October is well on its way, and our thoughts turn to ghosts, ghouls and goblins… to celebrate the launch of Skulk, my YA urban fantasy (with a touch of horror), Lisa asked me to talk about some of the spooky stories and urban legends from my childhood.
The Beast of Bodmin Moor [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beast_of_Bodmin] has to be my favourite urban – or in this case, rural – legend of all time. Whenever we visited my grandparents in Cornwall we would drive through Bodmin, passing the edge of the moor with its rocky hillsides, hidden crevices and miles and miles of very little. You could easily imagine some huge phantom catlike beast, black as the night around it with yellow eyes the size of saucers and razor-sharp claws. You can just see it prowling the moor, mutilating cattle and horses and gobbling up hikers who wandered off the path.
The village of Alton, where my other set of grandparents live, is best known for the Alton Towers theme park, but the Towers themselves are actually a ruined stately home with a reputation for hauntings. If you visit around Halloween they sometimes run tours of the ruins by candlelight, with actors and fog machines standing in for the real ghosts. Talbot also built acres and acres of beautiful and strange landscaped gardens around the house, which you can still visit today – the sight of a Chinese Pagoda or a miniature replica of Stonehenge rising out of the Staffordshire fog in front of you always gave me the shivers as a child. And even though you know you’re in the middle of a modern theme park, the screams and rattling of the rollercoasters filtering through the trees only adds to the shivery atmosphere.Nowadays there’s even a ride in the park, Hex, dedicated to the spooky goings-on around the ruined Towers and a bizarre sight that you might see if you go walking in the nearby woods: the Chained Oak. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chained_Oak] The story goes that Charles Talbot, the eccentric 15th Earl of Shrewsbury who lived in the Towers in the 1800s, once angered an old woman who turned out to be a witch. She cursed his family, saying that every time a branch fell from a particular oak in the forest, one of the Talbots would die. Sure enough, Talbot’s son was riding by the tree the next day and one of the branches fell and knocked him from his horse, killing him. The Earl was so afraid of the curse that he ordered the oak tree to be bound up in iron chains so that no more branches could ever fall from it. Obviously, it’s up to you whether you believe in the curse – but there’s no arguing with the fact that the rusty chains are real and still hanging there for all to see.
And yet, probably the most gruesome and spooky story I have… is actually true. I grew up on the street where real life serial killer Dennis Nilsen did his horrid deeds back in the 80s, and in fact my house was very near where the bodies eventually turned up… or at least, what was left of them. His flat was said to be haunted, and it always seemed to have a For Sale sign outside, until some brave – or just very rational – soul finally settled there. Be warning: Nilsen’s story is very real and very much not for the faint hearted. It really was a nightmarish event when he was finally exposed. Google him at your own peril.
Rosie Best lives in London and loves all things nerdy. She is an editor at Working Partners Ltd, working on a huge variety of projects from first chapter books about unicorns to dark YA journeys through the land of the dead.
She’s also written for Working Partners on a freelance basis, on series published by Usborne and Hot Key Books.
The opening of Skulk won a place in the 2012 Undiscovered Voices anthology. When not writing or indulging a passion for video games, she sings with the Crouch End Festival Chorus.
When Meg witnesses the dying moments of a shapeshifting fox and is given a beautiful and powerful stone, her life changes forever. She is plunged into the dark world of the Skulk, a group of shapeshifting foxes.
As she learns about the other groups of shapeshifters that lurk around London – the Rabble, the Horde, the Cluster and the Conspiracy – she becomes aware of a deadly threat against all the shapeshifters. They must put aside all their enmity and hostility and fight together to defeat it.