Ghostly happenings and future worlds
6th Apr 20

Ghostly happenings and future worlds

Expect ghosts, spooky trains and a trip forward in time in STORM, the latest book by NICOLA SKINNER.

11-year-old Frankie struggles with her emotions and, when her family is killed in a freak accident - along with Frankie herself, she goes on a journey through time where she learns more about herself, and how to value who she is.

We asked author NICOLA SKINNER to tell us more about STORM:

Q: What is your new book, Storm, about?

A: The plot features Frankie Ripley, an 11-year-old ghost trapped in her family home, whose guilt and grief about her lost family gives her a ferocious energy.

At first, her anger is directed towards the tourists invading her house, but Frankie soon discovers there are people out there who are worse than tourists, and they're coming for her...

Q: Why did you decide to write about a girl who struggles with anger?

A: I've always been aware of the way in which girls and women have their behaviour censored, on a day to day level. (Of course, boys and men have their own set of unhelpful challenges.) Anger in girls has always been problematic; no one really knows what to do with it.

Yet I didn't set out with that theme particularly - I was doing the washing-up one day and had this vision, basically, of a child watching people walk through their home, staring at everything as if they were exhibits. Frankie's character grew slowly, once the plot became more defined in my head.

Q: Did anyone help inspire Franki?

A: Although I can be quite a cheerful person, there's also a part of me that can be quite moody and volatile. As a child I was never really allowed to express it, so Frankie's frustration definitely taps into that.

And - yes - on the street where I used to live, there was a girl about Frankie's age, who was very bright and very hot-tempered. Her mother told me once that this girl slammed her door so many times in succession that it splintered in the door-frame. I was sort of impressed, and realised there were lots of actual 'poltergeists' out there, smashing up their world, one bit of furniture at a time.

Q: Why did you decide to make Frankie a poltergeist?

A: I wanted her to become a poltergeist because I thought it was so wonderfully taboo, but it also felt vital to the story itself, a natural development for a ghost who was dealing with so many difficult emotions without any support. Wrecking her house is her only way of working through that. It's not just her way of dealing with her grief - it's also her way of claiming her space back.

Q: What is your favourite moment with Frankie the ghost girl?

A: My favourite moment? I love her scenes with Scanlon; theirs is a complicated but real friendship, and I really enjoyed writing those. You sometimes hear authors saying that their characters 'take over' and it definitely happened with them. They were completely and utterly real in my life. They had entire conversations in my head. I miss them.

Q: There are some wonderful supporting characters among the ghosts Frankie meets during her adventures, do you have a favourite?

A: Thank you! I love Jill, the death guardian. She was inspired by someone I used to work with - especially her huge, tired eyes that seemed to look right into your soul, and were often (with me) particularly unimpressed with what she found there.

That character took me slightly by surprise, because she ends up being much more important than I initially thought she'd be. Perhaps those are the best kind. (Imagine me looking wisely out of the window here.)

Q: What would you like your readers to take from the novel?

A: That's a good question. Maybe that whatever they're like - whatever type of person they are - there's something vital and beautiful and important about that? If you have a temper, if you feel things deeply, and with difficulty, that's just part of who you are?

You might be able to turn it into something wonderful. Even if you can't - even if it's just a part of you - that's totally fine, too. That's probably a rather long way of saying: self-acceptance.

And finally - just as importantly - don't buy cheap, generic, factory-made fudge from motorway service stations. Buy the good stuff, from proper fudge shops, hand-made, swirled in a huge copper vat. World of difference. I've done my research on this, trust me.

Q: During the novel, you step into the future, how did you decide what that world would be like?

A: That bit of the book to write was quite difficult, because I didn't want to use too many cliches, and writing futuristic fiction is not where I feel that comfortable. The future in the first few drafts was weird and a bit distracting, until I stripped it back a bit.

Now it only reveals itself in glimpses... things that Frankie might notice, like what people wear, or how they talk, and what they eat, how the coffee has changed. You don't, for example, find out who the Prime Minister is, or what a typical house looks like.

I wouldn't like to bring back any gadgets from that future into our time; I think the future Frankie wakes up in is dreadful, in almost every way. (Apart from maybe wearing stylish silk pyjamas during the day. That I could dig.)

Q: You also have a haunted ghost ride in the book, would you be brave enough to try it?

A: I find ghost rides completely terrifying, like they literally freeze my blood. I age about 20 years every time on go them. When I was researching 'Storm', I went on a haunted ghost ride on the pier at Weston-Super-Mare, and it was a weekday and I was the only one on the ride. At the end, the ride attendant thought it would be hilarious to jump out at me, and I nearly had a heart attack.

I had to buy a fridge magnet of me taken at that exact moment and it's not a flattering picture, shall we say. So there's absolutely no way, ever, that I would go on a haunted ghost ride with actual ghosts. No way. Even thinking about it makes me a bit sweaty.

Q: What's the spookiest thing you've ever experienced?

A: The spookiest thing? I've had some very frightening haircuts. Oh, you mean spooky spooky. When I was a teenager we went through the whole Ouija board phase. One night I did one by myself. It was a freezing January night. I opened my bedroom window to 'let the spirits in' and the moment I asked if anyone was there, this really hot wind just surged in through the window and literally pressed up against me. It felt horrible and malevolent. I ran out, screaming, and that was that. No more Ouija boards for me.

Q: Where and when are your favourite writing places and times of the day?

A: On an ideal day I like to start writing at around 10 am and write for three or four hours, in one sitting. Like most writers I prefer somewhere really quiet, where I can't be disturbed. We've got a basic garden shed in our garden and I love that because it's away from everything. Apart from the dog, who manages to open the door with her nose.

Q: What are you writing now?

A: At the moment I'm writing my third book for children. It's about a girl whose educational class trip to a large national treasure goes horribly wrong. But also horribly right? It's sort of influenced by James and the Giant Peach (which seems to cast a long shadow on my ideas, even though it's not even one of my favourites of Dahl's) and the hotel in Stephen King's The Shining; a large place, filled with secrets. Can I also say that it's about friendship, bravery, adventure and humanity without sounding horribly pretentious?

Q: What do you do to relax under 'lockdown'?

A: These are currently the things that work for me: watching the telly, painting pictures with my daughter (who very politely compliments everything I do), baking, going for long walks listening to music, and yoga.

Also, and I swear I'm not just writing this to get in my editor's good books, writing is really relaxing at the moment. When you can't control the narrative in the world outside, being able to control a story you've dreamt up is hugely calming and reassuring. Plus it gives me a chance to shrug off practicality and adulthood and just be completely alone, and bonkers, for a few hours, which is amazing.

Q: Can you recommend three other books you think our members should read?

One classic: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
One written in the last few years: Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans
A new release: Troo Friend by Kirsty Applebaum

Thank you for joining us @ReadingZone!

Nicola Skinner's book, STORM (HarperCollins Children's Books), is now available in hardback (12.99)

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