The town of Eerie-on-Sea is a wonderfully edgy place, strange, gothic and inhabited by some singular people. The adventures of resident Lost and Founder of the town’s Grand Nautilus Hotel, Herbert Lemon, and his friend Violet, as told by Thomas Taylor, are equally unique and totally enthralling to readers. The series consists of Malamander, Gargantis and Shadowghast with Festergrimm just out. Author Thomas Taylor answered our questions about the series.
Festergrimm is the fourth Eerie-on-Sea mystery. Please tell us where the idea for the series came from, and what the inspiration was for this story in particular.
I was inspired to create the strange little seaside town of Eerie-on-Sea after my own experiences living on the coast. There is something inherently eerie about the sight of summer attractions and ice cream kiosks boarded up for the winter, and of tourist places once the tourists are gone. Add in a cast of characterful ‘all-year-round’ locals, and some suitably dismal weather, and you have the perfect setting for mystery stories.
In Festergrimm, I am finally dealing with that cliché of the seaside town: the waxwork museum. Festergrimm’s Eerie Waxworks also doubles up as a ghost train, and so gives me the chance to expose Herbie and Violet to a gruesome new adventure, as well as explore the clockwork theme that has been growing in the series. And resolve one of the ongoing series mysteries too.
Did you always envisage this would be a five book series? How much of the story had you planned out and how much has grown from the characters?
When I was writing Malamander, I soon realised that there was more material in Eerie-on-Sea than could be covered in just one book. Or even three! With ongoing mysteries over Herbie Lemon’s origins, the whereabouts of Violet Parma’s parents, and the true nature of the eeriest things that happen in Eerie Bay, I quickly hit upon five as the magic number of exciting books I felt confident I could write to cover it all. And five is a great number for a series, giving a clear first and last books to chime against each other and act as brackets for the rest, with a clear middle book too. As for the story, I had a rough outline of what I wanted each book to do in terms of theme and story arc, and a final destination, but I like to leave lots of room for the characters and situations to suggest plot.
What are the pleasures and what are the challenges of writing a series as opposed to a stand alone?
It’s liberating to return to a familiar setting and characters, because it leaves time and head space to build on what has gone before, without having to lay new foundations. It also allows me to enjoy plotting each story, knowing that I have familiar character and location points to fall back on or riff off. It can feel like a test in stamina and patience though, especially as it takes such a long time to complete a series, and to be honest, there seems to be a lot of doubt out there, even suspicion, about sequels. But I remember the great joy I found as a child collecting and reading the series that I loved, and it’s a wonderful thing to hear from regular readers who are coming on the whole journey with me.
Do you have a favourite scene in Festergrimm? Can you tell us about it?
Without wanting to be too spoilery (but SPOILERS!), it’s the moment the giant clockwork robot regains its missing part and remembers who it is and what it is for. I’ve had that scene in my mind for years, so it was wonderful to finally get there.
Food plays a special part in the stories. Why do you think food is so important in children’s books?
Well, snacks play an important part of my writing process (sadly for my waistline), as well as featuring large in my memories of reading as a child (I could make a tube of Smarties last for hours). There is a great deal of comfort to be found in the foods we love as treats, of course, as well as in the companionship of sharing with friends. There are some terrifying, even gruesome, things in my books – I don’t shy away from giving children the scares I know they secretly love – but I balance it with the warm friendship between Herbie and Vi, expressed in the yummy things they eat together. Also, I can’t write about the seaside without fish and chips!
Can you tell us anything about book five? Will it be the last adventure for Herbert and Violet or will you find new ways to return to Eerie-on-Sea?
Mermedusa – book 5 – is planned to be the last, at least in the current arc. We reach Midwinter again – the one-year anniversary of Violet’s first arrival in town – and a team of ‘professional’ paranormal investigators and cryptozoologists comes to Eerie-on-Sea, determined to get to the bottom of the famous legend of the Malamander. But what is the ‘Eerie Hum’ they have discovered, in sound waves recorded over the bay? Why does it herald terrifying night-time encounters in the town? And what does it have to do with the local lighthouses?
Herbie and Vi will have to take to the seas again in Jornty Spark, as well as delve deep into the personal history of Sebastian Eels, if they are to uncover once and for all the Deepest Secret of Eerie-on-Sea. They will meet old friends, make some new ones, discover something surprising about a character we think we know, and face a truth neither of them expect as they fight to uncover the meaning of the word ‘MERMEDUSA’.
As for what’s next, I’m eager to write something new, and I’m actively working on a standalone idea. But I do have another Eerie-on-Sea story idea already, so who knows? After all, what really happens in Eerie-on-Sea in the Summer?
Festergrimm and the other books in the Eerie-on-Sea series are published by Walker Books, paperback, £7.99.