Interview with Alex Bell, Author of YA book The Haunting

Alex BellIn my opinion YA novelist Alex Bell is the ultimate queen of scream. After reading the terrifyingly creepy Frozen Charlotte last year, I wasn’t sure if I’d be quite brave enough to face Alex’s latest teen novel The Haunting! But I soldiered on and I can tell you that it’s every bit as brilliant and scary as Frozen Charlotte. When I eventually emerged from underneath my covers, I caught up with Alex to ask her a few questions about her inspiration for the book.

What inspired The Haunting?
The Haunting was inspired by many visits to Looe, and Cornwall in general, where I enjoyed learning about all the old lore to do with shipwrecks and smuggling. In particular, there’s a restaurant called the Smugglers Cott in Looe that’s built from the timbers of a sunken ship from the Spanish Armada. It’s an incredibly atmospheric place, and I loved the idea of a haunted inn built from the wreck of a ship. Also, I’ve always found anything to do with ghost ships – such as the Mary Celeste – incredibly spooky, and wanted to see if I could put a new twist on it.

The Haunting includes fork lore and legend, ingredients which also feature Frozen Charlotte. What draws you to these elements in your storytelling?
I’ve always been very interested in legends and folklore, especially as Britain has so many wonderful examples of this. There’s something innately fascinating about an old legend that has survived for so long – you can’t help thinking there might once have been a little bit of truth to it.

Witchcraft features heavily in the book, did you have to do a lot of research into this and is this something that interests you?
Yes, I did quite a lot of witchcraft research for the book. As part of this I saw a real witch bottle in the guildhall in Looe. I’ve also been to Salem, and found all the history there really fascinating. It’s definitely an interesting – if brutal – period to learn about.

The haunted Waterwitch Inn in Cornwall makes a fantastic setting for the book. Why did you choose to set the book in Cornwall and have you ever stayed any place haunted yourself?
Cornwall is one of my favourite places. I think it has such an amazing atmosphere, and I love all the smuggling lore, as well as visiting places like Jamaica Inn. It seemed like the perfect setting for this type of book.
I stayed in a hotel in Flagstaff once called the Monte Vista that definitely felt like it was haunted. I also once stayed in an old hacienda in Mexico that I found terrifying. That may have been my over-active imagination, though . . .

Emma, one of the main characters in The Haunting is in a wheelchair. Why was it important to you to feature someone with a disability?
I think diversity in fiction can only be a good thing, and didn’t see any reason why a horror novel shouldn’t have a disabled teen as a protagonist. At the same time, though, I wanted to make sure that Emma was a well-rounded character and that I treated her the same as all my other characters. Her disability is certainly not something that defines her.

Shell is haunted by terrifying birds in the book, what inspired that element of the book and what frightens you in real life?
Well, Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds was an obvious source of inspiration for this, although I think birds are used in quite a different way there. Really, I just wanted a different type of haunting from the usual bump-in-the-night stuff and it seemed to me that being haunted by birds that no one else believed in would be pretty terrifying, especially as they weren’t limited to one location that you could easily escape from, or choose not to return to. As far as my own fears are concerned, I’m not at all happy about clowns.

In both books you describe terrifying mermaids! (which I loved!) Will we perhaps see a book about mermaids in the future?
Ooh, I hadn’t considered it, but now that you’ve made the suggestion . . .

Both The Haunting and Frozen Charlotte are terrifying novels for young adults, what made you want to write horror?
I’ve always enjoyed reading horror, and think there’s something especially engaging and thrilling about being a bit frightened by a story. I also enjoy the challenge of trying to think up original scares that I haven’t come across in fiction before.

Your books are incredibly scary! Do you ever frighten yourself when you’re writing them? And if so can you tell what scenes in particular?
I definitely have spooked myself when writing, although I tend to get the most frightened when doing the research. It’s less scary knowing it’s something I’ve made up myself. I definitely got quite freaked out whilst researching various haunted dolls for Frozen Charlotte.

When did you start writing and what was your path to publication?
I’ve always written stories, even as a kid. It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed doing. I wrote my first complete novel when I was at college, and I got my first agent when I was at university. When I was 19 I wrote The Ninth Circle, and that ended up being my first published novel.

Do you have a writing routine that you follow?
Not especially, although if I’m having a dedicated writing day then I generally try to write 2,000 words minimum each day.

Do you have any tips for wannabe writers?
Read as much as you can, across all different genres. And write as much as you can so that you can find out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t worry too much about first drafts being a bit rough around the edges. You can always come back and polish it up later.

The HauntingWhat books/authors inspire you and your writing?
There are so many! I absolutely adore Cassandra Clare, John Boyne, Dennis Lehane, Charles Dickens and Madeleine Brent – but I think all the books I’ve read have probably influenced me in one way or another.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on something completely different from the horror novels. It’s good to have some variety.

Your mum gave you a specially commissioned tea cup when Frozen Charlotte was published. Will you be celebrating with anything special for The Haunting?
I have an equally beautiful specially commissioned teacup for the Haunting, which I’ll be sharing on my blog in the near future.

The Haunting (Red Eye) is out now and available to buy online on Amazon.