If you like seriously creepy tales of ghouls and ghosties mixed with an inept Nancy Drew-style lead, look no further than ‘The Ghouls Of Howlfair’! Make sure you read Nick’s spooktacular piece about how his main character Molly Thompson came about – the geeks and the weirdos will prevail!
Howlfair is a town built on terrifying legends. The only problem is that nothing genuinely creepy has happened for decades and the tourists have stopped visiting. However, the upcoming mayoral elections are starting to stir things up and Molly Thompson, a local history enthusiast and all-round clumsy character, is beginning to believe that some of the local legends are coming true.
She and her closest friends are forced to become secret monster hunters in order to save their town from the horrors seemingly lurking around every corner.
This is the first title in a new middle grade series which is not for the faint-hearted. Although there is plenty of humour to lighten the mood, the flesh-eating ghouls are enough to make anyone need to sleep with the light on! Beware those with an active imagination.
I loved that outburst main character Molly, although brave and bold, was also slightly accident prone and socially awkward. Her surprisingly clever cat, Gabriel, was probably my favourite character, somehow sensing when Molly was in danger and leaping to her rescue.
Nick has written a special piece about the character of Molly first cane about and how she elbowed her way into ‘The Ghouls Of Howlfair’:
Molly Thompson is based on some pupils I worked with when I was an academic learning mentor in an inner–city girls’school. My job was to inspire these girls to take their GCSEs seriously. But they weren’t inspired by GCSEs, they were inspired by Harry Potter, and they never did any schoolwork because they were too busy writing fantastical fan fiction.They were funny and smart and complicated, and I started to think it’d be great if one day they could open a book and meet a character who was just like them. That’s when Molly first popped into my head.
The bookish students I mentored described themselves as socially awkward, as geeks and weirdos. As a fellow awkward weirdo, I tried to convince these pupils (and convince myself, I suppose) that a person can be awkward and weird and still be unstoppable. I decided early on that being unstoppable would beMolly’s superpower; she’s awkward and clumsy, but she never gives up.
So I reckoned that at some point I’d write a story about this unstoppable awkward geek, and in the story I’d make Molly struggle with the same problems that the girls I was mentoring struggled with. I’d write a book in which Molly Thompson would be forever falling out with friends, arguing with her mum, eternally falling short of finishing homework, that kind of stuff.
Problem was, I’d already been trying for years to write a middle-grade horror about a feisty brave adventurer called Jacob who fights ghouls in a haunted town called Howlfair. I’d spent so long trying to make my Howlfair story work that I couldn’t bear to ditch it. So I left Molly in limbo and kept churning out drafts of my Howlfair ghoul-fest.
After more than a decade of rewriting brave feisty Jacob’s story, I realised that something was missing. Finally I had a brainwave! Why not get rid of brave feisty Jacob and send awkward stubborn Molly to the haunted town of Howlfair instead? How would Molly cope if she were a folklore fanatic who discovers that her town’s scariest folk–tales are starting to come true?
I fired Jacob (sorry Jacob) and sent awkward Molly to Howlfair. Immediately she turned the book into something completely different: Judy Blume with ghouls. As someone who devoured horror books as a child but also stole his sister’s Judy Blume books, this was basically the book I’d always wanted to read. The book I’d originally planned to write – where Molly basically spends the whole story falling out with people and not doing homework – would have dragged on forever; but there’s nothing like a sudden threat of a ghoul-apocalypse to make a person get their act together, and it’s the ghoulish peril that Molly faces that forces her to change and grow.
Middle-grade fantasy has lots of excellent brave, feisty protagonists, but Molly is nothing like them. She’s shy and clumsy and too serious for her own good, she’s bad at negotiating the choppy waters of friendship, she can’t get her priorities right, she’s bullied at school but doesn’t know how to react, and she’s constantly falling out with her mum – in other words, she’s a real person. I hope that readers, girls and boys alike, will feel as though getting to know Molly is like making a new friend – albeit a friend who’ll take them to some pretty scary places…
Fascinating to read about how a change of main character elevated Nick’s story to a new level, and how writing about what he knew seemed to be key. Thank you, Nick for such an insightful piece.
*Many thanks to Walker Books for inviting me to be a part of its blog tour*