“Let’s play the ‘Stick the needle in your eye game!’”
Ginger Nuts of Horror was honoured to interview the fantastic Alex Bell recently ( read our interview here) , which was perfect timing as her latest chiller “Charlotte Says” hit the bookshops in early September. This is a prequel to “Frozen Charlotte” which premiered on the YA horror brand Red Eye a couple of years ago, latterly picking up considerable buzz when it was featured on the ‘WH Smith Zoella Book Club’. You may well have seen it sporting a brand spanking new cover, on high visibility Zoella displays, in many WH Smith shops.
So to prepare you for our wide ranging interview we have with Alex, here’s a double review of both her excellent “Charlotte” novels…
I always get excited when I catch a great teen horror novel as I don’t read too many, but “Frozen Charlotte” really hit the horror hotspot in some style. Alex Bell’s dark and unsettling tale of tiny porcelain dolls, the size of two pence pieces, is an edgy, tension rich read for the age group 10-14, probably girls more than boys. Right from the opening pages it builds into an outstanding page-turner with these evil little creatures whispering from behind a locked glass cabinet and in their words they have the power to kill. Equally demonic, the Charlotte’s have the ability to control and influence others to do their bidding, sneaking around a vast haunted house sowing horrible plans and turning characters against each other.
The novel begins with Sophie and Jay fooling around with a séance app on his phone, when asked who to try to contact from the world of the dead Sophie instinctively calls for her long dead cousin Rebecca who died in a horror accident years earlier. She really, REALLY shouldn’t have… Quickly they realise something is not right and Jay dies in a freak accident that night. This tragic event leads to Sophie visiting her surviving cousins, whom she has not seen for many years, on the isolated and windswept Isle of Skye. Apart from her beautiful cousin Piper, who is very welcoming, everyone else is a bit of an oddball and secrets soon bubble to the surface. Very soon strange things begin to happen and the reader finds themselves knee deep in a terrific ghost story which has a number of entertaining twists and turns.
Loaded with atmosphere, with a superb setting, a huge house converted from Dunvagen School for Girls which was closed in 1910, poor old Sophie is sucked into a mystery which takes her all the way back to 1910. But first she must solve the mystery of what really happened to her dead cousin Rebecca.
Bearing in mind this novel is aimed at kids around 10-14 it has some hair raising scenes, these nasty little dolls, once they escape from their cabinet even blind one of the characters with their “stick a needle in their eye game”. However, some of the nastier scenes are character driven, rather than perpetrated by the dolls. The pace moves fast, the characterisation is strong and the combination of mystery and the supernatural is finely balanced. It’s perfectly pitched at children who like a good mix of horror, thriller and mystery.
Now onto the prequel “Charlotte Says” –
Often I get the feeling that prequels are often either a tad forced or redundant, however, this certainly isn’t the case with “Charlotte Says”. The reader could quite easily read this book before “Frozen Charlotte” as they complement each other perfectly. This new novel provides us with a very convincing backstory on the origins of the Frozen Charlotte dolls and what occurred way back in 1910 in the Dunvagen School for Girls. This is the house where Sophie visits in “Frozen Charlotte” and there are lots of clever cross references between the two books, such as when Sophie discovers an old school photo from 1910 and one of the girls is wearing a blindfold. We find out why…
Seventeen year old Jemima is an engaging and punchy central character, and we pick up the story when she arrives at Dunvagen School for Girls for her new job as Assistant School Mistress. She quickly finds it to be a horrible place with a cruel Headmistress whom she does not get on with and punishes her along with the girls. She is responsible for a large group of little girls aged 7-10 who have either been abandoned by their families, or have no families at all. Strange things begin to happen when she receives a large package in the post containing many tiny porcelain dolls which may be connected with Jemima’s old life before arriving in Skye.
This brings us to the second strand of the story which is told in flashback from the previous year. Jemima is from a family of fake mediums and they made a living pretending to be able to contact the dead. This strand of the story connects to the present when Jemima’s mum marries a man who is mourning the loss of his daughter and has his own dark agenda.
Both story strands are woven together particularly well and Jemima is an engaging character who readers will empathise with strongly, particularly girl readers. The little girls she cares for are sympathetic characters and of course the dolls play an increasingly bigger role as the story develops. There is even a dash of romance thrown in as Jemima reconnects with an old childhood friend who also lives on the island.
Like with “Frozen Charlotte” there are chills all the way as the dolls start to play their horrible games including the “throw the teacher down the stairs game” and Jemima tries to unsolved the mystery which is interconnected to her own past, whilst trying to deal with an increasingly unhinged Headmistress. Writing horror for kids is not easy and both “Charlotte” books hit the nail on the dead, having an excellent balance of fast placed plot, the supernatural, characters you care about, and nasty little dolls that will have your kids looking under their beds at night. It’s easy for adult horror readers to pick holes in horrors aimed at kids, but in the end of the day you need to try and visualise the book through the eyes of a child.
In the time I have been working on the interview I have given “Frozen Charlotte” to my reluctant twelve year old to read, and managing to pull herself away from watching reruns of “Stranger Things” she read the book in two days flat. My daughter is a very fussy reader, so that’s high praise indeed. Both books are highly recommended.