|Photo by Callum Skinner|
Q: What inspired you to write The Ash House?
A: To this day, I can’t remember if The Ash House started as a dream or just a strange thought I had.
All I know is one morning I had the image of the house itself in my mind – this place made of ash and smoke, hidden away in the countryside, once loved but now forgotten. I knew some children lived there, but it took me a few years to figure out who they were and why they were there.
In time, I decided I wanted to write a magical, horror-tinged story but with a psychological thriller element. Something that was as much a psychological prison break as a literal one.
It was like the whole cast came into focus from that moment. The two main characters, Dom and Sol, arrived fully formed and I knew I wouldn’t be content until I had put their friendship down on paper.
Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book calls it "bleak, moving, and unsettling." What do you think of that description?
A: It was a lovely review, and I think they got the book pretty spot on. I hope readers are moved by the story, and maybe a little scared in places! While it’s certainly dark, there are moments of light and there’s a close friendship at the heart of the story.
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I always knew the ending in terms of what happened to the characters, right from the beginning. But the final chapter was really tricky – there are lots of different versions buried in the depths of my laptop!
Readers who get that far will understand why. It asks some big questions and it was an important thing to get right. My editors, Barry Cunningham and Rachel Leyshon, and I had a lot of conversations about it, but we got there with it eventually.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I think like most children’s authors, I hope readers will go on to read and enjoy even more books! If my story can be a stepping-stone in someone’s lifetime of reading, I’ll feel very lucky.
But for this story specifically, I suppose that no darkness (whether it’s in our minds or out in the world) is insurmountable if we have someone to face it with. I think that’s what Sol learns in the story.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My next book for children is coming in 2022. I can’t share any details yet, except that I’m super excited about this one. It’s a new world for readers to explore.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The ending of The Ash House leaves a pretty big question for readers to answer, and I love hearing their theories. Readers can send them to me on Twitter or Instagram – both my handles are @AngharadWalker.
Thanks for the interview, Deborah!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb