Tag Archives: Seriously Spooky Month

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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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Elys Dolan

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 author and illustrator Elys Dolan.  Elys is the author and illustrator of three picture books, Weasels, Nuts in Space, and her latest book, The Mystery of the Haunted Farm.  I love Elys’ books, both for her quirky stories and wonderful illustrations.  Elys joins me today to talk about the making of The Mystery of the Haunted Farm.  Thanks for joining me Elys!

Writing Spooky Books for Children: The Making of The Mystery of the Haunted Farm

1 haunted farm cover webIf you like ghost stories and agriculture then my new book, The Mystery of the Haunted Farm, is the picture book for you. In this book Farmer Greg discovers some very spooky things happening down on his farm so he flees to called for help:

2 flee the farm

And who you gonna call when things go ‘BAH!’ in the night?

3 pig mobile

The Three Pigs Ghost Hunters of course. The pigs explore the farm to try and find out what’s causing the haunting and along the way they meet some bizarre, spooky and something rather sticky creatures. Below you can see them investigating the zombie duck pond but there’s even more creatures lurking on this farm including ghost cows, a frankenhorse and of course The Mighty Donkula to name just a few.

4 duck pond

I had a brilliant time creating a book with a spooky theme but when writing and illustrating a story that deals with things that could be seen as scary you sometimes have to tread carefully. In my experience though many children love things that are a little scary. The more gruesome it is the more fascination it seems to hold. This is of course variable depending on the child but it’s a trend I’ve notice when doing school visits and other literary events. I find it’s parents and other adults who tend to be more cautious.

I was quite determined that this book would be more funny than frightening though. For instance in the zombie duck spread there’s exposed brains and eyes falling out which could be quite gory but I’ve combined it with lots of slapstick, ridiculous facial expressions and general silliness which seems to negate any gore. Also I find using animal characters provides another degree of separation and can be more amusing than if the same things were depicted with human characters.

Whilst making Haunted Farm I found that working in an international market can also effect the kind of scary or spooky things you can include in a book. Originally it was intended to have a very different storyline. I had a totally different plot planned out centring around Farmer Greg releasing The Curse of the Phantom Chicken upon the farm by accidentally eating some cursed eggs:

5 greg eats eggsI even had an origin story for the curse and everything:

6 phantom chicken origin story

Once the curse is released it turns the farm animals into monsters which gives us all the zombie ducks, vampire bats and Frankenhorses that the final book contains. Again the pigs are called in and eventually they subdue the phantom chicken and everything goes back to normal (sort of). But alas this story wasn’t to be.

My publisher was worried about the curse element of this story and how that would work in the U.S market. It’s quite important to be able to sell a picture book in the U.S because it’s such a big market and it can make a book financially viable. They felt that the phantom chicken could be seen as too occult and that might upset certain readers with the references to witchcraft. In fact they decided that having any real ghosts in this book could be a bit tricky so I had to be very careful about how I handled them. You’ll have to read the book to see exactly how I did this because it’s a major spoiler!

To finish I think I might point out a couple of my favourite bits in the book. I’m a big fan of horror movies and you can probably guess that I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from movies such as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy etc but there’s a couple of other film references in there that I hope some of the grown ups might recognise.

First up you can see climbing the stairs in the farmhouse there’s the shadow of a Nosferatu chicken:

7 nosferatu chicken

At the barn there’s a Jack Nicolson sheep as seen in The Shining:

8 the shiningAnd finally I was very pleased be able to squeeze in a bit of a ghostbusters/farming pun at the chicken coup:

9 afriad of no goat

The Mystery of the Haunted Farm by Elys Dolan is published by Nosy Crow and out now. You can find out more about Elys and her work at elysdolan.com and elysdolan.tumblr.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook at @ElysDolan and facebook.com/elysdolanillustration.

 

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – R.L. Stedman

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 R.L. Stedman, award-winning author of A Necklace of Souls, A Skillful Warrior, and her new book, The Prankster and the Ghost.  She joins me talk about the inspiration for her great new book.

Perhaps places have memories. Like an old camera, or a computer. They fill up with fragments of the things that have taken place inside them. I don’t know if that is right or not, but I used that idea when I was writing The Prankster and the Ghost.

Most of the spooky things in Prankster are totally made up: the ghost school is not real, nor the Inspector. And the secret government agency she works for (BUMP) is, as far as I know, total fiction. But there is actually a real ghost story in Prankster.

I based this story on something that happened to a lady I worked with. Let’s call her Belinda. This is what really happened:

Belinda was on holiday in Scotland, and like lots of visitors, she went on a tour of Edinburgh Castle. She was enjoying herself, looking at the old rooms and the armour and so on. Until she reached the Great Hall. Then, quite suddenly, she felt weird. It was a hot day, and the room was crowded, and something was just not right. Beside a piano stood a woman in a long woolen dress. She looked at Belinda out of dark eyes. Belinda felt sick.

‘What is it?’ asked her husband.

Belinda pointed. ‘That woman, over there. By the piano.’

Her husband looked around. ‘What woman?’

‘In the black dress. We have to get out of here.’

Once they were outside the sickness faded and her husband laughed. ‘You’re imagining things! There was no one there.’

The tour guide came over. ‘Are you okay? You looked really pale.’

When Belinda told her what she’d seen, the tour guide nodded. ‘Plenty of people see that lady. I’ve never seen her myself. But yes, usually they don’t like it.’

‘Who is she?’ Belinda asked.

‘Oh, just one of the ghosts. There’s lots of them here.’ The tour guide made it sound like Belinda had seen something quite ordinary, like a chair or a table.

But Belinda had never met a ghost before – and she never wants to again.

Stories like the one Belinda told made me think that ghosts are maybe just part of a place: like a memory. So who knows – perhaps, one day in the future, people living in my house might see me typing on a computer keyboard. They might think I’m a ghost! I’ll have to try not to scare them.

Boo!

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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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The Prankster and the Ghost by R.L. Stedman

I’ve been a fan of R.L. Stedman’s since I read her debut YA novel, A Necklace of Souls, when it was first released.  I absolutely loved her dark, gripping fantasy story and it reignited my love of fantasy.  You can read my review of A Necklace of Souls from 2013 here on the blog.  Since writing A Necklace of Souls, R.L. Stedman has gone on to write a sequel, called A Skillful Warrior, and a standalone YA novel, called Inner Fire.  She has just released her new book, aimed at younger readers, called The Prankster and the Ghost and it’s a terrific read.

Stuck in a hospital bed, unable to move, Tayla decides to leave his body. But floating around intensive care is kind of boring, although being invisible means he can do some cool practical jokes…Until the inspector arrives, that is. Jamie, newly arrived from Scotland, is lonely. No-one can understand his accent and all his practical jokes are going wrong. Plus, his new school is seriously weird. Perhaps it’s haunted.

The Prankster and the Ghost is a fun, spooky story, packed with ghosts, practical jokes, and a whole lot of heart. It’s also a story about friendship and how good friends can help you through tough times, whether it’s moving countries to live on the other side of the world or grieving for a loved one. Young readers, especially boys are going to lap up this story, with all the pranks that Tayla and Jamie like to play.

The story starts off with a bang (literally) when the car that Tayla’s dad is driving crashes and Tayla wakes up in hospital to find himself floating over his body. As Tayla is coming to terms with the events of the crash a strange woman called Mrs Myrtle Mannering (or the Inspector) turns up at the hospital looking for him.  She is an inspector from the Bureau of Unexplained and Malicious Phenomena, or BUMP, and she tells Tayla that he is stuck between his body and death.  Mrs Mannering explains that the best thing for Tayla to do until his mum gets better and his body heals is to go to a special school, a school of ghosts. This is where he meets Jamie, a boy from Scotland, who has just moved to New Zealand with his parents and two annoying sisters.  Jamie loves pranks just as much as Tayla and luckily he can see ghosts (or boys who are in between life and death).  With the help of Jamie and some ghostly children Tayla tries to get his old life back.

I especially loved the ghostly elements of the story.  I really like the idea of BUMP and  I could imagine Jamie growing up to have a job in BUMP, helping other ghosts just like Tayla.  The idea of a school for ghosts is really cool too.  There are ghost children from different periods of time and an old fashioned ghost teacher who becomes obsessed with modern technology.

One of the cool added extras in this book is the list of jokes from the story that R.L. Stedman has put in the back of the book. There are jokes involving cling film and a toilet, itching powder and stink bombs. She challenges readers to find all the jokes that happen in the book, but suggests that if you do try them you might want to tell an adult first.

Grab a copy of The Prankster and the Ghost in paperback or eBook now.  Check out Rachel Stedman’s website for details about where to buy the book.

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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 – 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 – James Foley

 

Bringing My Dead Bunny to life – James Foley

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

MDB_cover-1000px

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.

20130615-MDB-first-sketches

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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