Category Archives: Horror

Tales from Weird Street

Anne Fine, Tales from Weird Street

Anne Fine’s Tales from WeirD Street for Barrington Stoke are a lot scarier than you’d think, but aimed at a youngish age group, not as horrible as they could be. I mean, I was fine. My interest wasn’t lost through the stories being too wimpy, or anything, but neither did they have me kicking and screaming. Much.

Three children – living in WeirD Street – compete to see who can tell the scariest story. Each has a story that purports to come from someone else; a friend or relative or neighbour. So it didn’t happen to them, but to someone close and reliable so obviously this really happened.

Someone tells of the photograph that caused a boy to drown. Another tale tells of a Chinese restaurant and its ‘fortune’ cookies. And then there is a ghost who…

I would say, beware of the fortune cookie!

(Illustrations by Vicki Gausden)

Dead of Night

It is World Book Day. Well, it is in the UK, anyway.

One of the £1 books this year is Dead of Night by Michael Grant. Which is a very good thing, as I was feeling the need for more stories about his girl GIs while I wait for the third full length book.

I’d been concerned it wouldn’t work, or that there would be confusion between this short book and the ‘real’ ones. Would there be spoilers?

Michael Grant, Dead of Night

But no. This is set soon after the squad arrives in Europe, and they are training – and spending Christmas 1942 – in a wet and grey Wales. They are not yet the fully fledged soldiers we met in Silver Stars. And, some of the people who die, are still alive.

This is very much Charles Dickens meets Michael Grant. It’s good.

Peter in Peril

Helen Bate’s graphic novel Peter in Peril is different from many other WWII stories. For one, it’s set in Budapest, which is less common, and two, it ends reasonably well for the people we get to know in the book. I’m not saying the war passed them by, exactly, but I was expecting something much worse.

Based on a ‘real’ Peter, who must have been about two when war broke out, we come to the by now so common story of Jews finding their lives changing almost overnight. First is the yellow star to be worn, and later losing their home, having to move into more camp-like places with other Jews, eventually escaping to hide alone.

Helen Bate, Peter in Peril

Because it’s about such a young child, and because we see it from his point of view, perhaps many of the worst things are less obvious. He has time to be bored without his toys, and he seems to find new playmates in the various places where they end up. There is food, even if it’s little and bad.

And as I said, the end is nowhere as immediately tragic as I’d been afraid. That doesn’t mean the war was better for Jews in Hungary, because this is merely the story about one family.

At the end we get to meet Peter as he is today, which is nice and reassuring for a young reader; that he survived and that he leads a normal life.

Helen’s graphic illustrations are just right for this kind of book, and should go down well with quite young readers. Let’s hope, too, that they can see the similarities with what’s happening today in far too many places. If it was wrong then, it is wrong now.

The Canterville Ghost

Soon after I’d started at my new secondary school, the school hall burned down. This was unfortunate, but certainly nothing to do with me. In fact, we were quite lucky, since it happened on sports day, when nearly everyone was out, and only [I think] the choir was there to practise. And the head teacher, who might have attempted to put the fire out.

The hall was almost brand new, so it was a shame, but the replacement hall was – probably – even better. I can barely remember what the unfortunate first hall was like.

Nor can I remember for how long we had to go without a hall while it was being rebuilt. We had assembly first thing every morning, which meant the school had to come up with alternatives. In effect this meant that the teacher who taught the first period got to ‘entertain’ the class for fifteen minutes before starting on the real stuff.

My Favourite Teacher ended up doing most of my assemblies, as I had him for two subjects, which managed to cover several mornings of the week. He very sensibly read to us, and his first choice was The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde.

Despite having him for English, our teacher read the story in Swedish. Perhaps it was just as well, since this way everyone in the class could enjoy it. And I believe learning to enjoy a good story rather than making it be too educational is the best way.

We had a lot of fun with the ghost and the Otis family. In actual fact, I still consider the name Otis to be a fun name, so I guess it’s just this happy memory.

After Canterville we had other books/stories to listen to and they were all excellent. But I can’t remember what they were. I was sad to return to the new assembly hall when the time came. Those assemblies were generally also fairly good, but not quite up to Canterville standards.

Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost and other stories

(There’s a new Canterville Ghost out now, along with other Oscar Wilde stories. Enjoy some fresh blood stains for Halloween!)

The Haunting of Jessop Rise

Danny Weston is back in North Wales. It’s the mid-19th century and recently orphaned William is just arriving in a desolate corner of Wales, having walked the five days from Cheshire. His rich uncle Seth has asked him to come and live at Jessop Rise. He just didn’t say in what capacity, or for how long.

Danny Weston, The Haunting of Jessop Rise

We soon learn that William’s only ‘choice’ is to work as a servant for his uncle and his cousin Toby (who I thought was all set to be Dudley Dursley meets Draco Malfoy). But like all good heroes William works hard and is polite and makes friends among the few staff in this big house.

What makes a good horror story? Do you need a mean, bad guy, or are you better off with a good ghost or two? Or how about a scary creature you don’t really know what it is at all? The Haunting of Jessop Rise has all three. The locals believe in the Gwrach, but William seems to mostly meet a mysterious woman whenever he goes out. Who is she and what does she want from him?

And then there is mean old uncle Seth, who is pretty ghastly at times, but who appears almost normal on other occasions. You just don’t know what to expect. Toby misses his mother, who disappeared a year earlier, and it makes you suspect you know what’s happened. Atmospheric stormy seas, thick fogs and a dangerous slate quarry all add to the perils William faces.

Nowhere near as creepy as Danny’s Mr Sparks, this is more a traditional, old-fashioned tale about families and what makes them do what they do. You don’t feel threatened by the ghost. You want to know its history, and you want things put right. And you know uncle Seth is capable of almost anything.

Lockwood – The Creeping Shadow

I begin to see the pattern now. Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood is going somewhere, rather than each individual book being an adventure on its own. And I don’t know how he’s going to do it, but I wonder if I can guess a little at what must happen. Who the bad guys are, and I don’t mean just the dead bad guys who upset the balance of normal life.

In this fourth instalment of the ghost hunting series, you sense that there might be a bigger picture, some plan as yet only hinted at. And that’s exciting.

Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood - The Creeping Shadow

To start with we have a typical Lockwood beginning, with Lucy out fighting some bad and sad ghost which is being a nuisance, along with her trusted helpers. Except, it’s not as usual at all. (It reminded me of the NCIS season four opening episode, if you want to know. It did, even if you don’t, actually.)

Lucy and the others have plenty of individual ghost hunting adventures in The Creeping Shadow. More than in the past, I believe, and the reader sits there wondering if ‘this one’ will be the biggie. The one that determines how things will end. Or it could be the next one. Plenty of bad ghosts in here.

And is everyone who they seem to be?

Listening to Jonathan in Gothenburg last week, I at least learned how old – or rather, quite how young – Lucy and Lockwood & Co are. It leaves you amazed at how they manage.

There is more tension between our two main characters, with some innocent-ish innuendo. Are they? Will they?

I really, really like these books, and in The Creeping Shadow there is more depth, and I am wanting the fifth and final (?) book soon. To be proven right, obviously. That’s all…

If you’ve not started yet, do so before it’s too late. Before they get you. Ghost-touch is no joke.

(And it’s about time Lucy made it onto the cover of the book.)

‘Don’t show your ghosts too soon’

Jonathan Stroud had been in Gothenburg before. 11 years ago, he reckoned, which is true, as that’s when we met him the first time. Then he had his Bartimaeus trilogy to talk about, and now it’s Lockwood.

On Thursday morning Jonathan did a short event with his publisher, and he only had to warn her once that she must be careful with spoilers. I’m glad I was already past that bit, so it didn’t upset me. I’ve been reading the 4th Lockwood all week (and the reason I’m not done yet is not because I’m slow, but simply that there hasn’t been enough time in the week) and it has been just the right background for a bookish few days at the Gothenburg book fair.

Jonathan feels there’s a bit of Pippi Longstocking about Lockwood. And needless to say he wants to be him. (So it was interesting to hear him tell Lotta Olsson on Friday that when he tried to use Lockwood as narrator in book two, he gave up as he didn’t want Lockwood’s interior monologue.)

Everyone is impressed by his extensive research (this is fiction, folks!) into ghosts and the weapons he gives his characters in their fight against the ghosts. Poltergeists are – sort of – real, but most of the rest he obviously made up.

Mats Strandberg, Lotta Olsson and Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood began when Jonathan wrote a short introduction, featuring a boy and a girl outside a door, and he wanted to find out who they were and what they were about to do. Lockwood and Lucy and George emerged from that short opening. The reason he uses – an alternative – London as the setting for a fantasy is because it’s more realistic and exciting in a real place. He doesn’t know much, but builds things up slowly.

The agencies in the books are growing increasingly corrupt, so he made the ghost hunters young because they are more open than adults. Jonathan compared the work the young agents do on a nightly basis with our own everyday tasks that we just have to do, whether we want to or not. He feels that by implying things and being sparing with details, you have a more powerful story.

In his event with Lotta Olsson, he and scary author Mats Strandberg discussed the difference between horror and terror. It could be that horror is more for children, while terror works better for adults. Mats, who has been inspired by Harry Potter [the films…] described his new book as being a bit like The Walking Dead, set on the ferry to Finland. (Which sounds pretty terrifying, if you ask me.) And apparently in his next book Mats is even scaring himself.

Jonathan believes in suspense, which is why he doesn’t want to show his ghosts too soon. You will be more frightened by not knowing what’s coming. There’s the bump in the night, versus machine guns. Mats said that in terror it is generally the underdog who fares best. Asked by Lotta how the easy access to violent [real] videos for even quite small children will affect future writing, Mats hopes that empathy can save the world.

Freedom to Think is a campaign Jonathan is involved in, which wants to give our far too busy children some time to themselves, when they can simply sit and do nothing; dream up new ideas and maybe learn the skills to be an author or to do other creative things. Not to be ferried round by parents to ever more activities.

Lotta wondered if Lucy was meant to be the main character in Lockwood, and Jonathan felt that the fact she is flawed, brave, and has anxieties, makes her a useful and very suitable hero, and why he discovered that Lockwood was no good in that role. Finding your voice is the best thing.

Asked by someone in the audience for their favourite writers, Mats confessed to being a Stephen King fan, while Jonathan likes M R James and his ‘short and nasty’ stories.

Jonathan is currently writing the fifth and last Lockwood novel, which is nervous work. But he finds that the scary bits make the jokes better.