Berlie on Lost Lad Hill
Q: Was there any particular thing that sparked your imagination for The Haunted Hills?
The landscape around Derwent Edge. The rock formations up there are incredible – wild, strange – and spooky! And when you reach the end of the Edge, you come to Lost Lad Hillend! I first found it about 30 years ago. I researched Lost Lad, and have been haunted by thoughts of him fever since.
Q: How long did it take you to write it?
About three and a half years. I thought I was going to write a series of short stories about local hauntings. I wrote the first story, The Lost Lad, and then became distracted by ideas of loss and grief, and I went to Hope Valley College to talk to some Year 8 boys. We discussed friendship, loss and grief. I worked on a book about a boy recovering near Derwent Edge from a tragic event, and wove my Lost Lad story into it, and then I rewrote the whole thing, changing the structure completely!
Q: There often seems a spooky side to the Peak District in your stories. Are you trying to scare visitors away?
I think it would be more likely to encourage visitors! My novel Deep Secret certainly reflects the story of the drowned villages, which is very poignant; visitors to Derwent Valley are struck by its beauty but also by the lingering memory – almost folk memory by now – of the abandoned homes under the water. And Blue John, my invented legend for younger readers, is set in the dark, echoey caverns which have their own spookiness!
Q: Are books where you learn something or where there is a moral more interesting to you than ones that just entertain? Is it something you consciously write?
As a reader, I will nearly always choose a ‘meaty’ book over a slight one, though there is plenty of scope for both on everyone’s reading list. And when I have a story to tell, it’s because I find the idea fascinating and want to research the facts or the geography or history, to make the whole thing authentic. I don’t think I really consciously look for a moral though. The main thing is to make the story work and yes, to hope the reader will like it!
Q: Do you have young people who you test your drafts on? Do they tell you when something is not good?
I used to do that. With Spellhorn, Street Child and Tough Luck I would take drafts into the classroom and talk them through with children, over a period of weeks. It was easier to do that in those days. Now, if I want to think about a particular issue or way of life that affects the young readers that the story is intended for, I try to find a willing school where I can spend an hour or so with a group and chat to them about their experience. This was how I worked on Dear Nobody, Jeannie of White Peak Farm and, very recently, The Haunted Hills.
Q: Do you get better at writing as you get older?
I wish I could tell! It’s certainly much, much harder to please myself, that’s for sure!