So here's a blog idea: what inspired your current work-in-progress? Do tell us in a comment or in a blog post (send us the link so that we can list it at the bottom of this post). Our askee in this post is Fiona Dunbar, author of Toonhead, The Pink Chameleon, and the Lulu Baker trilogy. Fiona has a new ghost mystery series starring Kitty Slade, who has something called phantorama - the power to see ghosts!
When Candy and I were discussing possible subjects for my Slushpile post the other day, she suggested I might like to do a piece on ghosts in children's literature that inspired me. 'But I can't think of a single one!' I said. And it's true: although I'm writing a six-book series of ghostly mystery stories for children, other ghost stories for kids are not what inspired me to do this.
My actual starting point was the desire to write a sort of Famous Five series for the 21st century, i.e. kids solving mysteries. I just find that premise utterly irresistible - always have. Then the ghosty thing started creeping in - as ghosty things are wont to do - and the whole axis shifted. I found myself merging the mystery-solving idea with a draft of an unfinished story from 2005 called Kit & Nan. You know how it is: you start out with a story, thinking, 'this is gonna be great!' and then...pfft. But it was a good premise, and I didn't want to waste it: in it went.
Anyway, Candy's suggestion got me thinking. It's not as if nothing I've read or seen has informed my Kitty Slade stories. What was it that got my supernatural juices flowing? So here they are: my Top Five Ghostly Inspirations:
Alison wonders what she did to deserve him: he chuckles and says 'count your blessings girl, you fink I'm bad but you could of had...Pikey Pete [or] my mate Keef Capstick.' I shuddered to think what Pikey Pete or Keef Capstick were like.
I don't have anyone quite like Morris in the Kitty Slade stories (God forbid!) but there is a character in book four (sorry, you'll have to wait a while!) that in retrospect I realise probably owes something to Morris, in that she's extremely annoying but unavoidable, as Kitty needs her help.
Funnily enough, looking back over Beyond Black now, I see that Alison first encounters Morris when she is thirteen - the same age at which Kitty develops her phantorama. SO glad for Alison that she wasn't any younger...
2. The Canterville Ghost
And actually, the ghosts in my stories are not in the least bit like Marley. And nor, indeed, is Oscar Wilde's Canterville Ghost. He would so love to be Jacob Marley: he rattles chains and suits of armour and tries all manner of tricks and guises to scare off the Otises, the American family who have just moved into Canterville Chase.
But when he appears to Mr Otis, complete with Marley-esque rusty chains and manacles, the American merely presents him with a bottle of lubricant, and goes back to bed. When he moans and groans in the night, Mrs Otis offers him a cure for indigestion. The younger Otis children actually end up terrifying him, rather than the other way round.
Interestingly, it is only the teenage daughter, Victoria, who takes him seriously, and wants to help him reach his final resting place.
In a similar way, Kitty's objective in each of my stories is to help a ghost to carry out the unfinished business that's keeping them trapped in the mortal realm.
I don't think you have to have a scary ghost in order to have a scary ghost story: it helps, but a lot of the build-up of tension - in my stories, at least - has to do with the perilous situations Kitty and her siblings find themselves in, as a result of the ghostly intervention.
3. An American Werewolf In London
I cannot overstate how much I rate this film. I majorly heart it. And when a book or a movie affects you in that way, it seeps into your DNA, becoming a part of what you produce. It helps that I was roughly the same age as its protagonists when it came out: I was slap bang in the middle of the target demographic.
But more to the point, it is the best example I can think of anywhere, in books, films, TV, of something that is both funny and scary at the same time. And that is what I set out to do with Kitty - albeit in a PG-rated way! I hope I succeed.
Of course, An American Werewolf is not a ghost story but a horror film. But there is a haunting of sorts - though in this case by the character Jack, who is undead, rather than properly dead. But unlike the zombies you usually encounter in horror films, Jack has an agenda: there is something that must happen (in case you haven't seen the film, I won't say what!) in order for him to be released from his purgatory-like existence. In a similar way, all the main ghosts in my Kitty stories need her to do something, so they can be fully released into the spirit realm.
As I have remarked elsewhere, I couldn't have given Kitty a dog - especially one that went round with her all over the place, being her canine assistant. Not only would that have been too Famous Five, but what with the ghosts and the camper van, even a non-talking dog might have tipped it too much in the direction of Scooby-Doo territory. Not that I felt any special need to add a dog anyway, I should add.
So what is it about all those childhood hours of watching Scooby that informed what I'm doing now? Again, it's just in my DNA. I like that combination of ghosts, fun and mystery. The 'mysteries' in Scooby-Doo, as I remember, always seemed to end up with some fraudster pretending to be a ghost, but we didn't care: it was just so much fun.
Ghosts + fun + mystery: that is exactly what I'm doing here, pure and simple. Only with, dare I say it myself, proper mysteries with outcomes you're not going to guess.
5. The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book rightly attracted a clutch of awards, while up and down the country and around the world, other authors were slapping their heads, crying, "a Jungle Book set in a graveyard: why didn't I think of that?" I was one of them. A Mowgli figure, only raised by ghosts...how fantastic!
And Gaiman pulls it off brilliantly, too. So even though most of my inspiration comes from other sources, every now and then I read a children's book like this and think 'Yes! Here is the reason I'm writing this kind of book.' Sadly, it also reminds me that I'm not Chris Riddell...
Incidentally, the graveyard of the title is based on Highgate Cemetery, which is near where I live - but I won't be setting a Kitty story there. Wonderful though it is, I feel it's been 'done' enough already.
There is, however, another spooky North London setting that I will be using in the sixth book.
You won't guess it...
MC Rogerson is inspired by pagan mysteries on the Life Beyond blog
Caroline Lawrence is inspired by music over on Wondrous Reads and by gritty westerns on her Flavia blog