Tag Archives: children’s horror

Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Dave Shelton

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 award-winning author, Dave Shelton.  Dave’s debut novel, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat, won the 2013 Branford Boase Award and was shortlisted for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Medal & the 2012 Costa Children’s Book AwardsDave’s most recent book is the seriously spooky Thirteen Chairs, a series of thirteen interlinked short stories that will send a chill down your spine. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it!  Dave joins me today to talk about writing Thirteen Chairs.  Thanks for joining me Dave!

It’s interesting what different people find scary. When I wrote Thirteen Chairs I had an idea that I was writing for readers aged maybe eleven and up, so I wanted not to include anything too gruesome, in terms of explicit blood, guts and gore, but I did want to be properly scary. So I set out to try to get inside the reader’s head a bit and to make them imagine the worst thing for them, rather than be too specific about details that I might find frightening but which the reader might just shrug off. Occasionally I would lead the reader part way along a certain route and then leave them to carry on and imagine what happened next after I had brought the story to a close. It’s something I’ve noticed occasionally when returning to books and comics I’ve read in the past looking for a particular scene that I remember vividly and I find it isn’t actually depicted at all, it’s only suggested. I’d just been given the space to imagine it for myself. And yet sometimes that’s the part I remember the best. This is also why I only drew one illustration per story: I didn’t want to impose my images in a reader’s mind when they were certain to provide better ones themselves if suitably prompted. I was trying to be clever (or maybe lazy; but sometimes it’s possible to be both).

Thirteen Chairs

In certain other respects, though, I was neither clever nor lazy (quite apart from the monumental error of thinking that short stories must surely be an easier option than a novel – er, nope!) I had decided that, rather than a collection of unconnected short stories, I wanted there also to be a linking narrative that would connect the individual stories in some way. The idea I eventually settled on was that each of the stories was being told by one of thirteen odd characters gathered together in a deserted house. As such, each story would be written in the distinct ‘voice’ of the character telling it. This decision was not clever. This decision was not lazy. I thought it would be an interesting exercise, a way of providing variety throughout the book (both to the reader and to me writing it). I thought it would be fun.

Ha!

Actually, to be fair, occasionally it was: when I wrote as the young, possibly slightly autistic, Amelia in the story The Girl in the Red Coat, I had a whale of a time; when I rewrote The Red Tree from being told as a slightly ironic folk tale to being voiced by the Eastern European giant Piotr in his somewhat fractured English, I amused myself greatly; when I became gossipy Josephine relating the story of the demonic cat Oswald, I had a rare old time of it. But mostly … mostly it was just hard work keeping track of everyone. In my previous book A Boy and a Bear in a Boat I had (albeit accidentally) been really clever in choosing to write my first substantial piece of prose fiction with only two characters in the whole story. Two characters; two voices. Simple. Thirteen characters and voices (and more again within the stories told) turned out to be quite tricky. How well I succeeded in the end is for the reader to judge of course. Those of you that read Thirteen Chairs: do feel free to let me know.

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Chris Priestely’s Tales of Terror

Chris Priestley is one of my favourite seriously spooky authors.  He specialises in spine-tingling short stories and has published several collections of his Tales of Terror, which are absolutely terrific.  These are definitely stories that you want to read with the lights on!  Chris has also written several novels, including Mister Creecher, The Dead of Winter and Through Dead Eyes (which I reviewed here on the blog).

To find out more about Chris’ books take a look at his website – www.chrispriestleybooks.com

Check out the book trailer for the Tales of Terror series and make sure you grab one of Chris’ seriously spooky books.

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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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Scream series by Jack Heath

When I was a kid the only spooky books I could find were the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine.  Thankfully there are more and more authors writing seriously spooky books for kids and one of those authors is Jack Heath.  Jack Heath’s Scream series (published by Scholastic) is perfect for those kids who love R.L. Stine’s short and spooky stories.  The covers of the Scream series even look a bit like Goosebumps books.

The Scream series is set in Axe Falls, where a cargo ship ran aground years ago.  Ever since then the town has been plagued by ‘mysterious disappearances, terrifying visions and unusual events.’  The books follow four local kids who wonder what was the cargo? And will anyone survive long enough to find out?  So far there are four books in the series: The Human Flytrap, The Spider Army, The Haunted Book and The Squid Slayer. You don’t have to read them in a particular order so start with whatever one you like.  They are guaranteed to give you a fright.

Check out this video of Jack Heath talking about the series and check out his Seriously Spooky Guest Post here on the blog.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Gareth P. Jones

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.

Cover illustration by Adam Stower

Cover illustration by Adam Stower

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.

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Beware – Seriously Spooky Month is here!

I love spooky books for kids and teens!  If it’s got ghosts, witches, vampires (non-sparkly ones), zombies or anything supernatural I’ll read it.  So I’ve decided to dedicate a whole month to spooky stories.

Throughout Seriously Spooky Month in October I’m highlighting my favourite spooky and scary books for kids of all ages, from picture books right through to YA.  I’m also very excited to have some wonderful guest posts from authors and illustrators who create spooky books for kids, including Barry Hutchison, Chris Priestly, Gareth P. Jones, R.L. Stedman, Sue Copsey and James Foley.

Scare your socks off this October and join me for some Seriously Spooky reads!

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Win a signed Spook’s Apprentice book

2013-02-21 07.40.17We were lucky enough to have Spook’s Apprentice author, Joseph Delaney, visit us in Christchurch this week.  I’ve been a huge fan of Joseph’s ever since the very first book in the series was released in 2004 so it was great to hear all about the series from the man himself.  It was great to watch the children in the audience reacting to Joseph’s stories and the creepy pictures from his books.

Thanks to Random House New Zealand and Joseph Delaney I have 4 signed Spook’s books to give away.  Four lucky readers will win a signed book each.  All you have to do to get in the draw is enter your name and email address, and answer this question: Who is your favourite character or creature of the dark in the Spook’s series? Competition closes Thursday 28 February (NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winners are Ali, Loraine, Julia and Tokhuor.

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Shiverton Hall Book Trailer

Check out the book trailer for Emerald Fennell’s chilling debut novel, Shiverton Hall.  You can read my review here.  It’s available on 3 January in paperback or available now wherever ebooks are sold.

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Shiverton Hall by Emerald Fennell

Barry Hutchison, Will Hill, Joseph Delaney and Derek Landy are some of my favourite authors because of the way that they can creep me out, but also having me hanging on every word.  I can now add another author to this list, one with possibly the coolest name around – Emerald Fennell.  With a name like that you’re destined to become an author or an actress, and she’s both.  Her debut novel, Shiverton Hall, is a chilling tale set in a boarding school in England.

Arthur Bannister has been unexpectedly accepted into Shiverton Hall, which, as it turns out, is an incredibly spooky school, full of surprises. And it is just as well that Shiverton Hall has made its offer, because Arthur had a horrible time at his previous school, and was desperate to leave. Timely indeed . . .

But Arthur has no time to worry about the strange coincidence. He is too busy trying to make head or tail of Shiverton Hall, dogged as it is by tales of curses and bad fortune. At least there are a few friendly faces: George, who shows him around; also Penny and Jake. But not all the faces are friendly. There are the bullying Forge triplets for starters. And then there is the acid tongue of the headmistress, Professor Long-Pitt, who seems to go out of her way to make Arthur’s life a misery.

Luckily Arthur has his new friends to cheer him up. Although there are some friends that you don’t want to have at all, as Arthur is soon to find out.

I absolutely loved Shiverton Hall!  It brings together elements of my favourite horror series, Barry Hutchison’s Invisible Fiends and Will Hill’s Department 19, mixes it with a touch of Chris Priestley’s Tales of Terror stories, and sets it in a kind of sinister Hogwarts.  I don’t want to give too much detail in case I spoil the story, but needless to say, if you love Barry Hutchison’s Invisible Fiends books about sinister invisible friends then you will love this story!  I liken the story to Will Hill’s Department 19 and Chris Priestley’s Tales of Terror because Emerald Fennell breaks up the story of the children in the present time with stories about the history of Shiverton Hall.  The grandfather of George (one of the main characters) wrote a book called Accounts of the Supernatural and Preternatural at Shiverton Hall and Its Surrounds, and George tells his friends some of the stories throughout the book, so you find out about what has happened at Shiverton Hall in the past.  These stories of Shiverton Hall’s past are seriously creepy and I was really 0n edge as I was reading them.  Like when you watch a horror movie, I found myself holding my breath, waiting for something to jump out at me.  These historical stories are what made the book so great and I wanted to know even more about the sinister history of Shiverton Hall.

There is plenty of mystery to keep you reading too.  You want to know what is making the students do strange things, why doesn’t the headmistress believe anything they say, and what secret is Arthur keeping hidden?  Emerald keeps you guessing right up to the very end.  Just when you think the worst is over though, she knocks you in the guts and leaves you desperately wanting more.

I sure hope that Emerald is planning to write a sequel as I’m sure Arthur’s story is far from finished.  I’ll be waiting with bated breath.  In the mean time I’ll go and read her Shiverton short story, The Quality Chophouse, for free here.  If you know any young horror fans, Shiverton Hall is a must read, and it’s perfect for primary and secondary school libraries (Year 7 and up).

5 out of 5 stars

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Invisible Fiends: The Darkest Corners by Barry Hutchison

One very quiet night in the library, two years ago, I was looking for something interesting to read when I came across a new series, called Invisible Fiends.  Mr Mumbles, a story about a boy’s childhood invisible friend who came back and tried to kill him sounded like my kind of book, and I was hooked within the first few pages.  I love stories that send a chill down my spine and Mr Mumbles did exactly that, while also making me laugh.  Now, with the final book in Barry Hutchison’s fantastic series, The Darkest Corners, being released, one of my all-time favourite series has come to an end.  And what an end it is!

Kyle′s dad is everywhere. Really everywhere. In windows, through doors, on advertising billboards. Kyle just can′t escape him – and maybe he′s tired of running, anyway.

It′s time to fight.

But Kyle′s dad is one of the most powerful invisible fiends, and he does nothing without thinking it through. Just as Kyle learns to control his powers, he′s faced with the worst possibility of all. What if the thing that′s needed to open the gate between worlds, and destroy the world, is nothing other than… himself?

The Darkest Corners is an absolutely perfect end to a series that I wish could go on forever.  I admit I had a tear in my eye as I read the last couple of chapters, because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Barry’s characters.  We do get to see each of the Fiends again (if only briefly) and one of my favourite Fiends has a big part to play in this story.  Joseph is a character that shows up in each of the books and Barry’s been keeping us in the dark about who he actually is all the way through.  In The Darkest Corners his true identity is revealed (even though you may have already figured it out like me).  I still found this reveal satisfying though because you finish the book feeling that all the loose ends have been tied up and all the characters are in their right place.  At the end of The Beast, Kyle’s dad revealed something shocking about Ameena and in The Darkest Corners, Ameena continues to shock us.  I won’t tell you how so you’ll just have to read the book.

The thing that I liked most about this book is the reappearance of one of my favourite Fiends.  His relationships with a couple of the other characters provide some of the funniest moments of this book, and we find out why he acted the way he did when Kyle first met him.

As with the other books in the Invisible Fiends series, Barry can creep you out one moment, then make you laugh the next.  He keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen to Kyle and his friends.

Thank you Barry for introducing us to Kyle, Ameena, Mr Mumbles and all the other Invisible Fiends.  If you haven’t read the Invisible Fiends series I highly recommend it, especially for fans of horror/scary stories for children.

5 out of 5 stars

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