I have read and loved all three of AM Howell’s books and had the pleasure of meeting her several times now. She is as lovely as her books, and as a local author, she is one I continuously promote within my schools. Mystery of the Night Watchers is set in the time when Halley’s Comet was last approaching Earth and caused quite a stir. In a brilliant guest post from AM Howell, we step back in time to gain some understanding.
Why were there mixed feelings of fear and excitement as Halley’s comet approached the earth in 1910? By AM Howell
The inspiration for Mystery of the Night Watchers first came from an article I read about Halley’s comet approaching the earth in 1910. The orbit of Halley’s comet makes it visible from Earth every seventy-five to seventy-six years and when I read about the 1910 appearance, I discovered that some members of the scientific community at that time thought that the gas present in the comet’s tail could poison the air we breathe.
I read many articles in the British Newspaper Archives and learned that this hysteria was felt in many parts of the world. I refer in the book to many things that did actually happen, such as the manufacture of anti-comet pills by people trying to make some easy money (they were useless and made of sugar paste), the sale of gas masks and advice given to seal up windows and doors so the gas wouldn’t creep between the cracks.
But, as we now know from further scientific research, this gas was not a threat and the comet blazed past Earth without incident, with many more people choosing to celebrate it instead. It was reading these conflicting views of fear and joy at the comet’s arrival that I wanted to convey in Nancy’s story, particularly through the lead up to the mayor’s comet party that takes place towards the end of the story where my protagonist, Nancy, fights to expose the truth.
Halley’s comet was last seen in 1986 and will next return in 2061. I’m very much hoping I’ll be ready with my telescope to view this spectacle, but without all the drama surrounding its 1910 visit!