Kirsty Applebaum goes from strength to strength with each new novel. Her third title for children centres around life itself and the May festival – a celebration of life’s renewal every spring.
The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke began as an opening scene – just a boy in the forest who restores life to a dying rabbit with the touch of his hand. When I wrote that scene, I didn’t know how the boy had come to be in possession of this special gift, or what he was going to do with it, and I had no idea whether I would be able to craft a whole story around it.
The idea remained like that for three years – but I never forgot about it. When I finally returned to work on it again, it was obvious that a key theme would be life itself. And what better way to explore life, I thought, than to introduce a May festival – a celebration of life’s renewal every springtime.
Great Britain is fertile ground for such festivities. As a child I remember being envious of a friend who lived in a village with a maypole. Every year the schoolchildren would learn the dances and perform at the fete. They’d also crown a May Queen with a ring of flowers and she’d ride in a pony and trap with everyone clapping, just for her.
I began to research. I found out about Jack-in-the-Green – an English tradition in which someone dresses in a conical wooden structure covered with green leaves, then parades the streets as part of a musical May Day procession. (It’s likely that the many ‘Green Man’ pubs around the country are named after this practice.) I found about the Obby Oss – a Cornish horse-like costume, also worn as part of a musical May Day dance and procession. I found out about the old Gaelic festival of Beltane, with its ritual spring bonfire ceremonies to protect people, crops and livestock. And I read about the cheese-rolling event at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire, held every May, when people come from all over the world to chase a large Double Gloucester cheese as it rolls down the hill, reaching speeds of up to 70mph.
Inspired by these real-world celebrations, I embarked on imagining a whole new May festival of my own. And as my festival came to life, a plot took seed around Lonny Quicke, the rabbit-saving boy, and began to grow.
Lonny’s father keeps him safe in the forest, hidden away from the dangerous nearby town of Farstoke. Farstoke is enclosed by high walls with four large gates, and each May it holds a festival. For twenty-four hours, all the gates are closed: no one goes out, and no one comes in – ‘like a spell on the town’. Inside, the Farstokers hold ceremonial story-tellings. They spread life-giving seeds in a midnight ritual. They choose a child to lead a musical procession through the narrow, ancient streets. Every inhabitant dresses up and joins in, singing songs they’ve known since before they can remember. And Lonny, our hero, who has been warned about Farstokers all his life, becomes dangerously tangled up in their festivities.
Real-life celebrations can be a wonderful source of inspiration for creative writing in the classroom. Students can start by recalling festivities they’ve experienced themselves. This could be something traditional and widespread: pumpkin-carving at Halloween, for example, or a firework display on Guy Fawkes night. Or it could be something smaller, like the Gloucestershire cheese-rolling or a school summer fete.
Encourage children to think about all the details, perhaps using a mind-map.
- What did they see, hear, smell, feel and taste?
- What time of year was it?
- What was the weather like?
- What emotions were they feeling?
Next, use the memories as prompts for a written account of a real-life event, or as inspiration to imagine a whole new festival. And you never know where writing a single scene might lead – perhaps some students might want to grow a whole story around it, just like I did with my boy in the forest.
You can read a review of this title by our expert review panel : The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke