any reason, is barbaric.

As to Halloween, I think in our uncertain era, children need to pursue sources of comfort rather than fear - and I don't count comfort-eating vast quantities of sweets as a valid means of guarding themselves against the anxieties thrust upon them by the modern world.

But I don't mean to be a kill-joy - and Trick or Murder? is certainly full of fun. 

I also surprised myself by including an altogether different kind of tradition that wasn't in my original outline for the story: All Souls' Day. It turns out to be a pivotal moment in the plot, falling in between Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night, with important revelations for Sophie on more than one level.

No plot spoilers here, whether or not of the gunpowder kind.

Whatever you plan to celebrate at this time of year, I wish you a happy and peaceful autumn, full of mists and mellow fruitfulness. 

Christmas is coming... (Out 6 November)
As for me, I'm already on to the next season, putting the finishing touches to Murder in the Manger, a kind of Christmas holiday special for Sophie Sayers, with a similar dilemma:

Which should Sophie choose for her first foray into playwriting: traditional pantomime or nativity play? 

She's hoping it won't end up as a farce, especially as she's working with children and animals, not to mention the surprise appearance of some ghosts of the Christmas past who certainly weren't in her script...

To find out more about my books, events, and other news, hop over to my author website:, where you'll also find links to my social media accounts. 


Susan Price said…
I appreciate your reasons for feeling conflicted about the two festivals, Debbie but, personally, the mere thought of Boris Johnson, Gove and May make me warm to the gunpowder plotters- and I agree with Granny Weatherwax that a little terror is part of the magic of childhood.

Also don't we need to know fear before we can find or appreciate comfort?
Debbie Young said…
There's certainly no shortage of candidates for the hot seat on the bonfire, Susan, for those who want a more topical Guy than Mr Fawkes!

On a more serious not, yes, you're right about the fear - and that's why murder mysteries, from the cosy to the graphic, as perennially popular. For me, cosy fear is quite enough to remind me how lucky (and safe) I am!

I grew up in Scotland and we always had Hallowe'en parties (and sometimes fireworks too) with traditional games - this was some time ago so it pre-dates the import of Trick or Treat I think. We were't allowed to go out guising but it certainly went on.
The Samhain thing (not sure of spelling) seems to have been revived fairly recently with the spread of Gaelic. My son takes part in something like this, but it is more focussed on the Beltane Fire celebrations in the spring.
Unknown said…
Susan, I totally agree about Gove, May, Johnston et al, there really needs to be a swing in the opposite direction asap!! Thank goodness we have a fab alternative waiting in the wings.

Cecilla my scottish dad used to tell me about scottish hallowen, it was so much niecr than the American trick or treat which I refuse to have anything to do with.

I think a dose of what Granny Weatherwax calls terror is no bad thing, I love that delicious-tingle-down-your-spine feeling we get when reading murders, crime etc. & I shall be reading this one asap!!

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