Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Ghost Collector

Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. That's Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future.

The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. 

The Ghost Collector 3

The Ghost Collector, published in 1988, is a book I wrote in reaction to (or rather against) ghost stories I'd read growing up. I've always enjoyed fantasy, but to my mind many ghost stories in the children's book arena promised much and delivered little. My impression was that many of them had a child protagonist who was reserved, shy, put upon, dreamy, withdrawn, unhappy or simply neglected or overlooked. The child, which was equally likely to be a boy or a girl, would encounter a ghost with a problem. The ghost always wanted its story told, its name cleared, its bones found or its spirit laid. The child would set out to do this, and would eventually succeed, having gained personal satisfaction, strength etc. along the way. Cue a fleeting visit or breath of thanks from a grateful ghost and our hero/ine is set for a better life and secure in the knowledge that the ghost is now at peace. My objection to these stories, I seem to recall was the lack of--well--ghost. Therefore, a decade after my first book was published, I sallied forth with the notion of writing a ghost story that would be the virtual opposite of those that left me unsatisfied in childhood reading. 

Enter the ghost collector. Melinda was no shy retiring child but a proper bossy-boots with decided opinions and an argumentative nature. She was also a committed collector of things her parents wished she would not collect. Her hair collection, which included the switch from a show bull's tail, was more or less the last straw, so she is packed off to stay with her eccentric great aunt, Angela Gansden, known as 'Gan'.  Gan lives in an old house where she writes what she calls 'pink books' while preferring to read 'green books'. Recently, Gan's three nephews, Melinda's uncles Anderson, Bruce and Christopher, have moved in with her to share costs, and have hatched the idea of turning the big old house into a guesthouse. To Gan's annoyance and Melinda's fascination, they have advertised the house as "The Haunted Guesthouse", promising "a ghost in every room". The fact that the house has just one ghost, a cranky and elusive fellow named Duncan, is beside the point until someone from the Society of Accuracy in Advertising announces she is coming to count the ghosts.

Cue panic among the uncles but Melinda takes them in hand. After all, she is a collector! She bullies and blackmails Duncan into haunting one of the rooms, and extracts information on other ghosts, which she then heads off to cajole, threaten and bribe into moving into the guesthouse. These include Hiller, who haunts a barn with a phantom axe, Joan, also known as Headhunter, who is in quest of a head, Long Dog, who belongs to Hiller and who specialises in digging up phantom bones, and Scratch Cocky who is, or was, once a cockatoo. 

The ghosts appear often, causing Melinda several headaches, but she battles on through encounters with Uncle Christopher's much-too-nice girlfriend Sarah and her cat, Spook, and Uncle Anderson's unexplained infatuation with the woman from Accuracy in Advertising. All ends happily and hauntily and not a ghost among them gets laid to rest because, after all, they are enjoying their afterlife very much in the Haunted Guesthouse.

Melinda started out life as Melissa, but before the book was published I learned of a new or upcoming book called Melissa's Ghost by, I think, Michael Dugan. This was by no means a legal or ethical problem, but since my book was coming out after that one, I didn't want anyone to assume it was a sequel, a copy or in any way connected. I petitioned the editor who agreed to change my protagonist's name to Melinda. (This was in the days of typewriters, so it wasn't just a case of search-and-replace.) 

The hardback edition, as you can see above, had a dark blue cover with a yellow moon. I love that cover, but it was changed for the later paperback edition. It is a trifle blurry, but you can probably see Melinda looks younger on the paperback. 

I haven't reread the story in years, but from what I remember it does have many of the attributes that have always hung around my books; against-type characters with a streak of perversity, and a fascination with backstory and patterns and old houses. As for the hair collection; I had one as a child and it did indeed include a swatch from a bull's tail. I wasn't as gung-ho as Melinda though; I took only a modest sample. I also collected lizard patterns and rocks, but that's another story.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing The Ghost Collector and to this day I believe it would pass scrutiny from Accuracy in Advertising. It is about a ghost collector. She does collect ghosts. And yes, the ghosts are as thick in the story as raisins in raisin toast. And I mean good raisin toast.

See below for links to previous posts.

Her Kingdom for a Pony (2)

The Kamarand (1)

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