Category Archives: spooky

Interview with Darkmouth author Shane Hegarty

Shane Hegarty is the author of the awesome Darkmouth series.  It’s full of legendary creatures of all kinds and there are plenty of laughs.  You may have been one of the lucky people who got to hear Shane talk about his books when he visited the top half of the country last month (I’m very jealous!).  The third book in the series, Chaos Rising, is soon to be released here in NZ and I got the chance to interview Shane about the series.

  • What inspired you to write the Darkmouth series?

I ran out of excuses not to do it! From a very young age I’d wanted to write a story of fantasy and adventure, with scary bits, jokes, an ordinary hero in extraordinary circumstances. In the end, I wanted to write a story for my own kids that gave me the focus to make the relationships the heart of it even as their town is under attack.

  • What 3 words would you use to describe the series?

Fun. Fantastic. Freaky.

  • What would your Legend Hunter name be?

Shane the Easily Spooked.

  • Which of your characters do you most relate to?

I relate to a few in different ways. Finn has to become a Legend Hunter even though he doesn’t feel strong enough, and I recognize his fear. His friend Emmie is fearless, and she’s the flip side of things – how I would actually like to be. Finally, Finn’s dad Hugo is a but pushy to his son, and I guess I recognise that even if I don’t want to be a pushy dad!

  • Which Legend would you least want to encounter?

There’s a Hydra in Darkmouth 3: Chaos Descends, and I really wouldn’t like to meet any of its heads on a dark night. Or a bright day. Or at any time.

  • The series is being adapted in to an animated movie.  Will you have any part in the creation of the movie?

I’ve seen some of the early drawings and story ideas they’re working on in Hollywood, and it looks amazing. There are brilliant directors involved – Dave Pimentel (Moana) and Doug Sweetland (Storks) – so I know they’ll do a great job. I’m having fun watching it being put together.

  • What books do you recommend for readers who love your series?

If you haven’t read Derek Landy’s amazing Skulduggery Pleasant, they’re so good. I always tell readers of my own favourite book, Douglas Adams’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I’m always delighted when a reader is inspired to pick that up because they always love it.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Jack Heath

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.

the-spider-armyI 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.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – James Foley

 

Bringing My Dead Bunny to life – James Foley

www.jamesfoley.com.au/books/my-dead-bunny

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I have never owned a rabbit, let alone a zombified one, so when I began working on ‘My Dead Bunny’ I had no idea how to approach the character of Bunny Brad. I knew plenty about zombies, having watched all of the Walking Dead and the original Romero film Night of The Living Dead; but I didn’t know how to draw a decent rabbit (or, as this book required, an indecent one).

In addition, I wasn’t sure what illustration style would suit the book; in the first few pages I needed to show a live rabbit being electrocuted, then coming back as a zombie, and I needed to accomplish this without making the audience want to stop reading, close the book, and burn it immediately. As you would expect, it was a challenge bringing a dead bunny to life.

I always start a book by developing the main character. This inevitably involves experimenting with style at the same time. Once the main character design has settled, it informs the style of the whole book; everything else forms around it.

I read the first draft for ‘My Dead Bunny’ and was instantly hooked. Then I was perplexed. How would I draw Bunny Brad? I realised I needed to answer three questions:

  1. How ‘undead’ would he be? (i.e. would Bunny Brad still look relatively alive, or would he look obviously undead?)
  2. How much sentience would he have? (i.e. would Bunny Brad appear to be conscious of his actions and intentionally evil, or would he be acting out of unconscious zombie impulses?)
  3. How real would he look? (i.e. would Bunny Brad have realistic proportions, or would he appear more cartoony?)

I wrote these three questions down in my sketchbook, and tried a few drawings.

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The brain worm was there from the start, as was the idea to have Bunny Brad appear at the narrator’s bedroom door casting a long shadow.  But that’s about all in these sketches that looks familiar.

At this point I realised I needed to look at reference photos of actual rabbits, so that I could clarify what features I needed to include. I soon found another challenge; how could I take a rabbit’s features and zombify them? Rabbits look very alert, anxious and cuddly, whereas zombies need to look slow, dim-witted and creepy. How could I draw a zombified rabbit and still have it seem like a rabbit?

I tried many many options over many many months. Here are some of those designs.

random-sketches

The publishers (god bless them) were very patient and supportive, rejecting options that were too cute and/or not strong enough. After many rejected character designs I was feeling very frustrated, so I sat on my studio floor with a big sheet of paper and a sharpie, and drew some ridiculous zombie rabbits that I thought the publisher would hate. ‘Let’s see what they think of these!’ I thought. I sent the sketches off with a devilish glint in my eye.

20140215-bunny sketches

The publisher emailed me back almost immediately. ‘We love them!’ they said. ‘More of these, please!’

I felt surprised, then relieved. The character had finally clicked, and so had the style. Bunny Brad shifted a bit from that sketch to the final version, but he was basically there, and the rest of the book flowed quite easily once he was in place.

LEFT: a colour test version of the rough sketch in the previous image;  RIGHT: final version from the cover of the book

LEFT: a colour test version of the rough sketch in the previous image;
RIGHT: final version from the cover of the book

It’s always the case that I spend at least half of the creative process experimenting and planning. Quite often there’s a point where it seems like it’s never going to work – that the character is never going to settle and the book won’t go anywhere. I’m so glad Bunny Brad eventually turned up! He’s been a heap of fun to work with (if a bit nibbly).

My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen and James Foley is available now from Walker Books Australia.  Grab a copy now from your library or bookshop.

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My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen and James Foley

So you like picture books about cute bunny rabbits who nibble on carrots or deliver chocolate eggs in a basket?  Well this is definitely not the picture book for you.  However, if you like picture books about gross, stinky, horrible creatures then this book is absolutely perfect for you.  Meet Brad the zombie bunny in Sigi Cohen and James Foley’s new picture book, My Dead Bunny.

MDB_cover-1000px

We first meet Brad when he is visiting his owner in bed one night and we’re told of how Brad came to be dead.  Brad was just a normal, cute, fluffy bunny until the day he decided to chew through the TV cord and got electrocuted. The family bury him but the boy misses him and decides to dig him up and check on him.  This is when Brad starts to cause a panic, scaring everyone silly, stinking up the house and making a mess.  The situation gets so bad that the boy and his friends have to come up with a plan to deal with dead Bunny Brad.  Will their plan just cause more problems instead?

I absolutely love this picture book!  It is creepy, disgusting and absolutely hilarious.  It’s completely the opposite of those cutesy picture books about bunny rabbits and it will appeal hugely to boys.  You would have to make sure you knew your audience when reading it aloud, as you wouldn’t want to traumatise a kid whose beloved pet had just died.

Sigi Cohen and James Foley are a dream team for this book. Sigi Cohen’s rollicking rhyming text will have you laughing out loud as you read it.  I love his descriptions of zombie Bunny Brad, which are creepy and funny at the same time.  James Foley’s illustrations are delightfully creepy but hilarious.  James has used a very simple colour palette, mostly black and grey, with green and orange to add effect.  The green of zombie Brad really makes him stand out, compared to his living self which is grey.  James really makes zombie Brad look creepy and disgusting, with his pink, runny eyes, his horrible teeth, and the worm sticking out of his head.  James also uses different angles and shadows to add to the creepiness of the illustrations.  I even love James’ end papers of the book, which show Brad before and after his accident.

My Dead Bunny is a perfect picture book for older readers and younger readers who like a bit of a scare and a good laugh.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Sue Copsey

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 New Zealand author Sue Copsey.  Sue is the author of the Spooky Adventures series, which includes Young Nick’s Head and Ghosts of Tarawera.  Sue joins me today to talk about why she writes spooky stories for kids. Thanks for joining me Sue!

Here’s a question for you. Do you like scary books and movies?

Did you answer “yes”? Next question: Why do you like them?

Weird, isn’t it, how we enjoy being a little bit scared. The sort of scared when you can hug a cushion or the cat and know you’re not in any actual danger. Where you stick your fingers in your ears and squeeze your eyes shut … then open them just a tiny bit, or put your hands over your face but peep between your fingers.

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When you look over your shoulder and take a deep breath before turning the page of a ghost story.

Or maybe you’re reading a spooky story in bed, and you pull the covers right up to your chin, and keep glancing at the bedroom door to check that dark shadow really is just your dressing gown hanging on the hook. And before turning out the light, you make sure there’s nothing under the bed (except your dirty socks, and … oh, missing maths worksheet!).

When Zac asked me the question “Why do you write spooky stories for children?” I realised that the question I really needed to answer was, “Why do I love ghost stories so much?”

I grew up in England, where every town and village has its spooks, and I was always fascinated by these stories. On Halloween, my friends and I would dare each other to walk through the local churchyard, which was said to be haunted by the Grey Lady. We never saw her, but I won’t forget the terror of walking amongst the gravestones, eyes straight ahead and fixed on the far wall of the churchyard, muttering “it’s okay it’s okay” to myself. Once we had all walked the walk of terror, we would make our way to the village chip shop for a bag of hot chips (the end of October in England is cold – so cold) before making our way home down the dark, empty lane. (This was before trick or treating was a thing. Okay yes, that makes me quite old.)

But for me, it didn’t stop there. I wanted to know, who was the Grey Lady? Why was she haunting the churchyard? What was the story? And so it began. Behind every haunting is a tale of days gone by, of unsolved murders, revenge, tragedy, and slips in time. Rich pickings for an author!

So another question for you – do you like history? Are you yawning? Well you can stop that, because history is the coolest of subjects – really, it’s just another name for stories, and it should never be boring! I don’t think there’s enough history taught in New Zealand schools, so I like to include plenty of it in my stories. But how to make it interesting for you guys? Just add spooks!

GoT cover

There are plenty of ghost story opportunities in New Zealand history. The first book in my Spooky Adventures series is set at Young Nick’s Head on the East Coast. Interesting name don’t you think? Any idea why it’s called that? See – history can be intriguing! The second book was inspired by the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886. Did you know that a phantom waka warned of the eruption? And that local legend says it will appear again if the volcano reawakens? How could I not write a story about what would happen if two modern-days boys, out kayaking on the lake, happened to see the phantom canoe?

So I guess the answer to the question, why do I write ghost stories, is to give New Zealand kids a delicious scare – just enough to thrill, not enough for nightmares – and to teach them some of our history in such a way that it is fun, never boring.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Be sure to visit Sue Copsey’s website for more information about her books and ghostly facts and jokes – www.suecopsey.com

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The Ghosts of Tarawera by Sue Copsey

I love ghost stories, adventure stories, and stories set in New Zealand.  Sue Copsey has combined all of my favourite types of stories in to her explosive new book, The Ghosts of Tarawera. 

On holiday near Rotorua, Joe and Eddie are fascinated by the area’s bubbling mud pools and boiling geysers. Local volcanologist Rocky tells them about the Pink and White Terraces that existed on the lake where they’re staying, and how they were destroyed in the cataclysmic 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera. But Joe’s fascination turns to unease when strange sightings on the lake and dark rumblings from the Earth hint that the volcano is reawakening. Can he persuade Rocky, who puts his faith only in science, to sound a warning?

The Ghosts of Tarawera is an action-packed adventure with a good dose of spookiness.  Much like the pressure building inside a volcano, the suspense builds until it reaches its explosive conclusion.  There is a sense of impending doom right from the start which made me want to keep reading to find out how it all ended.  The front cover (which I love) suggests that an eruption will occur, but when, where and how you just don’t know.

The story is set around Rotorua in the modern day and follows Jo and Eddie who are on holiday with Jo’s family.  It reminded me of Elsie Locke’s Canoe in the Mist (which was set in 1886 at the time of the huge eruption of Mount Tarawera).  The ghostly waka that warned of the 1886 eruption appears in The Ghosts of Tarawera to warn Joe of the trouble that is brewing below them.  Sue also looks at how ghosts might use other ways to communicate in the age of smart phones.  Not only does Jo see the ghostly waka, he is also sent strange text messages and Facebook messages that are trying to tell him something.  I loved this idea!

Sue really emerses you in the setting.  There is a real sense of place in this book – you feel like you are there at Lake Rotomahana and you can almost smell the sulphur, hear the mud bubbling, hear the birds singing in the bush, and feel heat of the hot pool.  Sue made me want to visit Lake Rotomahana and see everything for myself, even with the fictional eruptions of the story.

I really like Sue’s characters.  The kids are very relatable and the adults are role models that the kids look up to. I especially like Rocky and Buzz, the two cool GNS geologists who are camped beside the lake investigating the Pink and White Terraces. They take Jo and Eddie under their wings and get their help with taking readings around the lake.  Thanks Sue for giving boys some great positive male role models in Rocky and Buzz!

This is something for everyone in Sue Copsey’s books.  They are perfect for fans of Des Hunt or anyone who just loves a good adventure story.

Make sure you check out Sue Copsey’s Seriously Spooky Guest Post about why she likes scary stories.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Interview with Derek Landy

Derek Landy is the author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series and the new Demon Road series.  He is one of my absolute favourite authors and I have loved everything that he has read.  I got the chance to meet him and interview him back in 2010 when he was part way through the Skulduggery Pleasant series (you can read the interview here).  Since he has started a new series I wanted to ask him a few questions about it and get the scoop on Demon Road.  Read my interview with Derek to find out how many Demon Road books we have to look forward to, what Derek’s favourite supernatural being is, and why Derek loves horror stories.

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  • How did it feel starting a new series after you had been living in Skulduggery’s world for so long?

Scary, daunting, but also thrilling and refreshing. I was fully at home writing Skulduggery, and possibly too comfortable. That’s not always a good thing for a writer, so a new challenge was needed to stop things from getting stale.

  • Why did you choose to set your new series in America?

The idea of a roadtrip pretty much dictated where it was going to be set. I tried setting it in Ireland, but you can’t really have a roadtrip here. In America, you can drive for weeks without seeing anyone. In Ireland, every five minutes you’d be passing through some small town somewhere…

  • How many books are you planning on writing in the Demon Road series?

Three. There was no way I was committing to a nine book series like I did with Skulduggery!

  • What is your favourite supernatural being?

Vampires are endlessly fun. You can adapt them to fit whatever you need them to be. Dracula had them scary, Anne Rice had them romantic, Buffy had them cool, and Twilight had them sparkly. Er…

  • There are some really gory scenes in Demon Road.  Are these your favourite parts to write?

Gory scenes are definitely fun…! And it’s always an interesting exercise to see how far I can push things before my editor picks up the phone…

  • Out of all of your characters which one are you most like?

I’d like to think I’m like Skulduggery — cool, charming, and awesome. But the truth is I’m probably a mixture of Glen and, I dunno… Scapegrace.

  • Do you see your two series crossing over?  Will Skulduggery characters make an appearance on the Demon Road?

That was a temptation that I ultimately decided against. I wanted people to be able to pick up Demon Road without needing to know the rules of magic as set down in Skulduggery. Plus my vampires in both series are completely different, and I didn’t want to confuse people.

  • Why do you love horror stories?

I’ve always loved horror, since I was a kid. We love to be scared. Being scared is entertainment — provided you get to walk out of the theatre afterwards, or close the book, or turn off the TV. We love horror because it tests us within a safe environment. I doubt I’d love it so much if these things were really happening to me…

  • What other books would you recommend to kids and teens who love your books?

These days I’m recommending ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’ by Patrick Ness to everyone, as well as the Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. Loved them both.

Demon Road by Derek Landy is out now.  Go and grab a copy from your library or bookshop now.

 

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Lesley Gibbes

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 Lesley Gibbes, author of the award-winning book, Scary Night.  Lesley joins me on My Best Friends Are Books today to talk about her spooky picture book.

There’s no denying, I love all things scary! When I was a child I loved a good scare and nothing was scarier than the darkness of night. There’s something so deliciously terrifying about noises in the dark made by things you can’t see. My imagination would run wild and I loved it!

So of course, my first picture book just had to be set in the dead of the night when anything can happen. And in SCARY NIGHT when three friends, Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake and Pig with a parcel set out on a mysterious night-time journey all sorts of scary things happen. Close your eyes and imagine snapping crocodiles, roaring bears, mountain cliff tops, graveyards, bats, spiders, castle ruins and rats. Are you brave enough to join the journey and find out just where the three friends are going? Go on, you won’t believe the surprise!

SCARY NIGHT has just the right amount of scare to give your kids a thrill with a reassuring ending that’s sure to have everyone celebrating. It was awarded Honour Book, by the Children’s Book Council of Australia for Early Childhood Book of the Year 2015 and is the perfect book for Halloween this October!

SCARY NIGHT written by Lesley Gibbes, illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Working Title Press 2014. CBCA Honour Book 2015 Early Childhood Book of the Year. Shortlisted Speech Pathology Australia, Book of the Year (3-5 years) 2015.  You can visit Lesley Gibbes at www.lesleygibbes.com

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