Saturday, 24 October 2009

Happy Halloween!

It's pumpkintide again.

Have to say, I love it. I'm not one of those who shut themselves away and refuse to hand out sweets to passing trick-or-treaters, muttering about how it's all those Americans' fault, and it didn't used to be like this. (If you catch an adult doing this, you can always ask them if they like a traditional Christmas; if they say yes, you can then remind them that we owe both today's Santa Claus and the Christmas turkey to our American cousins.)

I think the whole trick-or-treat thing is fun – well, as long as no trick is involved, which is usually the case. And it has its origins in the British tradition of souling anyway; that got exported to America, the Americans did their own thing with it, and exported it back to the UK. As indeed they have done with Shakespeare plays, breakfast cereals and Britain's Got Talent. And the jack-o-lantern, incidentally, has Irish origins.

One thing you simply must not miss this Halloween, conveniently scheduled so as to give you plenty of time tocarve out your pumpkin and sort out your costume, is "my" TV show Jinx! So here's a timely reminder: the first episode is this Saturday, i.e. Halloween, on CBBC at 10.30am. Here are some pictures from the private screening: This is me with Chizzy Akudolu, who plays "Cookie" (below); she is brilliant and very funny. Spookily, she also has the same name as the head teacher I had at my nursery school (her nickname, "Chizzy", was short for "Miss Chisholm").

Below, here I am with Amber Beattie (Lulu) and Gia Lodge O'Meally (Frenchy):
After the screening we had a book-signing session:

Another feature of this time of year is the long dark nights; perfect for curling up with a good book. So, as my special Halloween treat to you, I'm going to give you some suggestions for really good, spooky reads. OK, so you've done Harry Potter, you've done Twilight. Possibly you've read some Darren Shans...though if you're a fan of mine, very possibly not. Don't think we share a readership! Well, here are some ideas for you:

First of all, a couple of fairly obvious mentions: Neil Gaiman's Coraline – although you've probably seen the film by now (I still haven't! But I think the book is brilliantly chilling) and his Graveyard Book (both Bloomsbury). Then there's Joseph Delaney's highly successful Spook's Apprentice series (Red Fox); I reckon the more recent Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley (Bloomsbury) is also worth a look. One of three similar titles, it's a succession of linked stories that evoke Edgar Allen Poe and M R James. Here are some more that you may not have thought of:

Dark Angels, by Katherine Langrish (Harper Collins)
In this 12th-century tale, Wolf is on the run from the monastery where he grew up; soon he is lost on Devil's Edge – a mountain where the Devil is said to hunt down lost souls with his dog-pack. Offered shelter by a local knight in his castle, he is given the task of looking after a strange elf-like creature, and befriends Nest, the knight's daughter. But on Halloween night a strange jester appears, and they get involved in a mystery that may condemn their very souls. This is an exciting, masterfully told story, heavily populated by elves, ghosts, hobgoblins, devils and angels.

The Fetch of Mardy Watt by Charles Butler (Collins Voyager)
What would you do if a double was trying to take over your life? Something is haunting twelve-year-old Mardy Watt. It's been in her room, it's fooling her friends and it's upsetting her home life. And the trouble is, nobody realises what is happening except Mardy herself. Exactly what it is and why it is picking on her, Mardy doesn't know - but she does know that she has to find out, before it takes over and replaces her completely.

The Wolf Sisters, by Susan Price (Hodder)

Best known for her award-winning time-travel novel, The Sterkarm Handshake (and its sequel, The Sterkarm Kiss) Susan Price is another brilliant writer of rich imagination. Here we venture even further back in time than in Dark Angels, to the Viking era. Another boy, another escape from a monastery – this time on a mission into the Wild Wood, to strike a bargain with the Wolf Sisters in an effort to save his people in a plague-riddled world vulnerable to invasion. But at what price?

Blood Sinister, by Celia Rees (Scholastic)

Never mind Twilight; read this! The excellent Celia Rees wrote this long before Stephanie Meyer's books came along, and here she deals with vampires in her own inimitable way.

Ellen Forrest is sick, apparently suffering from a disease of the blood; she has been sent to convalesce at her grandmother's house, but seems to be getting worse, not better. Can it have anything to do with the diaries written by her great great grandmother that she has found in the attic? They describe an encounter with a handsome young Count who comes from the Land Beyond the Forest...

Another spooky read by Celia Rees: Ghost Chamber (Hodder)

Stella, by Catherine R Johnson (OUP)

This time we are transported back to the east London of Victorian times where Stella, a girl of mixed race, works as a stage clairvoyant. In her gauzy silver cape, looking out with her big brown eyes, she makes people believe she really can talk to the dead – though it's all a pretense; she has learned the tricks of the trade from Nana, her guardian. But when Nana dies suddenly, Stella is left alone to fend for herself, battling against those who try to cheat her and eventually finding out the truth about her own, unknown parents. An exciting page-turner!

Finally, a couple of special mentions: I'm currently reading The Undrowned Child, by Michelle Lovric (Orion): although more fantasy than thriller (though it is thrilling!) this contains the best evocation of a creepy, ghost-ridden Venice I have ever read. It's currently only available in hardback, but worth it, I reckon! When Teo comes to Venice with her parents, she soon vanishes "between-the-Linings" of the city; neither living nor dead. It is not until she encounters the mermaids that she discovers why...

Also worth a mention, since so many people tell me it's brilliant, is King Death's Garden, by Ann Halam (Orchard Books); unfortunately it's currently out of print. See if you can get hold of a library copy, or a second-hand one.

Well, there you have it; happy Halloween reading! Keep something humourous by your bedside too, in case you need some comforting – maybe even a Lulu Baker book (Chocolate Wishes, incidentally, has a very funny Halloween scene: see page 143). And don't forget to email me through my website, and tell me what you think of the TV show, as I shall be blogging about your reactions...but please remember, it's not meant to be the same as the books!


Anonymous said...

Celia Rees has some other even 'worse' Halloween books, the titles of which I have mercifully forgotten. It's a trilogy, and I didn't feel able to go further than book one.

fionadunbar said...

Oh great; I get a Halloween visit from the Witch! Yes, you're right; the other titles in the trilogy are The Vanished and The Cunning Man; I thought I'd just get the ball rolling with the first one. There is also another title called The Soul Taker; Celia has written an impressive number of spooky books! Maybe my readers are made of sterner stuff than the Witch...?

Anonymous said...

No, Fiona, as you can see in today's post from me
it's another trilogy that made me feel somewhat spooked...