Reading Scary Stories with Children

The idea for Cellar Stories, my new publication (NOW AVAILABLE AT INTRODUCTORY OFFER PRICE!!:), came about when my two nephews, aged 8 and 10 at the time came down to stay for Halloween last year.

Jacob, the oldest, likes his horror, and most things, on the mild side, Isaac, the younger, is the daredevil who wants to go on the fastest rides, jump from the highest points and read and watch the most gruesome stuff he can get his hands on.

A couple of days before their arrival I asked them for some prompts for a story.

Isaac went for clown/ horror/ forest/ teenager/ winter/ scary & funny/ a twist/ Halloween with a scare rating of 8

Jacob went for horror/ zombies/ murder/ creepy hotel/ family of four (2 boys, father and mother) with a scare rating of ‘not more than’ 7.

The results were A Winter Circus (a homage to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, I suppose) and A Visit to Uncle Jack’s – a Tales from the Crypt style comic-black-horror. They went down well as we sat in front of a fire and I read them out loud on Halloween 2018.

So well, they asked for more.

So with a few prompts from them and a few ideas of my own, I ended up writing another 11 stories,  as well as rewriting the aforementioned two, to come up with Cellar Stories.

This weekend just gone was a family get-together for my wife’s 50th birthday, and the boys were there: now aged 9 and 11, but still the same in likes and dislikes…They both had the copy of the book I gave them, with the two new stories I’d written based on their new prompts (Isaac going for a very different type of zombie/ violence/ teen/ broken down city/ gang which became the story The Chicken Run, and Jacob going for sci-fi, boy starting school, funny, not too scary which became The Best Days of Your Life).

I wasn’t sure they’d still want to be read a story but come Saturday night they pretty much demanded it.

I explained to them that the stories throughout the book varied in terms of ‘scariness’ from a 0 (not at all scary) to around an 8… Jacob wanted the least scary, Isaac the most…We agreed on The Best Days of Your Life and, my personal favourite of the collection, My Brother Bobby. (which Jacob warned beforehand he probably wouldn’t listen to…)

So how did it go?

The Best Days of Your Life is a good old fashioned bully-gets-his-comeuppance tale. They laughed at all the bits they were supposed to (always a worry for an author), and were invested in the story: both trying to guess the end as we went along. Without giving away too many spoilers I’ll say it was truly satisfying when Jacob couldn’t stop himself shouting out loud “BUT THAT’S GOING TO…” – he was right, and had got the (I like to think culturally educational) clue dropped on early in the story, and applied it one paragraph before it was fully spelt out in the story.  It was also  great to have the questions at the end: not that they didn’t understand it, but the realisation of what the implications were: implications any adult who has read or seen a lot of time travel yarns would recognise early on but, as the book is intended, a fun introduction to some classic themes for kids.

Jacob retreated a bit as we started My Brother Bobby, but was listening every step of the way. I know this because at one point during the diary-style story of an older brother’s experiences of anew baby comes along into the family he shouted in triumph, “I know what’s going to happen! He’s going to…” the HE in the story doesn’t. But it was a good suggestion and an interesting idea. So good, I may have to give him co-author credit if I ever get round to stealing it properly. It was great to have questions asked throughout the story – questions that would be answered in a paragraph’s time. Questions that showed they were getting what I was trying to do with it. Where they thought something didn’t make sense for a sentence and then in the next sentence let out an audible “Ooooh…” (Mum was sitting on the bed listening too, Dad was sitting on the sofa nearby: I think she was a little more apprehensive than her children were, and I know Dad got the horror film references I’ve sprinkled around the book for adult readers).

By the end of it, Jacob was on the bed. Isaac was a bit wide-eyed. They said it wasn’t ‘too frightening’. Jacob said he ‘loved it’ and that it was ‘spooky’, and ‘a bit scary’. Isaac started drawing pictures of some of the things the story described….(Mum said the ideas it put in her head were a bit scarier!) – but each response was exactly what I was hoping for from that one and all the other stories….little in the way of gore, more in the way of ‘thinking horror’. Stories that will work in different ways for adults but will be suitable for children of aged 10 and up.

And at least a couple of them, like My Brother Bobby that may just get the younger reader interested enough to write ‘what happened next’ themselves…

All in all, I couldn’t have got a better audience response and, as I’ll be writing in an article in the next day or so, it was good to see the stories worked in an audible context: because as much fun as it is to read a scary story, it’s always fun to have them read out loud. And without going into spoiler details, the looks on their faces when I read out loud the words,

“It’s easier…” 

was a sight to behold.

If you’re interested in reading one of the stories from the collection for free you can read The Chicken Run by clicking on the link.

If you’d like to read the other tales in Cellar Stories – either yourself or with your younger reader of choice, it’s available now at a special pre-Halloween price of £1.99 in Kindle, (and if you have Kindle Unlimited you can download it for free.) or in Paperback – delivery free if you have Amazon Prime and in 24 hours for the introductory price of just £6.99.

And of course, you can see the adult-based horror and crime books I’ve written over on my full author page at Amazon. 



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