Switched On

image by Isox4
On this day in 1879, The Blackpool Illuminations were switched on for the very first time. Eight brand new-fangled electric lights transformed the night-time beach into an artificial day. I find that quite inspiring - and I hope you will too.

How astonishing that must have been! We can tell it was popular because, with breaks between 1918-24, and 1939-1949, the Blackpool Illuminations have delighted visitors ever since. They have grown bigger and brighter and more imaginative every year. Scenes that change, characters who move, the vehicles you travel on, all being part of the magic.

Image by Mark S Jobling  Public Domain

Spare a thought for the art, technology and hard work behind it all. All those wires and bulbs, and nowadays, computer controls which have to be designed and maintained. So many people involved to create something at once artificial and enchanting. (Rather like the publishing industry.)

I associate illuminations with seaside jollity; a way to bring colour, warmth and visitors to the darker days of autumn. But this way of extending the season is not unique to the coast. For example, the Derbyshire spa town of Matlock Bath has its Venetian Boat Parade in September and October.

The history of the Matlock Bath Illuminations and Venetian Nights dates back as far as 1897, when it was first staged to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The picture shows a floating display featuring 'The Old Woman who lived in a Shoe', and also heading back up river 'A Ship in a Bottle'. Image by Alan Heardman on Geograph

Here local teams vie to create the most popular (literal) floats that cruise along the river in the park. At least one boat is usually done the old-fashioned way - with candles in glass storm lanterns. This is an established custom in the area - the Pleasure Gardens had the trees strung with such lights back in the 18th century.

Such beautiful images - colour and light against the coming dark of winter, reflections in water and the wonder created in the viewer by skill and effort. Not just those aspects have resonance for writers and illustrators. If there is brightness, then what might hide in the dark? If there are teams, then how do the members get along, and what about the rivalry with others? With such brilliance, what cannot be seen? With the illusions, who believes and who has the skills to create them?

Some suggestions for you
  • Does the place where your story happens do anything like this?
  • Could there be teams involved - and if so, how are they chosen?
  • If there are teams, how do they compete? It could be fun like the old Wacky Races - or far more serious.
  • Might a character go to an event like this? What would they do - believe & enjoy, or look for how it's all done?
  • Perhaps some people aren't expected to take part in such a traditional thing - what if they did?
  • If you've a darker imagination - who or what lurks beyond the pretty strings of light - and why?

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