The 'Ghost World' Books

The Ghost World Books


   The 'Ghost World' books are:

                 'The Ghost Drum'

                  'Ghost Song',

                  'Ghost Dance' and

                  'Ghost Spell.'


    To read the first chapter of 'The Ghost Drum', click here


          THE GHOST DRUM was the book that won me the Carnegie Medal, back in 1987.

          Where did the idea come from? Well, C S Lewis once said that all a writer's ideas come from, ‘the permanent furniture' of their minds.


          I had always loved myth, legend and folk-lore, and by the time I wrote GHOST DRUM, I’d been reading and researching these ancient stories for 22 years. The rooms of my mind were fully furnished by them.

          But the story was started by a picture suddenly arriving in my head. It was as if I’d been handed a postcard and ordered: ‘Write about this.’ The picture showed one of those onion-domed Russian buildings, with jewel colours, set against a black, star-filled sky, and an unbroken white snowfield.


        I'd got it fixed in my head that the buildings with onion domes were palaces.  By the time I remembered that they are actually churches, it was too late: it had become too fixed in my imagination.  I decided to let imagination win - after all, I wasn't writing history or a travelogue.

          I knew that, imprisoned in one of the domes was someone who had been born in that room, and had never left it.

          I knew that the setting had to be a sort of Czarist-Russia that never was, and that there were to be witches, and bears, and endless cold and night. I had a feeling that the story should be, at once, beautiful and cruel, beautiful and frightening.


Vasilia The Beautiful, Bilibin
Vasilia The Beautiful, Bilibin

          Many images and ideas from folk-lore found their way into the book. The Russian witch, Baba Yaga, lives in a house that stands on a single chicken-leg – but I wanted my witches to be able to travel in their houses, and a house with only one leg would have to hop for miles! And everything would fall off the shelves. So I gave my witch’s house two legs. In this Bilibin illustration, from ‘Vasilia the Beautiful’, you can see Baba Yaga’s house in the background.  Its single chicken leg is just above her outstretched arm.

'Sir Cat the Wise' by Bilibin
'Sir Cat the Wise' by Bilibin


          Other images, such as the Gate that opens into the Ghost World, Iron Wood, and the Great Ash, come from Norse Myth.

         Somewhere along the way I adopted the ‘cat who walks round the tree’ – a traditional Russian way of starting a story – because he allowed me to recap past events, and foreshadow those still to come.

          As I wrote I listened to Russian music, and looked at Russian folk-art and beautiful Bilibin illustrations, like this one of 'Sir Cat the Wise' walking round the tree as he tells his tale.

          It took me three years to write – and rewrite – and rewrite. Something like thirteen rewrites, from beginning to end, and I lost count of how many times I rewrote the ending.

           When I finally finished it, I was so exhausted with it, and so bored, I couldn’t find any perspective on it. Was it frightening? Was it beautiful? It seemed dull to me. So I put it away in a drawer and forgot it for a few months.

          Then I happened across it while searching for something else, and decided to have a quick look through, to see if there was anything that could be salvaged from it. I ended by reading it from start to finish, on a high, because it seemed to me the best thing ever written since writing had been invented – simply because I was looking at it with fresh eyes.

          I promptly rewrote it once more and then, because I was becoming bored with it again, submitted it to my then publisher, Faber, and my then editor, the wonderful Phyllis Hunt. Acceptance of it was almost by return of post – and before it was published, it had been sold to America too.

          To read the first chapter of 'The Ghost Drum', click here