Thursday, 5 January 2012

COMPETITION: The Hunting Ground - Cliff McNish

Hail Mighty Readers,
Our friends at Orion Books have let us have five copies of this cracking story to give away as prizes for people in the UK and Ireland.

For your chance to win answer this question:
What is the name of the ghost at the heart of The Hunting Ground?
A) Vincent Cullayn
B) Vincent Van Gogh
C) Vincent Price

Please Email your answers to us along with your contact details to the usual address (drosdelnoch(at)hotmail(dot)com) with winners being notified on the weekend of the 21st of January.


I’ve spent more than ten years creating dark story arcs and villains, and though it’s fun to give nasty characters more rounded personalities, reasons why they are villains that lead us to a certain level of sympathy with them etc, sometimes it’s good to do exactly the opposite – create a heart of unmitigated darkness and night. I did that with Vincent Cullayn, the ghost at the heart of THE HUNTING GROUND.

But actually the great thing, fictionally, about an out-and-out villain is that there is no limit to what they will do to get what they want. The reader knows this. It gives your story a terrific amount of tension that more watered down villains simply can’t ramp up. It’s also good, as a reader, to be given permission to hate a character without reservation or limit. Adults sometimes say to me that this is something that kids like – bad guys/good guy dichotomies; simplicities. My experience is that while shades of grey can be very interesting, adults enjoy a classic bad guy/girl just as much as their younger counterparts. Nobody knew that better than Shakespeare. Look at Iago. Look at Gonerill.

But still ... why do so many people like to read about the dark side? Here’s my own answer. I suspect that at some primal level it reminds us that we are alive. Without wanting to come across all morbid, I believe that horror is true at some fundamental level, by which I mean that the world is not a safe, predictable place that has our interests at heart. It is far from that. It’s a more indifferent place than that. Most of the rules for living in it are made up by others for reasons that have nothing to do with us. In that sense it is a place of fear. We have remarkably little control over nearly everything; even our own state of mind is difficult to keep tabs on or grasp, let alone the activities and mental states of people we never meet or have no possibility of influencing. I believe that most people, if they are honest with themselves, are never deeply comfortable in almost any aspect of their life – either professionally or in their personal relationships, or even their own feelings about themselves. Or if they do feel good about some of those things, they have a nasty feeling that some sneak is going to pull the safety blanket away any moment. So, in that sense, horror feels real, it feels in its essence like real life, because the crux of horror as a genre is that nothing is clear, everything has a dangerous feel, and you can’t understand the rules, or even if you can they’re made to benefit someone else.

Justina Robson, the great sf and fantasy author, puts it like this: ’Regardless of progress in technology, human beings have yet to deal with the real problems they face – the tensions created by their existence as individuals and animals of limited powers but powerful imaginations, for whom biology is still destiny and that destiny is death.’

Actually, I think this is why so many adults turn away from the horror genre as they age – they recognise too much of it in their own lives, thank you very much. It’s one reason teenagers read far more dark fiction than most adults as well. Generally speaking, they’re a bit less infected than the adults by world-weariness. They’re taking new risks all the time as they work out what kind of personalities they have, what their identify is going to be, and all of that is scary as hell. Horror, in that setting, is strangely a kind of comfort blanket. A sympathetic friend along for the ride.

12+: The Hunting Ground - Cliff McNish

Release Date: 05/01/12


When Elliott and his brother move into the old and crumbling Glebe House they don't expect to find themselves sharing it with ghosts. But soon sinister events are unfolding. An old diary reveals glimpses of the mansion's past - and of a terrible tragedy. An old woman talks to ghosts - but is she in fact being controlled by them? And what of the sinister East Wing - a hideous labyrinth devised by a truly twisted mind? Can Elliott and his family escape the clutches of Glebe House? Or will they end up trapped in the endless maze of corridors, forever hunted by the dead?


If there’s a young adult author that does ghost stories with a touch of scare alongside the thrill of discovery, it’s Cliff. Previous titles by him have this wonderful awareness as well as a great understanding of the readers mind utilising xenophobia to scare the hell out of the reader. It’s beautifully creative, with characters that feel realistic alongside having strengths as well as weaknesses as they face the perils within. Back that up with an understanding of pace which allows the reader wonderful breaks to catch their breath alongside moments of fast moving peril and you know that it’s a book that will keep you glued to the last page. Whilst the conclusion felt a little rushed the overall arc was something that I really enjoyed and clearly demonstrates why I really have to devour Cliff’s work each time a new title arrives.