HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GHOUL? The Ghouls of Howlfair Blog Tour


It was several months ago that I received a proof copy of The Ghouls of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson and I have been chomping at the bit ever since. This book really fired my imagination and excitement for all things spooky and intriguing. Then, to see a published copy, with its' wonderful cover illustration by Kim Geyer that captures the eerie, unusual atmosphere of the entire book in one image was an extraordinary experience. With a publication date of 3rd of October, it is the perfect read for this month, when the veil between the worlds thins and releases all those things that go bump in the night!
To let you in on the story; young local historian and investigator Molly Thompson is overly preoccupied with Howlfairs' deep and rich history filled with myths, legends and the supernatural. But while the modern-day residents no longer believe that the towns' ghouls actually exist, Molly is certain there is more than just scary tales. Now banned for stirring up too much grief for the whole town with her fact-finding missions, Molly feels compelled to embark on one more investigation when a series of strange, mysterious events (including some sudden demises of local townsfolk) begin to happen in rapid succession in the lead-up to the election of a new town mayor. Aided and assisted by best friend and possible werewolf Lowry,  young gravedigger Carl, one-time mortal enemy and now new friend Felicity Quick and Gabriel, the Excelsior Guesthouse watch-cat (who has definitely used up more than his 9 lives), set off to discover the truth behind the Howlfair Ghouls. But, it may cost Molly more than she ever could have imagined. (Full review on the What ARE You Reading page of this blog)
With such an exciting book in hand, I once again headed off to St Nicholas Primary School and enlisted the 3rd/4th class in a bit of a project. It seems that Howlfair has fallen on hard times. Tourists to the scariest town in the world have all but disappeared and people are having a difficult time making a living. What Howlfair needed, it was decided, was a new sign to really welcome visitors to this wonderful holiday spot; perhaps a promotional brochure or map highlighting Howlfairs' main points of interest, with the appropriate ghoul warnings,  of course. So, the kids got busy while I entertained them with a few brief readings from the book and designed some pretty original offerings. Once again, this was a competition. So I have passed along their designs to Nick for his consideration. He will have the final say on the best ideas and presentation of the most effective design to help Howlfair get back up and running as the scariest town in the world. The lucky winner will receive a copy of The Ghouls of Howlfair for their very own. You can have a look at what they came up with throughout this blog post. (And the winner is announced at the end of this post!)
And then....I had to interview Nick Tomlinson! I'm a bit of an investigator myself, you see. And I was really curious to find out a bit more about Howlfair, its' legends and residents and how Nick came up with such a brilliant book! 
Let's see what he has to say...

-Howlfair is a really....um....interesting town. Throughout the book it seems to sit there in the background almost like a character itself. And what a vast, fascinating history behind it! It made me wonder about some of the place names in and around Howlfair; and the names of its residents as well and how they feel evocative, descriptive of the nature of that particular place or family or person. Where did the names come from? (For example; Ethelhael sounds almost middle English.)  Do the names given to the different characters/creatures have particular significance? Was there any particular place that inspired Howlfair? Anywhere you lived personally?
I’ve been inventing silly ghost stories since I was four, and Howlfair is basically a big cauldron I’ve put them all in so I can watch them bubble.  It’s in a deep valley, so it looks a bit like a cauldron too.  I can’t really picture its geographical layout, because I think of it in terms of lots of creepy stories all bunched together – the legend of Loonchance Manor here, the tale of the vampires of St Fell’s School there…  I’ve never even drawn a map of the place, which gets me into trouble with my editor, who has to keep telling me I’ve moved the roads around.
It’s a place overflowing with scary legends: hundreds of years ago some greedy miners dug too deep and supposedly exposed a secret gateway to hell, and a strange fog came out that turned locals into vampires and werewolves and zombies.  In the ‘Dark Days’ that followed, the citizens of Howlfair had to band together to drive back waves of supernatural attacks, giving rise to all sorts of scary fireside tales.  Nowadays, though, the people of Howlfair think that the old stories are exaggerations – the mysterious mist, they claim, was probably just a noxious gas that affected wildlife. The creepy landmarks and monster-themed shops have become mere tourist attractions.  But some people – including Molly Thompson – think that something supernatural really did show up in Howlfair centuries ago, and (more to the point) it never really left.
As for the names - gosh, they’re plucked from all sorts of sources.  I’ve been working on the book for about sixteen years, and have lost track of where I got the place and character names from!  Some are famous names I’ve changed a bit.  For example, the infamous Kroglin clan, to whom Molly’s friend Lowry thinks she’s related, is named after the vampire of Croglin Grange, the story of which scared me witless as a kid.  And yes, you’re right – there’s some Middle English and Old English in there!  The River Ethel that encompasses the valley comes from an Old English prefix, but is also a play on the memory-wiping River Lethe from Greek myth, meaning ‘oblivion’ (it’s one of the five rivers of the Underworld). Hael is from Middle English and still shows up in modern English as a greeting (hail) and as a word for health (hale).  So crossing the river into Howlfair welcomes you to oblivion, basically; and there’s also the idea that, in Howlfair, you need to forget the past to be healthy.  Molly is swimming against the current of that particular ‘river’: she wants to confront the horrors of her town’s past (and her own past), not commit them to oblivion.

-Molly Thompson is a great character; so full of inquisitiveness and imagination! Her desire to research and uncover actual history is only matched by her bold and brave hunger to discover the truth, regardless of what people (even her mother!) think of her and her investigations. She is relentless, even though it gets her in huge trouble. Did you model her off of anyone specifically or is she an amalgamation of people?
Thanks!  She’s based on kids I taught in my teaching days, particularly the inquisitive bookworms I worked with as an academic learning mentor in a Birmingham girls’ school.  They were shy and awkward and hilarious and spent all their time writing mad fan fiction.  I thought it’d be good if shy bookworms could open a creepy madcap adventure book and meet someone just like them.  There are lots of feisty brave adventurous protagonists in middle grade fiction, and I wanted to write about someone who is none of those things, but who is still unstoppable.

-Books feature prominently in the story; Molly’s’ huge stack of books for research; Mrs Fullway and her over-the-top flowery novels; her father ran a bookclub in the seediest pub in town before his demise; Molly being banned from the library (by her mother!) because of the trouble she’s been causing...clearly books are important! Can you give us your thoughts on books and libraries and their influence on the lives in a small town like Howlfair, or any town for that matter?
This is an odd admission, but I’ve always felt that stories and ideas constitute real life, and everything else is just commentary, and books embody stories and ideas in a uniquely solid way, so a place without books would seem weirdly disembodied to me.  In Howlfair, books connect past and present (whereas the local tourist board glosses over the past) and books are the resources that Molly turns to in order to save the town.  Oh, and the library will feature VERY heavily in future books as the story unfolds!  So bookshops and libraries are the town’s salvation.
I’m a book fanatic and used to stop off at the library on my way home from school to sit on the floor under a tall shelf in the quiet, or go into town and haunt bookshops until they closed, so it seemed very natural to write about a character for whom books are always the first port of call!

-While the story is full of humour and a good dollop of chaos, there is an undercurrent of sadness, fear and the effects of grief running through all the characters. Can you talk about this and how it seems to motivate nearly everyone in Howlfair? How it may or may not create the need for other feelings in order to deal with it, heal it?
Ooh, that’s a fantastic question!  The people of Howlfair are definitely in denial.  Their history is grim, and there’s an unspoken dread that Howlfair’s monsters will one day return – but the townsfolk have found a way to trivialise the town’s horrors by turning them into gimmicks to attract tourists: silly gift shops, cardboard cut-outs of ghouls, ghost tours…
Molly is one of the few people in the town who’s determined to confront the tragedies of Howlfair head-on.  But that’s because she ultimately wants to confront her own personal tragedies.  She knows that there was something odd about the circumstances of her dad’s death, but she can’t figure out what, and this frustrated curiosity has led her to seek out hidden truths behind all the scary stories in Howlfair.  It’s her way of coping with grief, and it has made her a very dogged, determined local historian – but unfortunately she’s ended up valuing truth more than she values people, and that’s something she needs to address.  I think that’s what the whole book is about: how the ways we cope with grief and pain can either drive us apart or drive us together, and sometimes you need the threat of demonic world domination and an outbreak of murderous ghouls to help you sort your priorities out. 

-The Excelsior cat, Gabriel, is quite fascinating, and when Molly’s grandmother talks to her about the Excelsior cats of the past, it made me wonder. What is it about cats that they seem to have a better understanding of what’s going on than people going through the events? Was Gabriel inspired by any cats you have known?
I love Gabriel but don’t know where he sprang from!  He’s sort of based on our cat Minnie, I suppose, who is so preposterously aloof most of the time that you’re not sure she knows who you are - but then she suddenly does something amazingly sweet and touching.  Cats have that whole secretive vibe going on that makes you wonder if they are in fact wizards.  I love dogs, as anyone who’s seen my Instagram feed will appreciate, but nobody would ever accuse our dog Dottie of secretly harbouring arcane wisdom.  With dogs, what you see is what you get.

-Molly’s father, though deceased, adds a sense of humour and lightness to the tale; the way he seemed to see the good in the most desperate, unlikely people; the memory of his laughter and joking. Can you talk a bit about how you were able to write him into the book, his influence and his character?
David Thompson had such a small, token presence in the early drafts (of which there were many), and editors needled me into fleshing the character out more.  The dream and vision scenes concerning Molly’s dad were among the last scenes I wrote, and I didn’t have a clear idea what he was like, so I just wrote whatever popped into my head.  He ended up Molly’s complete opposite: where she’s morbid and serious, he’s this joke-telling cockney who Molly wishes she was more like.  She venerates him, whereas her relationship with her (very much alive) mother is strained.  As it happens, Molly is more like her dad than she realises, but I didn’t want her to figure this out until she’d learned to appreciate her mum a bit more!  And that doesn’t happen until she’s facing the prospect of doing the bravest deed of her life.  That’s when she starts to draw on the wisdom of both the living and the dead, and kind of – if I can be allowed a corny phrase – completes her.  Folks will have to read the book if they want to find out how that helps her escape from a crypt filled with ghouls!
-And, of course there are the Ghouls! Well described and really creepy! I find their mindless acts at the direction of an ‘overlord’ (or overlady?) really frightening, and yet darkly hilarious. What drew you to write about Ghouls (as opposed to vampires or werewolves or witches...)? Are they of special fascination to you personally?
Ah, thank you!  I think vampires and werewolves etc have been very well represented in fiction and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do anything new with those varieties of monster.  Ghouls, though, were more of an unknown quantity, and I thought I’d have more freedom to make them fit the plot rather than having to make the plot fit them.  And they’re so fascinating!  They have roots in Arabian folklore; they’re evil spirits who haunt lonely places and lure people to their doom; they’re disgusting and they eat corpses, but they can also shape-shift and look like your best friend (a trick they play on Molly!).  They desecrate things that people hold sacred, and this fit perfectly with Molly’s plot, as she struggles to figure out what it is that she really values.

- The fact that all the malevolent action is driven by a person with particular social/political desires to be quite of the times we are experiencing these days. How did current events inform the story?
I’m not very good at keeping my politics to myself, and folks who follow me on social media will know where I stand on certain issues!  It terrifies me how easily a nationalistic vision has captivated us in the UK, and how casually we shrug at the prospect that this vision, if realised, will mean real suffering for the most vulnerable.  Furlock isn’t really based on any particular political leader (though his mayoral campaign slogan might sound a bit familiar to readers), but he’s essentially a classic wicked demagogue, selling a nightmare vision that people are buying into because they don’t fully appreciate its human cost.
Having said that, the book isn’t particularly political.  In later books Molly will seek to change hearts, not political structures, and I’ve promised myself that she’ll never solve problems with violence; she makes Howlfair better by becoming better herself.  In fact, she’ll develop her own rather revolutionary kindness-based agenda that I’m hoping might get picked up and taken further by young readers interested in changing the world.  Young people seem much better at the whole changing-the-world thing than us adults, and probably the most important job of middle grade writers is to give young people our hearty vote of confidence.

-The last scene is quite chilling! Like the end of a horror movie (with humour). Have we seen the last of the Ghouls?
Next book will be out next October, and it’s called THE SCREAM OF THE SILENTMAN.  Molly, Lowry, Carl, Felicity and Gabriel get involved in the search for a lost tomb containing a ghastly secret.  Much more horror!  Much more silly banter from Lowry!  Flying skeletons!  A phantom town crier whose touch spells madness!  And (to answer your question) ghouls galore!

So there we have it. That answers all my questions...for now! Thank you so much, Nick for your time and brilliant, informative answers to my numerous questions. Also thank you to Walker Books UK for including me in the #GhoulsofHowlfairBlogTour, for supplying me with the book and for publishing such a fantastic read, perfect for me favourite month of  the year.

And now to the winning entry in our Howlfair competition. It was an incredibly difficult decision. All the entries were so strong with great concepts that are bound to bring a flood of visitors, both human and ghoulish back into Howlfair for a lot of fun and a frighteningly great time. But there can be only one winner (sadly) so.....

Your very own copy of The Ghouls of Howlfair will be coming your way very soon!

The Ghouls of Howlfair is out now, just waiting for you to come along and enter into this spook-tacular adventure. I think you should run...no...fly to your local bookshop and pick up your copy now. Find out exactly who is summoning Howlfairs' mythical monsters back into the world, and for what sinister purpose. Trust me...you need to know.

author: Nick Tomlinson
cover artist: Kim Geyer
Walker Books (3 October 2019)
ISBN: 9781406386684


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