The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen by Alan Garner
I always wanted to be a writer, but the book that made me, as a child, want to write for other children in particular was Alan Garner’s first book The Weirdstone Of Brinsingamen. It hasn’t been out of print for a single day since its publication in 1960, which should tell you everything you need to know about how good it is. Colin and Susan stumble across a hidden world of wizards and dwarfs and elves and ancient evil whilst staying in Alderley Edge in Cheshire. The chapters where they have to squeeze their way through old mineshafts to escape from the goblin-like svarts is one of the most terrifying ordeals in any story I’ve ever read. It was the first time I’d ever realised that magic can exist alongside the ordinary and recognisable world if you only know where to look for it. The sequel, The Moon Of Gomrath, is arguably even better. Alan Garner finally concluded the trilogy in 2012 – 52 years after the first one came out - with a brilliant, haunting but unquestionably difficult book, Boneland. Each of his books is radically different, but together form a unique and unified body of work.
The AMULET series by Kazu Kibuishi
I was already grown up before I discovered comic books (I don’t like the term “graphic novels”, it sounds a bit pretentious), and this quickly became one of my favourite series. It begins with The Stonekeeper. Emily and her younger brother Navin move with their mother from the city to the ramshackle home of their great-grandfather who disappeared mysteriously some years ago. (Though now I think of it, is there any other way to disappear than mysteriously?) No sooner have they settled in than their mother is dragged underground by a many-tentacled monster. The children set out to rescue her. The world below is under the iron rule of the Elf King, and is filled with strange caverns, tunnels, structures and cities, and even stranger machines. I’m not interested in robots as a rule, but the relentless inventiveness totally won me over. Like Susan in The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen, Emily wears a magical amulet that everyone wants, though hers also talks to her, offering guidance. The whole world feels fully realised from the start, with an army of quirky characters, and the pace never lets up as the children hurtle from one adventure to another.
THE OBSIDIAN MIRROR by Catherine Fisher.
If anyone set out to create a book filled with all the things that I like best in a story – snow, magic, old houses in the woods, time travel, more snow, more magic - they couldn’t have ticked more boxes than this book does. Jake’s father has mysteriously disappeared, whilst doing experiments with a reclusive former adventurer and explorer called Oberon Venn. Having deliberately got himself expelled from boarding school, Jake makes his way Venn’s home, Wintercombe Abbey, in search of the truth. The house is under siege by a race of cold-hearted elves known as the Shee who hate humans, and there’s a girl called Sarah on a mission of her own having come from.. well, it’s probably best not to give any spoilers away for those who haven’t read it yet. It’s the first of a fast-paced, incessantly inventive quartet known as The Chronoptika, but this one remains my absolute favourite. I’ve loved Catherine Fisher’s writing since reading her 1990 debut novel, The Conjurer’s Game, which also features enough snow and magic to satisfy even me. Her poetry is astonishing too.
IAN MARK is an author and part-time monster hunter living in Northern Ireland with his family and an indeterminate amount of cats. With his partner, he has written adult thrillers under the pen name Ingrid Black. Monster Hunting for Beginners is his middle grade debut.
Monster Hunting For Beginners by Ian Mark, illustrated by Louis Ghibault, is published by Farshore Books, price £12.99.