Thursday, 7 March 2013

Through dead eyes

A package of advance copies of Through Dead Eyes arrived in the post the other day ahead of the publication day on March 14.  I thought I'd tell you a little more about why I wrote it.

The first and most obvious thing about the book is that it is the first book I have done for Bloomsbury that has a contemporary setting.  Why?

Well, much as I love writing books that have a period setting - and I have no intention of stopping doing that - I know that for some young people (possibly many young people) the period setting is a turn off.  A Victorian setting requires a certain language level to make it believable, it requires descriptions of things that no longer exist and of which the reader may have no prior knowledge.  It is inevitably 'old-fashioned' - it has to be.  For some children, that is enough to put them off.

I am not saying that I am chasing readers.  That way madness lies.  many young people will never read a horror book, whatever the setting.  But it is also interesting for me, as a writer, to see if I can create the same atmosphere without recourse to a period setting.

As with so many of my books and stories, Through Dead Eyes was sparked by my response to things created by other people - things that affected me deeply and stayed with me.

When I was at school we had an English text book called Voices - a very eclectic mix of drawings and photographs, poetry and prose.  I have a memory - although I do not have the book to prove it - that in one of the Voices editions there was a detail from Bruegel's Children's Games which focused in on the strange mask in the window at the top left of the picture.  I found - still find - that image disturbing, every time I revisit that painting.

I also have a very strong memory of watching the BBC adaptation of Schalken the Painter from the late 1970s.  The whole thing seemed to exist in deep shadow and carried with it the strange otherworldly atmosphere of so many interiors and portraits of the Dutch Golden Age.

Then there is movie Don't Look Now of course.  The canals of Amsterdam are blacker than the canals of Venice on a dull day.  Although the layout of the town is not so maze-like as Venice, Amsterdam is still a perfect location for a ghost story, full of atmosphere and history.  There is a little homage to Don't Look Now in the book, for those who know the movie.

So I knew I wanted to set it in Amsterdam and I knew I wanted it to have a link to the seventeenth century - the Dutch Golden Age - and those black-clad merchants who stare out from the paintings in the Rijksmuseum.

But I also knew that I wanted to deal with a boy's awkward attempts at relating to the opposite sex.  I wanted everything to be in a state of flux - I wanted him to have no solid ground at all.  This is common in psychological chillers for adults, but I wanted to try and put some of that emotional confusion into a book for teenagers.


  1. Sounds very interesting, Chris. Has one been sent to Serendipity Reviews? I am impressed by you branching out into contemporary - I'm too chicken.

  2. Do't know if it's gone to Serendipity Reviews. Contemporary fiction does have some particular challenges, its true...