I am honoured to be a part of the Children’s Books North Autumn 2020 Blog Tour and delighted to be hosting the rather marvellous author, Philip Caveney. Enjoy!
Welcome to Children’s Books North’s Autumn Highlights – celebrating new books from CBN members with a tour of Northern and Scottish book blogs.
Children’s Books North aims to connect children’s book professionals living in the North West, North East, Yorkshire and Scotland. The network seeks to promote our members’ work, new books and events. Additionally, CBN is keen to bring focus on the importance of regional diversity in children’s books and the industry.
Philip Caveney writing as Danny Weston
Tell us about your new book
The new Danny Weston novel is called The Witching Stone. It’s a contemporary story based around a real-life historical character and takes a look at the subject of witchcraft. It’s suitably creepy for Hallow’een and features plenty of jumpy scares. It also has a vein of dark humour running through its core…
Share your favourite spread/passage from the book
Alfie opened his eyes to find that the room was in darkness and he lay for a moment, staring up at the ceiling, trying to recapture his shattered thoughts. He’d been dreaming about something, hadn’t he? It was something to do with walking through a forest, but try as he might, he couldn’t glue any of the pieces of it together. He turned his head towards the window and realised it must be really late as it was already fully dark outside.. He hadn’t bothered to draw the curtains when he’d come into the room, so he could see the rectangular outline of the window, a deep midnight blue against a wall of inky black.
And then something turned cold inside him as he realised what had woken him.
A soft scratching sound, coming from the direction of the window. But . . . that didn’t make sense. He was up on the first floor, wasn’t he? In the silence that ensued, he lay there, holding his breath and listening carefully. Just when he thought he must have imagined it, the sound came again: an urgent scratching, as though something sharp was being dragged across a rough surface.
Slowly, Alfie pulled himself into a sitting position. He stared intently towards the window, aware now that the silhouette of it was not completely rectangular. Halfway along the bottom edge, there was a humped shape, as though something on the other side of the glass was crouched on the window ledge. Alfie felt around on the bedspread and after a few moments, his fingers located his phone. He switched on the torch and turned the phone beam towards the window, illuminating it. The glare was reflected straight back by a pair of feral eyes, belonging to the creature that was sitting on the sill, staring in at him. The ginger cat.
Alfie very nearly yelled out loud but managed to stifle the cry. He stared irritably at the visitor and it looked fearlessly back at him, once again dragging the extended claws of a front paw across the rough paint of the sill, producing a loud scratching noise.
‘Go away!’ hissed Alfie, not wanting his voice to be loud enough to wake Dad, next door. The cat ignored him. It clearly wanted access to the room and was not going to be easily deterred. Alfie steeled himself and slowly got up from the bed. ‘I don’t know how you found me,’ he whispered, ‘but you’re not welcome here.’ He moved closer to the window, keeping the torch beam fully on the creature’s angry looking face. ‘If you don’t clear off,’ he whispered, ‘I’ll push you off that sill.’
If the cat heard, it offered no reaction; so Alfie reached out to the catch of the window, levered it down and pushed it slightly open. The warm evening air gusted into the room, bringing with it an unfamiliar fragrance, a strange sulphurous smell, as though somebody had just struck a match.
‘I’m warning you,’ whispered Alfie. ‘You’d better move.’
The cat glared back at him, undeterred.
‘Right,’ said Alfie. ‘You asked for it.’
He reached his hand through the gap, fingers extended to push the cat off the sill. But then, with heart-stopping suddenness, a hand closed tightly around his wrist.
What/who/where inspired this book?
The book was inspired by a real-life person called Meg Shelton. An alleged witch, Meg was buried in 1705 in the grounds of St Anne’s church in the village of Woodplumpton, near Preston. A plaque still marks her resting place… but is it her final resting place? When young Alfie Travers dares to repeat a forbidden phrase three times whilst walking around Meg’s grave, he unwittingly summons her to follow him.
Nominate one children’s book by a northern or Scottish creative to read this winter.
I’m really looking forward to reading The Spybrarian by Jon Mayhew, which will be released in January by UCLan Press. Jon wrote the brilliant Mortlock, but this looks like it will be in a much lighter vein than that dark and chilling tale. I’ve always had a soft spot for librarians – to me, they are the founts of all knowledge, and one features very prominently in The Witching Stone.
What books inspired you to read as a child and do you feel its important for children to see where they are from reflected in the books they read?
The first books I remember being inspired by were the works of Jules Verne. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a particular favourite. I loved the idea of being transported into fantastic worlds where just about anything was possible, and of course he was writing about things that didn’t even exist in his own time. But the big book for me was Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I read it when I was thirteen years old and it’s the book that made me think, for the very first time, that I wanted to be a writer too.
And yes, it’s really important for children to see themselves reflected in the books they read, even if the stories they choose take them to places they’ll never have the opportunity to visit in real life.
Cover art: Toni Murtaugh
Publisher: UCLan Publishing