Your latest book ‘Thirteen Chairs’ is a collection of spine-chilling short stories, what inspired you to write this collection?
I have a terrible memory, and it was a while ago now, but I think that what first put the idea of ghost stories into my head was hearing the MR James story A Warning to the Curious read on Radio 4 by Alex Jennings. It’s a wonderful story, with a couple of phrases in it in particular that I found especially delicious, and it made me wonder if I could ever do anything along the same lines. Then once I was thinking about them in general I quite quickly had the beginnings of ideas for a handful of ghost stories of my own and the book gradually grew from there.
Your last book, ‘A Boy and a Bear in a Boat’ won the 2013 Brandford Boase Award, do you feel there are high expectations for ‘Thirteen Chairs’ and did that make it harder to write?
I think maybe my decision to do something so different to A Boy and a Bear in a Boat was something of an effort to sidestep those expectations. I really didn’t want to write either a sequel or anything even slightly in the same vein as my next book, I wanted to write something darker and for a slightly older readership. So the expectations didn’t make Thirteen Chairs harder to write, but having thirteen main characters in it instead of just two certainly did.
R.L Stine said about ‘Thirteen Chairs’: “13 Chairs...eerie 13 ghost stories...13 chills I'll never forget” – which one of the stories is your favourite and why?
I have two favourites, each for a different reason: I like The Patchwork Sailor, because I felt from early on that it was a strong idea for a story and I really worked hard to do justice to it (and I think I succeeded); and I like The Girl in the Red Coat because it was a joy to write in the voice of Amelia, the girl who tells that story in the book.
What, in your opinion, makes a good ghost story?
I think if it can scare you not only as you read it but also set you on edge sometime after you’ve finished it then that’s a pretty good ghost story. My personal taste is for ones that make the reader scare themselves, more through suggestion than through any kind of graphic descriptions.
You’re an illustrator as well as an author, so when creating books, what comes first the drawings or the story, or is it a combination of both?
So far, usually, the story comes first. But I do write with half a mind to my later having to draw the illustrations and sometimes deliberately write in something I’ll later enjoy drawing.
Do you have any advice or top tips for budding authors and illustrators?
It’s a cliché because it’s true: practise a lot. And don’t get stuck at the beginning: get to the finish, even if you do it badly at the first attempt; get to the end and then go back and rework it and improve it.
What are your future literary ambitions?
To tell stories that aren’t quite like anything that anyone else does.
Where can fans of you and your work find out more?
I’m a bit slack with my online stuff these days, I’m afraid. My website is awaiting a major overhaul and I don’t really bother with Facebook much. But I do have an infrequently updated blog atwww.daveshelton.blogspot.com and I knock about on Twitter quite a bit (some might say too much) where I’m @daveshelton.