Caroline Busher’s debut novel is an intricate story of the circus, ghosts, magic and salvation. Caroline will read from her book and help children create their own creepy story in The Ghosts of Magnificent Children’s Creepy Tales and Haunted Houses. We spoke to her about darkness and poverty in her novel, and her affinity with Ireland and its storytelling.
Q. You make a contrast in your book between the rich and the poor, in both England and Ireland. Given that part of the book is set during the Irish Famine, it is particularly striking to read about the opening of a new department store, Brown Thomas, in Dublin. How did this stark inequality fuel your writing?
The stark contradictions in the Victorian Era fascinate me in particular, the inequality between the rich and the poor. I am interested in the impact that this inequality had on the lives of children. Victorian morality was a smokescreen, while privileged members of society enjoyed great wealth, the poorest and most vulnerable members of society experienced severe poverty. It was striking that Brown Thomas opened its doors for the first time in 1848 during “The Great Famine.”
Q. Some elements of your book The Ghosts of Magnificent Children are quite dark and frightening – did you have to fight to include certain passages? Did you worry that some parts might be too dark?
The book is set in the Victorian Era, it is best described as a highly imaginative gothic ghost story, and like all good ghost-stories there are parts that will haunt you and send a shiver down your spine. I never worried that it was too dark as it always remains hopeful. There are ghosts, a haunted house, a traveling circus, which is run by a wicked man called Badblood, and four children with magical abilities who discover a fate far worse than death. Eoin Colfer describes “The Ghosts of Magnificent Children” (Poolbeg Press) as having “An excellent and original voice with shades of Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket.”
Q. You were brought up in the UK but seem to have a real affinity with Ireland – do you think that the Irish love of storytelling and in particular ghost stories, such as the banshee, might have influenced this book?
Ireland has a strong literary tradition, which is deeply rooted in storytelling. Irish folklore and ghost stories intrigue me, the dark undercurrent that infiltrates the seemingly simple narrative make them timeless. I studied folklore and fairy-tales when I was completing my MA in Creative Writing (UCD) and this has had a strong influence on my work.
Q. What have you read lately that gave you a fright?
I recently read a book called “Strange Star” by Emma Carroll. It is a set in Switzerland in 1816. On a stormy summer night, Lord Byron and his guests are gathered around the fire telling ghost stories to freeze the blood when there is a frantic knocking at the front door. A girl is there and she claims that her sister was snatched from England by a woman called Mary Shelley. This is a chilling tale for anyone who adores ghost stories.