Monday, 31 October 2011

SPOOKY SPECIAL: Hallowe'en reads

Mwa ha ha ha ha

That is the sound of my inviting you to my spooky blog.
This weekend I have been getting in the Hallowe'en spirit. I bought some Haribo horror mix to give any trick or treaters that pass by my house, but then ate most of it myself, so will have to improvise like I did one year where I offered some 14-year-old boys a handful of crunchy nut cornflakes (they declined). I have also been working on some wonderful features to scare your pants off. Unless you are not easily scared, or would just rather keep your pants on, which is fair enough (if a little boring). 
Luckily, I have found some people who are actually writers to write things for you.

An interview with the creator of Stitch Head, a mad professor's forgotten experiment. I also went and knocked at the Great Door of Castle Grotteskew to see if I could get a few words out of Stitch Head himself - find out how I got on!

The Gruesome Gregg Olsen
Gregg is a crime writer who has just published his first YA book. Envy is a fabulously dark thriller with a touch of the paranormal and a dash of black humour. See my review and also find out if Gregg knows Justin Bieber. 

The Eerie Emily Bone
Emily had to write a post for me because she is my friend and I said I would cry if she didn't. But also I have read her work and know that she is an amazing writer and so I wanted to show her off to you. Find out which book monsters scare her the most, and which one she'd like to cuddle.

Christopher's spooky zombarific conspiracy thriller The Dead Ways is out TODAY. We had a (un)dead good chat about books & zombies.

My top 5 spooky books. Obviously. 

The Ghoulish Guy Bass

In the murky dungeons of Castle Grotteskew an almost-human called Stitch Head lives his almost-life alone and forgotten. He was the first experiment of the frightfully insane Mad Professor Erasmus, who makes freakish creations out of living things. When Fulbert Freakfinder's circus comes to town, Stitch Head has the chance to escape - but first he's got to deal with The Creature, another monstrous creation (with 3 arms and a short attention span) who's causing havoc. 

Hi Guy! So, tell me about Stitch Head. What is he like and where does he lives?

Stitch Head is the very first creation of Mad Professor Erasmus. He was put together from bits and pieces that the Professor found lying around. Poor Stitch Head is now forgotten by the creature-creating Professor and he hides away in the shadows of the especially sinister Castle Grotteskew. He's spent nearly his whole almost-life on his own. The book is about Stitch Head emerging from the shadows into a strange adventure.

How did you first come up with the idea?
It was originally a story about leftover limbs from a monstrous experiment, but it was quite hard to sell an idea about a disembodied arm and leg... It evolved into the idea of a prototype Frankenstein's Monster - what if that incredible monster was the last in a long line of lesser creations? A mad professor has to start somewhere... I liked the idea of a character who feels bad that he isn't monstrous or hideous or grotesque.

Who are the other characters Stitch Head lives with in Castle Grotteskew?
There are hundreds of the Professor's creations roaming the castle... dog-faced cats, steam-powered skulls, three-eyed brain spiders - anything you could dredge from your worst nightmares. As it turns out, they're all surprisingly friendly, but Stitch Head still prefers to hide away. The other creations don't even know he exists - they know him only as the Ghost of Grotteskew...

Did you tell the illustrator, Pete Williams, how you wanted Stitch Head to look? Were there any surprises when you saw him or any of the other characters?
I did a sketch of Stitch Head in my notebook, which is how the character got started (It's the background on my Twitter page) but Pete refined him and made him a lot more appealing and accessible. Give Pete some ink and paper and amazing things happen. In fact, knowing Pete's fondness for drawing dark corners was half the reason I wrote Stitch Head in the first place. It was Stitch Head's friend, The Creature, who was the only real surprise as neither of us were sure how it looked to start with.

You've been taking Stitch Head out to meet people. How has he been getting on and what sort of things happen at your events? 
My events are mainly me rambling on and running about but I introduce Stitch Head towards the end. It's a big reveal and he's not really happy about the limelight.

Do you think Stitch Head would get on with your other heroes, Dinkin Dings and Gormy Ruckles?
I can't see them having a tea party. Not least because none of them drink tea. Dinkin drinks flat lemonade (bubbles terrify him) while Gormy prefers freshly squeezed horse juice or a nice goat-shake. Stitch Head doesn't need to eat or drink, so he'd be feeling left out, again.

There are some spooky, monstrous themes running through your books. What really spooks you?
Spiders and dentists. And spider-dentists.

Which books would you recommend to someone who wants their pants scared off?
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (I've only read the graphic novel but it's scary enough)... Roald Dahl's The Witches... The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy by Tim Burton is deeply disturbing in the best way.

If you weren't a writer what would you be doing?
I'd like to think I'd be a spider-dentist. Face your fears and all that. 

If you could be any character from a book, who would you be?
I'd be that bloke on page 14. Can't remember his name. The one with the clothes and head and teeth. Yeah, I'd be him.

Now, I know Stitch Head is very shy, but I was wondering if I could ask him a few questions. Do you think he would talk to me?
Don't get your hopes up, he's very reclusive... you could try knocking on the Great Door of Castle Grotteskew. If you're lucky, he might let you in for an interview... or at least whisper to you through the keyhole.

Hello Stitch Head. 
Stitch Head: N-no visitors... 

How are you today? 
Stitch Head: No visitors...

Now I just have a few questions. It's for my blog. Nothing scary - I'm not a WEIRDO! So, who's your best friend at Castle Grotteskew?

Stitch Head: No visi-- 

The Creature: STITCH HEAD! THERE you are! 

Stitch Head: Creature! What are you--?

The Creature: I've been looking ALL over the CASTLE for you. Me and some of the other CREATIONS are going to have a game of SNAP and I thought, snap snap SNAP! THEN I thought, do PIGEONS have teeth? And THEN I thought, I MUST get my BESTEST friend to JOIN us. What do you SAY?

Stitch Head: Shhh, Creature, listen! There's - there's someone at the Great Door.

The Creature: Really? GREAT! I LOVE visitors! Is it the POSTMAN? or post LADY? Or the MILKMAN or lady? Or Father CHRISTMAS or lady? HEY, Father Lady Christmas is EARLY! Or LATE. What month is this? Actually, what YEAR is this? Hang ON, Father Lady, we'll get this door OPEN! Don't eat all the PRESENTS!

Stitch Head: Shhh! My master - the professor - he doesn't like visitors. "No visitors", he says! But with more insane cackling.

The Creature: But WHAT if it's our new NEIGHBOURS? What if they've JUST have moved in and they've brought us a DELICIOUS QUICHE? I LOVE quiche! Actually, I'm not sure if I've ever HAD quiche... but it sounds GREAT. Quiche quiche QUICHE!

Stitch Head: Please, shhh! She'll never leave if you keep shouting...

Is someone else there? Is it the professor? How do you get on with Professor Erasmus? I hear he's frightfully insane.

The Creature: She's STILL out there! I can HEAR her asking about the PROFESSOR... maybe she's from the GUILD of MAD Professoring? Do professors HAVE a guild? Or a UNION? They should at LEAST have a CLUBHOUSE...

Stitch Head: Wait, she's asking about Professor Erasmus? No... what if she wants to take him away and lock him up forever? We have to get rid of her...!

The Creature: But WHAT about the QUICHE?

Stitch Head: There is no quiche! Look, just do a monstrous roar or something! Scare her off!

The Creature: But I haven't WARMED up my VOICE...

Stitch Head: I heard you singing this morning! It put a crack in the dungeon wall!

Just a few questions! It will make a lovely 'profile piece'. Now, what would you like to do when you grow up?

The Creature: Hey, NOW she's asking how OLD you are! Tee HEE! She thinks you're a BABY! You should TELL her you're OLDER than SHE is. Seriously, how old ARE you? 63 and a half?

What really spooks you?

Stitch Head: Visitors! Visitors spook me! Please, go away... Come on Creature, let's hide in the shadows 'til she leaves...

The Creature: GREAT! I LOVE hiding in shadows! I THINK...


So I didn't really get anywhere with that interview - I never even made it past the Great Door. There seemed to be a lot of commotion and I heard something about quiche, but I wasn't offered any (rude). I was simply trying to give Stitch Head his moment in the limelight, but it seems he prefers to stay in the shadows. Guy Bass was much friendlier. I would like to say a massive monster-shaped THANK YOU to him for writing this! I think you will agree it is not only spooktastic, but also utterly great.

Envy by Gregg Olsen is the first in the Empty Coffin series. The series stars Hayley and Taylor Ryan, 15-year-old twins from Port Gamble in Washington (also known as Empty Coffin, after a town legend) who turn crime-solvers when a grisly event occurs in their town. Envy begins with the twins' friend Katelyn found dead in the bath. Was it an accident? Suicide? Murder? As Hayley and Taylor investigate, it becomes clear that many of the residents of Port Gamble have secrets, and little do the girls know they are getting closer to the darkest secret of all.  

First I will say I bloody loved this book. The mystery is cleverly written and makes you desperate to know what happened. This is heightened by the multiple perspectives - you are constantly jumping into the minds of different Port Gamble residents, which gradually feeds you pieces of the puzzle and also informs your view of other characters. The characters seemed very real to me - the teen girls make flippant remarks and sarcastic jokes about Katelyn's death to cover up how upset and disturbed they are, which I felt was a realistic presentation of the way people react to tragedy. The book therefore had a vein of dark humour running through it, which is not always the case in the paranormal YA realm. This was added to by the Ryan family, who have a crime writer father and so discuss things like autopsy over breakfast. 

Although there is a paranormal edge to the book, everything is rooted in the real and the possible. The everyday reality of the town and, as I've just mentioned, the characters, makes anything creepy that happens is more creepy - because it seems possible. There is also a real crime case behind the book - a girl in the US who was tormented by someone online - which makes the story feel directly and uncomfortable relevant. I also found interesting the book's exploration of the different ways people interact in real life and online. The book is full of texts and IM conversations, where you see how characters express themselves in a way that may hide or obscure what they are really thinking. More creepily, social media allows them to create online selves that they can hide behind to say things they would never say in real life.

Overall this is a dark, clever and tension-filled thriller and the start of a tremendously exciting series. I was lucky enough to interview Gregg for Armadillo Magazine - like the Ryans, we discussed murder over breakfast. For now I will give you his top five audience questions from his UK book tour:

1. Do you know Justin Beiber? (Nope. But I can sing a little of Baby!) 

2. Can you do an English accent for us? (Kinda sorta!) 

3. If you could write any book other than your own, which one? (Harry Potter because I’d be rich!) 

4. Why do you like writing for young adults? (Because they still dream and our open to a world of possibilities. Older people, not as much!) 

5. Are your twin daughters Mary Kate and Ashley? (Wrong Olsen twins!)


Monsters are everywhere, not just under the bed. Often they are in books, and if they are well-written monsters they will then follow you around for a few months, scaring you to death every time you go to the bathroom alone. 

There are mythological monsters, hybrid monsters, alien-monsters, supernatural monsters, and many more. But monsters are not just for scaring. Sometimes monsters are there to make you think (although often they’re a little scary as well). Sometimes monsters are nameless and voiceless, and really only exist in your head (or the head of the character), and sometimes monsters are people. 

In my opinion every book needs a monster, otherwise, when it comes down to it, what’s the point? How could we relate to a book where monsters didn’t exist? Even in love stories there has to be a rat or two. A book without a monster would be like Cinderella without the Ugly Sisters; a life without a care in the world. Maybe it’s just me, but I need monsters in my stories for catharsis (and sometimes just for fun). 

I couldn’t commit to a ‘Top 5 Monsters’ list, so I’ve settled for just offering up some of my favourites. I’m pretty sure I’ll change my mind before this is up on Liz’s blog but sometimes in life you have to make tough decisions. So, in no particular order, here goes… 

1. The Balrog of Moria from Lord of the Rings 

I love Lord of the Rings, but deciding which monster to name as my favourite from the trilogy was a tricky one. In the end, I must confess, the films made my decision as I think the Balrog scene with Gandalf is one of the best scenes in the films. I also like the monster-connotations of the Balrog; that deep, dark, shadow that we all fear, that makes our stomachs drop, that fills us with dread. Also, Gollum gets beaten by a hobbit, the Orcs get beaten by all sorts, even Sauron is tricked into his demise. The Balrog is only felled by a wizard who dies after the ordeal, top trumps says Balrog wins. 

2. Frankenstein’s Monster from Frankenstein 

Now here is a perfect example of a monster who makes you think (but is also a bit scary). Discussions on a range of topics from prejudice to opinions on creating artificial life all surround this monster, who is surely one of the most educated and articulate monsters in literature. Mostly though I like it for the same reason I like ugly animals. There’s just something about the monster that makes me think…aw…have a cuddle. 

3. The Other Mother from Coraline 

The Other Mother is surely one of the most terrifying monsters there is. We all think the grass might be greener on the other side from time to time, but be careful what you wish for folks because there might not always be a friendly cat there to warn you of the danger over the fence (or through the bricked up, locked door in the drawing room). The Other Mother is wonderfully creepy and the perfect monster-you-love-to-beat because she’s plain and simple evil, no catches. 

4. Grendel from Beowulf 

Grendel on the other hand, is just doing what comes naturally to him. It must be a bit of a pain, but if you’ve got a monster for your neighbour you should probably keep the noise down in the mead hall. Grendel is a good old-fashioned ‘kill them and eat them’ kind of monster. It’s possible that he’s greedy, maybe vengeful, maybe just a bit grouchy, but I wouldn’t really call him evil. Of course killing is evil, but Grendel is only evil in the way nature can be cruel. He’s a monster, give him a break. 

5. The BFG from The BFG 

And lastly as it’s Hallowe’en and you may all need some light relief, the BFG from Roald Dahl’s book of the same name. He may not be a monster in a monstery way, but he is a giant and I think he’s worth a mention. Who wouldn’t love to be able to hear dreams through massive ears? Or be able to explode nightmares? And would you be able to stand up against the rest of your species for what’s right? Well, all that’s left for me to say is that if you’ve been celebrating Hallowe’en by watching a scary film, you’d better hope that the BFG has branched out and is now visiting adults too. 

I hope you have enjoyed reading about some of my favourite monsters, it’s the kind of topic you could go on for days about. Perhaps they should extend Hallowe’en?

They could call it Hallowe'ek! Thank you Emily for sharing your monstrous thoughts. I would definitely like to be able to hear dreams through massive ears. If you have any monsters to add to the list, or if you also think poor monstery Grendel should be cut some slack, pop a comment below!

The Creepy Christopher Edge

Christopher Edge should really be called Christopher Edge-of-your-seat, because this was my position for most of the time I was reading The Dead Ways. It is a cinematic supernatural conspiracy thriller, with zombies. Our hero is Scott, whose dad is one of the key government figures behind the 'Greening of the Roads' scheme to shut down all the motorways and return the land to nature. But strange things are happening - there are reports of fog made up of ghostly figures and dead bodies coming back to life. Scott discovers that under motorways flow the Dead Ways, ancient lines of power that seal off the land of the living from the land of the dead. With the help of DI Jason Dyer, antiquarian bookseller Tom Moody and Tom's daughter Avalon, Scott must stop the Dead Ways from being opened and the dead returning to walk the Earth...

This book included many things for me to get excited about. My spooky side can get excited about the zombies (who mostly lurk around the edges of the book, before bursting out at the creepiest moment they can find), my geeky side can get excited about ancient books and prophecies (if it's old and it's parchmenty and it's written by someone a bit evil, I like it) and my I-like-a-good-old-fashioned-book-adventure side can get excited for obvious reasons. The Dead Ways comes out today, so let's give a hurrah and zombie groan to welcome Christopher Edge!   

How did you first get the idea for The Dead Ways? 

The initial inspiration for The Dead Ways came from a newspaper article I read, which said that the most haunted road in Britain wasn’t some lonely moorland track or a dark, spooky lane by an ancient graveyard, but was actually the M6 motorway. The article described how a battalion of Roman soldiers had been seen walking down the motorway, moving like shadows through the tarmac. This image just stuck in my mind and eventually led me to write one of the opening scenes in the book where Jason is trapped in his car whilst an army of ghostly apparitions walk down the motorway towards him. 

I started to think about why the ghosts of the dead might be following these roads and that was where the idea of the Dead Ways came from – ancient lines of power sealing off this world from the next, the land of the living from the land of the dead. I thought about how over time these lines of power would have become pathways, tracks, roads, and eventually even motorways. And then I thought what would happen if someone tried to open the Dead Ways again... 

Do you base your characters on people you know? 

I try not to base the characters in my books too closely on people that I know as I think that’s a sure-fire way to lose friends and alienate family! However, certain features of people I meet or see in the media do seep into the characters I create. To give you a couple of examples, the character of Jerry Daedalus, the nefarious Minister for Transport in The Dead Ways, was inspired by several of the shady politicians that seem to plague our Parliament, whilst for the look of Tom Moody I had an image of the illustrious writer and graphic novelist Alan Moore in my mind. 

Your research for this book must have been quite varied - masonic cults, ancient ruins, the english motorway system - do you enjoy this bit of the writing process? 

After I have an initial idea for a story, I love the research stage, as this germ of an idea can then grow in strange and unexpected ways. With the ideas behind The Dead Ways it was fascinating to be able to go from reading about ancient stone circles to outlandish conspiracy theories to the poetry of William Blake, and it all fed into the story somewhere. Whenever I start writing a new book, there always seems to be an element of serendipitous research as well, as the ideas or places I am writing about suddenly seem to crop up in newspaper articles or on TV programmes. It’s a bit spooky actually! 

Which other writers and/or films and tv shows have inspired this book? 

There’s a whole raft of inspirations behind The Dead Ways, but one particular one that stands out for me was a line I read from the Sandman graphic novel Season of Mists where the character of Lucifer abandons Hell. As he hands over the keys to the Sandman, he says “And what will they do on Earth I wonder ... when the dead start coming back?” This is a question I plan to explore further as the trilogy progresses and the full impact of the opening of the Dead Ways becomes clear. 

What scares you? 

When I was younger I remember watching late-night horror films and not batting an eyelid, but now all I need to hear is the creak of a stair and I’m cowering behind the sofa. Suspense is always the killer for me and one of the most frightening dramas I’ve watched in recent years is Mark Gatiss’s Crooked House. This was his take on a M.R. James-style chilling tale for Christmas and it tells the story of a cursed house from Georgian times to the present day. It’s quite spectacularly creepy. 

If you weren't a writer, would you like to be working on government secrets, like Scott's dad, be a bookseller of rare, ancient books, like Tom, or be a policeman, like Jason? 

I’d love to pretend I could be some ace detective solving mysteries, but I know that I’d be happiest sat behind the counter of my antiquarian bookshop uncovering the secrets of the universe. 

I read on your blog that this book has a soundtrack - could you tell me about a couple of the songs? 

You can find The Dead Ways soundtrack on Spotify here - The Dead Ways. The first song on the playlist is Jerusalem, which is nowadays seen as an anthem of the establishment, but was actually a radical poem by William Blake calling for a revolution to transform Great Britain. Blake’s vision of creating a paradise in England’s green and pleasant land, where death is just a memory, is the mission that the Brothers of Albion, the sinister secret society at the heart of the story, think they will achieve by opening the Dead Ways, little realising that they are about to unleash Hell on Earth. .. 

To reflect the wealth of inspiration he gave me, the only artist to get two songs included in The Dead Ways soundtrack is Julian Cope. The inspiration came not just from his music, but also his wonderful book The Modern Antiquarian about the ancient standing stones and Neolithic sites scattered across the British Isles. This book was my trusty gazetteer as I traipsed across windswept stone circles and crawled inside creepy dolmens searching for the gates that would unlock the Dead Ways. The lyrics to his song ‘No Hard Shoulder To Cry On’ were in my mind the words running through Scott’s head as he grieved for his dad and made a promise to himself that he’d bring his father’s killers to justice. 

Did you plan out the story in detail, or did you just see where the characters took you? 

I always plan in quite painstaking detail and write a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book before I start writing. This doesn’t mean that the story is set in stone as I’ll often find characters start to do things that I hadn’t planned, but the fact that there’s a structure there already makes these unexpected plot twists easier to handle. I couldn’t imagine starting to write a story without knowing how it was going to end. 

There are lots of rather exciting action sequences in the book. When you are writing a chase or a fight scene, do you act it out? 

With something like a chase scene, if this is in an actual place that I don’t personally know, I’ll use Google Earth to check the lie of the land so I can make sure what I’m writing is as true to life as I can make it, especially for a book like The Dead Ways which is set in the present-day. I don’t tend to act fight scenes out when I’m writing them – especially if I’m writing in a public place like a train or a cafe, but I do sometimes catch myself pulling different facial expressions and acting out dialogue to get the feel of it right which can get a few strange looks! 

The book ends of a bit of a cliffhanger. WHEN CAN I READ BOOK 2? 

Coming soon in 2012 – I need to check with my publisher to say exactly when! 

If you could have written any book, which would it be? 

Wow, so many to choose from. I think for sheer scale of ambition and achievement, I’d have to say the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. 

If you could be any character from a book, who would you be? 

Danny, the Champion of the World. 

What's the best thing about writing books for young people? 

When you’re writing for young people, I don’t think there’s any limits set to the stories you can tell.

What are you planning for Halloween? Oh, that's right. You've got a book out! How will you be celebrating the launch (I won't say 'opening') of The Dead Ways? 

Well, rather than cowering behind the sofa with the lights off as ghosts and ghouls hammer on my front door to extract confectionary with menaces, this Halloween I’ll be at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, London for The Dead Ways launch party. I’m looking forward to it. 

Top 5 Spooky Books

To round things off and wish you a creepy day, here are some spooky reads. These are things I've read recently with a spooky theme, and things that have simply scared the crap out of me.

1. The Hunting Ground by Cliff McNish

You may think you are a calm, rational person, not troubled by supernatural silliness - but read The Hunting Ground and you will become a jibbering wreck, unable to sleep with the lights off and seeing creepy children singing nursery rhymes wherever you go. It's the story of brothers Elliot and Ben, who move to Glebe House. A series of sinister events makes them realise that something evil lives there; something that has preyed on children and now is hunting them...

2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Nobody Owens, or Bod, is orphaned at birth and raised in the graveyard by ghosts. The graveyard community shield Bod from the Man Jack, who murdered the rest of his family. Bod's mentor, Silas, is a 'solitary type' who instructs him in the powers of the Freedom of the Graveyard, which allow Bod to 'fade' from sight. These powers will be vital for when Bod grows up and leaves the safety of the graveyard, where the man Jack is still at large. Quite simply a wonderful story that is saturated in spookiness and deals with the most scary thing of all: growing up.

3. Gravenhunger by Harriet Goodwin

12-year-old Phoenix Wainwright is not best pleased. His dead mother Elvira kept her house, Gravenhunger Manor, a secret from him and his father during her lifetime and now he has to go and spend the summer there in the middle of nowhere. When he finds a letter his mother wrote to his father before she died, however, he realises there is a more terrible secret lurking in the house. I absolutely loved Harriet Goodwin’s first book – The Boy who Fell Down Exit 43 (the story of a boy who crash-lands into the underground home of thousands of ghosts, who are waiting patiently to return to earth) and so I knew I would love this book. As in all the best haunted house stories, the house is a character in the book – its chilling presence gets inside the characters’ minds. And gravestone inscriptions always freak me out.

4. White Cat by Holly Black

This is the first in the Curseworkers series and is the story of Cassel Sharpe, who is 17 and the youngest in a family of magic workers, but the only one without any powers. Cassel is shunned by his family for his lack of magic, but also (as magic working has been prohibited since 1929) treated with suspicion by others for his magical connections. And now he’s being haunted by a white cat, which has been following him ever since he murdered his best friend. I am actually reading this book as we speak (and it has just got really exciting) and I am thrilled to have a new series to become addicted to.

5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James 

As you can probably tell, the sort of things that scare me are big old houses, graveyards and creepy children. This book has the lot and is a classic lesson in how to freak a reader out. It is the story of a governess who comes to look after two angelic blonde children, Miles and Flora. She starts to realise that the governess before her, along with her lover, might not have left, which is pretty frightening, as they’re supposed to be dead. Can Miles and Flora see the ghosts? Might they be in league with them and inviting them in? Or is the governess mad? The thing that is makes this story so scary is you don’t know. That Henry James with his little bald head and scary eyes just won’t give me any answers. (I know that it partly because he is dead, but when he was alive he he refused to explain the story, knowing that this made it scarier.) Either way, I still check the windows for ginger people before I go to bed.

No comments:

Post a Comment