An English Ghost Story tells the story of a young family who relocate from inner city London to the Hollow, a large country house with a strange history. Their desire to escape the city for the peace of the countryside soon takes a turn for the worse when ghosts begin to reveal themselves through a series of paranormal events. You can read my review here.
I asked author Kim Newman to share his experience of writing An English Ghost Story, a book that apparently took fifteen years to bring to publication.
“Actually,” says Kim, “I wrote it in two fairly concentrated periods of about six months, but they just happened to be over a decade apart. Some of this is for boring publishing reasons, some of it is because I was busy with other things”
Although set in contemporary England the story seems timeless, the house and the people alone are abandoned as they are in all the best ghost stories. Kim explains, “I always knew that it wasn’t a book that would date so I didn’t feel any immediate pressure to get it out. I have had to set it in the era of dial-up Internet to avoid the connectedness that modern communications (mobile phones, social media, etc) give us which would make the characters less isolated.”
“The illusion of connectedness might work well as the background for another kind of spook story if I ever want to go back to the form, but this time I wanted that classic family-stuck-in-an-old-house thing. It was always a book I was very committed to, and it got very positive feedback from the people I showed it to, but I waited until I had a good relationship with a publisher (Titan) and had a sense that they could give it the careful handling I hope it warrants.”
Writing an original story about a haunted house can be challenge. But Kim discovered a novel way of approaching the problem. “My original single sentence notion was that there were a lot of stories in which haunted houses drive families mad, but this is a story in which a family drives a haunted house mad. It got more complicated in the telling, of course,” Kim says. “I tried to encompass a good few different modes of ghost story, from the fable-like children’s book to the bleak Victorian diary, but this probably plays around with genre furniture less than most of my work. After the big, sprawling Anno Dracula cycle, I wanted to do something more focused and character-driven.”
There are strong female characters in An English Ghost Story, mother and daughter Jordan and Kirsty both battle personal issues. Jordan has an eating disorder and Kirsty suffers from depression. If you didn’t know the author it would be impossible to tell that the female voices in this novel were written by a man. “I suppose I listened to women,” says Kim when I ask him about the way he writes female characters. “I did some very basic research into eating disorders and the like, but I adopted my usual approach of just trying to think myself into other people’s mindsets.”
Kim’s take on family dynamics provides a realism that you don’t often come across in the average ghost story. “As it happens, all four of the family members in this book have obsessions of one sort or another, which I think is a typical teenage (or kid) thing, so the parents sometimes act like teenagers too. It’s easy for most writers to think like obsessive-compulsives because you can’t actually write a novel without having some obsessive, detail-oriented quality. I’ve been surprised and moved by the way women have responded to this aspect of the book, so I suspect I hit a few nerves.”
Most successful horror writers like to connect with their fans. They attend conventions, discussions and conferences to keep abreast with their chosen genre. But is it possible to make a living writing horror?“I suspect so, though I’m managing it at the moment,’ Kim says “A lot of the avenues I took when I was getting started aren’t really options any more. And I know quite a few established authors who are struggling. I’ve always kept up parallel careers in fiction, non-fiction and broadcasting, which means I have several options for income streams.”
Kim has made a successful career out of writing about monsters, creatures, vampires and ghosts, but has he had any paranormal experiences that have influenced this novel?
“Not really. A big influence on this book and on my writing in general is a 1974 TV play called The Exorcism from a series called Dead of Night (it’s out on DVD) which I remember watching with my mother on first transmission – it’s about characters who have moved from the city to a converted farmhouse being haunted by people who lived and died on the land, and it affected me (and Mum) partly because we lived in a place much like that. However, the house never seemed haunted. I now live in a flat in a converted police station, which must have been the site of a lot of misery and suffering, but I’ve never felt haunted here, either. I have a pretty vivid sense of the past, in urban and rural settings, but no real belief in the supernatural or spooky.”
I’d love to see a TV or movie version of An English Ghost Story but until that happens there is much to look forward to from Kim Newman. His latest book Quatermass and the Pit is a study of the 1950’s BBC serials and Hammer Films adaptations of the famous Nigel Kneale stories.
Kim is also working on his next novel named Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School. “It’s about a school for unusual girls in the 1920s. I’m in the middle of writing it, so I’m not 100% sure where it’s going,” Kim explains “It’s probably funnier than much of my recent stuff, though it has more teenage girl angst amid the pulp adventure, proto-superheroics and invasions-from-another-dimension business.”
An English Ghost Story is a brilliant read especially with those chilly Christmas evenings on the approach. There’s no better time for a cosy night in, book nestled to your chest and a hot water bottle, or perhaps a fire burning in the grate as the mystique of the Hollow haunts its way into your imagination.
To find out more about Kim’s books and events, check out his website here.
And you can purchase your copy of An English Ghost Story here.