Going guisin’? Dookin’ for apples? You could read these ghost stories instead . . .
Just in time for Halloween, award-winning children’s author Ross MacKenzie gives us a run-down of his top five spooky books that continue to haunt him.
Ah, Autumn. For me, the season that conjures images of crisp mornings and endless sapphire skies. Trees the colour of fire. That unmistakable scent in the air (you know the one) – a heady mix of bonfires and frost and orange peel.
Creaking floorboards and moaning gales.
Tree branches scratching against the window pane of your bedroom in the dead of night.
Hungry dark things with claws and fangs, waiting in the shadows…
Blimey, things took a dark turn in a hurry there, didn’t they? Sorry about that.
There is definitely something about Autumn that throws my imagination into overdrive. I think this is probably true of many people. We all love a scary story, don’t we? And what better time of year for curling up in a comfortable chair and falling into the clutches of a terrifying tale?
With that in mind, I’ve selected five of my favourite spooky stories, both old and new, for you to enjoy this Halloween. So, get comfortable, lock the doors and remember: if you get too frightened, you can always close the book and shut it away in a drawer…
The Witches by Roald Dahl
This book, as I’ve often remarked, changed my life. It is the story that made me want to be an author. The Witches taught me that, by putting words one after the other on a page – and in the right combinations – it is possible to make people feel things. Dahl’s The Witches – the classic tale of a boy and his grandmother who find themselves suddenly up against every murderous, child-hating witch in England – took me on a magical journey and put my nine-year-old self through the emotional wringer. It’s deliciously dark and spooky, and features one of the most memorable villains I’ve ever encountered. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… The Grand High Witch!
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I was torn between this diamond and Gaiman’s other spooky masterwork for middle readers, The Graveyard Book. While both are modern classics, I’ve opted for Coraline because, quite simply, it’s terrifying. Bored during the rainy summer holidays, little Coraline decides to explore the new (actually very old) house she’s recently moved into with her parents. Upon discovering a secret door, Coraline pushes through to find a house very much like her own, but with twisted, skin-crawling differences. This is a book about what it means to be brave, with characters and situations that will stay with you. As for the villain… Let’s just say there’s something about her eyes that will live long in your memory.
Doll Bones by Holly Black
This is the story of three friends and a haunted doll who claims to be made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. Yes, this is a children’s book. It may sound like the premise of some smash-hit horror movie, but in Holly Black’s safe hands the story maintains a great balance between creepy chills and the warm friendship between a group of children who find themselves thrust towards the realisation that childhood is coming to an end. Brilliantly scary in places, but also funny, with a dash of powerful nostalgia.
Riverkeep by Martin Stewart
One of my favourite young adult books of the past few years, Riverkeep is equal parts frightening, grotesque, darkly funny and deeply touching. Wulliam’s father is the stoic, ever-reliable keeper of a dangerous, unpredictable river until he falls foul of a demon and becomes a shadow of the man Wull has always loved and respected. Wull comes to believe that the only way to save Papa is to sail with him down the river and seek out the cure for his illness in the belly of an ancient monster. It’s a quest story at heart, but the sheer inventiveness of Stewart’s world-building, the rich quality of his writing and a cast of wonderful supporting characters take it to another level.
The Night Gardener byJonathan Auxier
A pair of orphans, a crumbling manor house, and a sinister gardener who enters the place unbidden each night to tend to a tree that seems to have a mind of its own. These ingredients, along with Auxier’s wonderful, evocative writing, make this a story that pulses with foreboding and dread. I found this to be the most frightening book on the list. It is genuinely creepy – downright scary in parts – but the story is the sort that you feel the need to finish. And when you do, you’ll feel quite sure you’ve just done something brave.
Ross Mackenzie’s spooky novel, Shadowsmith, is aimed at readers aged 9-12. This chilling tale follows the attempts of one ordinary boy and one extraordinary girl to hunt down the dark forces engulfing a peaceful seaside village. MacKenzie’s previous novel, The Nowhere Emporium, won the Blue Peter Best Story Award 2016, the Scottish Children’s Book Award 2016 and the North East Book Award, and appeared on the shortlist for the Brilliant Book Award. The follow-up, The Elsewhere Emporium is also now available in bookshops and online.