Tag Archives: Hallowe’en

Maggoty Johnson

Maggoty Johnson is a real person, who was the last professional jester in Britain. He was also a playwright and actor, under the stage name Lord Flame. He knew the family who lived at Gawsworth Hall, Cheshire, and asked to be buried in nearby woods, Maggoty Woods, when he died. His last wishes were followed and his grave can be seen. There is a legend that, if you go there on Hallowe’en and call his name 13 times, he will rise up from his grave and dance for you.
I wrote this poem about him, and it subsequently won a Highly Commended in the Cheshire Prize for Children’s Literature, and a nice cheque. At the awards evening, it was read out by Tony Robinson (who gives very good hugs).
I will be performing this poem the day after Hallowe’en at Marshall’s Arm on 1st November 2014, at a family event which runs from 6-8pm. I will also be telling stories and reading other spooky poems. There will be refreshments and a section of the woods will be decorated. Children may wear their Hallowe’en costumes and bring lanterns. (There will be prizes for the best ones)Torches will also be needed.

Maggoty Johnson

In Maggoty Woods it’s dark and grim.
The worms crawl out and the worms crawl in.
Maggoty’s buried six feet deep.
He rests his eyes but he’s not asleep.

Maggoty Johnson loved to dance.
with his cap and bells, he used to prance
and caper up and down on stage.
Now he’s at the skeleton age.

In Maggoty Woods there’s no church near.
The ground’s unholy, it’s dark and drear.
Maggoty chose it specially
as the sort of place he’d like to be.

Maggoty Johnson was called Lord Flame.
Now he goes by a different name.
He haunts these woods and he haunts them well.
Sooner or later you’ll be under his spell.

In Maggoty Woods it’s dark and grim.
The worms crawl out and the worms crawl in.
Maggoty’s buried six feet deep.
He rests his eyes but he’s not asleep.

Angela Topping

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Twilight Zone story for Hallowe’en, by Angela Topping

The Thing in the School


It was an old school, with a long and varied history. It had been a manor house, a convent, a boarding school and was now a day school for girls. It went about its daily routines never knowing what lurked in its lonely attics. Girls yelled, were told off, played on the field at lunchtime, learned or failed to learn, exploded out every day at 3.45 onto crowded buses or jostled and skipped their way home on pavements littered with different colours of uniform, never knowing the danger they could be in.


Once the school was dark and silent, the thing in the attic awoke; it uncoiled and stretched from its dusty sleep. It fed on human remains: dust, hair and the remnants of breath which lingered on the air. It flowed easily down the twisted staircase which led from the attics, and into classrooms searching for anything it could consume.


A teacher was working late in a French classroom, one winter’s night, just hoping to finish marking a set of year 9 exercise books. She had not realised the time. She sat at her desk, glasses perched on her nose, ticking, correcting and despairing. There was no family to go home to; she’d given her life to teaching. Only five more books to go. Tick, tick, cross, and the thing in the school was coming closer, silently creeping on its snake belly.


In the morning, the deputy head was surprised he had to arrange cover for Miss Holly’s lessons. She had not missed a day in school for years. The caretaker found her bicycle still locked to the fence. Gloria Day’s French homework book was slimy and torn, four others were missing.


The thing in the school slept on, replete.

Angela Topping



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Hallowe’en is a festival I feel strongly should be celebrated. It is based on the Celtic festival of Samhain which honoured ancestors and marked the passing from summer to winter.It then became subsumed into the Christian festival of All Souls, which serves to remember people who have died. November is the month of the dead in Christianity.

There is a wealth of Literature, much of it from the Romantic Movement, which concerned itself with the world of the imagination, among other things. From this period we have texts like Dracula, Frankenstein and many more. This period also saw a revived interest in the traditional tales and ballads from the past. We love the thrill of being scared, safe in the knowledge that it is not real.

I fear that, in the increasing commercialism, the festival itself is being lost. Dressing up (in home-made costumes), carving a turnip lantern (nowadays pumpkins are favoured), bobbing for apples and telling stories were all delightful ways to have inexpensive fun. Trick or treat is a fairly new idea, but there is a misconception about it: as the dressed-up children come, the idea is to give them a treat or show them a trick. It is a pity that visiting each other has almost died out and people lack the ability to interact with their community, seeming to privilege the internet over flesh and blood friends.

When I was teaching I always used to tell my classes the wonderful Hallowe’en story of Tam Lin and Janet. It’s a Scottish ballad and tells how Janet meets a beautful knight in the forest and falls in love with him. She has to free him from the Faery Queen on Hallowe’en before he is sent to Hell as a tithe. The Queen turns him into several scary things but Janet holds fast as he has told her and eventually the Queen gives up.

There are many poems and short stories too, which are worthy of reading aloud by candlelight, to create magical memories for children, friends and family. Here is one of mine:




White Face at the window.

White face in the hall.

White sounds in the garden,

seeming to call.


White skin in the glooming.

White teeth in the night.

White moon in the darkness,

a world–weary sight.


White bones of the forebears

buried in clay.

White tomb stones standing

against the day.


White Face in the garden,

white hands scrape the latch.

White Face coming closer

with sharp nails to scratch.


White feet are mounting

the stairs one by one

searching for something

or maybe someone.


White fingers feeling

for the key and the lock;

White Face is greeting

white veil and white frock.


White two united,

they join their white bones

their faces meet lightly

to silence their moans.


White lovers meeting-

their time apart done,

they drift away hellwards

before the first sun.



This poem appeared in Kids’ Stuff, my Erbacce chapbook for children.



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How to Celebrate Hallowe’en in Ten Ways

Hallowe’en is a very important festival. It marks the coming of the winter and was traditionally an ancient Celtic feast called Samhain. The Celts would have a bonfire and feast, and tell stories of their ancestors. When Catholism came to Britain, the old festivals were very neatly jigsawed onto the Celtic ones, so the transition to a new religion would be smoother. The first of November became All Saints Day, and Hallowe’en simply means the eve of All Hallows, or All Saints.

However, such is our love for stories and all things spooky, Hallowe’en still has Samhain features and is when we can let rip and have a great time with spooky things. Such excuses for fun are needed as part of the rite of passage from one season to another, and to cheer up the dull winter days.

Here are some tips to enjoy the night:

1) Trick or Treat has been misunderstood and sometimes is used as an excuse to be unpleasant. What it actually means is ‘give us a treat or show us a trick’. It works best when a group of children work together and knock on doors to show off their costumes and receive sweets or are told a story etc. If parents are nervous about letting their children out, then accompany them and wait at the end of the road. This can be a really nice way to get to know neighbours.

2) Rather than buying sweets, make gingerbread and cut it out in Hallowe’eny shapes and decorate with black icing, which you can buy in tubes from the supermarket. This is more wholesome as well as more fun, and you can involve your own children in making them.

3) There is no need to buy fancy costumes. Today’s masks are cheap to buy and very realistic, so let them do the work. Black clothes are effective enough, but do make sure children wear a safety arm band if they wear black, red or any other dark colours. White can be even more spooky as it shows up well in the dark, and ghosts are white. Make-up can be just as good as a mask and a lot cheaper.

4) Pumpkins are widely available now, although turnips are just as good, if a little harder to carve. Don’t waste the inside, scoop it out and use in soup. Once the inside is removed cut out eyes, triangular nose and a smiling mouth and use a tealight inside. Make sure you place it well out of the reach of children. On a window sill is ideal as trick or treaters can see it and will be encouraged to knock.

5) Some people do not agree with celebrating Hallowe’en because  they feel it is evil. However, that is being very literal minded. Hallowe’en is about fantasy, but it is worth reminding children that witches, ghouls etc are characters in stories and not real. The devil is not actually a person, but a personification of evil, from the mediaeval mytery plays. If you are nervous about all the implications, stick to fairies and wizards, creatures which have less of a ‘bad press’.

6) One of the pastimes of Hallowe’en is apple bobbing. This is best done outside because it is messy. Place some apples in a bucket or washing up bowl of water, where they will bob on the surface. The game is that the children have to try and pick up an apple in their teeth. Have some little prizes handy, as the apple alone is not likely to be a sufficient reward, as it once was. You can also adapt other games such as pin the tail on the donkey can become pin the nose on the witch. Trick or treaters will enjoy these games if you are not actually having a party.

7) Hallowe’en food can be anything spicy, such as chili con carne, which also works well with quorn for the veggies. You can also draw a spider’s web on the top of soup by pouring cream in circles and them drawing a knife through them so they run into each other at intervals. Parkin is a traditional cake at this time, easy to make and can also be bought in supermarkets.

8) Adults can enjoy Hallowe’en too. The stories of MR James, HG Wells and many others can be read, or watch the BBC versions of the MR James stories on DVD. There are many good scary films if you want to have a film night. My all time favourite is the old black and white ‘Night of the Demon’, based on Casting the Runes by MR James.

9) My children’s poetry book, The New Generation, has several poems based on Hallowe’en fun. Here is one:

Witch in the Supermarket


There’s a witch in the supermarket over there

After Fowler’s treacle for her flyaway hair,

Buying up nail-varnish – black or green?

Rooting in the freezer for toad ice-cream!



There’s a witch in the supermarket next row on

Asking where the Tinned Bat’s Ears have gone,

Mutters, ‘Why do they always change things round?

Mouse Tails and Rats’ Tongues can’t be found!’



There’s a witch in the supermarket down that aisle

Searching for something to blacken her smile,

She’s a trolley full of tins for her witch’s cat

Who simply swears by Bit-O-Bat.



Times are difficult and Bovril has to do

Instead of newt’s blood for a tasty stew;

Sun-dried bluebottles crunchy and sweet,

Dessicated spiders for a Hallowe’en treat.



There’s a witch in the supermarket at the till

Scribbling her cheque with a grey goose quill!

There’s a witch at the checkout, look, mum, quick!

Piling up her shopping on a big broomstick!

The book is available on Amazon for just over a fiver at the moment. It is published by Salt publishers. It is also in the London Review Bookshops Christmas Catalogue, on a different offer.


10) Making up your own stories and poems is so much fun. You can do it in a story ring, where one person starts and then stops at an exciting moment. Or do a list poem based on:

what does a witch put in her cauldron?

what books does a vampire read?

where does a ghost haunt?

Some of the old ballads tell great stories about evil fairies (Tam Lin for example), murders and dead lovers haunting.

In short, lets really enjoy this strange little festival where we can let our imaginations run free! Happy Hallowe’en.


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Ian Parks at Northwich Library

on 27th October, Ian Parks, well known Yorkshire poet, is coming to read in Northwich Library, starting at 7.30pm. He will be introduced by me and followed by tea and biscuits and an open floor. I am very much hoping to have a bit of Hallowe’en flavour to the readaround, with this important date coming up. I love Hallowe’en and it’s always good to see the shops making a bit of an effort, like in Nantwich today where many displays provided hooks for the imagination. Hallowe’en is a chance to enjoy gothic stories and old ballads, to read M.R.James and relish the thrill of spooky things as the night draws in.

I will be reading some of the Hallowe’enypoems from The New Generation. Here’s one example:

Hallowe’en Party


We’ve made a pumpkin lantern

And fixed a candle within.

The apples are floating in a bowl

Treacle toffee’s cool in the tin.


Toffee apples are gleaming stickily,

stories wait to be shared,

Mum’s made a heavy parkin cake,

our costumes are fully prepared.


It’s nearly time for the party

and I’m straining up the lane

to see if anyone’s coming –

Yes, here’s Jennifer and Jane


One is dressed as a devil

in tights and cloak of red.

The other looks like a vampire

as pale as one undead.


Now here’s Meeta and Annabel-

a skeleton and a ghoul.

You’d never know so many spooks

went to our school.


There’s witches and wizards,

monsters, devils, ghosts and sprites.

Now it’s time for stories.

Turn off all the lights!


Now listen while mum tells us

about blood-sucking Loupgaroo,

the story of Janet and Tam Lin

and lots of others too.


Till our eyes droop in the candlelight,

our heads are full of dreams

and it’s time for friends to go back home

until next Hallowe’en.


Ian Parks: I know how good he is because I reviewed his first collection as I thought it was excellent – and he told me he quoted it on his next few books! He has several books available and one of them is a collection of his love poems. We are looking forward to meeting, and I hope many people will come to the reading. We don’t have many poetry events in Northwich, and we need to pull in a decent audience, or we will not even have these.

The evening ends at 9pm. So it is do-able for everyone, even if you have work the next day. The open floor is always a treat – and we even have a regular young poet who reads her work. Yes, the evening is suitable for family audiences – and after all, is IS half term!

The New Generation is published by SALT at £6.99, but Amazon have a really good deal at the moment. Do consider buying the book. Copies will be available on the night, along with books by Ian Parks: The Landing Stage (Lapwing 2010 £10) and Love Poems (Flux 2009 £7.95) Perfect for unusual Christmas presents.

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