Author Ruth Ware is no stranger to a hen (UK’s version of bachelorette) party – sinister or otherwise. In her twisty, psychological thriller IN A DARK, DARK WOOD, Ruth takes us to a hen party, hosted in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside. And it’s that house that becomes a stage for an ending far more haunting than you can imagine — because sometimes, the only thing you have to fear is yourself…
Read on for a post by Ruth, featuring bachelorette traditions around the world (which are usually lovely and do not involve murder!), and be sure to pick up a copy of IN A DARK, DARK WOOD today!
The English call it a hen. The French call it an enterrement de vie de jeune fille – literally, the burial of life as a young girl. In Germany they have a polterabend. In Scotland, you may have to undergo a blackening.
What am I talking about? A bachelorette party, of course. And if all these names have a slightly sinister air, that’s probably no co-incidence. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good hen party (and I’ve been on some cracking ones) – but there’s something about the idea of getting a group of people together, many of them strangers, and throwing in a lot of alcohol and a bucket-load of weird traditions that brings tensions to the fore.
My debut thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood is about exactly this (although not many hen nights end up in murder, thankfully) and one of the fun things about researching it has been the store of wince-inducing bad hen anecdotes I’ve built up, from amateur strippers (the clue, apparently, was when he started folding his clothes as he took them off) to horrendously frank sexual confessions from the bride’s mother, to “help” the party along.
But what’s surprised me about editing the book is how geographically specific a lot of bachelorette traditions are. I never knew, until my American editor read the book, that wearing L-plates is something we only do this side of the Atlantic. (L-plates are the signs learner-drivers have to display on their car before they pass their test so people can give them a wide berth.) Thinking about it, it’s a pretty weird tradition – are they saying the hen is learning to be a bride? I’m not sure. Yet no self-respecting British hen would be complete without a fake veil, and a set of L-plates (you can get L-plate balloons, pants, even L-plate deely-boppers).
L-plates, however, pale into insignificance compared to some of the humiliations visited on brides from other nations. In Sweden for example, a möhippa tradition is to “kidnap” the bride from her home or place of work and carry her off without warning (having carefully prepared the ground by booking leave with her boss beforehand, and telling her boyfriend). Often part of the bachelorette party involves the hen having to “earn” money for drinks in some embarrassing way, such as painting portraits and trying to flog them in the street. Pity the poor stags who get even worse treatment – I have heard of waxing strips being fixed to a stag’s chest and passers-by being invited to pay for the privilege of ripping them off! Ouch.
A German polterabend on the other hand involves everyone going round to the house of the bride one night and smashing plates in the street. It’s supposed to be good luck, although not for the street-sweepers, I guess.
The Scottish meanwhile, take things a step further with their tradition of “blackening the bride” which is not quite as dodgy as it sounds, but pretty nearly. Brides in Orkney, Aberdeenshire and Fife run the risk of being tied up and carried around town on the back of a cart or pickup truck, before being doused various kinds of muck. If their friends are feeling kind it could be treacle, shaving foam, flour and gallons of chocolate sauce, but in olden times the alternatives were grimmer – soot, crude oil, tar and feathers are all traditional.
While weddings are a celebration of love and commitment, hen parties have a long tradition of being something slightly weirder – something a little bit pagan, a little bit edgy, where friendship and affection is laced with a desire to humiliate and embarrass the bride one last time – all in the name of fun, of course. It all makes it a powder keg in terms of things going wrong.
So next time you’re attending a bachelorette party – maybe even your own – say a little prayer of thanks that you’re not being kidnapped in Sweden, or dragged around town on a pickup truck in Orkney. Oh, and maybe lock up the shotguns.