Friday, 21 October 2016

Top 5 Scariest Films I’ve Ever Watched by Alex Bell

Alex Bell is no stranger to all things creepy. Her first book in the RED EYE series, Frozen Charlotte, has Ouija boards, possessed porcelain dolls, sinister siblings, an old school house with a deadly past, and a family tragedy with a twist. In her novel The Haunting, she takes on Cornish legends and the Waterwitch spirits. But can she handle horror films? 
The answer is absolutely – and here are her top five cinematic frights. 

1. Insidious 
I think the soundtrack alone makes this film worth a mention. That and the fact that I love how they get around the problem of why the family don't just leave the haunted house. 

2. Oculus 
I thought this film about a haunted mirror was a really original take on the genre. I'm also particularly fond of haunted object stories. There's something really deliciously creepy about them. 

3. Woman in Black 
Classic Victorian ghost stories like this are my favourite. I love the whole look, feel and mood of this film. 

4. The Others 
Another great, original take on the haunted house theme. I think Nicole Kidman is great in this, and little spooky kids are always a great addition to horror! 

5. The Ring 
This film really freaked me out and I thought the cursed video in it was one of the scariest things I'd ever seen. 
Alex Bell is the award-winning author of FROZEN CHARLOTTE and THE HAUNTING in Stripes' YA horror series, Red Eye. Alex is based in the New Forest and writes young adult horror books and middle grade fantasy books. Whilst at university studying to become a lawyer, she also wrote a grand total of six complete novels (admittedly there was not much of a social life during this time). Her first novel, THE NINTH CIRCLE was published by Gollancz and came out in April 2008. Deciding to use her Law degree for good, instead of for evil, she also works as a supervisor for the Citizens Advice Bureau. Her favourite things include Siamese cats, Old Crow Medicine Show music, vegetarian tapas and visiting New Orleans. She also has a weakness for any schlock horror film starring Vincent Price. Alex happily dwells in a make-believe world of blood.
BREAKING NEWS: Alex's first novel, Frozen Charlotte has been chosen as one of the Autumn books for the Zoella Book Club!
Published by Stripes in February 2016
Some curses grow stronger with time…
People say that all Cornish inns are haunted, but the Waterwitch’s history is particularly chilling. Built from the salvaged timber of a cursed ship, the guest house’s dark secrets go further back than anyone can remember.
Emma is permanently confined to a wheelchair after an accident at the Waterwitch which took place when she was ten. Seven years later, she decides to return to the place where the awful event occurred. But the ancient inn still has its ghosts, and one particular spirit is more vengeful than ever…

To find out more about Alex Bell: 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

A Night In A Haunted House by Sarah Baker

Today on the blog, I have one of my writing buddies, Sarah Baker, who tells us all about her night in a haunted house. 

Have you ever spent the night in a haunted house? 

Unwittingly, yes. 
I was twelve and on holiday in France with my Aunt, Uncle and two cousins. We’d been in the car and on the motorway most of the day and had started to reach that level of finding each other really annoying when my uncle pulled the car onto an old, pot-holed road. He drove towards a huge, falling-apart house. It was three stories high, had so many windows I couldn’t count them all, and seemed to be half sagging, half lurching into the ground. This was where we’d spend our last night in France before catching the ferry home. 
The house belonged to friends of my Aunt and Uncle. The man was tall, his wife was round and neither smiled. We children were instructed to play in the orchard until dinner was ready, but just as the adults went into the house, it was announced that there wasn’t enough room in the guesthouse for all of us, so my cousin Julia and I would have to stay in the big house. 
You know that sound in a film that’s like a record being ripped off a turntable? That’s what I heard in my head. Stay in a big creepy house? Er, no thanks. But it was too late. By the time I’d opened my mouth, the adults had disappeared down a dark corridor. I looked at my cousins, they looked at me, and we ran outside. 
It probably would’ve been alright, if my cousin hadn’t decided somewhere between playing tag in the garden and eating a really rich stew, that she wasn’t going to stay in the house with me. As we were shown into a small bedroom containing two ancient cots with pillows shaped like thin sausage rolls, folded blankets (no duvets!) and a really evil looking wardrobe, Julia announced that she had a really bad headache and would need to be with her mum, dad and sister. She raced off, but just as I decided to do the same, Armuth (the lady of the house) shut the bedroom door behind her and walked away. I was left with the sound of her footsteps echoing on the parquet floor and the wind whistling through the window shutters. 
What happened next? Well I went exploring, of course. I started out looking for the bathroom and ended up fleeing from suits of armour, terrifying paintings of Armuth’s relatives that leered down from the walls, plenty of strange bumps and creaks and some out of tune dings from an old grandfather clock. Nearly all the doors I tried were locked, but I must have found the bedroom again because when I woke up I was on the cot and still in my clothes. Over breakfast my cousins asked Armuth if the house was haunted. With a glance at me she winked and said, “but, of course” and that’s how the idea was sown for Through the Mirror Door… 

Sarah Baker is a children’s author. Her debut novel for 8-12 year olds, Through the Mirror Door, is available now at all good bookshops. 

Twitter: @bysarahbaker 
Instagram: @bysarahbaker 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Top Five Scariest Books I’ve Ever Read - Katie Dale

Today on the blog, I'm pleased to welcome Katie Dale onto the blog to tell us about the five scariest books she has ever read, as part of our Halloween blog tour. 
Halloween: A perfect excuse to dress up, wear a mask, to trick-or-treat - and consequently the perfect setting for my short story TRICK OR TWEET in the recent STORIES FROM THE EDGE Anthology. What better opportunity for stalking the girl of your dreams, than a Halloween costume party, right? And that's exactly what "Bruce" does. He's never met Chloe, but by following her tweets, he believes he knows everything about her - including what she's looking for in a guy, where she'll be on Halloween night, and what costume she'll be wearing, and plans their perfect first meeting accordingly - only to discover that he's not the only one wearing a mask... 

Personally, Halloween has always kind of freaked me out. To be honest, I'm actually quite a scaredy-cat. I can't really cope with horror films (I blame my Mum, who used to record movies like The Wizard of Oz but edit out the witch scenes before we watched them!) and for me scary books are even more terrifying because everything's happening inside your head, which makes it all more inescapable somehow. So it will come as no surprise that I've found more than a few books super-scary in my life, and here are my top five nightmare-tastic children's books. 
THE WITCHES by Roald Dahl 
The Witches has to be one of the scariest stories ever, and for me its power lies in the fact that it's so plausible. These are not easily-recognisable, easily-dismissed fairy-tale witches on broomsticks with pointy hats. No. These are witches disguised as normal women, who could be sitting next to you right now, plotting to kill children... and they do. Whether by turning a young boy into a slug so that his own father flushes him away with boiling water, or turning a child into a mackerel for his mother's dinner, this is scary stuff. And when our protagonist finds himself inadvertently trapped in a ballroom full of the world's worst witches, we know he's in big trouble. Like, getting-turned-into-a-mouse trouble. And the fact that even at the end of the book he doesn't change back, but is fated to live forever as a mouse (and consequently will only live for a few years) - Horrifying! 
THE EVIL TWIN (Sweet Valley High), by Francine Pascal 
I was completely addicted to the Sweet Valley High books growing up - I have shelves full of them and loved nothing more than following the safe, sun-kissed rollercoaster lives of all-American identical twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield as they went to the mall, the prom, and the beach, so this gruesome mini-series came as quite a shock! Enter Margo, the "Evil Twin" who is a lookalike for Elizabeth and Jess, has had a hard life, and is more than a little psychotic. She decides that the Wakefield twins have a much better life and family than her and consequently she plots to kill Elizabeth and assuming her life. Margo pulls no punches, the body count rises (children and old ladies included) and as New Year's Eve approaches, the Wakefields' lives will never be the same. Horrifying. 
THE LONG WEEKEND by Savita Kalhan 
The only one of my top five that I read for the first time as an adult, not a child, but that didn't make it any less scary! Two boys get into a car after school, each assuming the driver is the other boy's dad - but he's not. The driver takes them to a dark mansion in the middle of nowhere and locks them up - but what does he intend to do to them? Will they ever escape? Another page-turning read made even more frightening by its terrifying plausability, The Long Weekend had me so gripped when I was reading it on the bus one dark evening that I missed my stop and had to get off in an area I was unfamiliar with. Haunted by the terrifying characters in the book, alone in the dark, it was the scariest walk home ever! 
The Train (Point Horror) by Diane Hoh 
Four friends take a cross-country train tour from Chicago to San Francisco - until they discover there's a coffin on the train with them...Frog's coffin. One by one, the friends guiltily confess all the nasty things they did to Frog before his sudden and horrible death, and then, one by one, they are viciously attacked. It seems that Frog is out for revenge. But Frog is dead...isn't he? 

Actually, I still don't know. I got about halfway through this book, then one of the characters got trapped in a coffin and I started having terrible nightmares and had to stop reading! I couldn't even look at the book on my bookshelf - I had to get it out of the house! It was the first book I ever stopped reading because I got too scared (but not the last!). 
Grimm's Fairy Tales - collected by The Brothers Grimm 
This might seem an odd choice - after all, who doesn't love a fairytale? Sweet stories full of magic that always end happily-ever after, right? Wrong. SO wrong. The original versions of these fairytales are a million miles away from the sanitized Disney versions. Murder, rape, incest, self-mutilation and cannibalism abound in the original stories, which were actually never intended to be for children at all... 
'Stories from the Edge' is a collection of gripping, thought-provoking short stories by eight award-winning UK young adult authors. From the perils of online chat rooms, doping in sport, racism and terrorism, to gender and self-esteem issues, love, life and death, Stories from The Edge isn’t afraid to ask some big questions. Sometimes frightening, often funny, always brutally honest, these stories will take you to where the shadows are darkest and the ground drops away. The question is, are you prepared to look over the edge? “I guarantee that these stories will leave readers gasping for more.” – Joy Court, Chair: CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals Discussion Guides for exploring each of the stories are available as a free PDF download from The Edge website: http//
To find out more about Katie Dale: 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Scary Childhood Reads by Elizabeth & Katharine Corr

Our first  author guest post for the Halloween Blog Tour, is with the fabulous writing duo, Katharine and Elizabeth Corr. These lovely sisters are sharing their scary childhood reads today. 
So scary, so good 

Confession time: we’re a bit pathetic. Neither of us particularly enjoys horror stories (one of us found Ghostbusters 2 a little bit hard to take, so you get the idea). But even we know that being scared is kind of fun. So here are the top four scary reads of our childhood, plus one honourable mention. 
Stranger with my face – Lois Duncan 
Lois Duncan produced numerous YA psychological thrillers throughout her long career, including the terrifying I Know What You Did Last Summer (subsequently updated and made oh-so-much bloodier in the 1997 film version). However, the book that totally freaked us out as children was Stranger With My Face, originally published in 1981. 

17 year old Laurie Stratton is a typical American teenager, with cute siblings, a devoted best friend and a hunky boyfriend. So far, so good. But her life takes a turn for the worse when people start accusing her of doing things she knows she hasn’t done, and of being in places she’s knows she hasn’t been. Finally, she discovers that the doppelganger who appears to be impersonating her is in fact an ‘astral projection’ of her long lost twin sister, Lia. 

Despite Lia’s unorthodox way of getting in contact, Laurie is initially pleased to discover her twin. But then some very bad things start to happen to her friends, and it’s revealed that Lia is insane: she’s been confined to an institution after murdering the daughter of the foster family with whom she previously lived. But Lia doesn’t plan to stay in the institution any longer… 

Why it’s scary: Astral projection is fun until you get left without a body and end up fading away to nothing. Although Laurie technically has a happy ending, the cold-blooded viciousness and sadistic tendencies of Lia made a real impression on us. For a while after reading the book, we were both incredibly nice to each other. You know, just in case. 
Astercote – Penelope Lively 
Astercote, written by the amazing Penelope Lively, was first published in 1970. 

When Mair and Peter move to the quaint English village of Charlton Underwood, they discover the remnants of a long deserted medieval village – Astercote - hidden in the nearby woods. They also 
meet the mysterious Goacher, a man who seems to be living, almost literally, in the past. Goacher shows Mair and Peter around what’s left of Astercote, and tells them about its history: the village was abandoned by its inhabitants over 600 years ago, following an outbreak of the Black Death. He also reveals the golden chalice, a relic from the long lost church of Astercote, of which he is the guardian. According to legend, if the chalice leaves Astercote, the villagers of Charlton Underwood will suffer the same fate as the original inhabitants. 

Shortly afterwards, both Goacher and the chalice go missing. This sends the locals into a frenzy, as one by one they start to fall ill. The villagers believe that the plague has returned, and nothing anyone says can convince them otherwise… 

Astercote is a beautifully written, spookily eerie book. Lively manages to evoke the fear and suffering of the original inhabitants of Astercote without actually taking the novel back in time. 

Why it’s scary: plague. Oozing buboes, fever, internal bleeding and almost-certain death. The shocking idea that the Black Death could return to stalk modern day England. All in all, a very good Halloween read. 
The Ghost of Thomas Kempe – Penelope Lively. 
Another Penelope Lively book. Yes, we’re big fans! This one – a ghost story – was awarded the Carnegie Medal for the best children’s book of 1973. 

James moves with his family to an ancient cottage in the village of Ledsham. Whilst redecorating his bedroom, two workmen break a small glass bottle hidden in the wall. Little do they know that they have just released the spirit of Thomas Kempe, a somewhat vengeful and entirely meddlesome 17th century sorcerer who used to live in the village. Now he’s back, he decides to pick up where he left off and quickly starts interfering in the lives of the villagers. 

Soon doors are being slammed and ornaments broken in the cottage and James gets the blame for everything. Having decided that James is his apprentice, Kempe wreaks further havoc by causing a series of notes to materialise around the village (one, for instance, is wrapped around a brick thrown through a window) instructing people to call on James for all their potion requirements. 

James continues to protest his innocence, but things get more and more difficult as the number of strange incidents escalates, culminating in the house of an elderly widow being burnt down by Kempe on the basis that she is a ‘WYTCHE’. Eventually James befriends a local handyman Bert, and together they attempt to exorcise Kempe’s spirit. But Kempe is not that easy to get rid of… 

Why it’s scary: being haunted. It completely chimed with the (extensive) bits of our psyches that believed there was something living under our beds or in the wardrobe. Having said that, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe has some delightfully funny moments as well as some truly creepy ones. 
Playing Beatie Bow – Ruth Park 
Playing Beatie Bow was the Australian Children’s Book of the Year in 1981. It is the story of Abigail, a 14 year-old girl growing up in Sydney with her mother, her father having walked out on them years earlier. Now he wants to return to his family and plans to move them all abroad, news that Abigail doesn’t take well. Meanwhile, Abigail’s young neighbour is obsessed with a scary playground game – Beatie Bow – in which the long dead Beatie rises from the grave to chase the children. What the children don’t realise is that by chanting her name over and over they have summoned the real Beatie Bow… 

When Abigail spots Beatie watching the children and runs after her, she finds herself back in the Sydney of the 1870s. She’s taken in by Beatie’s family who believe her to be the Stranger, brought to their time to help them preserve the family Gift (the gift of seeing the future, of healing and of wisdom). Although Beatie’s family are kind, they refuse to let Abigail go. She is trapped, unless she can discover how exactly she is supposed to ensure the continuation of the Gift. 

Why it’s scary: Abigail is kidnapped, almost assaulted and runs the risk of being caught forever in the past. She also witnesses the great poverty, hardship and inequality of the time, whilst falling in love with a young man who is ultimately doomed to die. 
Web – John Wydham 
This is the only book of the five that we no longer have, and neither of us have ever bought another copy or borrowed it from a library. However, we both remember that it involves something about being eaten alive by spiders. The story is set on a remote island so at the end the surviving characters are able to escape. But in the epilogue it’s revealed that the flesh-eating spiders have escaped the island and are spreading…. 

Why it’s scary: Flesh. Eating. Spiders. 

Happy Halloween!

The Witch's Kiss is available to buy now. 
The second book in The Witch's Kiss series, The Witch's Tears, will be published in February 2017 by Harper Collins. 
Summary for The Witch's Kiss
Sixteeen-year-old Meredith is fed-up with her feuding family and feeling invisible at school – not to mention the witch magic that shoots out of her fingernails when she’s stressed. Then sweet, sensitive Jack comes into her life and she falls for him hard. The only problem is that he is periodically possessed by a destructive centuries-old curse. Meredith has lost her heart, but will she also lose her life? Or in true fairytale tradition, can true love’s kiss save the day?
To find out more about Katharine and Elizabeth Corr:


Monday, 17 October 2016

Halloween #ReviewMonday with @lockwoodwriter : The Halloweeds by Veronica Cossanteli

It was an ordinary, boring Wednesday afternoon. 
Until, quite suddenly, it wasn’t. 
It’s double Science on Wednesdays. Miss Drupe showed us a film about Food Chains. It wasn’t very cheerful. This green stuff called algae got eaten by this invisible stuff called plankton. The plankton got eaten by a fish, the fish got eaten by a seal and then the seal got eaten by a shark. 
The seal had whiskers and big, chocolate-y eyes. When the shark grabbed it, everyone went Oooh! and Awwww! and Maisie Milligan started to cry. Nobody bothered about the fish much, or the poor plankton.As for the algae – well, that’s how it works, isn’t it? 
Plants get eaten all the time, and never get a chance to eat anybody back. 
Or that’s what I thought.
Cover by Steve Wells Design, illustrations by Mark Beech
217 pages in paperback
Published by Chicken House 6th October 2016

Summary and extract from Publisher’s Website
Dan promised he’d look after his siblings, but he hadn’t bargained on his scientist parents dying on a jungle research trip. 
Orphaned Dan’s new home is a crumbling castle. Here, horrible Aunt Grusilla reigns supreme, tending to her mysterious graveyard garden. But why are Aunt Grusilla and her curious servants each missing a finger – and what are the hungry ‘cabbages’ in the greenhouse? As Dan struggles to solve the mystery, he encounters a chilling question: what’s the price of everlasting life? 
If your pre-Halloween wishes are for something funny, scary and grotesque – then this is the book for you! There’s something of the anarchic darkness of the best Roald Dahl, together with a hint of Little Shop of Horrors – and lots of adventure amongst the awfully strange goings-on. 

You can see from the delightfully monstrous cover, by Steve Wells Design and Mark Beech, this isn’t going to be a cosy and cute little tale with fluffy kittens. It’s as weird, daft and as fun as The Extincts – but even more suitable for this spooky time of year. I loved the apparently grubby pages, and you’ll find the writing is just as full of quirky details that are simply so right. 

It does have its deliciously creepy moments – so it might not suit those easily frightened - but then they wouldn’t pick up a book with a cover like that, would they? Despite the chills and the outlandishness, there’s actually a lot of courage and friendship within this strange mystery tale – and a few serious questions to ponder. 

Perfect for any confident reader who likes a good grin along with their helping of gruesome.

K. M. Lockwood lives by the sea in Sussex - see the pics on Instagram. She fills jars with sea-glass, writes on a very old desk and reads way past her bedtime. Her tiny bed-and-breakfast is stuffed full of books - and even the breakfasts are named after writers. You're always welcome to chat stories with @lockwoodwriter on Twitter.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Poppy Pym and the Double Jinx by Laura Wood

It was late in the evening and I was soaring majestically though the air, whizzing around like an acrobatic bumblebee. Somewhere below I could hear a crowd of people chanting my name as I tumbled into a particularly impressive mid-air pirouette. Madame Pym, ringleader and trapeze-artist extraordinaire, swung back and forth in front of me, her short legs hooked over the trapeze and her arms held out waiting to pull me to safety. Reaching forward, I stretched out as far as I could, ready to grab on to Pym and to hear the humongous roar of applause fill my ears. Instead, I felt my fingertips brush Pym's before they slipped away, leaving me grabbing at mothing but thin air. Then I was falling. Down.

Published by Scholastic in September.
244 pages

Summary From Scholastic
Curses: load of rubbish or for real? Super sleuth Poppy must figure it out when trouble strikes ‘cursed’ play Macbeth… People say Shakespeare’s Macbeth brings bad luck to all who try to stage it. In the case of the Brimwell town production, this seems to be true. An arsonist has struck, burning down the venue. Now the play has been moved to Poppy’s school. But the attacks aren’t over – and the fact that it’s Halloween just makes things creepier. Can Poppy find the culprit and save the play? Circus star. Super sleuth. Mystery buster. Queen of surprises. If Poppy isn’t your best friend yet – why not? 
New from the winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize. The second book about Poppy – sleuth and circus star 
Addictive school story mixed with a Halloween mystery. Great if you love Enid Blyton or Murder Most Unladylike 
What a great book this is! It's got it all: comedy, spookiness, thrilling adventure, a mystery, a treasure hunt and a cast of wonderful characters. There's even a whole load of guinea pigs thrown in for good measure. And it's beautifully written to boot.
Poppy Pym, who comes from a family of memorable circus performers, is a boarder at Saint Smithen's school. She and her two best friends, Ingrid, who is mad keen on reading, and Kip, who's always first in the queue at mealtimes, set out to discover who burnt down the town hall. Along the way, they investigate the disasters that keep befalling rehearsals of Macbeth and search for long lost treasure. The story hares along at breakneck speed and it's written in short chapters that make it perfect for bedtime reading. Scholastic say it's for children aged 11 and 12, but I know a 9 year old who's going to love it so I'm pretty sure it would also be suitable for book-loving younger children.
Laura Wood's writing style is fun to read. She uses words very precisely and includes lots of original similes that often made me smile. Her characters are well drawn and I especially loved Kip who longs to be taller and who can demolish a whole plate of cakes in about ten seconds flat. There's also an underlying plot line about Poppy's desire to find out about her birth parents. (She was left at the circus when she was a baby.) This creates some poignant moments and I'm keen to read the third book in the series when it's published to see if this issue is resolved. (Come on, Laura Wood, no slacking now! You mustn't keep your fans waiting!)
This book is the second in the series. (How on earth did I miss the first one?) But that didn't detract from my enjoyment of it as it tells a great story in its own right. I can't recommend it highly enough. Don't miss it!

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Inspire Me with Lou Kuenzler

As part of the Finding Black Beauty blog tour, I'm pleased to welcome the author, Lou Kuenzler onto the blog to talk about what inspired her to write this book. 
When my editor at Scholastic asked me if I would like to “revisit” or “reimagine” a classic story for contemporary readers, I knew at once that it would be Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty - a book I had read (and wept over) many times as a child growing up on a farm in Devon. The book was important to me - not just because it was about horses, which I loved - but because it felt real and gritty and sad. I loved how the book could make me cry - big heaving sobs sometimes. Crying wasn’t always something that came easily to me. I was sent away to boarding school at the age of seven (one of only two girls amongst hundreds of boys for my first few years away). Learning not to cry, not to be seen to be ‘a baby’, very quickly became a survival mechanism. After the first week of the first term, I don’t think I ever allowed myself to cry because I missed home. I did have my copy of Black Beauty though (perhaps not when I was seven, but certainly a few years later). I was happy to cry under the covers with my torch for the beautiful horse who is taken away from his mother, the spreading chestnut tree and his wonderful country home (no big heaving sobs in case anyone else heard me of course). I don’t think back then I had a clue what I was doing - that I was transferring my own sense of loss and estrangement onto the story. And anyway, it is a cracking adventure too!
Perhaps it was those childhood memories, my own association with the horse, that meant when I came to consider the best way to approach my modern version, I decided almost at once that it would not be told from the point of view of Black Beauty himself (as the original is) but through the eyes of a young girl. In my story it is Josephine, disguised as a stable lad, who talks directly to the reader. Josie has lived a happy and privileged childhood until she is forced to make her own way in the world when her father dies and she is turned out of her home. Desperate to work with horses, she has no choice (in Victorian England) but to pretend to be a boy. The minute she cuts her hair short and binds her chest, she is plunged into a world of boys and men. This again, of course, is familiar territory for me … although it is only now that I have been asked to write this blog that I am joining up the dots with quite such startling self-awareness. Thank you, Serendipity. You have really made me consider the true reason that Anna Sewell’s wonderful story may have always inspired me so much.
Finding Black Beauty by Lou Kuenzler is published in October 2016 by Scholastic. 
Told from the point of view of a young girl who masquerades as a boy in order to become a groom, this is the other side of the classic horse story BLACK BEAUTY. Aspiring groom Jo comes to love Beauty and when they are separated she travels to London to find him - on the way solving the mystery of her long-lost mother. A sweeping tale of a young girl and her love for a horse, and the circumstances that divide them.

To find out more about Lou Kuenzler: