I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you cannot host a vintage party without enough candles to potentially burn your house down. Of course, you don’t actually want to incinerate your home or anyone in it, so I would suggest a) keeping the candles away from arm level to protect them from the wild gesticulations of your guests and b) putting something non flammable underneath them. A good tip to maximise the light from your candles is to place them where possible in front of mirrors.
I know, not necessarily something you would imagine a necessity for a 1930s soiree, but believe me it makes all the difference. Every Agatha Christie I’ve ever read seems to contain a – significant or otherwise – bowl of chrysanthemums (how does that even work?), but to be honest anything will do. Interestingly, I find potted ferns just scream vintage, and a good arrangement of classic roses also really adds the edge.
Even if this is the only tip you incorporate, I cannot stress its importance enough. The right music will immediately set the scene and make your guests feel more in character and more relaxed. For 1930s, think jazzy or sentimental and, if possible, crackly. You want your guests to feel like they’re in an old movie. If you happen to have a record player and any 1930s records, this would, of course, be perfect; if not, YouTube is awash with vintage playlists or you can buy 1930s CDs online.
#4 Glassware and China
A party suddenly seems so much more vintage when the glassware and the china are old fashioned. If you happen to find some art deco style china in your local charity shop, amazing; if not, I really find anything a bit chintzy will do. And as for glassware, I have literally seen the shyest people in the world become positively RADA when clutching a champagne bowl or martini glass. I don’t know why, but it just works. It will also make your event photos at least marginally less awkward on account of people having something to do with their hands.
#5 Backdrops & Props
Let’s be realistic: it’s hard vintageise your whole house without making some serious lifestyle changes and spending at least a month anxiously bidding on EBay, so focus on just one wall or corner. Cheap art deco posters can be found online, and a wall of these will really add a vintage feel. And you definitely can’t go wrong with an old-fashioned telephone or cigarette holder for people to pose with. I can guarantee you’ll end the night with some wall-gallery worthy photos of your party and a lot of happy guests!
Remember that time you watched Brahm Stoker’s Dracula starring Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, fell in love with the decadent costumes, watched it five times in a row and then started turning up at university lectures dressed in giant ‘Victorian’ bows and ruffles that made your tutor wince? No? Just me then…. That being said, anyone with a love of dressing up and costume will know how much fun ‘Victorian’ and ‘Vampire’ are as fancy dress themes. Indeed, it was this period of the history that the vampire went from the very unsexy ‘possessed corpse terrorising villagers’ to the infinitely more attractive ‘handsome undead nobility haunting upper-class bedchambers’. The vampire became glamorous, if you like — and much more fun to dress up as.
Key to the Victorian vampire look is the hair. Indeed, I’d argue that you can get away with rather token costume gestures if the distinctive Victorian hair is right. I have an intense dislike of online hair tutorials which stems from the time I got half way through creating 1950s victory rolls only to discover I was missing a very specific kind of curling iron, not to mention a large chunk of my life. You may rest assured, therefore, that these tutorials are simple and can be easily achieved in 30 minutes or so before your vampire party. Or your Victorian party, for that matter, though I see less evidence of those. (Shame. The Victorians had a healthy love of gin which no doubt enlivened even the most staid of soirees.)
For more hair, makeup and costume ideas on how to make ‘undead’ look very much alive in 2014, join me on Pinterest. To cheat and purchase amazing actual costumes visit my Prop Shop here. Anyway, enough talk; more hair:
When hosting a murder mystery dinner party there is one thing you want to avoid above all and that is stress. There are two good reasons for this: A) Stressing yourself out trying to make the perfect meal will mean that by the time your guests arrive you will look wired and possibly angry, and definitely not like someone it’s safe to spend the evening with, let alone preferable. And B) To counteract the stress you will probably drink too much and, as we all know, stressed drunk people are LOUD and break things.
Also, if you don’t have the deadly sharp organisational skills of the SS, this following may occur. For one party I decided to make vegetable soup and stuffed pancakes. As usual, I was running late and upstairs wrestling with a costume when my guests arrived; I eventually came downstairs to find them eating the raw vegetables for the soup. I guess they thought it was the ’90s and they were crudities. Also, cooking, flipping and stuffing pancakes while everyone else tries to get on with the game does not a good party make, however good they taste. Here are my murder mystery tips for making the ‘dinner’ part of the event a breeze:
#1 However organised you are, you will not have time to cook three courses on the day of the party itself. Be content with making one and buying two. Alternatively make and freeze at least one course beforehand (soup is always cheap and easy, if potentially a little boring).
#2 If you don’t want to cook, forget structuring your party around three courses. This way there is less interruption to the game and you save a tonne of money. Recently, for a French-themed game, my friends bought lots of interesting French cheeses, grapes and baguettes. This approach can be applied to most themed games: for Spanish buy spicy chorizo, olives, Manchego; for English, apples, cheddar, ham, mustard etc.
#3 Most guests worth inviting again will want to bring something to the party. Get them to bring a bottle of something each, as buying enough wine/beer to stock a murder mystery party is surprisingly expensive. If you have a really good, reliable friend coming, ask them to bring one of the three courses, as this will really take the pressure off you on the day.
#4 If you are determined to cook three courses single-handed, good on you. It helps to look up recipes well ahead of time. A practise run or two will take pressure off the day itself – and make you very popular at home. Avoid risotto (too much stirring), pancakes (what was I thinking) and anything that can’t just be shoved in the oven or left to bubble on the stove while you get into costume.
#5 A box of chocolates and coffee (with cream instead of milk) makes a suitably decadent desert.
If you have any tips of your own, I’m dying to hear them. One can never have too many partners in crime.
And I certainly have been. I’m very happy to finally — after many a desperately dark hour battling HTML — introduce my new murder mystery party website to readers of The ABC of Murder blog! My first game completed, a downloadable no-holds-barred, Vampire-themed thunder and lightening thriller — featuring an untimely death by paper knife for an unfortunate Lord, and a host of sinister suspects — it’s onto the next.
My second game is a fully interactive murder mystery party set in the glamorous 1930s on tiny island inhabited by a colourful, charismatic and somewhat criminal community. It was written for murder mystery masters Freeform Games and is due out in late July. But until then, here’s a taster of the setting:
‘It is 1936 and you are on the notoriously cold and windy Gull Island, just off the north east coast of England, whose perilous rocks have claimed many a victim. It is 7pm on the eve of the winter’s Solstice, a traditional day of celebration for the villagers of Little Bleakly — much to the horror of the local Reverend. The wind is howling and the rain is coming down in sheets, but inside the village hall has been cheerfully decorated with brightly coloured flags and bunting.
The needle of the gramophone is poised over ‘Music Maestro Please’, and many of the villagers have already arrived in the village hall, when Little Bleakly is suddenly plunged into darkness by a power cut. Stumbling along the shadowy and winding paths with candles in their hands, the remaining villagers are on their way when light returns.
The festivities are ready to begin! Except someone is missing: Hugo Malady, the dashing heir to the legendary Malady fortune, who traditionally kick starts the Winter Solstice Celebrations, is nowhere to be seen! The villagers spread out over the island in search. Soon, a shrill scream is heard from Lighthouse Bay: Freda, the local pub landlady, has discovered the body of Hugo Malady on the beach, lifeless, with a dagger protruding from the back of his neck! Who murdered Hugo Malady?’
And there’s more crime to come, as work has now joyfully commenced on Deadly Nightshade Game’s third downloadable murder mystery party: a 1920s classic, set in Egypt amongst pyramids, political tensions and rumours of Pharo’s curses. Hold on to your feathered headbands, this one’s going to be a riotous ride!
I have recently moved home, to a sweet little flat in Greenwich. Too sweet. It needs some blood on the walls, and by that I mean some decent crime fiction posters to give the chintz an edge. With the new wave in typography wall art, I expected to be picking through pages of beautifully illustrated crime quotes and covers. It seems, however, that detective fiction has been somehow left out of this lucrative loop. So here’s a wishful post of genius crime fiction covers and art I would happily have adorning my home. Print, frame and sell them to me somebody, please.
From left to right: Crime novel by Lillian Bergquist and Irving Moore, published in the UK by Sampson Low in 1949. Set in Los Angeles, California (source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamie179); Raymond Chandler quote by Ben Newman (source: http://benhasapencil.blogspot.co.uk); crime fiction cover art by Robert McGinnis (source http://fantasy-ink.blogspot.co.uk); The New York Trilogy cover, by Paul Auster (source: http://ffffound.com); Cold Shot to the Heart, Wallace Stroby, Minotaur Books; Helen Grant, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden.
The summer is fading fast now, the light becoming soft and clear. Everything has begun to smell pleasantly of damp and apples, and the nights are drawing in. Somewhat neglected during my London summer of heady evenings spent outside with friends, I love autumn for its association with staying in and cosy solitude: evenings alone, clutching a hot water bottle and almost invariably listening to a crime fiction audio book of some kind.
Of course, you can buy audiobooks, and I must admit to a vast personal collection, most of which were bought in my early teens and which can only be played on the clunky old tape player that lives in the childhood bedroom of my family home and makes everything sound like it is under water. However, your best bet is probably BBC Radio Iplayer, which has an excellent crime section, and is good in that once you have run through the authors you know, you are forced to listen to whatever remains; in that way I have made many excellent crime fiction discoveries.
A recent discovery are these Ruth Rendell short stories; I love the tiny poetic details she employs and the sudden plot twists that leave you hanging. Have a listen, they are petite but pack a punch!
Crime fiction and coffee goes hand in hand it would seem; all my favourite fictional detectives love it. I guess this is because it is associated with a certain sharpening of the faculties. Certainly coffee is your ally when hosting a murder-mystery party: I recommend serving it between wine and people being asked to make their accusations, you may even want to administer it again later, as a walking aid to get folk to their taxis.
Anyway, as a coffee dependent myself — I thought about saying ‘fan’ but, now, that wouldn’t be quite true — I’ve been waiting for an excuse to post my favourite coffee-related quotes, but somehow, in the throws of setting up my own murder-mystery game company, I missed the boat on International Coffee Day, and I simply refuse to wait until next September to post them. So here they are, I do hope you enjoy them.
“Police work wouldn’t be possible without coffee,” Wallander said.
“No work would be possible without coffee.”
They pondered the importance of coffee in silence.”
Henning Mankell, One Step Behind
‘I went out to the kitchen to make coffee. Rich, strong, bitter, boiling hot, ruthless, depraved. The life blood of tired men.’
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
‘Well, I too suffer. The cooking of Madame Summerhayes; it is beyond description. Well, it is not cooking at all. The currents of the cold air. The long hairs of the dogs. The chairs. The terrible, terrible beds in which I try to sleep! And the coffee: words cannot describe to you the fluid they serve to you as coffee.’
Agatha Christie, Mrs McGinty’s Dead
The final quote, Hercule Poirot’s lament, I include not for its eloquence but for it’s aptness. I still marvel at the inability of the British to make decent coffee, one shot of expresso plus a gallon of milk and an inch and a half of foam does not a good cappuccino make!
To my horror, I recently turned twenty-eight, and — presumably to soften the blow — my friend hosted me a 1950s dinner party. Despite the bruises I sustained from jive-dancing related injuries, I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun. This time, we put together the decorations on the hop, which got me thinking about how to perfect the theme for next time… and two mood boards were born; I hope you find them useful for your fifties parties!
Classic: 1 Martini glasses, 2 Small round floral bouquet, 3 Helium filled party balloons, 4 Pastel colour scheme, 5 Tissue paper lanterns, 6 Drinks tray
Hawaiian: 1 Pineapple and cherry cupcakes, 2 Cocktail umbrellas, 3 Singapore Sling, 4 Hawaiian shirt, 5 Hawaiian fabric tablecloth, 6 Flower garlands
On a murder mystery party note, there aren’t many great 1950s themed ones there, so I’m thinking of creating my own. Now, would a classic 1950s or 1950s Hawaiian murder mystery dinner be more fun, I wonder?
Last Saturday night the air outside was sharp and uninviting, so I decided to stay in the warm and learn the basics of creating lace eye make up… as you do. It worked out surprisingly well and was relatively easy, so I thought I would share it with you. It would be perfect for a Baroque themed game, such as
Le Mystère Des Masques, my review of which can be found here.
I got my inspiration from the oh-so-delicate stick on lace eye masks you can buy from here, but who can afford to spend £9 plus per eye for a night out? Certainly not penniless murder-mystery game writers like myself.
A few tips:
Once you’ve got the technique down, there are lots possibilities: you could certainly keep going and make a whole fake mask, or, alternatively, start from the hairline down and draw on a lace veil!
In light of my recent post on how to host a vampire themed murder-mystery game, I decided to embrace the errant weather, and host one. At this point, the weather immediately turned, and I found myself uncomfortably attired in an itchy black costume on a beautiful summer’s eve.
Beforehand, I spent many a happy hour watching online vampire makeup tutorials. I went for subtle, mostly because I was missing half the products needed and had to improvise with a musty eyeliner and an ancient set of something called ‘glitter cubes’, for which I’d never before found a use. If you want to look more dramatic, I recommend the mad but wonderful vampire makeup tutorial by Eman, which is worth watching, if only to listen to the soothing way she says ‘out’ in her Canadian accent.
I automatically associate vampires with Victorian Gothic Revival, when public interest in them piqued, so I constructed this Victorian-style costume by layering together a net skirt by Rare over a spangly Warehouse bodycon, and tied the whole thing together with a half corset from Primark. I find that half corsets are extremely useful for creating different Victorian looks.
There was, as it turned out, another disadvantage to my vampire costume on such a hot night: it turns out that mosquitoes had no problem biting me through the sequin netting of my dress! Ah well, here’s to the arrival of summer, and to vampire fancy dress, whatever the weather.