Tag Archives: ghost story

Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Rebecca Lim

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 Rebecca Lim, the author of sixteen books for children and young adult readers, including The Astrologer’s Daughter and Afterlight.  Rebecca joins me to talk about why she writes ‘slightly freaky young adult novels.’ Thanks for joining me Rebecca!

In the opening of my latest novel, Afterlight, a little girl is lying in bed, about to fall asleep, when she looks up to see a man standing over her in the dark. He’s very tall. She can see what he looks like, even with the lights out, because he’s shining. And this is how she remembers feeling:

But he was real. Real as you. And I was terrified. But all he did was look down at me, lying with my blankets pulled right up to my eyes, looking back up at him.
Then I breathed in—just a trembly, choky flutter, the tiniest sound—and he was gone.

I write these slightly freaky young adult novels filled with archangels and demons, Norman knights, wronged ghosts and parentless children. In them, I try to make sense of questions like: Why do bad things happen to good people? What happens to human energy, human consciousness, after death? Are we ruled by fate or by our own free will? How does one bad past act reverberate into the future?

In order to do this, I’m quite happy to throw the “extraordinary” into the narrative mix because—even though I consider myself a very rational and logical person—I do believe there are things in this world that can’t be explained by known science. And, often, the worst monsters in our world are not supernatural, but decidedly “human”. So having a paranormal or supernatural narrative foil brings our humanity into sharp relief. Plus, as readers, who doesn’t want to believe that magic exists?

And I don’t often talk about this—2015 is probably my year for bringing this out in the open, finally—but the scene where the little girl sees the “shining” man actually did happen to me. I was about five, and I don’t think it was a case of “sleep paralysis”. I can quite clearly recall him looking down at me looking up at him, and I remember how terrified I was as I inched my hand towards my bedside lamp: because I knew that if I turned on the light, he would go. And he did. He looked like no one I knew or had ever seen on television. But, to this day, I can still remember what he looked like. And I’ve never thought it was a dream.

So that one tiny thing from my childhood has enabled me to walk with archangels along city streets and mountain switchbacks and follow the insistent spirit of a murdered woman down the alleyways and walking tracks of Melbourne. I never discount anything anyone tells me, and I read voraciously across all genres, because what do we really know? Not enough. Never enough.

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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.

05_Ghost of Nicks Head reduced

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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Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

I love a good ghost story, something that will scare me a bit.  Children’s horror is one of my favourite genres and I’ll snap up anything new that comes along.  When I first heard about Jonathan Stroud’s new series, Lockwood and Co., I knew that it would be exactly the sort of creepy ghost story I would love.  The first book in the series, The Screaming Staircase takes you inside the world of the ghost-hunters of Lockwood and Co. and once you’ve entered you won’t want to leave.

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
The Screaming Staircase is one of the most exciting books I’ve read this year. Jonathan Stroud had me on the edge of my seat, anticipating a ghost to jump out at me around every twist and turn of the plot.  Jonathan has created such a chilling atmosphere in the book that you hear the creaks and groans of the old houses and almost feel the temperature drop in the room as the characters get closer to the ghosts.  You get caught up in the mystery of the lives of the living and the dead and Jonathan keeps you in suspense.
I love the world that Jonathan has created in the book; one much like ours but one plagued by ghosts of all sorts.  There are different types of ghosts, from a Type One Shade to a Type Two Wraith.  There are Physic Investigation Agencies (of which Lockwood and Co. is one) which specialise in the ‘containment and destruction of ghosts.’  These are run by adult supervisors but rely on the strong physic Talent of children.  It is only children who can see and hear the ghosts so it is up to them to capture them.  There is no mention of when the story is set (which I think just makes the story even better), but there is a mixture of both old-fashioned clothes and weapons, and modern technology.  The ghost hunters’ kit includes an iron rapier, iron chains and magnesium flares, all of which prove extremely necessary when facing the spectral threats.  Jonathan has even included a detailed glossary of terms and types of ghost, which I found really interesting to read after I had finished the book.
The three main characters, all members of Lockwood and Co., are all fantastic characters who really grew on me as the story progressed.  They each have their quirks, especially Lockwood and George, but they make a brilliant team and have each others’ backs when it counts.  There’s no love triangle here, just good old-fashioned camaraderie and getting the job done (if it doesn’t kill them first).  Lockwood, George and Lucy are building their relationship in this book, so there are some tense moments between them (especially George and Lucy) but Jonathan’s dialogue is brilliant.  I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationships develop in the further books.
I can’t wait for more Lockwood and Co.!  If you want a book that you won’t want to put down, that you’ll want to read with the lights on, then Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase is perfect.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Jonathan Stroud talks about Lockwood and Co.

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again…
Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase is one of my most anticipated books of 2013.  I love ghost stories and horror for kids and teens, and The Screaming Staircase sounds absolutely fantastic.  I’m looking forward to diving into this one and losing myself in the story.  I’ll post my review later this month, along with some copies to give away.  Check out these videos of author Jonathan Stroud talking about his new book.

Book Trailer

Jonathan Stroud talks about Lockwood and Co.

Jonathan Stroud and the characters in Lockwood and Co.

Jonathan Stroud talks about Lockwood and Co. – Book Two!

Jonathan Stroud on ‘The Problem’ in Lockwood and Co.

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The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is one of those authors whose books I will always read, no matter what they’re about.  I’ve read everything that he’s written (that has been translated into English) and have loved every single one.  I’m indebted to Text Publishing who introduced me to Carlos Ruiz Zafon when they published the first of his books translated into English, The Shadow of the Wind.  It’s my absolute favourite book and I still remember how I felt when I first read it.  Whenever I read one of his books I find I get completely wrapped up in the story and can think about little else.  Carlos’ latest book from Text is his third book for younger readers, The Watcher in the Shadows.

A mysterious toymaker, Lazarus, lives as a recluse in a crumbling mansion by the sea, surrounded by the mechanical beings he has created. Strange lights seem to shine through the mists that envelop the small island where the old lighthouse stands, and somewhere in the woods nearby lurks a shadowy creature.

When her mother takes a job as a housekeeper for the toymaker, fourteen-year-old Irene meets Hannah and her alluring sailor cousin Ismael, and what seems like a dream summer begins. But Lazarus’s house contains dark secrets and before long Irene and Ismael find themselves entwined in the mystery of the September lights.

The Watcher in the Shadows is my favourite of Carlos’ novels for younger readers.  It’s a Young Adult book but adults will love it too, especially if you’re a fan of Carlos’ writing.  As soon as I started reading I found myself wrapped up in this magical, mysterious and dark story.  Carlos’ wonderful descriptive language transports you to the mysterious setting of the story, with the dilapidated mansion and the light house at its center.

Like the characters in the book, you slowly put together the pieces of the puzzle as the story progresses.  The more you find out the faster you want to gobble up the story.  It’s the sort of book you want to read all in one go because it’s so difficult to stop.  Carlos is a master of mystery and suspense and I just love the way he pulls everything together.  He certainly leaves me in awe at his amazing storytelling.

One of the things I love the most about his books, and this one especially, is the way that he layers the story.  There are stories within the main story.  Characters in his books often tell stories to other characters to give you pieces of the puzzle.  In The Watcher in the Shadows the toymaker, Lazarus, tells stories to Simone and her son Dorian about his childhood, and Irene uncovers the story of Alma Matisse through reading her diary.

The Watcher in the Shadows is deliciously dark and spooky.  There were several parts that made a shiver go down my spine.  The story is all about this shadowy creature, the ‘watcher in the shadows,’ but there are plenty of other creepy things in the story, including a crumbling mansion filled with strange mechanical beings, that has many dark corridors and secret passages.

Like his other stories, I’m sure The Watcher in the Shadows will stick with me and I won’t be able to stop thinking about it for a long time.

I’m incredibly excited to be meeting Carlos Ruiz Zafon at the Auckland Writer’s Festival this weekend.  I hope that I’ll be able to say more than ‘I love your books’ to him and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say about his writing and his wonderful books.  I never thought I’d get the chance to meet him (as he’s a Spanish author) so this is a dream come true for me.

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Through Dead Eyes by Chris Priestley

One of my favourite genres of stories for children and teens is horror.  There weren’t many of these types of book around when I was younger, but there is plenty to choose from these days, from Derek Landy and Joseph Delaney, to Darren Shan and Barry Hutchison.  Chris Priestley is an author of spooky, chilling and creepy stories that I’ve been reading more of lately and his latest book, Through Dead Eyes is a new favourite.

Alex joins his father on a business trip to Amsterdam. During the day he hangs out with the daughter of a family friend. They visit the usual sights but also coffee shops and flea markets off the beaten track. At one of these markets Alex spots an ancient-looking mask. Before he knows what he’s doing he buys it. Later, in his hotel room, he feels compelled to put the mask on. Alex is sucked into a parallel Amsterdam, one from centuries before which begins to reveal the dark past of both the building he is staying in and the little girl who once lived there edging stealthily towards the terrible twist.

Through Dead Eyes is a chilling ghost story that haunts you long after you’ve turned the last page.  I read it on a wet and dreary day which added to the chilling tone.   Chris Priestley really knows how to keep the reader on edge throughout the story.  The thing I love the most about Chris’s writing is that there are lots of twists that you don’t see coming, especially towards the end of the story, and he leaves you with a feeling of unease.  You know that, even though the story has finished, things are not right in the life of the characters.  Like any good ghost story you get pieces of the puzzle as the story progresses and you’ve got to figure out how they all fit together.  You just hope that the main character solves the puzzle before it’s too late.

The setting of Amsterdam adds to the eerie feeling of the story, because Alex is surrounded by so much history.  The buildings are hundreds of years old and they would hold many stories.  Alex is drawn to the history of the hotel he is staying in and the strange feelings he has inside his room.  This history and the connection between the mask and the paintings draw you in to the story.

The cover is fantastic and captures the tone of the story perfectly.  It was the cover, with the mottled and cracked surface, and the creepy eye, that grabbed my attention and made me pick it up.

Through Dead Eyes is great for readers aged 11+ who like to give themselves a good scare.

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Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll know that I love creepy stories of all kinds.  Ghosts, werewolves, zombies, vampires, and other creatures that live in the dark are often featured in the books I love.  I’ve been reading many of the first titles from Hot Key Books (a brilliant new publisher based in the UK) and when I read about Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones I had to get my hands on it.  A ghost story set in Victorian London, featuring a boy who could communicate with ghosts, sounded absolutely fantastic!  Constable & Toop was even better than it sounded.

Sam Toop lives in a funeral parlour, blessed (or cursed) with an unusual gift. While his father buries the dead, Sam is haunted by their constant demands for attention. Trouble is afoot on the ‘other side’ – there is a horrible disease that is mysteriously imprisoning ghosts into empty houses in the world of the living. And Sam is caught in the middle – will he be able to bring himself to help?

Constable & Toop is a creepy, gruesome story, with plenty of mystery, and a good dose of wit and humour.  Gareth can have you cringing one moment and laughing the next, which is why I liked the book so much.  He has given us a glimpse inside the ghost world and it’s not what you would expect.  It’s the ghost world and the witty banter between his characters that provide the comic relief of the story.  There is also plenty of throat slitting and stabbing for those who like their ghost stories gruesome.  The story is set in Victorian London and from the first page you are immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the period.

There are several different threads of the story, following different characters, which Gareth weaves together perfectly.  Gareth shows us the lives of the living and the dead, and the ‘Talkers’ allow them to communicate with each other.  Characters whose lives seem quite separate from each other in the beginning become increasingly intertwined as the story progresses.

The thing I liked the most about Constable and Toop was the way that Gareth portrayed the ghost world.  It’s very bureaucratic, with each ghost having a role, like Enforcer or Prowler, and there are lots of rules and regulations that ghosts must follow.  If they don’t do as they are told they’re labelled Rogues and are hunted down.  There is an incredible amount of paperwork that needs to be filled out to do anything, and you must have a license in order to be a Poltergeist.  In order to go to the physical world and find out what your unfinished business is (so that you can step through the Unseen Door and cross over) you have to apply for a research license.  Lapsewood is my favourite character because he’s a very likeable guy, who just wants to get away from all the paperwork and get some adventure out in the real world (while impressing the girl of his dreams).  He has some of the best lines and has some incredibly strange conversations with his superiors, who can never seem to get his name right.

If you want a ghost story with a difference grab a copy of Constable and Toop by Gareth P. Jones.  I would recommend it for fans of Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series, Joseph Delaney’s Spook’s Apprentice series, or Barry Hutchison’s Invisible Fiends series.

5 out of 5 stars

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Michelle Harrison talks about Unrest

Michelle Harrison’s new book, Unrest, is my latest obsession.  It’s one of the creepiest, spine-tingling books I’ve read and makes me consider sleeping with the light on.  It’s out now in NZ.  Check out the creepy book trailer for Unrest and hear Michelle talk about her book and her top 5 ghost stories

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