This update is all in the headline. My new series launches in Australia TODAY, so if you’re interested in buying 219 pages of fully-illustrated junior fiction, featuring pirates and ships and icebergs and piranhas and a creepy wolverine and a secret spy and SO MANY JOKES, then you can go and do that RIGHT NOW!
Cross Bones has been a joy to work on from start to finish, and I’m so proud of the book that Chris and I are sending out into the world. And, if you want to hear some crazy stories about how we created this crazy book, a crazy man named Ken Williams asked us a bunch of questions about it for his podcast, Reading With a Chance of Tacos! You can search for it wherever you listen to podcasts, or just click that link to go straight there.
And that’s the post! Go grab yourself a copy of this beautiful, funny book, then come back and tell me what you think. (Hurry! I’ll be waiting.)
The Witching Hours is a funny old series. The first five books are mostly episodic — which is to say, their stories are self-contained. You can start reading about Anna and Max at book three or book four and you’ll mostly understand what’s going on. But after five huge adventures, it didn’t feel like The Giant Key could be just another episode. It had to tie back to all those previous stories, and address every mystery I’d ever left unsolved. It had to be gigantic.
It could perhaps be said that I took that last part a bit too literally.
The Giant Key is a big, wild, bombastic book. It has several weird, hallucinatory chapters, as well as the most wicked magics that have ever been seen in the series. I’m also pretty sure it has more characters in it than the other five books combined. To research the dastardly enchantments I read Algernon Blackwood’s story The Wendigo, as well as the wonderfully witchy Malleus Maleficarum. Come to think of it, I might have even re-read Roald Dahl’s The Witches while I was writing book six, but I’m sure you won’t notice any scenes inspired by a novel as famous as that.
Looking back, I’m grateful that I got to spend one last book with Anna and Max, in a fairy tale world that existed long before I was born. The folkloric monsters that I used in The Witching Hours feel like toys that have been handed down across generations, and I’m so thrilled that I got the chance to play with the vampire, and the troll, and the genies, and the mermaids, and the dragon, and the giant. I hope I took good care of them.
Anna and Max are fairly archetypal too, but there are little bits of me in both of them, which is why I’m sad to leave them behind. I’ll always kind of know what they did next, and what other monsters they met, but none of those thoughts will ever be published in book form. Maybe if I get nostalgic enough I’ll write a new short story and post it here on an anniversary date, just for myself and whoever else is reading this blog. Who knows!
Luckily for me, those folkloric monsters aren’t the only things I want to play with in the grand toy box of fiction. Now that Anna and Max have reached their happy (?) ending, there are brand new worlds for me to explore, filled with more of the things I loved reading about when I was a kid — and, if I’m completely honest, the things I still love reading about today. I think it’s going to be quite fun.
But you don’t have to worry about that yet. Unless you devoured the whole thing literally today, there is one last book of The Witching Hours to read. Beware the graveyard on page 18. Remember that on page 41, the library wall might not be as secure as you think. And really, the less said about page 92, the better!
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading, and stay safe. Happy witching!
Howdy, United States readers! This is a message for you and you only. If you’re not from the US, look away now!
As you may know, my first book (The Vampire Knife) was released in the US in September 2018. Unfortunately for any readers who enjoyed book one, the rest of the Witching Hours series has had a much trickier time reaching the States. I don’t have any control over how my books are sold overseas, but here is the best info I have for tracking the rest of the series down!
Firstly: as of Fall 2020, a publishing house called Trafalgar Square has signed on to distribute book two (The Troll Heart) in the US. Hooray! Their email address is <firstname.lastname@example.org> and the phone number for their customer service team is (800) 888-4741. If you pass that information on to your local bookshop or library, then hopefully they’ll be able to source you a fresh new copy of my terrifying second tale.
Secondly: if you Google with tenacity, and if you don’t mind paying for shipping, there are a number of Australian bookshops that will happily send you some of my books in the post. Book three (The Genie Rings) is quite hard to find anywhere, but Abbey’s currently has books 1-4 in stock, and Boomerang Books always seems to have a good range. I can’t maintain a live list of which stores have my books and which stores don’t, but for now, all of my books are still in circulation if you search hard enough!
[EDIT: Thirdly: a very kind reader has emailed me to let me know that eBooks can also be accessed in the States! Books 1-3 are all available on Google Play. Thanks a bunch, MacKenzie!]
I hope this information helps you track down some more of my scary stories. Good luck, and happy witching!
Hello! How are you? Quite a year we’re having, isn’t it?
I often forget that I have a website, and as a result of this, I also forget to share helpful information. But I remembered my website tonight, and so here is some information you might be looking for: the sixth (and final!) Anna and Max book, titled The Giant Key, is scheduled for release in Australia on February 1, 2021. It would have been released earlier, but things got a bit weird this year, and we really don’t need any monstrous fairies making things even weirder.
But next year… well, in 2021, Anna and Max’s lives are going to get very weird indeed. I wish I could tell you about the hidden study, or the bone doll, or the thing that happens when Anna steps into the lake. But I can’t. It’s top secret. You’ll just have to be patient.
The Giant Key is coming. I hope it will be worth the wait.
The Witching Hours series lurched to life in 2015, in a series of scribbles made at the back of my university notebook. Writing in bright purple ink, I detailed all the horrifying things that could happen to Anna and Max, “the Crypt Kids,” listing all the steps of their adventure in Transylvania. I didn’t know if anyone other than me would ever read the story — didn’t know if I’d even succeed in writing it. But halfway down the page, I made a very specific note. It was a reference to a moment in a future book: a fourth sequel to a novel I hadn’t even started writing. It was exciting. It was ridiculous.
Three years and four books later, over the summer of 2018, I finally wrote that scene.
There was something pleasantly inevitable about writing The Dragon Crown. Book four had been a challenge: a collection of great scenes that took immense effort to fashion into a cohesive whole. In contrast, writing book five was a pleasure. No book has zipped along for me as quickly as The Vampire Knife did, but The Dragon Crown came close, always leading me easily into the next scene. Each time Anna fell, I knew where she would land.
And, best of all, at the end of chapter 12, is that scene, the one I wrote down in bright purple ink. I was utterly delighted to get there, and I hope any other readers who’ve followed the series this far will be delighted (and terrified) as well.
Book five also marked a return to my usual research process, which may also help explain why it came so readily along. Before writing The Vampire Knife, I read all of The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales; the next year, before writing The Genie Rings, I read as many of The Arabian Nights as I could get my hands on. To prepare for book five I read Monkey, the English translation of the seminal Chinese novel Journey to the West — and gosh was it fun. The opening sections were a bit slow, dealing as they do with the creation of the titular Monkey; but by the time the grand quest to obtain the sacred scriptures gets underway, this book becomes a blast. I loved reading five-hundred-year-old fairy tales that I’d never seen before, like the tale of the terrible goldfish king waiting beneath the frozen river, or the story of the farmhand Pigsy, whose appearance becomes more monstrous the longer he works. The book is jam-packed full of monsters and magic spells, and I stole a whole bunch of them to put in my own Chinese adventure: keep your eyes peeled for mentions of drowsy insects, magic winds, and some of the worst headaches imaginable.
The publication of The Dragon Crown also means that there’s only one book left in The Witching Hours. I feel sad that the series will soon be at an end, and I feel worried, too — because the events of book five have left Anna and Max more vulnerable than ever before. There are other scribbles in my old notebooks. I know some of the terrible things that are going to happen next.
This week, I will write the final chapter of book six. Will Anna and Max survive their last adventure? Will they make it out of those dark American woods, having avoided the colossal creature lurking within? I hope so. I’ve spent a lot of time with Anna and Max over the last five years, and it would be a shame to see them fall at the final hurdle.
But then again — some monsters have gigantic appetites.
One night last year, in the very early hours of the morning, I took a short break from writing my fourth book. I got up from my desk and walked into the bathroom, and was immediately startled by a very large huntsman spider clinging to the wall.
Despite their fearsome size, huntsman spiders are not venomous, and so I decided to carry the spider outside using my hands. After taking a deep breath, I grabbed the spider off the wall and trapped it between my palms, wincing as it scuttled around against my skin. Its legs were as thick as toothpicks.
But there’s another fact about huntsman spiders that I didn’t know at the time. While it’s true that they’re not venomous, their fangs never stop growing, and so the largest huntsman spiders have very big fangs indeed. And so, when this particular spider sunk its gigantic fangs into my flesh, it really, really hurt. I tried not to cry out as I ran to the back door, turning the handle with my elbows, throwing the spider into the darkness as far as I possibly could.
When I looked down at my hand, there was blood dripping down my finger.
I thought I’d open this post with my awful spider story to help communicate what a tricky novel book four was to write. There were some chapters that whizzed along in an adrenaline-fuelled blur, with all the confidence of a brave man scooping a huntsman off a wall; and then there were other chapters that felt like colossal mistakes, like a very foolish man realising he’s just picked up a massive, hairy, long-fanged spider. I hit so many dead ends that I sometimes wondered how Anna and Max could possibly escape the book in one piece; some nights would fly past without a single word being added to the story, the children forced to keep facing the same deadly peril.
But I finished. The bad times ended in an instant, and suddenly I had a new book: a story so dark, so spooky, that it was almost certainly Anna and Max’s most terrifying adventure yet. I had vanquished the spider. The Mermaid Wreck was ready to enter the world.
The Mermaid Wreck is the first of my books to take place in my home country, Australia, and now that it’s been published, I honestly could not be prouder of it. Throughout the writing process, I was determined to prove that an Australia beach could be scary enough to match the fairy-tale otherness featured in the series thus far: that it could be as creepy as a Transylvanian wood, or as desolate as an Iranian desert. At the same time, setting the novel by the seaside gave me the opportunity to probe some fears I hadn’t been able to use in the series before. Despite being Australian, I’ve never much liked the beach; I therefore took great pleasure in writing scenes featuring sharks and shipwrecks, churning waters and hidden rip-tides, revelling in all the things people fear when they step into the sea.
And there’s also a mermaid. I don’t want to say too much about her, for fear of spoiling the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I can confidently say that Sylvie is my favourite fairy so far. Writing her scenes was always a pleasure, and I truly hope we’ll see her toothy smile again before the series is through.
And that’s all I have to say on the matter. The Mermaid Wreck is the fourth book in The Witching Hours series, and it’s available in Australian bookshops right now. If you’re a young reader who thinks they might be brave enough to read it, then I wish you the very best of luck – and in the scariest of moments, when it feels like a spider might be caught between your fingers, I hope you’ll have the courage to see it through.
(PS: If you’ve already read book four, then please be advised that book five isn’t too far away – it’s already been written, and should be arriving in Australian bookshops in October. Come back then to hear more about Anna and Max’s next adventure, high in the mountains of China!)
Achoo! Oh, goodness, please excuse me: it seems the dust of ages has been allowed to settle on this blog once again. But relax, dear reader, and do not fear, for the arrival of a brand new book warrants some words of celebration. Look upon the glorious cover below, and rejoice!
The Genie Rings is the third book in The Witching Hours series, but it feels like a first in a number of ways. It’s the first book in the series to be set outside of Europe (the story takes place in Iran), and it’s also the first book not to be inspired by European folklore. Instead, book three takes its cues from a very different source: the wonderful collection of Middle Eastern fairy tales known as The One Thousand and One Nights.
Now, I didn’t read all one thousand and one stories – I’m not sure an authoritative edition of that many stories actually exists – but I can report that taking notes on this book was an absolute delight. Some of the stories are already very famous (Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp; Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) but as I scoured the text for mentions of genies, I found many hidden gems scattered throughout. The Fisherman and the Djinni tells the story of a poor fisherman who catches a copper jar in his net, and who unleashes from within a genie with a “mouth as wide as a cavern, with teeth ragged like broken rocks”; the genie from this story is so perfectly frightening that I quoted some of his dialogue in The Genie Rings as a sneaky homage. The Tale of the Second Dervish is even better, telling the story of a prince who makes an enemy of a wicked genie named Jerjees, and who ends up being transformed into an ape by the genie’s evil spell. The story is filled to the brim with magic, murder, and mayhem, and it even has a secret witch, which is definitely my favourite plot twist of all. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about this witch in a future blog post, but for now, I’ll just leave you with the hilariously chilling scene where the princess finally reveals her abilities to her father:
“How do you know he is bewitched?” asked the King, turning to his daughter.
“Father,” she replied, “when I was a child I had an old nurse, a skilled enchantress deeply versed in sorcery, who taught me witchcraft. I have committed all its rules to memory and know a hundred and seventy codes of magic, by the least of which I could raze your city to the ground and scatter its stones as far as the Mountain of Kaf, turn your kingdom into a bottomless sea, and change its people into wiggling fishes.”
And so, with all of those tales swirling about in my head, I set about composing a new adventure for Anna and Max to embark upon. At first I thought the book might be set in a city, as so many of the Arabian Nights are; but it soon became clear that a desert would be scarier, with the endless, empty plains extending out around a lonely campsite. I based the whole story around a riddle, because I like riddles, and I made sure to include some old stone ruins, because I like those as well. The hardest thing of all was writing a horror story without any forests: a deliberate challenge to myself, as books one and two had featured numerous descriptions of sinister trees and creepy wooden fingers. Luckily, poems like “Ozymandias” showed me that the desert can be Gothic as well, and I truly believe that readers will find this new setting just as frightening as its European counterparts.
Anyway: I finished writing the story. I sent it to my publishers, and they worked their magic, and then Dave Shephard came on board and drew us some of the scariest genies I’ve ever seen. You can find this spooky book in Australian bookstores right now, lurking amongst the darkest shelves, terrifying all of its neighbours. If you’ve followed Anna and Max this far, I really hope you’ll enjoy book three as well.
And that’s all for now. Happy witching!
(Actually, one more note! If you’re keen to read some of The One Thousand and One Nights, you can follow the links embedded in this post – but be aware that those are the old translations by Sir Richard Burton, which are slightly archaic. I recommend picking up the Penguin edition translated by N. J. Dawood – it’s much zippier!)
The Troll Heart is the first sequel to The Vampire Knife, and is the second book in The Witching Hours series. It’s an extra special book for me because I based it on the first fairy tale I ever wrote – or at least, the first fairy tale I wrote that I thought was any good. The story came about in 2013, when I took a trip to England with my grandfather, Kenny, who had suddenly decided (at the age of 81) that he’d quite like to see the British countryside. We visited London and Brighton and Kings Lynn, and even met the Queen’s horses at Sandringham, which meant by the time we got to the city of Bath, poor old Kenny was feeling rather worn out. So I went for a walk on my own – and on this walk, I crossed a bridge.
It costs one shilling to cross the Batheaston Toll Bridge. Or rather, that’s how much it costs if you’re travelling in a motor lorry. If you’re travelling in a carriage drawn by two horses, it costs four pennies, and if you’re crossing with any sheep or pigs, it’ll cost you an additional six pennies per score. (And yes, I know what you’re thinking: how much does it cost to cross in a wheelchair drawn by a donkey? Answer: three pennies.) All of these archaic tolls are specified on a old sign at the start of the bridge – an old sign that left me utterly enthralled.
The concept of the different tolls sat in my head for the rest of our trip, and when I returned home I quickly wrote the outline of a fairy tale, about a wicked troll who controls the bridges surrounding a woe-begotten village. I didn’t end up using any of those wonderful tolls, but I still liked the story. It was the first thing I had written in a long time that I was really proud of.
Two years later, in 2015, I created the characters of Anna and Max, and after their initial tousle with the vampire, I knew just the adventure I wanted to send them on next.
And so that’s why I’m finally breaking my blogging dry spell: to announce the birth of my beautiful new book (and thanks again go to Ryan Andrews for the amazing cover). I’m sorry I was away for so long! Here’s the behind-the-scenes take: in the first half of 2017, I wrote more than 10,000 words for this blog, when what I should have been doing is writing 10,000 words for the third book in the series. Now book three has almost reached its final copyedit, and the temptation is to go blog-crazy once again… but the deadline for book four is also just around the corner. Hopefully I’ll be able to strike more of a balance between the two mediums going forward!
Either way – thanks a bunch for stopping by and reading all about The Troll Heart. If you like scary stories about mists and monsters and weird old magics, this might be the book for you. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it!
Today, on August 1, 2017, my first ever novel officially enters the world. It’s really, really, ridiculously exciting. You can find The Vampire Knife in bookshops, and in department stores, and on heaps of websites, too. It’s everywhere!
I wrote The Vampire Knife in the winter of 2015: the longest, coldest winter that Melbourne has experienced in my lifetime. I spun the novel out of a horror story I’d made up to scare my cousin Gypsy the year before, about a girl at a sleepover who hears a strange calling in the middle of the night. As I expanded on that initial idea, I filled the book with as many spooky and terrible things as I could think of: wolves and bears, castles and dungeons, knives and storms and prisoners and blood. Each night I sat at my desk and wrote another thousand words, trying not to feel scared as the wind and rain beat against my bedroom window, typing away until the sun rose once more.
When I was done, I sent the story away to Hardie Grant Egmont (a publishing house in Melbourne that specialises in children’s literature) and they agreed to turn my story into a real book. They found a brilliant artist called Ryan Andrews to illustrate the cover (and to draw some incredible internal pictures too), and they decided to publish the rest of The Witching Hours series as well. Now I get to write five more adventures starring Anna and Max, which is simply the best job I ever could have hoped for.
You can buy The Vampire Knife at bookshops all through Australia; it’s recommend for all brave children aged 8-12. If you have a local bookshop, you should try and buy it there, but otherwise you can order it online from The Little Bookroom, or Booktopia, or Angus & Robertson, or anywhere else you’d care to Google. I really hope you enjoy reading it.
Got any questions? I’d love to hear them! Comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer you. I’m currently hard at work finishing off book 3 in the series, but I’ll be back posting more blogs as soon as I’m done. The Year of the Witch must go on!