“Growing up, the view from our flat was pretty astonishing.
Through my 15th storey bedroom window I could see the grey granite buildings of Aberdeen city centre. Straight ahead was the wide, pewter band of the North Sea, dotted with oil rigs, supply boats and the occasional ferry headed for the Shetlands.
I’d get lost in the view for a while, then flop on my bed and get lost in whatever book I was reading – till Mum gave me a shout to say lunch was ready or ‘Dr Who’ was on. A series of books I remember vividly were the pioneering days’ diaries of ‘Little House on the Prairie’. Ten-year-old me would read avidly about the adventures of ten-year-old Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I’d wonder at a world where the local wildlife consisted of herds of majestic buffalo on the Great Plains instead of huge herring gulls squawking annoyingly as they cruised the crosswinds that whipped around the tower block where I lived.
History always appealed to me, and not just in books. Luckily for me, most weekends in the summer my parents would turf me in the back of our family Skoda, and we’d head west, to the castle-rich country of Deeside. (We never headed east – that way lay the freezing North Sea, where a paddle would practically give you frostbite.)
The most famous castle was Balmoral (Queen Vic’s pad), but my favourite was always Crathes, a towering, plaster-pink baronial home. And what I loved most about Crathes was the strange and unsettling story of the Green Lady… a ghost whose sad face was seen at one particular window. Then, during the 1970s, restoration at the castle uncovered a nasty surprise in a cavity behind a fireplace; the centuries’ old skeleton of a baby. Permission was granted for the skeleton to be buried in the grounds… and you guessed it, the Green Lady was never seen again.
Naturally, every old building seems to have a ghostly story to tell. Even my daughter’s Victorian primary school came with tales of a watching face at the window of the abandoned caretaker’s house. And so the idea for a new novel began rattling around in mind, a childhood memory of the power of a face at the window; my daughter’s imposing red brick pile of a school.
‘The Girl Who Wasn’t There’ began to take form; the Mills family – still hurting after the death of Mum – moves into the caretaker’s house. Thirteen-year-old Maisie tries to maintain a glass-half-full attitude, but behind her smile she’s wobbling, badly. That first day, as she, her dad and her older, attitude-fuelled sister Clem unpack and settle in, Maisie gazes out of her bedroom window and spots a white face staring back at her from the locked and empty school…
Apart from a yearning to write my first, proper ghost story, I was really keen to touch on sadness and loss. I’ve reeled at several family losses over the years (I’m the last ‘man’ standing of my childhood family of five), but I’ve always believed passionately in the idea that ‘everything will be all right in the end’. That you can survive bumps in the road and move on. That dollops of black humour are medicinal and can heal you too.
So fingers crossed my story of ghostliness, family and friendship will entertain – but also quietly give a hopeful (virtual) hug to any readers going through a bump or two of their own… ”
Karen McCombie is an author of children and young adult novels. Focusing on the themes of family and friendship makes Karen McCombie is popular with many tween girls and their parents. Previously, Karen worked for several magazines including J17 and SUGAR. Currently, she lives in London with her husband Tom, and their daughter Milly.
This guest post was provided by Karen McCombie. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.