Get prepared for an absolute belter of a read with a villain you will despise, a hero you will cheer for, and a grim dystopian London set somewhere in the future! You also need to scroll down and read author Michael Mann’s masterclass on how to write a truly terrifying villain…
‘Kidnapped and forced to shovel coal underneath a half-bombed, blackened power station, 12-year-old Luke’s life is miserable. Then, he discovers he can see things others can’t. Ghostly things. Specifically, a ghost-girl named Alma. Alma, who can ride clouds through the night sky and bend their shape to her will, befriends Luke. And with Alma’s help, Luke discovers he is in fact a rare being – half-human and half-something else …
Then Luke learns the terrible truth of why children are being kidnapped and forced to work in the power station, and he becomes even more desperate to escape.
Can Luke find out who he really is … and find his freedom?’
“Ignore logic. Start with the senses.” Michael Mann on creating the ultimate villain.
Author and primary teacher Michael Mann reveals how he created the epic villain, Tabatha Margate, is his middle grade adventure, Ghostcloud.
Before I saw Tabatha, I sensed her.
The click of her heels echoing in the hot, dusty darkness. Her scent – tobacco and musky perfume – lingering, stifling, choking the air. The touch of her nails, tapping, jabbing. Then finally her voice, smooth like dark glass.
I didn’t know what she wanted but I knew how she’d make me feel. How she makes all the characters in the book feel. Terrified. Tense. Filled with an urge to look back. And that’s the added beauty the non-visual senses. Not only do they make us feel, but they’re brilliant for suspense, because if you can’t see the villain, they might be right behind you…
After the sense I look visual details. Here I’d suggest you go specific and surprise yourself. Villains too easily stray into cliché, so break few, or combine features that are rarely seen together to guard against this. For example, I made Tabatha glamorous and scientist – and gave her a long swishing black lab coat to embody this. Or on her tobacco of choice, though Cruella and other femme fatales prefer a long cigarette, I gave Tabatha a traditionally ‘manly’ pipe, and made sure she pulled it off. There are other details too that are a little unusual – her nails are black, her eyes are amber – have fun with colours, perhaps build a motif.
Then when you have your details, use them. Think ‘what horrible things could my villain do with these assets?’. Tabatha, for example, blows smoke in children’s faces if they cry. Or worse, taps the ash in their hair for that aroma of singed hair. She’s delightful like that. Her nails, of course, are put to good (or should I say bad?) use more than once. Like Mrs Trunchbull’s Chokey, the acts don’t even need to be seen, but merely rumoured, imagined. But so long as you follow the details, they’ll usually lead you somewhere fresh and avoid generic villain moments.
Make sure your villain surprises us. We all love it when the hero outwits the villain, but it’s even better if the villain outwits the hero too. We want our heroes to have to work hard for their victory – every time they raise their game, the villain must raise theirs. If they have an obvious hole in their plan, or make an inexplicable mistake at the last moment, it’s a not a satisfying victory. The villain must want (and need) their victory as much as hero does. This means, when its over, whoever wins, it is a worthy triumph.
This means in my book, Ghostcloud, poor Luke and his friends, have his work cut out. So a final tip – sprinkle plenty of smaller villains or peril along the way. This gives a chance for heroes to have some fun, to win some victories along the way. To learn valuable clues and bond together. To build up their strength, courage and skills, in preparation for the final showdown.
Which if you’ve followed these steps (ahem!) is going to be a cracker!
Michael Mann’s debut novel, Ghostcloud, is available to pre-order at Waterstones, Amazon, bookshop.org & all good bookshops.
Twitter: @mikebmann |
Insta: @mikemannwrites |
I am a huge fan of all things dystopian so dove headfirst into this adventure centred around a Battersea Power Station powered thanks to a hoard kidnapped children toiling deep below the ground.
There’s lots to enjoy about this thrilling tale. There are great friendships to be explored and tested: the longer standing bond of Luke and Ravi, the more recent friendship with newcomer Jess, and of course the bond between Luke and half-ghost Alma. There’s a mind-probing, toxic fog, ghostclouds, vents to be explored, and of course, there’s the terrible truth behind why children are being kidnapped to work in the power station…
*Many thanks to Hodder Children’s Book for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour*