Emily Diamand Talks To Bookbag About how scary should it be?

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Emily Diamand Talks To Bookbag About how scary should it be?

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Summary: We loved Emily Diamand's Ways To See a Ghost and when we plucked up the courage to peep out from under the covers we were fascinated to hear what Emily had to say about how scary children's fiction should be.
Date: 25 July 2013

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External links: Author's website



I am on a school visit. I’ve just warned the children that my new book, Ways to See a Ghost, might be frightening in places. Instantly hands go up, children begging me to read the scariest part I can find. At the same time, a girl at the front has already put her hands over her ears, in case I do. This is the dilemma for an author of children’s fiction – what is exciting to one child is terrifying to another. I choose a safe reading on this occasion, but I know that a child picking up my book will simply read it, and so encounter whatever lies inside.

If you look across the range of fiction for older children and young adults there are many books that aim to scare. Zombies, vampires, ghosts, young people fighting to the death… you name it, it’s probably in there. In fact, the censorship of horror is far less than that of language. Even the mildest swearing will be picked up by editors, while blood spattered corpses pass without comment. Part of the reason for this is that children do enjoy fear filled stories. Last year, I judged a writing competition for 10 to 12 years olds. Of the 130 stories I read, I would estimate about eighty percent had elements of horror, and I got a bit fed up of zombie tales. So children’s minds can be as gore-ful as the average horror writer’s, but this doesn’t mean authors have no responsibility to their readers.

I have my own rules about how much detail to go into and how far to push things, as I’m sure all children’s authors do. For example, I try to show the emotional consequences of any violence that occurs - being hit hurts and people cry afterwards. But it can be difficult to judge sometimes; I have had long discussions with editors about how far to go within a particular scene, only to find later that readers found a different scene frightening, and one we had never even considered. In the end, although I do have ghosts and a monster in my new book, my main purpose is not to terrify. I hope that young people will get to the end having experienced a range of emotions along the way, and that they’ll have a few things to think about afterwards.

But yes, there are scary moments.