Category Archives: Horror

Lockwood – The Hollow Boy

All of Chelsea is covered in ghosts, and Lockwood & Co have not been invited to help fight them. All the other agencies are there.

You and I know how unfair that is, and so do Lockwood and his two assistants. They have to persevere with some of the more minor ghostly problems in London, and you and I know how good they are with stuff like that. They only disobey Lockwood’s orders occasionally, risking their lives and making mistakes that could cost people their lives. But on the whole they do well.

Jonathan Stroud, The Hollow Boy

Lucy is particularly keen to try her special abilities to solve the ghosts’ problems, and Lockwood would rather she didn’t. She is getting on better with her dreadful green pal in the jar she carries around, and he in turn has some helpful suggestions for how she could get rid of… Well, I won’t tell you who, but let’s just say Lucy and the boys don’t agree on something of great importance.

Brave and talented though Lucy and Lockwood are, I’m not sure where they would be without George. He is often quiet and always hungry, but generally researches their cases thoroughly, discovering what others have missed or not even bothered to look up in the first place. I have to admit to seeing him in a new light in this third book about our psychic investigators.

Old enemies surface, as do new ghosts, and that person I was referring to above. Chelsea needs saving, and then there is the mystery of Lockwood’s sister.

This is another jolly, thrilling and amusing instalment in the Lockwood saga. I have to admit to panicking towards the end, when it looked like George’s cake-eating was about to take a beating. But I’ve been reassured there are many more ghosts coming my way.

Mr Sparks

‘Well, I didn’t see this coming!’ I thought I knew where Danny Weston was going with his new novel, Mr Sparks. Set in 1919, it’s the story about 12-year-old almost orphaned Owen. He lives with his ghastly aunt at her hotel in Llandudno, when one day a strange man arrives, with even stranger luggage.

It talks. The man is, of course, a ventriloquist. Or is he? As Owen gets closer it appears that the dummy, pardon, Mr Sparks, speaks and thinks on its own. But that’s not possible. Is it?

(I’d say Mr Sparks is as real as, erm, Danny Weston. And we all know him, don’t we?)

Danny Weston, Mr Sparks

Soon this little horror story has Owen and Mr Sparks in a closer relationship than the boy had imagined possible. Who is in control?

It’s not as scary as I had been afraid. It’s more creepy. And then it didn’t go in quite the direction I’d imagined. And then it looked fairly promising, all set for a happy-ish ending, and then, well, maybe it didn’t. I know how it ends. As long as that Danny Weston doesn’t do anything I don’t want him to do!

You hear me?

I should probably disclose that Danny has been kind enough to dedicate Mr Sparks to me (and someone else, whom I shall ignore for the moment), which is, well, nice. It was clever of him to let Owen live in Llandudno, that pearl of seaside resorts. Although we might have to have a little chat about the pier at some point.

But that’s not why I say this is a good book. Actually, I haven’t said that yet.

It’s a good book! Even without the dedication. Creepily good, even.

The Girl Who Broke the Rules

Marnie Riches’ ‘Girl’ really does break rules. A lot. The first novel was exceptionally good. So is this one, as long as I can manage not to dwell on the actual murders in too much detail. They are far more gruesome than those bodies blown to bits in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. Proceed with caution. And do keep in mind that George swears a lot, comes from a rough background, and is actually still only 24 years old.

She’s the most fantastic of heroines. I’d like her to be more sensible occasionally, but then she’d not be the George McKenzie we love.

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Broke the Rules

In Amsterdam immigrant women are being murdered in a way I’d rather not describe here. And van den Bergen is unwell, he misses George, and he needs her to come and help solve this case. But she’s busy, and can’t get permission to travel, and she misses him too, and is troubled by her – lack of – feelings for her boyfriend.

As in the first book, aspects of George’s life in England have a bearing on the Amsterdam murders. It’s simply that she has a rich background to draw from, and it’s hard to work out what and who. If there’s a pervert out there, George will know him.

Very cliffhangery sort of cliffhanger at the end. There will be a third book. I’d rather not speculate on how Marnie will kill her victims in that one.

(Buy the ebook here.)

The Tattooed Heart

The Tattooed Heart is the second Messenger of Fear novel by Michael Grant. I hadn’t read the first one, except for the first chapter, which came as part of the press release, I think. So I sort of had an inkling what it was about.

Michael Grant, The Tattooed Heart

I wasn’t inkled enough, though, I’d say. It didn’t go in the direction I’d imagined, and from the second novel I could almost deduce what must have happened, so I didn’t feel left out. (It seems that Mara, who is the main character, did something bad, and she is being punished for this by acting as the Messenger’s assistant, when he goes round the world finding more people who have done bad stuff, and sort of help even out the score a bit.)

It’s not so much horror, as political/social, with a supernatural twist. Mara and Messenger can move back and forth in time and place, witnessing what happens, or has happened to people, like the half dead drug user they encounter one night.

I was both pleased (I suppose as seen from the victim of unfairness point of view) and horrified (the Play or Pay deal is rather off-putting) in equal measures over what Mara and Messenger do. It’s thought-provoking, and it deals well with looking at cause and effect in a way we don’t often get in fiction. I liked that. The tit for tat is more disturbing, but then so were the underground worm creatures in Gone.

Very different from Michael’s other books, but it’s good to go outside the norm. And in a way I do wish I knew exactly how Mara did the bad she did in book one. Although I might not like her if I did.

You can’t have an Irish road trip


That’s why Derek Landy first wrote his new book after Skulduggery Pleasant as something totally different, before he realised this was no good and he’d have to rewrite the whole thing. So he wrote a new new book during a month after Christmas and moved all of it across the Atlantic to America where they really do road trips, and you can drive for weeks and see no one.

He reckons Demon Road is very good. It’s the best he’s written. This year. He knows that the rule in publishing is that your next book or your next series will never be quite as bestselling as the first. But he’s got used to us loving him, and he feels other books lack a certain Derek-ness.

The audience was full of fans. (At least I believe so, unless it was a cunning plot.) I’d say mostly the sort of age you’d be if you’ve followed Skulduggery for his lifetime (and I don’t mean the hundreds of years he’s had as a skeleton). So when Ann Landmann introduced Derek (in the – for her – unfortunately titled The Waterstones Event with Derek Landy) there was thundering applause for him, which he conveyed home to his mother via mobile phone, as it seems the woman doubted his popularity. Some mothers!

Derek Landy

He’s a sneaky fellow, that Derek. He did the Village Idiot act almost to perfection, and if I’d not read and admired Skulduggery all these years, I’d have been aghast. And I’m trying to visualise him in his 66 Ford Mustang, which he rarely drives at home in Ireland because he feels like a moron when he does. But he likes powerful cars, which is why his male characters drive really interesting ones.

Having stopped being a feminist for a while, he became one again when his girlfriend showed him what it’s like for us girls out there. He loved Valkyrie, and she’s someone who does not need feminism, but his new girl Amber, who is shorter and fatter than average, brought back the need for a bit of feminism. In demon form Amber is a bit of a nutcase, a psychopath. And Derek hasn’t got a clue how the third and last book about her will end.

Someone asked if Derek is Gordon. NO! He is Skulduggery, as will be obvious from how alike they are in every respect… Coming up with the funny names for characters in Skulduggery Pleasant was hard (although there was a competition to get fans to do the work for him…), and with Demon Road the tricky thing is looking everywhere up on Google streetview, as his sudden change of setting meant he had no time for on-site research.

Derek was about the third author in Charlotte Square to extol the virtues of the work of H P Lovecraft. He didn’t set Demon Road in Skulduggery’s world, because if there’s a film deal for one, the film company would automatically own the other books as well. Or something like that.

He never wrote from Skulduggery’s point of view, to keep him as the mysterious genius he must be; an icon, a figurehead, tough hero. (That’s enough now, Derek.) And he (Derek) kills our beloved characters because we love them so much. So he can break our hearts.


Derek Landy

At his signing, we were warned he had a train to catch three hours later, so he’d not have time to do his usual chatting at length with everyone. But looking at his first chattees, he Talked. A. Lot. The Irish do. On the other hand, I did witness him sneaking out the back gate in time for his train.

And talking of trains, as I got off mine, the people in front of me sat proudly brandishing a shiny new copy of Demon Road. I believe I know where they’d been.

2 x Michael Grant

The place I had to be on Saturday afternoon was a nearby author hotel, where I was going to interview Michael Grant. Again. (He interviews so well! How can a witch not go for him over and over again?)

Michael had just arrived in Edinburgh, but had skipped immediate jetlag by doing research in England first. Some nautical research, and a wide-eyed new discovery in the shape of the London Oxford Street branch of the shop that is never knowingly undersold. Michael loved it, and had had no idea such a place could exist.

He looked better than ever, tanned and thin, and pretty unstoppable. This time I made sure he had coffee that didn’t politely go cold, although it might have been dreadful coffee for all I know. I had the tea.

I’d been reading his new book, out later this week, the second and last in his Messenger of Fear series. I wanted to ask why he’d gone in such a new direction, and what will happen next, and then what comes after that. Lots of books, is the answer. We got to admire his daughter’s new hair, which cost a fortune, and my photographer learned some financial tips from Michael’s son (who wasn’t there, and nor was his sister).

We got longer than planned, as Michael was hungry and wanted a sandwich as well. He can eat and talk at the same time.

Afterwards we walked over to Charlotte Square for his event, and I can tell you that was one long queue he had, waiting patiently. It’s always good when there are lots of teenagers at teenage events.

It was fortunate that Michael had already shown us the disgusting images on his laptop, so they didn’t come as a complete surprise when he started off with them. (His wife doesn’t like them, either.) And he set us a problem to solve, making the tent into a sealed brick building, with monsters coming out of the floor, wanting to eat three humans. He wanted to know what our monsters looked like. (Blue, in my case. A bit blobby.)

This time Michael had decided to preempt the perennial question about where he gets his ideas from, not wanting to get annoyed, or claim that they come from Tesco, next to the yoghurt. That’s partly the reason he’d found himself this software that produces such creepy and disturbing pictures.

At one point I thought Michael claimed not to have been on a riding course (and I could just visualise him on this horse), when I worked out he’d not been on a writing course.

One of his book ideas he described to his editor as The Seventh Seal, but with fewer Swedes and more teenagers. (You can never have too many Swedes.) As for sex, that is more fun to do, than to write about. Although we learned that he has a past writing Sweet Valley Twins books, which is actually a bit disturbing.

Michael has completely ruined his editor, who has gone from someone who recoiled from his suggestions, to actively embracing them. With Messenger of Fear he put in everything he could from his own fears, which have mostly to do with his children, and if he got rid of them, his wife. (He has tried.) Then it’s fire, and small closed in places.

Michael Grant

He’d never put himself in the books, but when asked who in Gone is most like him, it’s Quinn, ‘the unreliable friend, the backstabbing little shit.’

And on that note we stampeded to the bookshop next door, where he signed books until he eventually got rid of his fans.

As for me, I can’t now unthink some of the ideas Michael has put into my head; from bricked up book festival tents, to being the one fed to the monsters.

Embracing the Darkness

At one point last week I got so desperate for blogging assistance that I rounded a few likely people up. I’d like to say that Danny Weston volunteered his services, but in actual fact it was a ‘pal’ of his who made him ‘speak up.’ If he hadn’t, I’d have forced him. I mean, if he’d been anywhere near. I hope he isn’t – wasn’t – but since I don’t know this Weston chap, I can’t be sure. As long as he keeps that creepy Mr Sparks away from me!

“They say the devil has all the best tunes. That may be the single thought that fuelled my debut novel, The Piper.

Looking back, it’s hard to say exactly where the idea came from. I know I wanted to write a good old-fashioned ghost story and at the back of my mind, I was thinking about The Pied Piper of Hamelin; that much misunderstood tale that had the greedy burghers of a German town paying the ultimate price for double-crossing its eponymous hero.

And I thought about an old saying that I’d heard many times, but rarely paused to consider fully.

‘Who pays the piper calls the tune.’

So, I decided, my story would involve music. It would involve water. And it would feature a supernatural presence that has returned over the centuries to seek its revenge. Scaring people with mere words on paper is a real challenge. I knew that I needed to find a suitable landscape in which to set my story and I found it in Romney Marsh, that bleak almost treeless wilderness down on the South coast, replete with streams, lakes and canals. After some research, I found out about a church, St Leonard’s in Hythe, one of only two in the UK that house an ossuary – a place where bones are stored. As soon as I read about what was stored down in ‘the crypt,’ I knew it would feature in my story.

I decided early on that I also wanted to set the book in the past, merely because it seemed easier to convince an audience of ghostly happenings back in the day, rather than the perfectly lit interiors of the present. I focused on two time periods – the early 1800s and the eve of World War Two. My lead characters, I decided, would be evacuees, a fourteen-year-old boy, Peter and his seven-year-old sister, Daisy, exiled from their home in Dagenham and sent out into the countryside to face a terror that is centuries old. When I learned that this mass exodus, which involved 3.5 million children, was actually called ‘Operation Pied Piper,’ I realised that I had just been handed something that felt very much like a perfectly-wrapped gift. I had to use it.

In early October my new book, Mr Sparks will be released. The eponymous character is not human. He is a ventriloquist’s doll. He’s been around for a long time… a very long time. He tells everyone he meets that he used to be a real boy and quite frankly, his talents exceed those of the various ‘operators’ he’s picked up along the way. His latest sidekick is a young Welsh boy called Owen, who finds himself going to places he doesn’t really want to visit. The same places where I intend to take my readers.

Danny Weston, Mr Sparks

Once again, I’m riffing on a classic fairy tale here; in this case Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. And once again, my aim with these particular words on paper is to make the reader feel uneasy… unsettled… and dare I say it? Scared.

Have I succeeded? We’ll have to wait and see.”

Danny Weston