For some unknown reason, the new Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mystery, Vampires, Bones, and Treacle Scones, set at Halloween, is scheduled to be in stores and available as an ebook today, July 30th. I’m not complaining, mind you. And who knows, maybe it will be refreshing to read about leafless trees and an eerie howling wind in the heat of summer.
If you’d like a chance to do that for free, just post a comment today or tomorrow (Tuesday and Wednesday) and you’ll automatically be entered in a drawing to win a free signed hardcover copy of the book. I’ll notify the winner by email on Thursday.
Meanwhile, here’s a little history on how this installment in the series came to be.
Back when I signed the two-book contract to write books six and seven in the Liss MacCrimmon series, I’d already written a proposal for book six, Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides, although at that point it was still untitled. I knew that the story would revolve around the annual Highland games and Liss’s wedding. What would happen in the second book, however, was wide open, so when my editor dropped a strong hint that he’d like to see a Halloween book from me, I was happy to agree. It didn’t occur to me right away that I’d need some sort of Scottish connection or that I had no idea whether or not Halloween was celebrated in Scotland.
Luckily for me, the Scots not only celebrate this holiday, they (and/or the Irish) may have invented it.
Halloween has its origins in the pagan festival of Samhain, designed to chase evil spirits (and/or the undead) away. In Scotland the celebrations always included a bonfire. In some variations, people threw stones into it and retrieved them after it was out. If you couldn’t find your stone, you were doomed to have bad luck during the coming year. If you had really bad luck, you might have ended up as a human sacrifice, one of the Samhain traditions the Romans supposedly outlawed. No, I was not even slightly tempted to murder someone using a bonfire. Eeeeuw.
According to my research, the Scots also carved lanterns out of turnips, which makes sense. Pumpkins aren’t native to Europe. Trick or treating seems to have its origin in disguising children in old clothes and blackening their faces so they would blend in with the spirits abroad in the night and not be harmed. If they came to a house, they were given an offering to ward off evil. Another tradition, bobbing for apples, has its Scottish roots in “apple dookin.” Did you know that in 2008 the town of Peebles set a world record (70) for the number of people dookin for apples at one time?
All that was well and good, but I really needed to find something uniquely Scottish for Liss to introduce into Moosetookalook, Maine’s plans for a Halloween festival. I found it in an account of another traditional Scottish children’s game. According to scotland.org, scones covered in treacle (molasses, more or less) are hung on rope or strings and then blindfolded competitors, their hands tied, attempt to take a bite out of one of them. I found only one photo on the web, from a party back in 1998 that also included apple dookin. The page is at http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/whitelaw/hllween/hallprty.htm if you want to see more photos. The oversized scones were specially baked for the occasion. I have to say it looks like fun, but oh, so messy! That’s the opinion of the Moosetookalook Halloween Committee, too, but this traditional holiday game still gave me the perfect Scots element to include in the title of the book.
So what Halloween traditions do you and yours enjoy? Share with us here or make any other sort of comment on this post, and you’ll be entered in that drawing for a signed hardcover of Vampires, Bones, and Treacle Scones. Good luck.