Monday, 13 September 2010
A ghost story
I'm not sure what the direct inspiration was for A Ghost Story, another story that I wrote especially for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror, although I do remember that I played around with it for a while before I got all the pieces to fall into place. Partly, it evoked for me a childhood memory of the thrill of hiding and of hearing the muffled footsteps of the searcher.
I think that I had been told several stories - by mothers or fathers of daughters - of their child having a tough time at school. Girls are much more social animals than boys, but the dark side of that, of course, is that this social network can be taken away. Girls suffer by exclusion more than boys, because boys are simply less reliant on a social circle.
So I suppose a little of that might have been in the back of my mind when I wrote this story. Certainly the girls are fairly unpleasant. Victoria herself is not a wholly sympathetic character, but she certainly does not deserve her fate. I am reminded of those toys - do they still exist? - where there is a plastic figure with a suction cup at the bottom. Gradually it comes away from whatever it is attached to and suddenly springs up into the air. Even though you know its coming it makes you jump. That is the effect I wanted with A Ghost Story.
It is a story within a story - a device I am very fond of. It is a story about storytelling. Books - not even books for children - have to be read aloud, especially books for older children, but with Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror is was very important to me when I was writing the stories that they would work well when read aloud. I wanted parents or teachers - or children themselves - to be able to read them and make them work. A creepy short story has to have the satisfying structure of a good joke. Timing is everything.
I have always enjoyed listening to stories and I enjoy reading them to an audience. It seems a shame to me that once we get past a certain age we get self-conscious about this and are only comfortable reading aloud to children. The popularity of audio books and programmes like Book at Bedtime on Radio 4 show that adults do still enjoy the experience of being read to.