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The Next Big Thing – HAUNTED!

Last week the supremely talented Sarah Pinborough tagged me in The Next Big Thing blog series. It’s basically a gang of writers helping to spread the word about their upcoming titles. My answers to the standard ten questions are below, I’ll then be passing the baton to the authors listed at the bottom. So here goes…

1. What is the working title of your next book?

HAUNTED (the working title was GHOST MACHINE). It comes out September 2013.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

HAUNTED is part of a loose series of books, each with different characters and settings but with the connecting theme of supernatural objects. I wanted each object to be a little left-field (not the overly-familiar Ark of the Covenant, Spear of Destiny stuff) and have space within its established history/mythology for me to play about, for example by introducing ‘celebrity’ historical cameos. I also wanted each object to have an emotional and thematic relevance for the characters rather than just be a cool MacGuffin.

In HAUNTED we are presented with the Ghost Machine, a device for communicating with the dead created by inventor Thomas Edison. Edison claimed in several magazine articles in 1920 that he was on the brink of creating such a device. He was, however, a notorious practical joker, especially with journalists, and so, after his death, the claims were dismissed as yet more tall tales.

In my story the mystic telephone was indeed created by Edison, but his horrific experiences with it led to a cover-up. At the start of the book, the machine turns up in the small English town of Milton Lake, where an unidentified necromancer begins using it to call the souls of the dead back to our world. It is then the task of Emma Rhodes, our hero, to locate the Ghost Machine before it goes it overdrive and the dead of Milton Lake overwhelm the living.

The theme of the book is the destructive power of isolation and the inability to communicate, emphasized by the object being a tool of communication and community.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Tricky one. The short answer is Young Adult thriller, but really it’s a supernatural whodunnit with elements of romance and historical adventure.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The main character is a young girl who feels responsible for the tragic death of her baby brother. Someone very soulful like Saoirse Ronan would be brilliant. The lead male character is this American kid – very dark and brooding. Ezra Miller, maybe? He was terrific in ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When the dead rise, a haunted girl rediscovers her reason for living.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Represented by the very talented Veronique Baxter of David Higham Associates, published by Oxford University Press.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Research aside (about 2 months on that), the first draft was completed in three months. Then the real work began!

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I was aiming for the haunting quality of Cliff McNish’s excellent ghost story ‘Breathe’ coupled with the town-in-jeopardy excitement of Michael Grant’s GONE series. I’m particularly pleased that Mr Grant has read HAUNTED and has given the book a fantastic cover quote: ‘A nail-biting chiller, which will leave readers begging for more. Be prepared for some sleepless nights.’

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I love science and history and had read a fantastic (and exhaustive!) biography of Edison by the scholar Paul Israel. By some strange temporal alchemy, which every author relies on, I then saw an article about the Ghost Machine online. I had also wanted to write a book from a teenage girl’s point of view (I needed a challenge!), and this seemed the ideal subject matter.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Let’s see, we have: a theme park haunted by its mass-murdering owner; a haunted house cleansed by ‘soul-catchers’; a Byron-esque hero with some jaw-dropping secrets; an exorcism in a forest; an antique store called the Phantasmagorium full of supernatural curios; a couple of major plot twists; a chapter or two where we meet THE Thomas Edison; and, oh yeah, a town overrun by the ravenous dead!


And so to next week’s authors – 3 phenomenal talents who will be telling you all about their fascinating forthcoming projects on Wednesday 21st November:

Andy Briggs

David Gatward

Andy Remic

Ghostly Goings On

In support of my brilliant local library in Skegness, I recently held a HALLOWEEN STORIES BY CANDLELIGHT event. Basically, it was me acting out some classic ghost and horror stories, including MR James’ terrific chiller ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad’ and ‘Some Children Wander By Mistake’ by modern master of the macabre, John Connolly. I also penned an exclusive Halloween story of my own for the event, a mysterious piece which only makes sense when you hear or read the very last word of the story! I called it ‘Turn Her Face to the Wall’.

Anyway, the evening went really well. There were props and atmospheric lighting and some very creepy introductory music for each story. I’d also arranged for a few surprises to take place during the tales, with librarian Sarah suddenly appearing at key moments in some spooky and really rather gruesome disguises! Another terrific librarian Sue had her  cameo at the end of ‘Some Children…’ when she suddenly sprang from nowhere in a very freaky clown mask! It was great fun, especially when one of the kids in the audience jumped so high he almost landed in his mum’s lap!

But one thing still puzzles me. Towards the beginning of the evening, before the audience had arrived, librarian Ben took a photo of the empty stage area. Imagine our surprise when, viewing the photos at a later date, this strange figure seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. You see, even ghosts enjoy being spooked at Halloween!

Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You…

MR James (1862-1936) is widely acknowledged as the master of the English ghost story. His tales of the macabre are not of the in-your-face, blood, guts and gore variety (although he didn’t write exclusively about creeping spirits and ancient revenants – his stories are, in fact, laced with demons and horrors of a more visceral nature). James has been a big influence on my work. I love the subtlety of his storytelling and the sheer weight of history and antiquity with which he dusts his tales.

For one week you can hear me read a brief, abridged extract from one of James’ most famous ghost stories, ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You.’ All you have to do is follow this link and click ten minutes into the programme.

You can also hear me talk briefly about how I got into writing and the HALLOWEEN STORIES BY CANDLELIGHT event which will be taking place on Thursday 25th October at Skegness Library. The reading is a little rushed as I had to get it all in before the traffic report! If you are intrigued by what you’ve heard I would thoroughly recommend picking up one of MR James’ collections. Details about the author can be found here.

The picture, by the way, comes from the BBC’s adaptation of ‘Oh Whistle’, starring Michael Hordern as the crusty, fussy Professor Parkins – a man haunted by the thing in the empty bed… Details of that wonderful interpretation can be found here

HAUNTED (Coming Soon!)

Hola Horror Hounds!

Just to let you know that my next spine-tingler from Oxford University Press now has a bit of a blurb. So here’s a brief introduction to HAUNTED:

‘Emma Rhodes lives in Milton Lake – a seemingly ordinary town, where tales of hauntings and strange goings on ripple beneath the surface. When the mysterious Nick Redway moves into the near-derelict house on her street, Emma discovers that the terrible stories that haunt Milton Lake have more truth than she ever thought possible.

Someone is using Thomas Edison’s fabled Ghost Machine to call the dead back to the land of the living. Now it is up to Emma and the enigmatic boy next door to find out who is operating the deadly invention before it is too late and the town is overrun with the undead…’

Now it may surprise you to learn that the famous inventor Thomas Edison REALLY did claim to have invented a machine for speaking with the dead! Just Google ‘Edison Ghost Machine’ and you’ll find all the eerie details!

HAUNTED will be coming out next September. It’s a fast-paced ghost train of a story with lots of twists and creepy scenes as well as a shocking revelation at the end! There’s a haunted theme park overlooking the town of Milton Lake, a girl with a chilling past, an American hero who is more than appears to be, a supernatural antique store called ‘The Phantasmagorium’, and a whole army of the undead just waiting to be unleashed.

HAUNTED forms part of a loosely connected series of books, each of which contains a supernatural object, like Edison’s Ghost Machine, which might once have actually existed!

More HAUNTED news, including cover art, will be coming soon. In the meantime here’s a picture of the house which inspired the look and feel of the haunted house that stands across the road from Emma’s home


I Want To Be An Author!

One of the great things about being an author is inspiring other people to give this writing game a go. To hear that a child has been encouraged by my work to take up writing is a huge honour, and so imagine my delight when a very special young lady called Grace Lewis-Bettison announced to her mum and dad that, when she grows up, she wants to be an author like her ‘Uncle Bill’. Some eagle-eyed fans of the Witchfinder books may have noticed that Gallows at Twilight is dedicated to Grace, her brother Noah and their cousin Eleanor. Grace is a very intelligent girl and she does the two things every would-be author must: she writes a lot and she reads a lot! To encourage Grace with her writing I’m publishing her first story on this website today! So sit back and enjoy ‘The Story of Terry the T-Rex’ and Grace’s brilliant drawing of Terry and his friend Sharpy!

(Please click to enlarge)

More Creepy Creations from the Caterham Kids!

I recently posted some amazing artwork and creative writing pieces from the very talented pupils of Caterham School, all of it inspired by the Witchfinder books! I’m really proud to bring you yet more grisly and ghastly offerings from the brilliant kids of Caterham… (Click the pics for larger images).

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Caterham Kids Creepy Creativity!!!

At the invitation of brilliant school librarian Jane Damesick, I recently visited the wonderful Caterham School in Surrey. I was due to hold one of my infamous Witch Trials on school premises (and, as usual, I found that the place was rife with foul sorcerers!). What made this visit particularly special, however, was all the amazing artwork and creative writing projects awaiting me in the library! One of the greatest hopes of any writer is to inspire other people – especially young people – to be creative, and so I was truly moved by all this terrific (and terrifying!) work kickstarted by the Witchfinder books. Jane has very kindly forwarded me lots of photos of the children’s ingenious pieces and I am determined to post all the pics here over the next week or so. Here’s the first batch of witchy goodness from the talented kids of Caterham! CLICK THE PICS FOR A MORE DETAILED LOOK… IF YOU DARE!!!!

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And the Winner Is…

Apologies for the slight delay in announcing the winner of The Headless Witchfinder Competition…

But that winner is… ALISON EDEN!

Many congratulations – signed books will be winging their way to you very soon!

Stick around for more interviews and competitions – a few cool book giveaway is imminent!

Headless Witchfinder Competition!!!

Hi guys!

A competition for all you bookworms out there! Simply leave a comment below to be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of Dave Cousin’s spellbinding novel ’15 Days Without A Head’ and ‘Witchfinder 2: Gallows at Twilight’! The competition closes Thursday 22nd March – so better get your skates on! And while you’re here, why not take a look at my recent interview with Dave in the first of the ‘Essential Six’ series!

The Essential Six: Dave Cousins

Welcome to the first in an occasional series of interviews with some of my favourite authors! I’ve called this series ‘The Essential Six’ for two reasons: first, writers need to write! I love the work of these authors so much I don’t want to take up too much of their precious scribing time. Secondly, I wanted to narrow down my questions to a core half dozen so that we could get down to the real nuts and bolts of their life and work.

What follows is an interview with debut author Dave Cousins. Last year, I was lucky enough to get hold of a proof copy of his moving and laugh-out-loud funny novel ’15 Days Without A Head’ – the finest Young Adult book I read in 2011…

Dave (with head)

Firstly, Dave, I want to congratulate you on a compelling and very moving read. I was hooked from the first page and finished the book in one sitting. It really is an incredible achievement – a work of great heart and humour. Please give us a brief introduction to your remarkable novel, 15 Days Without A Head.

Thanks, Bill – that’s very kind of you. 15 Days Without a Head is the story of two brothers – fifteen year old narrator Laurence, and his six year old, dog-obsessed brother, Jay. The action takes place over the fifteen days the boys are left to fend for themselves when their alcoholic mother goes missing. Scared they’ll be taken into care if anyone finds out, Laurence resorts to increasingly desperate measures to survive and keep their secret safe. There are some dark moments in the book, but plenty of laughs too – some dressing up, a dead man on the radio – even a hint of romance.

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