With Halloween approaching, I thought I would share ten of my favourite scary reads. From dancing skeletons falling apart to an unseen ‘monster’ who imprisons random people in the dark, the following books have truly terrified me at various points in my life. I dare you to try reading one by candlelight!
Funnybones by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
This could be the first ‘scary’ book I read as a child, and is a book I simply still love to read. Two pretty useless skeletons attempt to scare their neighbours but end up falling apart and trying to put themselves back together again. Now, how did the song go…
The Witches by Roald Dahl
A classic Dahl tale that still terrifies me to this day. Set in a world where child-hating evil witches secretly exist, a young boy stumbles across their AGM in Bournemouth. Contains some very useful tips on how to spot a witch and the wonderful fact that to a witch a child smells of dog’s droppings. Nice!
Sawbones by Catherine Johnson
Sawbones is a wild romp through eighteenth century London that takes in grave-robbing, murder, anatomy, dissection and magic. Two fantastic young characters, Ezra and Loveday, set out to find a shadowy murderer who is leaving a trail of bodies across London in a search for lost treasure, and a member of royalty. Warning – Sawbones might not be suitable for those with a weak stomach!
Night Shift by Stephen King
Night Shift is the first collection of short stories by Stephen King, and what a collection of gruesome, terrifying tales it is. I can remember re-reading the stories repeatedly at secondary school, and then hunting down the film adaptations (most of the stories were adapted into terrible movies or TV films). My favourites from the collection were ‘The Mangler’ and ‘Trucks’.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
The Lie Tree has everything I look for in a scary story; a remote island, unwelcoming locals, terrible weather, Victorian death customs, weird photography of dead people and a tree that feeds off whispered lies. With an intriguing plot and a collection of vile characters it was a worthy winner of the Costa book prize. A new edition, illustrated by Chris Riddell, is out soon!
Jekyll’s Mirror by William Hussey
When a schoolboy is invited by his English teacher to take part in a social network experiment he soon realises that he is being used by an evil supernatural mastermind. The other participants in the experiment do not see the danger, and soon their inner demons are unleashed with catastrophic results. Some of the scenes in Jekyll’s Mirror are truly chilling and pack a real horror punch – an episode set in a roadside cafe is still giving me nightmares six months after finishing the book!
The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley
To be honest, this list could have been compiled by listing only books written by Chris Priestly. He is one of my favourite authors, and probably the best horror writer currently with us. I have picked The Dead Winter simply because it was the one I read most recently. A chilling tale featuring an orphan sent to live in an isolated house, and the secrets he unearths there. Brilliantly spooky – try reading alone by candlelight if you dare…
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Coraline freaked me out. Repeatedly. Surely every parent knows that if you leave your daughter to amuse herself in your new home, you must be prepared for her to travel through a portal to another world where a version of you will try to replace her eyes with buttons. The film adaption also freaked me out. As did the graphic novel version. I have just freaked myself out again by writing this. Neil Gaiman has a lot to answer for.
When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs
When the Wind Blows is a graphic novel by British artist Raymond Briggs – the genius behind the Snowman and Fungus the Bogeyman (which nearly made this list!). The book illustrates how a retired couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs, prepare for a nuclear attack on Britain by the Soviet Union during the cold war. Will Government advice on protecting your home from the blast be enough to save Jim and Hilda?
The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks
With no ghouls or supernatural events, The Bunker Diary is not a traditional Halloween story. It does, however, have a terrible unseen ‘man upstairs’ who kidnaps a group of people and imprisons them in his underground bunker. The truly horrific plot unfolds through the teenage diary of one of the captives which filled me with dread as I reached the final pages.