Monday, 2 May 2011

Review: The Hunting Ground by Cliff McNish + Q&A and Giveaway!

Publisher: Orion
Format: Trade paperback
Released: May 5th, 2011
Grade rating: B+

Amazon summary:

When Elliott and his brother, Ben, move into the old and crumbling Glebe House they don't expect to find themselves sharing it with ghosts. But soon sinister events are unfolding. An old diary reveals glimpses of the mansion's past - and of a terrible tragedy. A mysterious woman talks to the dead. And evil lurks in the East Wing - a hideous labyrinth of passageways devised by a truly twisted mind. Can Elliott and his family escape the clutches of Glebe House? Or will they be trapped in the maze of corridors, forever hunted by the dead?


It's really hard for books to scare me, so I was surprised to find that The Hunting Ground is genuinely creepy. Like leave-the-light-on creepy. I was reading it late at night, and every time I heard a weird noise, I had to stop and look around for a ghost. Obviously I didn't expect to see one, but that's not the point. I still have the image of of a young ghost girl dragging a doll along the floor lodged firmly in my head, and I think it'll be there for a while. *shudder*

The Hunting Ground takes place in an old house called Glebe House, which is where Elliot and his family end up living. They quickly find out it's haunted by people who used to live there, and soon they're locked in a deadly nightmare that seemingly will not end. I'm convinced this book is designed to cause sleepless nights, and I'm sure even Cliff McNish must have spooked himself while writing it. There's something about malevolent spirits that just can't be ignored, whether they're intent on killing innocent boys or just want to scare the heck out of anyone in their presence.

I can guarantee that if I ever saw a ghost, I'd probably faint from shock and fear. I wouldn't last a minute, which actually brings me to the only aspect of the story that I found unbelievable. Elliot, Ben and his father have no problem when the ghosts present themselves, and I found it unrealistic. A haunted house isn't the norm, so surely they'd question it and try to find some explanation? Instead they all just accept it as if it's what they expected, which never quite sat right with me.

I've been deliberately vague with the plot here, because it's the kind of book that needs to be read spoiler-free. As each terrifying jigsaw puzzle falls into place, terror levels rise and certain scenes will make your blood run cold. It's a chilling tale of good and evil, and is so well written that, like me, readers will find themselves checking their houses and hiding any dolls or other inanimate objects with faces. In conclusion, The Hunting Ground is a hair-raising thrill ride that will unnerve even the hardest of horror fans. You have been warned.


Author Interview: Cliff McNish

What inspired this incredibly creepy story?

I’ve always loved ghost stories, so one way or another, since writing BREATHE at least, a ghost idea is always trickling around somewhere my head. The real problem is that most ghost stories naturally sit at short story length, where suspense can sustain them. It’s harder to use suspense that way over the course of a novel, so it often doesn’t come right. (The number of children’s and YA novels featuring ghosts is vast, the number of genuinely chilling stories of novel length that have ghosts at their heart are tiny. Just try to name 2 yourself. Not wistful or funny ones – really scary ghost novels that are not aimed at adults.)

I think my inspiration came from two things: 1) the idea of the little girl whose spirit is stuck in the house. If she was near a malign spirit for decades could she retain her innocence? And if not what would she be like? And 2) the idea of a house within a house, where you are a footstep or arm’s length away from safety but you can’t quite get out. I do like these creepy, enclosed claustrophobic spaces! Plus I was tired of coming across ghost stories that aren’t scary, and wanted to try to write one that genuinely was.

The Hunting Ground isn't your first ghostly tale, and I hope it won't be your last. Do you have a particular interest in this aspect of the paranormal?

I’m attracted to crime and dark fiction generally, fantasy, horror and SF. Really great scary ghost stories are rarer than unicorn blood, though. I just think teenagers are being short-changed here. Lots of vampires/zombies - not enough ghosts.

I thought Glebe House was almost like a character in itself. Did you always intend to have it play such a huge part in the story?

I knew I wanted the EAST WING to be a scary place – and I knew that each time you went inside it the fear had to be greater, so in the end hopefully the reader dreads even the prospect of the main characters entering it. But in a way all houses are tailor-made to become characters if you only have the imagination to use them that way. They’re characterful personalities by design, comforting in that you can be at ease there, restful because you can sleep, but they’re full of dark places as well, unknown areas where anything can have happened or might be, and a history that can be as sweet or a corrupt as you like. GLEBE HOUSE emerged as more of a character in the second draft of the novel, especially once I decided to use the portraits as an integral part of the story rather than a backdrop.

I was a bit spooked out while reading The Hunting Ground, and I was wondering if you ever found yourself scared while writing it?

Actually not while writing it, but I did when I read the proof pages. I was in a Travelodge in Newcastle overlooking the Tyne bridge. I had not looked at the novel in months, and it was really the first time I’d come almost totally fresh to the material as a whole. As I read it the sky darkened outside, and I realised that the entire second half of the novel has almost not one chink of light to relieve the reader. I thought – ‘Oh dear, this is going too far... they are going to put this down, I’m not giving them a chance to breathe at all...’ It was an unsettling moment. And the jury is still out on that one!

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, have you ever encountered a ghost in real life?

No, I have not, and I have trouble believing in them, though I know many people, including my sister and mother, believe they have both seen one. But I love the idea that ghosts might exists. I want them to be real. And in a fictional world where the imagination and reality are one they simply have to be real, because what would we do without them? What character could be more passionate than a spirit that has to haul itself back from the world of the dead to be with us? We just know there has to be a great reason!


I have two (2) copies of The Hunting Ground to give away, courtesy of Orion Children's Books. You know the drill: fill in the form below to enter!

Rules & info:
  • Open to UK residents only.
  • End date: May 10th, 2011.
  • One entry per person.
  • You do NOT have to follow my blog to enter.
  • Books will be sent out by the publisher


Vivienne said...

I am so pleased to read it is as good as I thought it would be.

The Thirteenth said...

Love the cover!

Andrea said...

Sounds good though I'm not big on really scary books.

Ryan Woods said...

Got this on my reading pile and the review has shifted it up a good few places! :D Can't wait now Jenny! :D

Ana Lucia said...

aww bummer, UK only! the book looks GOOD!

SusanKMann said...

Sounds great. I must get this book. Love the interview too. x

Just Your Typical Book Blog said...

Ooo creepy and about ghosts? I am down! Thanks for the review :)

Nikki-ann said...

Sounds like my kind of book! Loving the cover :)

Emma Book Angel said...

I would love this one for the library - thank you for the give-away

Jesse Owen said...

Adding this one to my wishlist right now - it sounds like it would be right up my street! Fab interview too :D