Spooky Season continues with a new title sure to thrill and chill! Check out our guest blog from Ciannon Smart, author of Rayleigh Mann in the Company of Monsters.
Something Spooky this way comes . . .
It might be a relief to learn that I wasn’t always fond of monsters.
When I was a child, there was a wicker washing basket in my room. Waking in the dead of night to use the loo was a traumatic experience in which, convinced this basket contained monsters waiting to eat me, I would announce my intentions to get up at the top of my lungs, waking my parents. I’m not sure where this fear originated from, perhaps movie nights with my big brothers featuring films like Gremlins and Small Soldiers. One brother also passed his Goosebumps books down to me, unbeknownst to our parents I’m sure.
At some point, however, monsters ceased to frighten and became fascinating instead. A family visit to Scotland left me obsessed with trying to spot the Loch Ness Monster. By this time, I’d also discovered The Five Find Outers and Dog mystery books, and fancied myself just as rebellious, and ready to solve the unsolvable. This is also, I think, what I appreciated about monsters: their persistence, trickery, and penchant for colouring entirely outside of the lines. As children we’re taught that there’s a very clear line with right on one side, and wrong on the other; some kids can be wired a little differently, and doing wrong doesn’t necessarily equate to being bad, but rather escaping from the monotony of a prescribed life, in which everyone is swept along by the same current.
Having grown from a kid who was wired a little differently, to an adult who still thinks as laterally, crafting Rayleigh Mann’s story was something of a Doctor Frankenstein-building-his-creature moment; the spine of the narrative is drawn from the two decades I’d lived, often getting in trouble for colouring outside the lines; the fantasy creatures and worlds I consumed in the books and media I read as a child, took the heart of the story; later reads, such as the ghostly Lockwood & Co, or the fantastical Skulduggery Pleasant, took the place of legs, and arms, along with the beautifully dark, creepily atmospheric, Cuckoo Song. The charge that brought life to Rayleigh’s story was created by two words, Scare Duty. I wondered what it would look like if, instead of simply terrifying humans because they were the bad guys, monsters had a greater purpose. It would be a responsibility for them, one tied with their own sense of honour. They scare to save. Some of them, anyway.
My favourite monsters in Rayleigh Mann’s story are, of course, the good guys: an east-end geezer, typical of the region were it not for a large pair of horns curling out of this bald pate; a morose shadow, concealing a heart of gold beneath a rather curmudgeonly persona; a green-fingered troll, with a passion for baking and smashing things, whose creation was entirely influenced by the stories of trolls in Norway; a witch derived from playground legend, Bloody Mary, one as beautiful as she is deadly; and of course, the main Mann himself, Bogey, Supreme Scarer for the entire Confederation of Lightless Places—it had to be him, the universal figure of fear and dread, who, far from simply scaring kids in my book, comes to rely on his very own young son when he ends up in a spot of trouble.
Ultimately, Rayleigh’s quest, the trainers he comes to fill over the course of the story, might be the scariest thing of all: self-belief. In a world that judges by appearance, to be more than imagined, to make him a hero, has been my greatest pleasure. That and, of course, creating the monsters he allies with, and fights against.
This spooky season, along with Rayleigh Mann, don’t scream; you never know what you might wake.
Rayleigh Mann in the Company of Monsters by Ciannon Smart is published by Piccadilly Press.