Hello everybody! Today, I’m so excited to be part of the blog tour for the Whisperling, Hayley Hoskins’ debut novel. I’m so excited to get to this soon! Onto the post!
1. Hi Hayley, thanks so much for being here today! To kick off, can you describe the Whisperling for us in 5 words?
Spooky, gothic, feisty, friendship, perilous! I’m not very good at limiting my word-count, am a bit of a babbler. As you will see…
2. Possibly an obvious one here, but do you believe in ghosts? Do you think you’ve ever seen one? What made you want to write about them?
I’ve never seen one, at least I don’t think I have – I would love to, even if I never sleep again. I’ve definitely felt a weird vibe on occasion, only to then be told ‘the story’ – there’s always a story – and most people know someone who’s had something creepy happen to them. They can’t all be making it up! I want to believe!
I’m less open-minded about clairvoyants – I think it unlikely a spirit would turn up on demand. I think some people do have a certain sensitivity (whisperlings, obviously), but I doubt it’s Psychic Sid or whoever, charging twenty quid a pop on a Tuesday evening at the local Town Hall.
Growing up I had an insatiable interest in ‘the unexplained’ – anything from The Cottingley Fairies to poltergeists to the Bermuda Triangle. Things that you kinda know are bobbins, and yet, oh my god, what if? Asking what if is where the story is, spooky or otherwise. It was inevitable I’d end up writing spooky stuff.
3. Perhaps along similarly obvious lines, but what ghost-related stories would you recommend to people who’ve enjoyed yours? What do you think is the scariest one you’ve ever read?
She isn’t a children’s writer, but Laura Purcell is a great, modern gothic writer whose books I always look forward to. Obviously, there are many more – Stephen King, The Goosebumps series by RL Stein, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, anything by Jennifer Gillick, Neil Gaiman and Roald Dahl. I loved Moondial by Helen Creswell as a child, also Tom’s Midnight Garden and, of course, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aitken.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is a classic. Daphne Du Maurier wrote some very dark short stories and of course Rebecca is a classic gothic novel. Emma Carroll asked if Reverend Tate was based on the vicar of Altarnun from Jamaica Inn – if he was, it wasn’t intentional! I need to re-read to check!
The scariest? It’s maybe a bit schlocky but probably The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson which I read many years ago when far too young. It was a ‘true story’, so I had to read it, obviously, haha, and it gave me many sleepless nights. See also Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews (VERY inappropriate, definitely NOT for children). The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert. The Point Horror books. I’ll stop now.
4. I was already looking forward to the Whisperling, and then I saw that one of the comp titles is for one of my favourite authors, Emma Carroll. Which writers would you also say have influenced you/the book? Who would you say are some of your own favourite authors?
Sarah Waters ‘Affinity’ was a real inspiration, also Julie Cohens ‘Spirited’ – both feature dodgy clairvoyants and women pushing against the restrictions of the age and limitations of their expected lives. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is another.
Frances Hardinge is brilliant, and her books are unclassifiable as either children’s or adults; they are just excellent, dark, slightly fantastical fiction, threaded with a fine, sly wit. Emma Carroll is wonderful, Robin Stevens, Abi Elphinstone, Sharna Jackson, Eloise Williams – so many future classics, we are in golden times for kidlit.
Queen-Dame Jaqueline Wilson is top of the tree – never one to shy away from tricky subjects. Malorie Blackman is amazing. As well as the most brilliant children’s writers, I also love commercial fiction – Marian Keyes has warmth and humour and I would buy a shopping list written by Maggie O’Farrell. I know as soon as I send this off I’ll kick myself for not mentioning any others!
Oh, Margaret Atwood! Love her. I occasionally read male writers as well, lol.
5. The book is set in 1897, and I really felt like I was there and learning so much about this time period because the book is so immersive. What kind of research did you do about it?
Okay, this question makes me laugh as I’m embarrassed about the answer! I sort of fell into the historical thing – I’m very much a contemporary writer, with no historical expertise whatsoever. Google. Google was my research. ‘What did Victorians eat’, ‘What did Victorians do at school’, ‘Did Victorians actually like children.’
I’ll confess, I’m a lazy writer. If it was up to me I’d set everything in my own house, or, at a stretch, whatever I can see out of the window. Am only half kidding. I also thought that having a character with modern sensibilities against a stiff, buttoned-up Victorian background would allow the character to ‘pop’ and it would make my life easier. I was very, very wrong, but the research opened up the story and added to the themes in ways I couldn’t have imagined (and certainly couldn’t have planned, although don’t tell anyone that, let’s pretend I’m very clever and insightful and literary).
Also, having a setting that I really had to think about was a good exercise for me as I do tend to throw everything on a page, it made me consider my words. And I enjoyed it and want to do more!
6. Also on this kind of theme, what do you think you’d have been getting up to if you’d lived during this point in history?
Oh crumbs, who knows? I’d love to think I’d be hobnobbing with the great literati of the day and having a fine old time (while wearing some excellent outfits – I’d love some buttoned boots and a drop of crinoline), the reality is that as the daughter of a factory worker and hairdresser (AND A GIRL – don’t get me started) I’d likely be working in a shop or office, glaring furiously out of the window and making up stories about murder and injustice and ghosts. So, exactly as I’ve done in this life! I’d have blagged my way into a party or two, though, no doubt. And, who knows? Maybe I’d have made friends with Mary Shelley and the Brontë’s! Ohh, yeah, now you’re talking, Get me a time machine, stat!
7. The book has such a spooky, tense atmosphere, right from the very first chapter! What tips would you give other writers trying to write something with the same vibe? What was your favourite part to write?
Okay, this is interesting. How do I write the spooky? Let me think…
>some time later<
For this book, sinking myself into the setting really helped – the Victorian age lends itself well to writing creepy things; their rituals and beliefs around death need little embellishment. For example, having dead bodies in your living room is instantly scary to us as it isn’t our experience, so you’re already wrong-footed, meaning little details that bring you closer to the already unsettling thing will add to the atmosphere. Think small, haha. Oh, and use all your senses, but don’t over-describe. You need a reader to have space to fill in their own fears. I really like having spooky elements set against very normal settings (think Buffy!) – things are scarier when presented against scenes that could be lifted from your own life. Don’t look behind you! My favourite part to write? I loved writing the final séance scenes, and the denouement in the gaol. Oh, Cecily and Oti’s outfits, and their banter. And anything that made me cry, which is weird, but you kinda know you’ve nailed a scene if it gets you in the feels. There’s nothing better than that.
8. Another writing question: what’s your routine like? Do you have any unusual habits or quirks?
I try, as much as I can, to treat writing like a job, in that I need to show up, every day, and get on with it. Obviously, especially in the drafting stages, your brain may not play ball, and that’s fiiiiine (it doesn’t feel fine at the time, it feels like you’ll never write anything ever again and you’ve let everyone down). That said, you do need ‘blank’ days, for your brain to process things. I’m also one hell of a procrastinator. I love an elaborate lunch, for example, when I’m supposed to be working. But, on the whole, I walk the dog, go to the shop for milk or whatever, make a coffee, sit down, check every news website, scan social media, investigate new beauty products, clean the bathroom, google ‘cool tattoos for writers’, have another coffee and then sit down and crack on, no messing
9. Finally, before our quickfire round, can you tell us anything about what you’re working on at the moment/will be releasing next?
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say, but I’m working on a second Whisperling book set twenty years after the first, during WWI. Same universe, different characters – with maybe one or two familiar faces! It’s whole different process, writing the second book. I’ll babble on about it if I’m lucky enough to be interviewed by you when it’s out!
Favourite thing about autumn?
Boots, jackets, hot chocolate, Bake-off, Strictly, ghost-stories by firelight.
Best Halloween costume you’ve ever had? I have never dressed up for Halloween, at least nothing more elaborate than a witch or vampire. Are you sad for me? I’m sad for me! Obviously, this year I shall dress as Peggy! Or Cecily? Or Sally on the gallows…(too dark, right?)
Favourite kind of chocolate?
I love a Lindt Lindor truffle, or a bar of their dark chocolate. Galaxy Counters – yum. Munchies. Dairy Milk. No chocolate could disappoint me.
Top 3 books you’ve read in 2022 so far?
This is an impossible question – I’m in a twitter group for debut kidlit and the quality is insane. What to choose? Libby’s Parisian Puzzle, Autumn Moonbeam, Small! Leonora Bolt, Onyeka…this is very stressful! There are so many on that list!
Umm, okay – sticking with children’s books, I loved the Secret of Haven Point by Lisette Auton for its immediate, immersive worldbuilding. The Balloon Thief by Aneesa Marufu as it’s beautiful and thrilling (and also the first proof I was ever sent!).
And Paws, by Kate Foster, which is gentle and important – Kate was the instigator of the debut kidlit group, without whom it would have been a very lonely debut year indeed – and much less fun!
3 releases for the rest of the year that you’re excited about?
The Little Match Girl Strikes Back by Emma Carroll & Lauren Child. The original story left me inconsolable, I’m hopeful Emma rights the wrongs!
Big Bad Me by Aislinn O’loughlin which I hope will go some way to fill the Buffy shaped hole in my life.
The October Witches by Jennifer Claessen which sounds like a perfect sister-novel to The Whisperling (& with whom I shared my book birthday!)
I know there are a million others but I have to stop or I won’t get anything else done and my editor will despair (sorry, Katie!) Brilliant questions, thanks, Amy!
Thank YOU so much for reading! Are you planning to read this book? Which ghost stories do you love? Do you believe they really exist? I’d love to chat in the comments!