Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Guest Post: My Top Five Halloween Reads by Jane McLoughlin (Author of The Crowham Martyrs)


Jane’s most recent book, The Crowham Martyrs, was published in June by Catnip Books. It is a middle grade ghost story set in a boarding school in rural Sussex. The Crowham Martyrs has been shortlisted for the 2016 Essex Book Awards. 

My ghost-filled middle grade novel The Crowham Martyrs was published this summer, but it’s set during a darker and drearier time of year: Bonfire Night on the 5th of November. 
Halloween may not get much of a mention in the story, but The Crowham Martyrs is full of spooks and frights, and before I started to write it, I scared myself silly by reading ghost stories and re-reading some other ghoulish tales.  

Here is the blurb: 

Ghosts don’t frighten Maddy Deeprose; she’s seen them all her life. 
So when her mum sends her to creepy old boarding school, Crowham Martyrs, Maddie isn’t worried. But then her friends start disappearing, and Maddy knows it’s time to be scared. 
Something is lurking at Crowham Martyrs. 
Something evil. 
Is the place that’s supposed to keep Maddy safe about to become the hunting ground?

Here are the books that set my heart thumping the most rapidly! 

5) Dracula by Bram Stoker 
When it comes to scary stories, Dracula must be the granddaddy of them all! 
Many years ago I was on holiday in Ireland with my family. We weren’t on an isolated cottage near a windswept coastline or in a creaking old Dublin townhouse. We were staying in a modern, non-descript bungalow, near a busy road: lovely and comfortable, but hardly atmospheric. However, on one rainy and windy night, my kids were fast asleep, my husband was off to the local pub and I was in bed, reading Dracula. Suddenly, the secure, unthreatening location counted for nothing. I sat up, hunched over the book, one eye on the page, the other on the closed curtains, waiting for them to twitch, or to hear a tap on the other side of the glass, or for the window to fly open without warning and a swarm of bats to swoop into the room and….and… 
4) The Hunting Ground by Cliff McNish 
Cliff McNish has written many brilliant ghost stories for young people, and his book Breathe: A Ghost Story is a modern classic. However, I’m including The Hunting Ground on this list, because the setting was so superb. To me, a really good ghost story deserves a fantastic haunted house, and Glebe House, especially its malevolent East Wing, is brilliantly and terrifyingly realised. The Hunting Ground creates a sense of horrifying claustrophobia—readers will feel as if they themselves are trapped by Glebe House’s secrets. 

3) The Shining by Stephen King 
The perfect haunted house, full of menacing ghosts, and a brilliant focus on the psychological and emotional demons that also fuel a great horror story. The Shining was published when I was young, and still living with my parents and siblings. Despite being surrounded by the comfort and safety of home, I remember reading it late into the night and feeling vulnerable and alone. It was as if I was wandering through the empty corridors of the Overlook Hotel, unable to resist the tantalising lure of the saloon bar of the damned. The story, if not the ghosts, had seeped into my soul and taken possession of me. 

2) Long Lankin by Lindsay Barraclough 
This book was published in 2012 and is set in post=war England, but could have been written in a much earlier period. It has the feel of a classic ghost story in the Susan Hill vein, and the fact that it’s based on an actual legend adds to the timeless feeling. Like The Hunting Ground, it oozes atmosphere—an abandoned church, an isolated house, a dreary, threatening landscape. It also has a terrifyingly realised monster and children who have to rely on their own wits to survive an ancient, deadly curse. I haven’t read Barraclough’s follow-up, The Mark of Cain, but might do this Halloween!
1) Dark Matter by Michelle Paver 
This book is number one on my list for a reason: it’s the scariest book I’ve ever read. It’s so scary I don’t even want to write about it. But it’s number one on my list, so I’ll have to… 
Dark Matter has none of the usual horror or ghost story conventions---there’s no castle or haunted house, there are no creepy kids (dead or alive), no baying wolves. For a book that falls into the category of psychological horror, there’s no underlying sense of grief or loss. There is just, as the title says, “Dark Matter.” There are dim figures that one struggles to see; tiny noises that one has to strain to hear. There is the loss of light (literally, as it’s set in the Norwegian Arctic and the winter is drawing near) and the suggestion of menace planted in the mind of the narrator grows and grows as the light fades. Most importantly, the writing is as spare and beautiful as the Arctic landscape. I was totally overwhelmed by this book’s subtlety and power. I’d read it again this Halloween—if only I dared! 


Although these books are named as my top five, it was very tough to decide which authors to include. The British/Irish ghost and horror tradition is deep and strong, and this includes many contemporary YA and middle grade writers. Here’s a list of some other brilliant writers I was sad to leave out: 
Susan Hill (The Woman in White, The Small Hand), Chris Priestley (The Dead of Winter), Helen Grant (The Glass Demon), Emma Carroll (Frost Hollow Hall). BR Collins (Tyme’s End), James Dawson (Say her Name), Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book), Tatum Flynn (The D'Evil Diaries), MR James.
About Jane McLoughlin: 
Jane McLoughlin’s first novel, At Yellow Lake, was published in 2012 by Frances Lincoln Children’s books. A YA thriller, set in an isolated cabin in the northern USA, At Yellow Lake was nominated for the 2013 Carnegie Medal, longlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize and longlisted for the 2013 Branford Boase Award.
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