Actually, this was illustrator Sarah Chipperfield’s idea and before I knew it I was knee-deep in drawing, very inexpertly I might add, pictures for a book on all things Halloween, because Sarah’s currently too busy with her day job. One story is already finished, the second story is almost done and nearly all the drawings are finished, but I’m still working on the fun facts file pages. This shouldn’t take too long to do.
Then it’s time to put it all together in one gloriously plump file, as rotund as a pumpkin in fact, and upload it to Bookrix.com, which is the platform I use to publish ebooks for children. I’ll also upload it to Draft2Digital this time. Let their good people wrestle with uploading cover art into Createspace’s irritating template. Life’s too short for Createspace upload misery!
The first story was commissioned by a former colleague of mine, whose grandchildren loved the story and read it out in class at the time when I wrote it for them.
For the second story I’ve taken a real event, the fire that nearly destroyed Ramsgate’s historic library, as inspiration. I changed the facts just a wee bit and am now weaving my wand over my writer’s cauldron to come up with an autumnal soup full of brave mice, librarians with a sense of adventure, neighbours intent to save their books…and pumpkin, naturally. All cooked over a very hot flame!
So here’s a bit of one story and also some of the artwork, if I may call it that, which will go into The Little Book of Halloween:
“Mrs. Beaver’s usually very generous. Let’s try her house!” Maddie rang the doorbell, before her sister Daisy had a chance to run up the stairs in her heavy pumpkin outfit.
“Here’s hoping she won’t give us sugar mice or pink fluffy bears,” said Maddie’s friend Olivia with a disgruntled look into her trick-or-treat bucket. Olivia’s sister Ellie came panting up the garden path.
“I hate this costume! My wings keep getting caught on fence posts.” Ellie rearranged her dishevelled costume and dislodged a twig from her gauze wing.
Olivia grinned.“Why don’t you fly over them, Battie? You insisted on wearing that costume, so stop whining.“ Olivia disentangled her green wig from Mrs. Beaver’s hedge. “Try being a banshee for a day. Every time I want to have a drink, my nose falls off and this wretched wig keeps attaching itself to everything.”
Inside the house they could hear somebody shuffling down the stairs. The hall light came on and the door opened. Mrs. Beaver stood in the door jamb, peering out into the dark; she was wearing her pink dressing gown, night cap and slippers. Her breath made little white puffs that sailed off into the night like miniature ships about to sail the globe. “Oh, I’d forgotten about Halloween. Don’t you girls look lovely? Wait, I’ll get you some apples from the kitchen. Will apples be alright?” Mrs. Beaver gnawed her lip and scratched her grey head. “There are some left over chocolate Easter Bunnies…if that’s any good?” she added with a frown.
Maddie groaned. Why couldn’t people join into the spirit of Halloween? Why couldn’t Mrs. Beaver wear monster feet or splash some fake blood over her mangy old dressing gown? At the last house their new neighbours hadn’t even heard of Halloween. These people had no idea why children dressed up as devils, banshees, bats and pumpkins were demanding sweets at their front door. “I blame the council’s new building initiative. They let just about any one build houses on our estate. Personally, I feel only people who love Halloween should be allowed to live here,” Maddie sighed. She adjusted her mask, and set off again, her red bucket swinging from side.
They turned into United Nations Drive and visited a some new houses, but found to their disgust that their buckets filled up with even more pink sugar mice, heart-shaped lollipops and toffee apples. Not a liquorice spider in sight, not a single adult who’d decorated their house with pumpkins or even skeletons hanging from the porch.
“Let’s go home. The only scary bits this afternoon were Mr. Spit’s false teeth and Mrs. Smith’s stinky breath.” Olivia eyed the sky anxiously. Rain clouds were chasing across the rising moon. “Looks like it’s going to rain soon. I promised Mum we wouldn’t stay out too long after dark.”
“Agreed. We’ll just finish off with that old house on the corner. Dad told me there’s a new tenant living there.” Maddie led the way to their last trick or treat destination. “Hum, Lucifer Mews…rather apt, don’t you think?” She giggled when she caught her reflection in a car window. She cast a fine figure as a devil, she thought.
They walked up the path to no. 666 Lucifer Mews. In the darkness Ellie fell over a bushel of dry grass and grazed her knee. Olivia’s wig got caught on a branch and was lifted off her head. They had to jump up to detach it from the oak, which seemed reluctant to return the hair to its rightful owner. Nobody seemed to have tended the front garden for a long time. Shrubs were blocking the view into the front windows; the house seemed uninhabited. The flowerbeds were covered in weeds and the lawn hadn’t been mowed since the Great Witch Finder General had last sent out his men to gather fire wood. They reached the front door, an architectural monstrosity covered in strange stone carvings. From the roof sprouted miniature turrets from every available angle. Impenetrable dirt covering the windows made it impossible for the children to catch a glimpse of what was going on inside the house. A row of gargoyles grinned down at visitors brave enough to make it up the few steps and the front door. A cast iron knocker shaped like an owl’s head peered down at them with polished brass eyes. With a gulp, Maddie lifted the heavy instrument and let its sharp beak fall onto the oak panel beneath. The thunderous noise coming from the knocker made them all jump.
“Blimey! That knocker’s loud enough to wake up people living half way across the county!” Maddie’s ears were ringing, despite the thick, red velvet fabric that covered her from head to toe and muffled most sounds.
At first nobody seemed to be at home but then they heard somebody in the hallway approaching the door. The door opened with a creak that would have terrified Count Dracula. Eeeeeeek. Those hinges hadn’t seen oil since the Great Witch Finder General’s lynch mob had gathered signatures for a witch barbeque in 1645!
“Yeeeeees?” The old woman who’d opened the door stared blindly into the darkness. It wasn’t so much her features that were scary, Maddie thought; it was the fact that the woman’s nose twitched and sniffed the air, seemingly finding visitors arriving on her doorstep by their aroma.
“Trick or treat?” Maddie’s voice wobbled slightly, when she extended one arm to present her sweets bucket to the woman. The new tenant of Lucifer Mews seemed to look straight through them, her nose continued to twitch though. Finally, she seemed to realise there was somebody standing right in front of her.
“Children? Do I smell children?” The woman bent her neck this way and that, sniffed into their general direction. She raised a lantern and leant forward, her haggard face ghostly lit up by the flickering light.
“We’ve come to ask for sweets…” Daisy pushed her way through to get a better look at the old woman.
The new tenant of Lucifer Mews wore a strange felt hat with an eagle’s feather sticking out at a rakish angle from a tattered red silk hat band that had last been in fashion when the Mayflower pilgrims set off for their voyage to colonise America. Long, grey hair flowed out from under the hat, framing a pale face covered in wrinkles. Her eyes, which must have been brown but in the uncertain candle light they looked rather yellow. The old woman raised one gnarled hand and pointed at Maddie’s horns.
“Erm…Madame…it’s Halloween…this pumpkin is my sister Daisy, the banshee is my friend Olivia and the bat is her sister Ellie. I’m Maddie. Halloween’s my favourite day of the year. Today’s my birthday, you see.” Maddie twirled her tail between her hands by way of an introduction.
The woman’s face broke into a toothsome grin and she opened the door wider to let them in. “Halloween, of course it is! Your birthday you say…what a coincidence, I’ve just baked a cake! You must come and taste my special recipe.”
They filed past her reluctantly, taking in her long, shabby dress and worn, pointy shoes. Daisy sneezed as they crossed the gloomy, dusty hallway and entered what appeared to be the living room at the rear of the house.
What happens next? Find out when The Little Book of Halloween comes out! The children’s book will be aimed at readers aged 8+.