DBF21 Authors’ Top Halloween Reads

We’re heading into Halloween weekend, where the spooks, ghouls (and fireworks!) come out to play. Like us, some of you may prefer to stay home and curl up by the hot fire with a great book that chills you to the core, or simply has you feeling a little seasonally spooked. So we’ve compiled a hair-raising list of Halloween reads as inspiration, with the help of some of our authors involved in Dublin Book Festival 2021. 

Here’s what they had to say…

Niall MacMonagle recommends A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion (Faber and Faber)

An exasperated and stressed-out mother of five stops the car in rural Pennsylvania and tells twelve-year-old Ellen to get out. She drives off with the other children. It is getting dark. Ellen, five or six miles from home, resorts to hitching and when a stranger stops to give her a lift everything changes. Set in the 1980s this is an immersive read. The Gallagher children are vividly drawn and Mannion writes a fascinating, absorbing family story with some beautifully evoked scenes. Their dead Irish father is a presence throughout and A Crooked Tree also contains not only secrets but suspense, threat and fear. Ellen’s driver had ‘long white-blonde hair, so long he was sitting on it’. He was creepy looking and when he put his hand on her knee and thigh she pushed open the door and jumped. Nicknamed Barbie Man the novel tells of how he is tracked down and the showdown is both violent and frightening. Perfect Hallowe’en fare.

Hear more from Niall at our live audience event Dublin City Libraries Readers’ Morning on November 13th where he will be in conversation with writers Sarah Winman, Ann Ingle and Luke Cassidy.


Lucy Caldwell recommends The Black Dreams: Strange Stories from Northern Ireland (Blackstaff Press)

It’s a brand-new anthology, just this morning landed on my desk, hot off the press from Blackstaff, so I can’t yet vouch for the contents, but it has me at the title: The Black Dreams: Strange Stories from Northern Ireland, which comes, of course, from Louis MacNeice’s poem “Autobiography” (“When I was five the black dreams came / Nothing after was quite the same”). In his excellent Introduction, editor Reggie Chamberlain-King talks of wanting to find a new way of looking at Northern Irish literature: mapping strange territories of in-between states and unstable realities in a place where “things are not as they seem”. Perfect reading for a season when the veils between places and states are thin.

Hear more from Lucy at our live audience event Play it Forward Launch: with Skein Press and The Stinging Fly on November 14th where she will be in conversation with Cauvery Madhavan, with readings from Gonchigkhand Byambaa, Sara Chudzik, Neo Florence Gilson, Majed Mujed and Sarah Fitzgerald.


James Hudson recommends Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt (Cipher Press)

You have to respect a book that wears its themes on its bloody sleeve. Tell Me I’m Worthless tells you outright that at the rotten core of this haunted house story is fascism, which lives everywhere, from the foundation of your apartment building to the intangible floating around your computer screen. However terrifying it is to read about those concentrations of rot, it’s extremely cathartic to see them unflinchingly confronted. If you want to get unabashedly intense for Halloween, eschewing the comfortably spooky for the downright horrifying, Rumfitt has written the nightmare for you. Alison Rumfitt will join the Small Trans Library to discuss trans horror on November 1st, so you can hear more about this modern gothic masterpiece at: tinyurl.com/STLhorror

Hear more from James at our live audience festival event Your Favourite Trans Writer on November 14th, where he will be moderating a discussion with Irish trans writers Aoife Martin, Kit Fryatt and Fiona Leigh.


Neil Hegarty recommends The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Penguin Classics)

For many readers, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is the ultimate tale of terror. Rapt, we read on – but the true chill comes, perhaps, from the doubts that Jackson instills in her readers’ minds. Is Hill House itself truly a place of horror? – or does this horror and madness lie in the minds and hearts of the people who live there?

Hear more from Neil at our online event Queer Love on November 8th where he and Emma Donoghue will be in conversation with Paul McVeigh.


Muireann Ní Chíobháin recommends Have You Seen The Dublin Vampire by Úna Woods (The O’ Brien Press)

My two year old and I have been enjoying this spooky tale over the last few weeks. It’s the perfect ‘gentle spook’ for a small child to enjoy at Halloween. The smiling ghosts, cheeky vampire and bats and cats in all our favourite Dublin spots is a fun introduction to spookiness on our first proper Halloween. A great Irish read for parents of young kids.

Hear more from Muireann at our online festival event Eoinín on November 13th, a bilingual storytelling session with plenty of room for discussion after.


Sarah Webb recommends Mr Spicebag by Freddie Alexander, illustrated by Helen O’Higgins  (HarperCollins)

Readers of age 9+ will love Mr Spicebag. It starts: ‘George lived in a small town where everyone was obsessed with spice bags. Well nearly everyone.’ and it’s a cracking fantasy adventure novel featuring a ten-year-old boy who has a magical talent for putting spices together to create new spells. When he’s forced to work for the owner of the local chipper, Mr Spicebag, he gets caught up in a plot to take over the world by changing everyone into animals. Funny and creative, with terrific line drawings by Helen O’Higgins, this is a wonderful debut.

Sarah is doing an event with Rathmines library as part of our Schools Programme which is now fully booked out.


So there you have it folks, plenty of great reads to get you in the mood for Halloween, and plenty of great literary events to look forward to over the coming weeks!

Visit our partner The Gutter Bookshop to get stocked up for all your Halloween reading needs this weekend.