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An Interview with Phil Hickes

Cover illustration by Keith Robinson

Firstly, a massive congratulations on the (soon to be – out September 17th!) publication of The Haunting of Aveline Jones! Are you able to give readers an idea for what’s in store?

Thank you! The book is about a girl called Aveline and how she becomes embroiled in some seriously spooky events in an eerie coastal town. There are ghosts, of course, scarecrows, storms, creaky houses, a dusty bookshop and sinister things lurking in the shadows. There are also, hopefully, some engaging characters to get to know. I fancy it’s best read by torchlight, underneath the bedclothes, on a wild and windy evening.

What three words would you use to describe The Haunting of Aveline Jones?

Eerie, creepy and intriguing.

What was the original inspiration behind The Haunting of Aveline Jones? Did you undergo much research during your writing process?

The idea came from when I bought a second-hand book and saw the name of the previous owner inside. In a strange way I felt as if I was now connected to them. Who were they? What did they do? What sort of life did they lead? So it went from there and after much head scratching, weary sighs and late nights tippy-tapping away at my keyboard, I ended up with a finished book. The setting was inspired by a coastal town in the Southwest which made a big impression on me. As to research, ever since I can remember I’ve been reading scary books, so in one sense you could say I’ve spent a lifetime preparing to write this!

What was your favourite part about writing The Haunting of Aveline Jones?

There are so many. Writing THE END was certainly a fantastic feeling. Seeing it slowly come to life and begin to feel like a real book was hugely encouraging. But the part I remember most vividly was suddenly realizing the true nature of the scarecrows that feature in the book. It was the missing part of the puzzle and brought the whole story together.

Did you face any particular challenges?

I only loosely plan stories out in advance, which means there are many occasions when I suddenly find myself at a loss as to where to go next. These moments are scary and frustrating. But when you (eventually) navigate your way through them, it’s hugely rewarding and puts a spring in your step for the rest of the day. Also, once this book was accepted for publication, I was fortunate enough to work with two very experienced and brilliant Usborne editors, Rebecca Hill and Stephanie King. I found this hugely rewarding and educational, but also very difficult. Often you have to take apart sections of the book and put them back together without destroying what you already have. It’s like doing Jenga, one wrong move and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

What’s your favourite spooky myth/legend?

They change all the time. Currently, it’s a ghost called The Black Abbott, who’s been seen walking through the graveyard in a village called Prestbury, near Cheltenham. It’s said to be one of the most haunted villages in the UK. My mother lived there for a while and I used to enjoy walking the gloomy, lamplit streets on autumn evenings. There was definitely a chill in the air that had nothing to do with the weather.

Favourite monster/magical being of all time?

Maybe The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Such a dark, sinister figure. And being able to see into your own future, whether good or bad, would be both fascinating and terrifying.

What’s your go to children’s book perfect for Halloween?

I adore Long Lankin by Lyndsey Barraclough.

This is your debut children’s book! What made you want to write a children’s book?

I vividly remember the sheer joy and thrill of reading scary books as a kid. I desperately wanted to try and create something similar for a curious and imaginative young reader. If just one child enjoys huddling in bed, or curling up on a sofa with this book, I’ll be delighted.

Do you have any tips or advice for aspiring children’s writers?

All I know is that I know nothing. That’s someone else’s quote but it applies here. I’m learning every day. So with that caveat in mind, I’d say write something that you personally would love to read. Don’t worry about trends, they change all the time. Be patient. And ignore (as best you can) the nasty voice that lurks in the shadowy corners of your mind and tells you everything you do is rubbish.

What’s next for your writing journey? Will we be seeing more of the brilliant Aveline Jones?

I’m delighted to say that Aveline will be back in 2021 in The Bewitching of Aveline Jones. I don’t want to say too much, but it involves witches, standing stones and is pretty creepy. And there will be a third adventure to come, which is still a work in progress. After that, I have no idea, but I do intend to continue writing, I love it.

This question is about your favourite children’s books. What’s a book you loved as a child, a book you love now, and a book you can’t wait to read?

As a child I loved The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. I know that’s two, but I can’t separate them. A book I love now is The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann. And a book I’m looking forward to reading is The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis, Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis and The Stitchers by Lorien Lawrence. That’s three, I’m sorry, I’m very greedy when it comes to books.

And finally, my favourite question I always love to ask, if you could invite any five people – past or present, real or fictional – to a dinner party, who would you invite and why?

You saved the hardest question until last! I’d invite John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s astrologer, because he’s such a fascinating and mysterious character from history. Peter Cushing would be guest-of-honour as I adore everything about him and would love to hear him regale us in his mellifluous tones. I’d jump at the chance to clink glasses with Shirley Jackson, as a tour de force in the horror genre, and maybe even pick up some writing tips. Morgan le Fay from Arthurian legend would get an invite to add a darker element and maybe teach me some of her spells. And finally, I’d say maybe M R James as one of my favourite ghost story writers. He’d be sure to end the dinner party with a suitably spooky tale as we sat around the fireplace nursing a brandy.

Born in the UK, Phil now lives with his wife in Portland, Oregon.

He graduated with an English Literature degree from Middlesex University, and currently works as an advertising copywriter. He has a passion for horror, ghosts, and all things that go bump in the night, which led him to do an online fiction writing course with the horror author, Jeremy C. Shipp.

His first short story was featured in an adult horror anthology, and he has since had several short stories published in anthologies in the adult genre. He turned his hand to writing middle grade as he wanted to create the same visceral thrill he remembers from reading Alan Garner, Clive King and Roald Dahl. The Haunting of Aveline Jones is his first middle grade novel.

You can follow Phil on Twitter and Instagram @Hickesy.


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