A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
The gates to Frost Hollow Hall loomed before us. They were great tall things, the ironwork all twisted leaves and queer-looking flowers. And they were very definitely shut.
Frost Hollow Hall is a thrilling historical fiction debut. Told in Tilly’s unique voice, it is a tale of love and loss, and how forgiveness is the key to recovery. To celebrate the publication of Emma Carroll’s debut novel I’m asking her a few questions about what it was like writing her first novel, what influences her writing and why ghost stories appeal to her.
Rhian: What is the attraction of a ghost story for you as a writer and then as a reader?
Emma: This is the first ghost story I’ve written, but hopefully not the last! It was great fun. It meant putting my characters in scary situations- why would anyone follow footsteps down a dark stairwell in the middle of the night, for goodness sake?- and making sure they experienced everything to the extreme. I’ve always been a fan of ghost stories. I love the sense in them that anything’s possible. They stir up so many emotions- fear, sadness, relief, longing, confusion.
Rhian: Can you list a few of your favourite ghost stories and why they appeal to you/why you admire them?
Emma: ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Not a ghost story as such, but one where a dead person still has huge influence over the lives of the living.
-‘ The Signalman’ by Charles Dickens. A classic tale of ghost as warning, and as a larger metaphor for how we live our lives.
-‘The Open Window’ by Saki. A brilliant twist on how ghosts move among the living.
-‘The Red Room’ by HG Wells. A powerful tale of how infectious fear can be.
-The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. The ghost in this story is out for revenge. She is the only character who enjoys resolution at the end.
-The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Ghostly activity or mental illness? The lines are so blurred in this captivating story, it’s impossible to know who to believe.
Rhian: Have you ever seen a ghost? Do you believe in them?
Emma: Like most people, I love a good ghost story, but I’m also inclined to think ‘ yeah right’ when I see cheesy programmes about ghosts on TV. That said, I do believe ghosts are possible. I’ve never seen a ghost but I have been visited by a dead person in a dream. I was seriously ill at the time, and this person, a colleague, had just died. He sat on my bed and told me I was going to be all right.
Rhian: Would you write another ghost story or are you keen to try a different genre?
Emma: The book I am about to start writing has a ghostly element to it, yes, but the book I’ve just finished doesn’t. I’ve plans to try lots of genres, but I do have a special fondness for ghost stories.
Rhian: P.62/63 The Graveyard scene – was this based on your experience of graveyards and how did you build and develop this scene?
Emma: The beautiful monuments the Victorians built for their dead fascinate me. They say so much about the era and how people grieved. I spent ages pouring over pictures of Highgate Cemetery in particular. Tilly often likens Kit to an angel, so it seemed fitting that his gravestone would be one. And no ghost story is complete without a graveyard scene!
Rhian: I enjoyed your use of language; words such as ‘flip’, ‘lummox’, ‘poxy’ and ‘barmy’ were some of my favourites. How did you approach the use of language bearing in mind your contemporary teenage audience?
Emma: Tilly has a strong voice though is often unable to express it. By using words like ‘flip’ and ‘poxy’ she conveys her strength of feeling. I wanted to use words that felt suitably ‘old-fashioned’ without being completely alien to a modern day reader. I tried to capture the era through language, not just via details and descriptions. The story is set in a fictional Somerset village: ‘lummox’ and ‘in’t’ are egs of local dialect.
Rhian: How did you go about researching the lives of servants in order to create such close attention to detail?
Emma: I’d had a‘thing’ for stories set in the Victorian era since reading ‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters. After reading lots more fiction, I moved on to non-fiction: ‘The Victorian House’ by Judith Flanders, ‘Keeping Their Place’ by Pamela Sandbrook, and ‘The Diaries of Hannah Culwick were all invaluable sources. I also teach Victorian literature as part of A level English, so had researched extensively for my teaching. Any errors were later picked up by my copyeditor.
Rhian: Was it difficult to portray the very real ‘hard times’ that girls such as Tilly lived through with such limited choices as service, the Workhouse or the Mill available to her?
Emma: Yes and no. There were times when I wanted to give Tilly an afternoon on the sofa watching DVDs! But in reality times were that hard. The workhouse was a very real threat. It makes Pa’s leaving and the visit from the landlord all the more terrifying. Yet it also makes Tilly’s motivations stronger; she has to grow up fast. Her limited choices are perhaps why she puts such store by dreams.
Rhian: What made you decide to come up with chapter headings rather than just numbers?
Emma: During my MA, we had to title our work when submitting it for assessment. So very early on parts of the story had lots of mini titles. It also helped when planning and editing to know each chapter at a glance. Dickens used chapter headings in his novels and this probably influenced me too.
Rhian: Which character gave you the most difficulties when writing FHH?
Emma: Tilly’s pa. In early drafts we actually see him disappear from home and he tries to persuade Tilly to go with him. But during the editing process it was decided that Tilly’s relationship with him should be seen through flashbacks instead. The other characters all came surprisingly easily and have altered very little.
Rhian: Did you have other titles or did FHH jump out at you from the beginning?
Emma: In the very early stages it was called ‘Our Beloved Kit’, as per the ring engraving. Then the house became such an important part of the story- almost a character in its own right- that it seemed a better title. Faber loved it, so it stayed.
Rhian: Is there a Frost Hollow Hall out there or another house that influenced your creation?
Emma: Frost Hollow Hall is purely a figment of my imagination, though many old country houses in fiction and fact influenced me. The village of Frostcombe is based on my village, where there is a real Combe Hill and where there used to be a butcher’s shop.
Thank you Emma for taking the time to answer my questions about Frost Hollow Hall.
Happy Book Birthday!
When she isn’t writing, Emma Carroll teaches English part-time at a secondary school in Devon. She has also worked as a news reporter, an avocado picker and the person who punches holes into filofax paper. She recently graduated with distinction from Bath Spa University’s MA in Writing For Young People. ‘Frost Hollow Hall’ is Emma’s debut novel for Faber. Told in the distinctive voice of Tilly Higgins, it was inspired by a winter’s day from Emma’s childhood. Currently, Emma is working on her second novel. It is set in a Victorian circus. In another life she wishes she’d written ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Emma lives in the Somerset hills with her husband and two terriers.
Rhian Tracey was found on the slushpile at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. The slightly quirky title of her first novel ‘When Isla meets Luke meets Isla’ caught the eye of a commissioning editor and 4 book deals followed.
Rhian is now writing as R.M.Ivory (her married name) and has recently finished her 5th novel which is about art, witches, ghosts and a river with a past. She has started on her 6th novel which will be set during World War II and the present day.
Rhian has always wanted to be a writer but was told to get a proper job, so she trained as a teacher. Rhian currently lectures in Creative Writing and Children’s literature but spends as much time as possible on her non-proper job, writing.
Rhian is represented by Kirsty McLachlan of David Godwin Associates.