They were coming tonight to tell ghost stories. ‘A tale to freeze the blood,’ was the only rule. Switzerland, 1816. On a stormy summer night, Lord Byron and his guests are gathered round the fire.
Felix, their serving boy, can’t wait to hear their creepy tales.
Yet real life is about to take a chilling turn – more chilling than any tale.
Frantic pounding at the front door reveals a stranger, a girl covered in the most unusual scars.
She claims to be looking for her sister, supposedly snatched from England by a woman called Mary Shelley. Someone else has followed her here too, she says. And the girl is terrified.
This breathtaking new book from Emma Carroll, the critically-acclaimed author of Frost Hollow Hall, The Girl Who Walked On Air, In Darkling Wood and The Snow Sister, is a deliciously creepy story inspired by the creation of Frankenstein, and is brought to life by a leading talent in children’s literature.
Writing The Weather
Guest Post by Emma Carroll
All right, so I’m a complete, self-confessed weather nerd. Not in the ‘anorak’ sense of charts and graphs and detailed forecasts, (though I’ve nothing against anoraks if its raining: I’m getting ahead of myself here) but in the elemental, ‘Emily Bronte’ way. Which is why, for 20 years, I taught English not Geography. This sums up perfectly my relationship with the weather.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I spent a lot of time outdoors: we cycled to school, we walked into town, we played on skateboards in the street. The weather made a big difference to Saturdays, which was the day I spent ALL DAY at the riding stables. Rain meant an indoor ride, sun an outdoor one, and as for snow, well, the stables were up in the hills, so you couldn’t even get there if it snowed. During the school week, rain meant no hockey (hoorah!), sun meant outdoor English lessons (double hoorah!), snow meant NO SCHOOL (bliss). So the weather made a big difference to my quality of life.
No surprise then that some of my favourite childhood books featured a strong sense of the weather. Moominland Midwinter, The Call of the Wild, The Jinny At Finmory series, all created dramatic, elemental worlds that focused on characters’ relationships with nature.
As an adult reader, I continue to love books with atmospheric settings. When Lockwood visits ‘Wuthering Heights’ we’re told ‘on that bleak hill-top the earth was hard with a black frost’, symbolising the cold reception he’ll experience there. In ‘Rebecca’ as the story’s main revelation is about to happen, ‘the fog(was) rising’, and the weather is ‘hotter than ever. Oppressive.’ In ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ Jean Rhys’s classic Jane Eyre prequel, the Caribbean setting is, for Rochester ‘too much blue, too much purple, too much green.’ And lets not forget those immortal lines from ‘Frankenstein’: ‘It was a dreary night in November…’ the perfect Gothic set-up for a spot of reanimation.
No surprise either then that the weather has a place in my own writing. In ‘Frost Hollow Hall’ I’ve used my absolute favourite weather- snow and ice- partly to indulge my own tastes. The same can be said of ‘The Snow Sister’, which was an absolute joy to write from start to finish. In both stories the snow’s narrative purpose is to present obstacles and risks. The coldness is an extension of the characters’ emotional difficulties; the thaw at the end of ‘Frost Hollow Hall’ signifies change and release.
There’s no snow in ‘In Darkling Wood’ (though actually there was in the first draft!) Instead, I wanted to put town-girl Alice into a very natural environment that felt alien and, at times, intimidating to her. The weather is cold, damp, unpleasant for most of the book. For a story set in November this is understandable, yet it also represents Alice’s mindset and her problematic relationship with her grandmother. The final chapter is, by contrast, set in a tame, suburban garden during a heatwave. The weather still isn’t altogether pleasant- family tensions haven’t gone away- but the heat represents change and distance from what’s gone before.
My latest book ‘Strange Star’ is ALL about the weather. It starts with a thunderstorm and ends in snow, again to show the passage of time and changes in character experience. For this book I drew on Gothic influences, so dramatic weather and strange natural phenomenon were all vital parts of that process. For me, Gothic writing is about extremes of personal experience. The weather heightens atmosphere, challenges characters, gives a sense of the natural world as an intimidating, untameable force. And most importantly, it echoes mood and emotion almost as a code for what, in times past, certainly, could not openly be said.
I’m writing this post at the start of what’s supposed to be a very hot week. A week? In this country? George II summed up the English heatwave as ‘three fine days and a thunderstorm’, which I think, from a literary perspective, speaks volumes about our national character.
Emma Carroll is a secondary school English teacher. She has also worked as a news reporter, an avocado picker and the person who punches holes into filofax paper.
She graduated with distinction from Bath Spa University’s MA in Writing For Young People.