Blog Hayley Hoskins Guest Blog - The Whisperling
Hello! I'm Hayley Hoskins and I’m thrilled to be involved with Young Writers, thank you so much for inviting me!
About The Whisperling
The year is 1897 and Peggy Devona can speak to ghosts. She hides her gift from those afraid of a girl with such powers, but when her best friend Sally is accused of murdering her rich mistress, Peggy knows only she – a whisperling – can save her. Peggy escapes to her uncle’s psychic emporium in the city, seeking out new ghosts to help her with Sally’s case. Time is running out, and each step towards uncovering the truth also brings Sally one step closer to the gallows…
The Whisperling is my take on gothic girl power, and I've packed it full of friendship, unlikely allies, séances, creepy houses, dastardly villains, ghosts, and above all finding the courage (and the power) in embracing your true self.
Blending The Real & Imagined
Whisperlings – those who can talk to the dead – was a concept I first explored many years ago, in a different book that has not (yet!) been published. The idea stayed with me and eventually I created a whole world around it, setting it in familiar places and with accents I grew up around. Bristol has a big, inclusive, West-Country heart, and in The Whisperling, a secret, supernatural pulse. Imagine being part of that spooky, secret world, where even in the most genteel corners of the city, all is not as it seems…
I wrote the first (terrible!) draft of The Whisperling mainly to distract myself from being on submission with another project. I’ve always loved gothic fiction but TW is the first historical thing I’ve written and I was interested to see how a sparky character like Peggy would ‘pop’ against a rigid, old-fashioned setting. I enjoy blending the real and imagined and the Victorian period and its obsession with death and spiritualism was a gift – from this, the Psychic Emporium, a place of secret potions and mystical artefacts appeared, and from that came the characters of Cecily and Oti, two spellbinding young ‘clairvoyants’ who represent found family, have spectacular wardrobes and add a real sense of fun.
The Power Of What If?
It was always going to be a spooky story - as a child, I was obsessed with weird things that seemed ‘real’ – the Cottingley Fairies, the Enfield Hauntings, the Amityville Horror. Even if roundly disproved, I’d think, yeah, but what if...? I talk about the power of ‘what if’ when I do school visits; it’s a really effective tool for unlocking any sort of story, spooky or otherwise. What if the Loch Ness Monster is real? What if you could read people's minds? What if the costume you wore at Halloween made you become that character for the night? And, of course: what if someone could speak to ghosts and what if that someone was a twelve-year-old girl, born in a time when children should be seen and not heard?
Finding The Feels
I’m no historian and I confess I didn’t realise how long I’d spend googling ‘what did Victorians eat for breakfast’ or ‘how did Victorians deal with periods’ (they simply didn’t have them, as far as I can tell!), but for all my huffing the research helped immensely, especially when it came to finding the feels. Finding the feels can be tricky – readers need to care about characters otherwise, what does it matter what happens to them? Why keep reading?
Fortunately(!), the Victorian era is endlessly giving in respect of awfulness. The treatment of children – poor children, specifically - around that time was appalling. If you weren’t up a chimney you were down a mine or emptying someone else’s bedpan and woe betide you if you got in a pickle with the law. There were over two hundred crimes that could see you executed, no matter what your age. One poor girl was hanged for setting fire to a barn and a newspaper at the time criticised the ‘bad manners of the girl’ for refusing to shake hands with her master at her execution. She was fifteen. Another young girl, Sarah Harriet Thomas, was sent to the gallows in the mid-nineteenth century for the murder of her mistress. Hard labour and detention centres were not unusual punishments for pre-teens.
Righting (Writing?) Wrongs
These stories, and many, many others like them, got me thinking. Did they have anyone to speak for them at their trials? Was anyone on their side? What would’ve happened had they been from wealthy families instead of poor ones? From these stories sprang the character of Sally Hubbard, a young girl from a humble background who is accused of a terrible crime. In Sally, I wanted to give the voiceless a voice, in some small way. The adults, predictably, are no use at all and so Sally’s best friend Peggy, is her only hope. Peggy risks everything – even her own life - to save Sally's neck from the hangman's noose. Will she succeed?
Using the image below, can you write a story in 10 words or less?
I love the séance photograph you have as your writing prompt and can’t wait to read your 10-word stories. Will you blend the real and the imagined? Find the feels? Or scare us silly? Remember…WHAT IF?!Published: Fri 4th Nov 2022