Category Archives: Horror

Jellybaby corpses and other gruesome stuff

Last time I went to Waterstones Argyle Street (Glasgow, for those of you who don’t know) was to talk to John Barrowman. That was nice. Two and a half years later I returned to launch Kirkland Ciccone’s second novel Endless Empress, only to find that in the corner where John’s fans had queued, someone had built a café. Very nice (but where will they queue next time?). And toilets (where the interview happened…). Also very nice, not to mention convenient.

Endless Empress

Where was I? Oh, yes, launching Ciccone’s book. (I might have told you already how disappointed I was when I found out that’s not his real name. Well, last night I discovered he doesn’t know how to pronounce it, either.* Or, his publisher and editor – Keith Charters – doesn’t. Might be a Cumbernauld thing, I suppose.)

So, there we were, about to launch. He has lots of friends, that Kirkland, and many of them were there. It was probably the most uniformly aged audience I’ve come across, outside schools.

Kirkland Ciccone

He wore dead leopard. Fake dead leopard, I hope (it looked a bit cheap, so it probably was), and it made him unbearably warm, which is why Kirkland had to take it off as soon as he’d stopped his crazy talk.

Keith Charters

Kirkland was introduced by Keith, who reckons his author is the funniest thing since sliced bread. When editing the book, there was always something new to discover on every read-through.

Endless Empress had a few provisional titles before it became EE; Dead Teenagers, Enkadar, Bombers, The X39 Is Late Again, and finally Endless Empress. Kirkland doesn’t want to write normal YA books (I can well believe it) and is hoping to prove himself to his old school. Or was it teacher? He’s a ‘pop culture sponge’ who listens to what people say in queues.

He cried when he had to read Women In Love at school (Cumbernauld, again). We were entertained by tales of his crazy, chainsaw wielding neighbour, as well as talking bushes (a flasher who mistook Kirkland for a girl), and women crying by the ice cream van. Kirkland doesn’t like Thomas the Tank Engine.

Kirkland Ciccone

At one point in the pre-publication days he worried that the book might be too realistic. He felt that the high school massacre he wrote about almost came true. And his Elvis impersonator killer did too.

Kirkland wanted a really cool and edgy cover. Keith got him art student Ida Henrich, who has made a pretty spectacular cover, despite the fire at the Glasgow School of Art.

Kirkland Ciccone and Ida Henrich

We got the Spanish holiday story again. His mum took him to Spain on holiday when he was a child. When he was invited to the Tidelines book festival in Saltcoats last year, he discovered that Saltcoats had a lot in common with Spain. In fact, it was Spain. Like many good mums his mum pretended a Spanish holiday.

This camp – not manly – author is of the YA generation. He was terribly excited to have been invited to lunch with Julia Donaldson and Theresa Breslin (except it seems he was incapable of going to the right restaurant). Kirkland finished by saying he hoped people would like Endless Empress as much as he loves it himself (quite) and that £7.99 might seem much, but it’s the price of two coffees and a muffin. Apparently.

Waterstones Cafe

Then there was Irn-Bru and wine and jellybabies (which look like corpses, or some such thing). I’d been promised Coke. What I got was Waterstones water with Waterstones ice.

What happened to my Coke?

*Mr Ciccone has since pointed out to me that he does know how to pronounce his own name, although of course it isn’t his name. He simply borrowed it off some woman.

So who’s Danny Weston?

After all he put me through reading The Piper, I decided I needed to know more about Danny Weston. I suspect there’s some funny business going on here. I just wonder what?

Anyway, I sent over some searching questions, and this is what came back:

Danny Weston

Danny Weston… the name sounds awfully familiar. I can’t believe this is your first book.

I’m a late developer, Witch. I’ve had ideas for books kicking around in my head for a very long time and finally one of them has popped to the surface.

I note that you live in Manchester. Have we met? No, I’d remember that face. (Somehow your name makes me think you’d look like Johnny Depp. I don’t know why.)

Some people have occasionally mistaken me for another author of children’s fiction, which is a mystery to me, as I’m far better looking than him.

The Piper is rather a scary story. Do you enjoy frightening little children?

It is great fun – and very therapeutic.

I’m guessing you said ‘yes.’ I‘d like to know why.

I think children enjoy being frightened by stories. It’s hardly a surprise. What are the first stories we give them to read? Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel are horror stories, pure and simple. It always amuses me when parents wonder why their children have such dark imaginations!

Do you have personal experience of Romney Marsh?

Romney Marsh is one of the bleakest wildernesses in the British Isles. I have spent many happy hours there. St Leonard’s church in Hythe, for instance, has thousands of human skulls stored in the crypt. What’s not to like?

What about quicksand?

Dreadful stuff. Tends to get underfoot…

And what’s the thing with those dolls? (We obviously don’t want any spoilers here.)

I don’t know about you but I do find china dolls rather terrifying… even when they don’t talk to you.

I can see The Piper as a film. Can you?

Yes, please! I think it would make a splendid movie, though it certainly wouldn’t be what they call a ‘feel-good’ film. I have actually written a screenplay for it, just in case anybody should be interested in pursuing the idea.

Have you got plans for any more books?

My next book is already written and should arrive some time in 2015. It’s called Mr Sparks and concerns the adventures of a psychotic ventriloquist’s dummy. Happy days!

Will you be doing events? If so, any near me? (I’ll have to make sure I’m away.)

I will find you anyway, Witch. You can run but you can’t hide. As for events, I’m planning to be haunting schools up and down the UK. Anybody who is interested can get in touch via my good friend Philip Caveney’s website –

philip-caveney.co.uk (He won’t mind.)

Finally, I have thought a great deal about this: Where do you get your inspiration?

That question! I hate that question! Wait… come back! Why are you running away?

Is he gone yet? The man’s crazy. Skulls. That’s sick. Ventriloquist’s dummy! It’s probably going to be worse than those dolls near Romney Marsh. Aarrgghhh!!

The Piper

No sooner had I been scared by Rachel Ward in Water Born, than I started on Danny Weston’s first book, The Piper, also featuring horrible and inexplicable deaths and water. (Maybe there’s something in the water?)

Danny Weston, The Piper

So instead of a cosy, ‘ordinary’ WWII story, Danny gave me the creeps. Which is fine. The Piper is a really exciting book. Just not one where you feel it’s going to end well and all will be fine, because it’s a children’s book, and how horrible can it be? Really?

It’s about two siblings, Peter and Daisy, who are evacuated at the beginning of September 1939. They travel to Rye, and are eventually taken in by a farmer and his housekeeper (I kept seeing an uncouth Mrs Danvers) near Romney Marsh. Daisy is to be company for Mr Sheldon’s daughter Sally.

There is something odd about Sally. Daisy’s room is full of her dolls, and Peter has to sleep in the attic, far away from his little sister. And he had promised their mother to look after her.

The children can hear strange music at night, and it keeps getting louder. Daisy wants to go out and dance when she hears it…

Peter has a real struggle on his hands trying to keep Daisy safe. The people in the house as well as the hired hand all attempt to keep him away, while Daisy spends time with Sally. He accidentally finds out some historical facts about what’s happened on the farm over the last hundred years, and he becomes even more worried. But he’s just a child himself.

So, what do you think happens? Read The Piper, and you’ll find out.

Water Born

Water Born is the sequel to Rachel Ward’s The Drowning, and when I read it, at first I thought I’d gone mad. Were her characters really called Clarke and Sarita?

Rachel Ward, Water Born

No, they were not. You’ll find out why as you read on. Water Born is about their daughter Nic, who loves swimming. That also didn’t feel right for Carl and Neisha, considering what happened in The Drowning. But it, too, has an explanation.

Like the first book, this is pretty scary stuff. It’s obviously fantasy (it is, isn’t it?), so you can’t use logic to work out what is happening to Nic and all those teenage girls who are drowning. Or why things are strange whenever Nic swims.

As always with Rachel, this is so compelling you feel you must continue reading. Clarke is older and wiser now, but still as temperamental. At least when he gets scared. And if he‘s scared, what about the poor reader?

Set in 2030, society appears to be the same as it is today, so it’s really our current values we see in the reactions from the people around Nic when things turn bad. Her parents are OK, apart from their water hang-ups, and she has one very resourceful friend when the world turns on the family.

Read with caution if you aren’t very comfortable with water. Or even if you are. You never know.

Down the close

Do you recall my meeting with the Plague Doctor five months ago? I was in Edinburgh, outside The Real Mary King’s Close, on my way to hear Philip Caveney frighten school children. So was the Plague Doctor; on his way to frighten school children.

Mary King's Close

In ‘real’ life the good doctor works for Mary King’s Close, and I said a few things about it. Like me not wanting to have a look round, because of the plague and also because I might not like the dark and narrow and steep passages. Naturally their publicist Caroline invited me to come and be walked round the place with her, before they open for plague business in the morning. I said yes – having been promised I could escape whenever I wanted. And then I was felled by migraine and couldn’t go. And then when I thought about it again, on the other side of moving house, I decided it’d be a bit forward of me to email and ask if I could come now.

Luckily, Caroline sensed this and emailed me to say it was high time we did this. (She did use more finesse than that in her choice of words.) I decided to face the plague there and then, so the resident IT Consultant and I got up really early one morning last week to get to MKC for nine.

(I, erm, went to the Ladies on arrival. The WC screams as you flush. Thought you might want to know. It’s a little disturbing.)

We set off down the first set of stairs and I paused a bit to see whether I wanted to freak out and panic a little, but came to the conclusion I might be all right. And I was. The hardest thing was how steep the actual close is, and you want to mind your head in places, even at my modest height.

View of Mary King's Close

It’s interesting to see how people used to live. So close together, in small rooms with low ceilings and extremely basic facilities. Cooking, sleeping, using the toilet, looking after cattle. No wonder the plague did well under such circumstances.

Usually visitors are taken round by guides, dressed as real people from those days. Caroline seemed to feel she wasn’t as good as the regular guides, but she did marvellously well. We could stop as and when we liked. MKC was home to people of all sorts. Not just the poor, but also to better-off people, some even with their own front door. (I liked the chap who was so proud of his toilet that it’s the room you see immediately from the street entrance.)

Mary King

We came upon a woman who’d just murdered her son-in-law (he had it coming). We met Mary King herself, and a couple of her neighbours. They could talk, so we found out a fair bit about them. And we saw the room with all the toys; beanie babies and Barbies and goodness knows what. It seems there was a sad ghost girl who’d lost her doll, and now she has something to play with again.

Annie's Shrine

People would hang their washing out, high above the close. And unlike when we were there, the close would be full of stalls and people shopping. We could hear them, but not see them. But the worst was seeing the people who were sick, and the Plague Doctor at work.

After our fantastic private tour, we had another look at the model of MKC in the shop, to see where we’d been. We looked at what else the shop had, including plenty of copies of Philip Caveney’s Crow Boy.

MKC also put on events, and as part of their Close Fest, which runs for a week from Halloween, there will be a sort of talk by Arran Johnston on November 6th at 19.30, A Close Encounter With Charles Edward Stuart. I think it might be in the cowshed…

Cowshed

Afterwards the Resident IT Consultant and I felt we needed elevenses, as we’d had such an early start, and we went to the St Giles Bar & Café just round the corner. We felt the name had a nice ring to it, somehow.

Skulduggery Pleasant – The Dying of the Light

The people at Volvo might want to sue, but the rest of us will be more than happy with the last of Skulduggery Pleasant. Because I take it this really is the end. It’s been a good seven and a bit years, except for those who died. There were a lot of people dying here. Painfully, mostly, and often unnecessarily. It’s what we like.

The tenth book in this nine-book series had to reveal whether what we’d been seeing all this time would come true or not. We have ‘known’ what Darquesse aka Valkyrie would do to end the world. It’s confusing when you have two people the same, but different. Add the reflection, and you have three. And was that a fourth Stephanie Edgley, in Colorado?

Derek Landy has kept this up magnificently. The relationship between Skulduggery and Stephanie/Valkyrie has remained as fun and interesting as it ever was. You enjoy their banter so much you almost wish it was you, until you remember that there’d be a lot of pain and death and danger and suffering if you were. Hmm, better not be them. Probably.

So, the end of the world. It’s coming. Will anyone survive? Well, I’m obviously not going to tell you.

I like the Edgleys. All three brothers are quite fun, when it comes down to it. I like that. There were more ‘Aunt Petunia’ moments in The Dying of the Light, and it’s good when people turn out to have more than one side to them.

Most of the characters in here have plenty of sides. They keep changing their sides and their allegiances the way some people change socks. I’ve never wanted to be Valkyrie, but always Tanith. However, I’ve grudgingly come to the realisation that I’m more Vaurien Scapegrace than anyone else… Sigh.

Seven years is a long time in the lives of young people. I hope most readers have remained fans for the duration. The reader in Year 7 back then has just gone off to university. Will he feel that The Dying of the Light is as much fun now as the first books was?

Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant - The Dying of the Light

This looks pretty bleak, doesn’t it? I mean, for a fun book.

The two Marys travel back in time

The two Marys, Hoffman and Hooper, have unravelled some more history for me in their new books for Barrington Stoke. Mary Hoffman writes about the war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire in 1571, and Mary Hooper visits plague-ridden London in 1665.

Both historical events are ones I ‘know’ of, especially the plague. But that doesn’t mean I know all that much, so I’m grateful for some fiction to help me learn.

Mary Hoffman, Angel of Venice

Angel of Venice features Luca who dreams of running off to war. But he’s in love, so can’t quite make his mind up, until it’s forcibly made up for him. And war is not at all as you tend to imagine, but hell on earth and he soon wishes he hadn’t gone.

Lovely romance and history lesson all in one. The Ottoman Empire is no longer as hazy to me as it was, and Venice with Mary is always good.

Mary Hooper, Ring of Roses

Ring of Roses is pretty scary. You imagine that ‘your’ character will be all right because it’s fiction and you can’t kill off the main character, can you?

Abby has come to London to look after a rich woman’s baby, and she stays well while the rest of London succumbs to the illness. Mary describes graphically what happens to the people in houses where someone dies of the plague and it’s not good.

Very realistic, and very informative.

The Marys do this so well, and I’m pleased they have written these dyslexia friendly books. They are much needed.