As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books. Today I’m joined by Gareth P. Jones, author of my favourite funny book about ghosts, Constable and Toop, and the forthcoming Death and Ice Cream. Gareth talks about why he loves writing about death. Thanks for joining me Gareth!
“Honestly, Gareth, why do you have to write about death?”
My new novel (published by Hotkey Books) comes out January 2016, and I already know that my mum won’t like it because of its title. It is called Death or Ice Cream?
“Why can’t you write a nice book like Little Women?” she says.
“I think because I was born a hundred years too late,” I reply. “Also, I’ve not read it but I have seen that episode of Friends about it and I’m pretty sure someone does die in it. Beth possibly?”
“Black Beauty then.”
“I’m not massively keen on horses.”
My mum’s real question is: “Why do you have to write about death?”
Firstly, I should explain that I don’t only write about death. I have three series of books (Ninja Meerkats, The Dragon Detective Agency and The Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates) in which the vast majority of the characters make it to the end. I have also written the text for two picture books, (The Dinosaurs are Having a Party and Are You the Pirate Captain?) which are very light on the subject of mortality.
But when it comes to writing my standalone novels, I am often drawn to the subject of death. The Thornthwaite Inheritance is about a pair of twins trying to kill each other, The Considine Curse begins with a funeral, and Constable & Toop is a Victorian ghost story named after a real undertakers.
It was the real Constable and Toop that sparked the idea for my new book, Death or Ice Cream? I follow them on Twitter (sure, why wouldn’t an undertakers have a twitter account?) and they put up a link to an article called 500 Ways To Say Dead about all the euphemisms we use for dying (kick the bucket, push up the daisies, fall asleep, bite the bullet, pop your clogs etc.) It got me thinking about why we have such a long list of ways to express the one thing that will definitely affect us all. The answer is that death is something we are scared of so we use language to soften its impact. We try to make it sound funnier, gentler… more temporary. But, if Dumbledore has taught us nothing else, it is that fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.
“Yes, Gareth.” This is my mum again. “But you write children’s books. Why can’t you be more like that nice Beatrix Potter or Enid Blyton?”
Over the nine years I have been a published author, I have visited hundreds of schools and met thousands of children. I have observed that these children have not yet learned to fear death but they are fascinated by it. And literature allows us to consider subjects in a way that is engaging, satisfying and, above all else, entertaining. So whether it’s war, religion, prejudice, sex or death, books help us explore these tricky subjects in a unique – and rather wonderful – way.
Anyway, my new book isn’t just about death. My favourite thing about being a children’s author (rather than – say – a crime writer or a purveyor of historical fiction) is the freedom to employ different genres and draw upon a variety of influences to tell my stories. As my publishers will tell you, Death or Ice Cream? is a difficult book to describe but I’ll have a go anyway. Death or Ice Cream? is a selection of dark morality tales, closely interwoven and all set in the same fictional town of Larkin Mills. While the characters change from story to story, the book has an underlying theme about the duality of the daily choices we are forced to make. Let me try that again. It’s about god and the devil and why religion forces us to make a choice between them. It’s also about domestic sharks, concrete sculptures, dodgem cars, corrupt politicians, evil doctors, the Roman empire, the dangers of archeology, zombies, the art of making television, alien landings, death and ice cream.
Oh and if you’re thinking that the question Death or Ice Cream? is a no-brainer, then I should point out that it is not really a choice at all.
After all, you can choose never to have an ice cream.
Death or Ice Cream? is published January 2016 by Hot Key books.
You can read my review of Gareth’s Constable and Toop here on the blog.