Today I’m here with a very exciting post – I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to interview author/illustrator Chris Priestley to celebrate the release this week of his latest title Seven Ghosts, out with Barrington Stoke.
I’d like to start with a thank you to Chris; I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump for the past couple of months and it’s been a bit of a nightmare to stay engaged with a book! And then I picked up Seven Ghosts and for the first time in a long time I sat and I read and I couldn’t put this book down! I read it a few days ago, and it’s still giving me that warm feeling you get when you read a book that you love. Luckily I have a copy of Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror that for some unknown reason I haven’t read yet, so at least I have another book to look forward to this Halloween!
For those who haven’t had a chance to read Seven Ghosts, how would you sum it up?
Seven Ghosts is a ghost story – not surprisingly – in which a boy called Jake is joining other winners of a writing competition on a visit to a stately home near where he lives. They are given a tour of the house and are told the stories of the ghosts who have been seen there. Jake is skeptical at first, but becomes more and more agitated by what he sees – or glimpses – on the tour. Something is very wrong, he just knows it. And we get to find out what it is…
Seven Ghosts is one of the best ghost stories that I’ve ever read; it was so cleverly crafted! How do you get your ideas for a ghost story?
Thank you! Ideas come from all over the place – a lifetime of reading and watching films and TV helps of course. I play around with thoughts of what creeps me out and hope that it will creep my reader out too. But location is key for me. I need to see the place I set a ghost story very clearly in my head. Often it is a version of a place – or mix of places – I’ve visited. I’m always thinking ‘Oh this would be a great location for a story’ and the location throws up its own ideas.
That’s actually a really interesting way of going about it! Location is so often overlooked as being a key thing in a book. The location in Seven Ghosts was wonderfully creepy! Do you believe in ghosts?
Not really. That’s not to say I think people who say they’ve seen them are lying. I get told lots of ghost stories of course – stories that are told as true – as anecdotes. I’m fine with that as long as I’m not expected to just take them on face value. Mainly though ghosts just don’t make sense to me. If ghosts exist, why are there not more? We should be tripping over them. If you can trip over a ghost.
I love your illustrations in Seven Ghosts! What medium do you use and why?
More often than not these days, I paint, but for the Seven Ghosts illustrations I used a pen – a Uni Pin Fine Line drawing pen to be precise – and black ink applied with a brush. They took forever to do. I’m very impatient, but I wanted them to have a lot of depth and texture and be really black. I also knew I wanted a little border to hint at old book illustrations. The designer sent me some examples of what she thought I meant and one was amazing Harry Clarke who did wonderful Poe illustrations, so I knew she got what I was talking about straight away (although mine don’t live up to that comparison, I hasten to add).
I think the patience paid off! They really do add depth to the story and give it that old fashioned feel. Do you set out writing with a plan or do your tales develop as you go along?
For these quick read books I do have a plan. There’s not the luxury of time to develop things because the book is only 15K words long. So I find it helps to have a plan, even if you drift from it at various points. Not a detailed one, just one that sets out the order of things and gives some idea of where you need to be in the story by x amount of words.
What’s the best ghost story that you’ve ever read?
That’s too hard. I’ve read so many. I think W W Jacobs The Monkey’s Paw remains one of the most satisfying. Such a great idea but ideas only just the start – then you have to do the idea justice in the way you tell the story. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is a rare example of a ghost story that works as a novel rather than a short story.
Which book did you read most recently?
I’m most of the way through The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers which I’m really enjoying. I tend to have a few books on the go at once – a terrible habit that I can’t recommend because it often means I lose track of where I am.
I think a lot, if not most, of us in the book community can really relate there! There are just so many wonderful books out there that having more than one on the go becomes inevitable! Ghost stories, naturally, are very popular around this time of year! What’s your favourite way to celebrate Halloween?
I actually rarely do anything unless I’m booked to do an event. I don’t feel any great connection with the trick or treating, shop-bought American kind of Halloween. It feels too cuddly to me. I always mean to read a ghost story to anyone who’ll listen, but more often than not, we will try and kind an old school creepy film to watch.
You’ve written a few books for Barrington Stoke. How is writing a scary novella different to writing a full novel?
It’s very different actually. Creepy, Gothic fictions requires a certain slow build up to create the right atmosphere, so that can be a challenge. Language too – finding the right balance with language level. The trick – if that’s the right word – is to try to create the illusion of a slower, creepier pace whilst actually moving quite fast. As films have to do.
Which was your favourite ghost’s tale to tell?
This is always a hard one. I obviously care a lot about Jake because he is my main character and hopefully the reader will care about him too by the end. But I do like the Kingfisher’s story. I’ve written a lot of stories set in the Victorian/Edwardian eras and it was nice to write something set in the 1970s with a very different feel to it. That was the joy of setting all the stories in the same place – being able to set things along the timeline of the house.
Thank you so much to Chris for such interesting answers! I really enjoyed this interview and look forward to picking up more of spooky Chris Priestley books in the near future!
If you haven’t already, I’d highly highly recommend picking up Seven Ghosts and this is the perfect time of year to do so! It’s without a doubt one of my top books this year, and one of, if not my favourite Barrington Stoke title to date!