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 Jack Heath, author of the seriously spooky Scream series. Jack joins me today to talk about why he loves scary stories and what led him to write books about spider armies, venus fly-traps and haunted books. Thanks for joining me Jack!
The weirdness makes it seem real
When I heard Scholastic was looking for someone to write a horror series for kids, I stuck my hand up so fast that I ruptured my rotator cuff. I had loved scary stories since I was in nappies (which is a very convenient time to discover the horror genre, by the way).
My life as a reader began with picture books like Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg and Stephen Gammel, which led me to The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight by R. L. Stine, which in turn led me to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. After that I discovered Crew’s 13, an anthology of horror stories (edited by Gary Crew) which included The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe and The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs. After falling in love with Frankenstein I later discovered Stephen King, and…
Pardon me. I got lost down memory lane for a second there. Where was I? Oh yes, the Scream series. I was told to write four books.
‘About what?’ I asked.
‘Something scary,’ I was told.
I’m not a brave person, so it wasn’t hard to find four things which frightened me. I started with the obvious – spiders. Big ones. I thought about the zoo in Singapore where I was invited to hold a tarantula, and I channeled all that skin-crawling terror into The Spider Army.
I remembered having a Venus flytrap in my room as a kid, and uneasily watching it sit, perfectly still, mouth open, fangs wide, just waiting for an unwary fly to make one false step. This became the tingling spine of The Human Flytrap. (I was delighted to discover that the first edition literally screamed at readers when they opened the cover.)
I thought back to a holiday in Queensland when my brother and I found ourselves surrounded by lemon sharks. Being immersed in dark water, unable to scream and too frightened to move as these otherworldly creatures whipped past gave me the inspiration for The Squid Slayer.
But my favourite of the four books was a bit meta. The horror stories I loved had something in common – the monsters weren’t based on existing myths. There were no werewolves, no witches, no vampires. Instead they unleashed something completely new and bizarre, and paradoxically, the weirdness of the creatures made them more believable.
I remembered all the times I’d been reading a scary book and I’d started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the terrifying events depicted within might actually be true. I tried to capture this sensation in The Haunted Book.
People have asked me if it’s appropriate to expose a nine-year old to the frightening stuff in the Scream series. I tell them that I read books just like these as a kid, and I turned out all right.
Then I go home to write more disturbing stories and then sleep – with the lights on.
2 thoughts on “Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Jack Heath”
I wish you’d been around when I was kid, Mr Heath. I had to make do with Edgar Allan Poe and Dennis Weatley. But it amazes me that there are still editors of children’s books who think a 9-year-old wouldn’t be able to handle a scary story. When I sent The Coventry Game (published in The Best Angel Stories 2014) to Spellbound, a magazine for 8+ children, editor Raechel Henderson rejected it on the grounds her audience wasn’t ready for scary stories. Normal well-adjusted kids (even 8-year-olds) love to be scared witless. While you feel the emotions of terror—you find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat while your breath catches in your throat and your heart pounds furiously—deep down inside you is the knowledge you are safe.
Thanks for the comment! I like to think that scary stories leave us better prepared for the inevitable frightening moments of real life.