I borrowed the image from a site that was doing a spoof story on kids books. But with Halloween on the horizon, surely we all need a good scare, right?
It’s always difficult to pitch scariness. I mean you don’t want your readers to run screaming to their parents after just three pages, begging them to bury the book in a locked box in the garden. At the same time, derisive laughter is generally not a good thing. A happy medium is what you’re after. In The Obsidian Pebble, a class of 11 year olds is discussing Halloween with their teacher:
“Now many of you, I’m sure, will have celebrated Halloween. But I wonder how many of you know its real meaning?”
“All Hallow’s Eve, miss?” volunteered Marcus Skyrme, whose arm seemed to be permanently held up in the air whenever a teacher asked a question.
“Yes, indeed, Marcus.” She wrote the word Samhain on the board and pointed at it with her felt pen. “Our Celtic ancestors celebrated Samhain, pronounced Sow-ein, their New Year’s Eve, on October 31, which was then tidied up into All Hallows’ Eve by the Christian church in the eleventh century—”
Jenks’ voice piped up from the back. “Do you believe in ghosts, miss?”
Miss Arkwright frowned. Jenks’ sidetracking tactics were well known to all the teachers and were usually trodden on unceremoniously, but on this occasion Miss Arkwright decided that it was a fair question.
“I believe that there are more things in the world than can be explained by our common understanding, if that’s what you mean, Lee.”
“Yeah, but what about actual ghosts?” Jenks said, and then added theatrically, “You know, woooooooo.”
Half the class laughed. For one horrible moment, Oz wondered if Jenks knew about what had happened in the orphanage and he glanced warily over at Ellie, who was looking puzzled too. But then Oz saw Jenks’ mock innocent expression and knew he was simply winding Miss Arkwright up. She cleared her throat to ensure silence before continuing. “Well, literature gives us different interpretations. Some great writers believe that ghosts are the spirits of dead people yet to pass, spirits who are unaware of their deaths. Then there are those who favour the ‘herald’ theory, which suggests that ghosts most often bring messages of comfort to their loved ones to say that they are well and happy, and not to grieve for them. They visit with the express purpose of helping the living cope with their loss.”
“So they’re not always nasty, miss?” asked Tracy Roper.
“Not always. Unless they’re poltergeists, of course. And they can be very nasty, able to move furniture and even harm the living. Because of that, poltergeists are considered by some to be demonic in nature.”
The class had gone very quiet.
“So…” Miss Arkwright beamed, looking slightly alarmed at the effect her explanation was having. “Since this was your first half term with me as your form tutor I would like you to prepare a short piece of work on what you did over the holidays.”
Sometimes I feel a bit like miss Arkwright in that I hope I haven’t scared my readers too much. But the truth is out there. So, if the picture above scares you—great. that means it’s done its job.
Rhys A Jones is a children’s author.