London, Orion, 2012, 320p
Last week, I had the pleasure of escaping to rural Somerset to attend a creative writing residential with the next generation of writers, through the charity First Story. Words cannot describe how incredible the week was.
I also had the pleasure of meeting a group of very talented and entertaining authors and poets, including Mr James Dawson, author of supernatural YA novel, Hollow Pike. This is a novel about friendship, romance and witches.
When Lis London starts a new school, she finds herself drawn to a group of strange, mysterious students, despite attention from Laura, one of the popular girls. When Laura's body is found in the copse, Lis is wracked with guilt and confusion as she was the last person to see her alive. The copse is haunted by supernatural legends about witches and murder, and Lis struggles to distinguish between reality and mythology.
Drawing on classic and cult favourites (The Crucible and Heathers in particular), it is simultaneously a modern rewriting of the Pendle Witch Trials and a novel about the difficulties of being a teenager in contemporary society. James Dawson truly knows his scary stories, drawing on all the traditional conventions of Gothic fiction, and adding a few creepers of his own.
This novel was terrifyingly gripping. So many contemporary witch stories are over-written tales about teen angst, but this novel is a true credit to young adult fiction. This book isn't about witches so much as about superstition against those who are different. Today, it is so difficult to write a good scary story, as technology rationalises our oldest fears of the unknown. But Hollow Pike haunted me into my dreams, and kept me enticed, always wanting to know what was coming next.
I think the doubling in the story is what makes this novel so brilliant. It is not just a novel about growing up, and it is not just a novel about witches. Dawson grounds the Gothic elements of the supernatural story in elements of reality, hence making it terrifyingly real. Lis is a normal teenager, but the story she inhabits is anything but. Although the modern reader struggles to imagine witches flying on broomsticks, they can definitely relate to the feelings of otherness experienced whilst growing up.
And now, I must go and rewatch Heathers.