Sunday, 28 October 2018

Gabriel Dylan guest post – Films for Halloween

The Red Eye books from Stripes are some of my favourites, so it's my pleasure to feature a guest post from Gabriel Dylan, author of the upcoming Red Eye title Whiteout. Gabriel shares his favourite horror films just in time for Halloween.

Films for Halloween

As much as I love a scary book, there’s also a special place in my heart for a good horror film, especially one shared with friends. Like most teenagers, I used to love a Saturday night sleepover – particularly when one of my gang had snuck in a gnarly horror film that we shouldn’t have been watching.

In recent years, it seems as though the horror genre has prioritised gore over scares, which is a shame, although there’s evidence that lately things are turning back the other way, and films like The Babadook and It Follows are pushing things back towards the psychological. Whiteout was definitely heavily influenced by the horror films I’ve seen over the years, and all of those listed below played a part in shaping certain scenes in my head.

The Thing (1982)

I love John Carpenter’s The Thing, and whilst it was unbelievably hammered by critics on its release, today it is rightly seen as a cult classic. When the workers at a remote Alaskan research facility find a deserted Norwegian base, and uncover evidence that the scientists there discovered something otherworldly under the ice, it doesn’t take them long to realise that the ‘something’ has infiltrated their remote camp, and is determined to wipe them all out, one by one. As well as the storyline and the jumps (there’s a great scene involving a petri dish and a blood test that is guaranteed to make even the toughest viewers yell out in fright!), I loved the location of The Thing. The deserted, remote, Antarctic wilderness, and the sense that no help is coming definitely played a part when Whiteout was forming in my head.

The Exorcist (1973)

Although The Exorcist was released in the 1970s, years later, when I was a teenager, there was a local cinema that used to show it every Saturday night at midnight. There were all sorts of stories about the film, rumours of audience members walking out, people fleeing the cinema screaming, so once me and my friends could just about pass for eighteen we put ourselves through this rite of passage. For me, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Something about the sound (loud, frightening and otherwordly), and the sheer terror of the subject matter really got to me, and I could see what all the fuss was about. And underpinning the film was Linda Blair’s amazing performance as the young lady who becomes possessed. Without going into spoiler territory too much, there’s a certain scene in Whiteout that was more than a little influenced by the transformation Blair’s character goes through. If you work out which scene I’m referring to, get in touch!

Salem’s Lot (1979)

Whilst, like most film adaptations, the movie version of Stephen King’s vampire classic isn’t quite as good as the book, there are a few scenes in the 1980’s adaptation that really creeped me out. And the stand out for me is the character of Barlow, a terrifying, demonic Nosferatu-influenced lead vampire. Out of all the hundreds of horror films I’ve watched, the scene where we meet Barlow, and he goes after a prisoner locked in a cell, probably freaked me out more than any other. My friends are all very aware of my total aversion to this character, and over the years they’ve brought various masks and cut out figures on our surfing camping trips in the middle of nowhere to try to terrify me.

Dawn of the Dead (2004 version)

Whilst director Zac Snyder has gone on to direct some huge Hollywood adaptations (Justice League, 300, Batman vs Superman), for me his stand out film is his remake of the 70’ s Romero zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. Without Snyder’s adaptation, and the way he made zombies scary again, I don’t think there would ever have been The Walking Dead, or any of the 28 days later films. Before Snyder’s film, zombies were slow, lumbering creatures, but in his hands they suddenly became quick, bloodthirsty, deadly killing machines. I loved the way the film had a combination of scares and action, where the protagonists fight back, and also the way it was impossible to second guess which characters were going to make the final cut. Add that to the black, grim humour of the film, and for me you’ve got the best zombie film ever, and the one that revitalised the genre.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

This was another film that I saw several years before I should have done (I’m blaming you Mum and Dad), and another one that really mixed the horror with black humour. The opening scenes, where two American backpackers trekking across the Yorkshire moors, are stalked by an unseen beast, are super creepy. Whilst one of the tourists is killed, the survivor, David, soon realises that his bite is going to cause serious problems once the full moon arrives. The transformation scene is epic, and David’s conversations with his deceased friend, Jack, who returns in zombie form, are darkly funny and memorable, and made me realise during the writing of Whiteout that I wanted at least a little humour in there to defuse some of the tension.

REC (Spanish version) 2007

Just when I thought I’d seen it all with hand held horror films, along came Spanish supernatural thriller REC. A block of flats becomes infiltrated by a supernatural force, and the group of reporters and soldiers sent to investigate find themselves trapped in a nightmare, but no matter how scary things get, they keep recording. The end scene, where a female reporter gets trapped in a pitch black loft with something demonic, is terrifying!

Thanks so much Gabriel. That is such a good selection of films! I think my favourites are The Descent for suspense and jumps and Scream for slasher escapism. If you'd like to share your frightening favourites, leave a comment below.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein – review

“We don’t pick and choose what to be afraid of. Our fears pick us.” Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood, when she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival. At the time nobody believed Tash, and she has since come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real. Now fifteen and mute, Mallory’s never spoken about the week she went missing. As disturbing memories resurface, Tash starts to see Sparrow again. And she realizes Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about a dark secret connecting them. Does Sparrow exist after all? Or is Tash more dangerous to others than she thinks? 

Small Spaces is a smart, fast-paced book, in which the line between reality and imagination is blurred.

The idea of imaginary friends in YA is so clever and it makes Tash an unreliable narrator, which I always enjoy. I loved trying to figure out whether or not Sparrow is real and how much Tash’s memories and actions can be trusted. Tash is fleshed out really well as a character, with her fears and interpretations of events feeling very genuine.

I also thought the plotting of this book is clever and well-paced, with a good balance of simmering unease and action.

This is an intriguing, suspenseful read and I can't wait to see what Sarah Epstein writes next.

Thank you so much Walker Books for the review copy!

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf – review

A thriller inspired by a tragic true event in the author's past. Allan Wolf examines the circumstances of one boy’s inexplicable murder and the fateful summer leading up to it.

Everybody likes Chris Goodman. Sure, he’s a little odd. He wears those funny bell-bottoms and he really likes the word ennui and he shakes your hand when he meets you, but he’s also the kind of guy who’s always up for a good time, always happy to lend a hand. Everybody likes him, which makes it especially shocking when he’s murdered. Here, in a stunning multi-voiced narrative – including the perspective of the fifteen-year-old killer – and based on a true and terrible crime that occurred when he was in high school, author Allan Wolf sets out to answer the first question that comes to mind in moments of unthinkable tragedy: how could a thing like this happen?

The premise of Who Killed Christopher Goodman? gripped me immediately, as I was intrigued by the idea of a novel inspired by a real murder.

My favourite thing about this book was the structure. It was fascinating to see the events leading up to the murder from the viewpoints of different characters. All of them were affected by the crime in different ways and added an ingredient to the reader's understanding of what happened.

The voices were also really strong. Each character was distinct and identifiable, and I enjoyed how their interactions with Christopher and thoughts about him showed new layers to his character.

I'd love to read more novels based in true crime. I thought this book was sensitive to the original subject matter, without shying away from darker details. 

I enjoyed this book a lot and I'll look out for others by Allan Wolf in future.

BBC Young Writers' Award Winner 2018

I had a fantastic time at the BBC Short Story and Young Writers' Awards on Tuesday and I'm thrilled to share the winner of the Young Writers' Award.

 17-year-old Davina Bacon wins
2018 BBC Young Writers’ Award
with ‘compassionate’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘surprising’ story about elephant poaching

Davina Bacon from Cambridgeshire has won the 2018 BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University (YWA) for ‘Under a Deep Blue Sky’, a raw and emotionally powerful short story about a young African poacher and the brutal murder of a mother and baby elephant. Inspired by her early life living in Africa and her passion for the environment, Davina’s story was praised by author and judge William Sutcliffe as a ‘superlative piece of writing by any measure, regardless of the age of the writer’ and by fellow judge and actress Carrie Hope Fletcher, for its ‘compassion and intelligence’.

Citing Michael Morpurgo as an influence on her writing style and having recently read a lot of post-colonial literature including Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Anthills of the Savannah, Davina Bacon’s winning story is inspired by her earlier years spent living in Malawi. She says: “My story is based on Kasunga National Park where they have issues with poachers crossing the border from Zambia to kill elephants. The population has decreased rapidly and this is very worrying.”

The news was announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row (Tuesday 2 October) with ‘Under a Deep Blue Sky’ available to read and listen to on the Radio 1 website after the award ceremony, read by Don Gilet of the BBC Radio Drama Company. An interview with Davina will be available on the Life Hacks podcast from 5pm on Wednesday 3 October. Davina will also receive a personalised mentoring session with an author to enhance and further develop her writing skills.

Carrie Hope Fletcher, writer, actress and BBC YWA 2018 judge says:
‘Under A Deep Blue Sky’ is one of the most surprising pieces I read during this competition. It was the only story to tackle the issue of poaching and wildlife and showcased the compassion and intelligence of a younger generation.”

Mónica Parle, Executive Director, First Story, says:
“From the first word on the page, Davina Bacon’s story will grip you and envelope you. It’s astonishing to witness such a command of language, description and place in such a short space of time, and I am struck by how powerfully she expresses personal grief and loss through a connection with the natural world. This is a young voice to watch, and we at First Story are delighted to see Davina gain wide readership through this award, which is at the forefront of discovering new, fresh talent.”
William Sutcliffe, adult and YA author and BBC YWA 2018 Judge says:
“The winning story is a superlative piece of writing by any measure, regardless of the age of the writer. The characterisation, setting and narrative are richly and intelligently put together. Every sentence is polished. To fit a story of this power and depth into a mere thousand words is a serious achievement. Davina deserves to be very proud of her work. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.”
Davina beat off competition from Reyah Martin, 18, from Glasgow for her evocative and profoundly moving story of a mother’s grief, ‘Footprints in the Far Field’; Lottie Mills, 16, from Hertfordshire for ‘Unspoken’, a compelling and lingering story about the fragility of teenage mental health and a family in denial; Jane Mitchell, 16, from Dorset for ‘Firsts’, a beautifully structured story of displacement told through the voice of a refugee mother seeking a better life for her daughter and Tabitha Rubens, 16, from Islington, London whose deeply poetic ‘Oh Sister Invisible’ tells a story of courage, grief and helplessness as the narrator watches her sister disappear as anorexia takes hold.

All five shortlisted writers spent the day of the award ceremony at Cambridge University where they met Young Writers’ Award judge and fifth laureate na nÓg (Ireland's laureate for children's literature) Sarah Crossan for a writing workshop in Cambridge University Library. They were also given a private tour of ‘Virginia Woolf: An exhibition inspired by her writings’ at the Fitzwilliam Museum before attending the award ceremony where Trinidadian writer Ingrid Persaud, was announced as the winner of the thirteenth BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University for her story, ‘The Sweet Sop’.

Dr Sarah Dillon, Faculty of English, Cambridge University, says:
“Congratulations to Davina Bacon on winning the 2018 BBC Young Writers' Award with First Story and Cambridge University. To capture in just 1000 words a character's present, past, and perilous future is a feat for any writer, let alone one 17 years of age. Stories like this show just how powerful this form can be - hitting you hard and fast, haunting you for long after.”
This is the fourth year of the BBC Young Writers’ Award which invites 14 18 year olds to submit stories of up to 1000 words. The award was launched as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations of the BBC National Short Story Award and aims to inspire and encourage the next generation of writers.

The shortlisted stories can be read and listened to online at:

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Blog tour review – The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli

Roa and her sister Essie were born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. It was a magic they cherished - until the terrible day Essie died and her soul was trapped in this world.

Dax, the heir to the throne of Firgaard, was responsible. Roa swore she would never forgive him - yet when he came begging for her help to dethrone his cruel father, Roa made him a deal. She'd give him the army he needed if he made her queen.

Now she is royalty, but an outlander; far from home and married to her enemy. And even after everything she has sacrificed, Dax's promises go unfulfilled. Roa's people still suffer.

Then a chance to right every wrong arises - an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.

All she has to do is kill the king...

I adored The Last Namsara and it's rare to find a sequel that I enjoyed just as much as the start to a series.

My favourite thing about these books is the world building. An incredible layer of mythology is woven through the plot and I loved how this book added new dimensions to the world established in The Last Namsara.

I also thought the characters were brilliant. At first, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the story moving away from Asha but I thought it worked really well. I enjoyed the way the characters overlapped but that the story focused on Roa this time. Her connection with her sister was believable and I rooted for them – I'm a huge fan of sister relationships in books! I also liked the moral ambiguity of some characters and trying to work out what side they were on.

That leads me to another aspect that I really liked. The plotting in this book is so tight, with intriguing snippets from the past, and I raced through it to find out who would triumph.

This is a fast-paced, well-written fantasy with interesting characters and I can't wait for the next book!

You can follow the other stops on the epic blog tour using the banner below!