The House on the Edge is one of my favourite reads of 2021 so far. I count myself extremely lucky to have read an early copy of the book – who could resist after reading the spine-tingling synopsis! From the moment it arrived through the letterbox, the spooky seaside setting spoke to me from the To Be Read Pile and once I started reading, there was no stopping me!
Before I share my review, we chat to the lovely Alex about ghost stories, seaside locations, smugglers and shipwrecks:
The seaside setting in The House on the Edge feels so real; the deserted cliff top paths, the pill box and The Lookout (the house) teetering on the Edge of coastal erosion. Was there a particular location that inspired the book and do you have a favourite seaside place?
Thank you! Cliff top paths have always been a joy of mine. When I was writing the book, I forced myself to do a coastal walk all alone for four days, right across Dorset and Devon. I passed many pill boxes, shipwreck sites and the effects of coastal erosion too – so this was an incredible experience for inspiring the book’s location, for sights as well as a sense of isolation.
Whitby’s clifftops also inspired me through childhood and beyond, but if we’re talking bucket and spade then we’re talking Morecambe! My dad’s side are from Lancashire and my love for candyfloss and a dodgem was born there…!
The House on the Edge delivers suspense, mystery and spookiness in spades and The Lookout is especially spine tingling. Where’s the spookiest place you’ve ever been? Have you had any supernatural experiences yourself?
Staying with Lancashire (and why wouldn’t you?!), I used to have a thing about witches as a child and Pendle Hill – home of the Pendle Witches – spooked me out in all the good-scary ways.
You really can’t beat a good ghost story – I collect them from everyone I know! My current house, like many in the area, was part of the wool weaving cottage industry, as well as being linked to the local brewery, so it’s got a colourful history. We know many children used to live and work in hard conditions here – we’ve even found tiny thimbles under the floorboards – and we’ve had a number of spooky experiences (that have challenged even the absolute cynic in my family!), including this one …
I was in bed late at night (in the attic) and I heard the footsteps of one of my children coming up the stairs. I waited for Laurie or Mae to appear rubbing their eyes. Nothing. The footsteps continued, then stopped. So I wearily went down to chase said child back into bed … except they were both completely, utterly and deeply … fast asleep… (cue rattling chains, ghostly moans).
Main character Faith is a young-carer in the story. Since her dad disappeared, mum is suffering with crippling depression and rarely gets out of bed. Faith shops, cooks and cares for her younger brother. Why did you decide to include this element of the story and what do you hope young readers will take away from Faith’s character and experiences?
I had a good friend who was a child carer when I was growing up and his story has always stayed with me – most particularly that sense of powerlessness you experience when you’re young, not knowing how to help others, or yourself, at times.
Drawing on additional experiences of grief and loss, I wanted to explore what it feels like for a child when they are isolated, when they have to deal with issues and responsibilities that can set them apart from their peers.
I really hope young readers will be inspired by Faith, Sam and Noah’s resilience and perseverance, even if they sometimes makes the wrong choices – to know that it is possible to grow and use your own strengths. Plus, ultimately, you don’t have to go it alone – that there are kind people out there who want to help; and that sometimes help can come from the most unexpected places and people.
Sam’s character is fascinated by the history of Providence, a galleon that was wrecked on the rocks below The Lookout. Were there any historical events that influenced this element of the story? Did you need to research any details of the plot?
Aye, Aye, Captain (I can only apologise…) – ooh, yes, I love a bit of nautical history. Much fun was had conducting research! I delved into lots of shipwrecks, including the tragic ‘Halsewell’, which crashed into rocks on Dorset’s Peveril Point, and ‘Earl of Abergavenny’, which was wrecked off Weymouth – notably William Wordsworth’s brother was the ship’s captain and lost his life.
I owe a lot to the maritime museums in Liverpool and Greenwich and also the invaluable ‘Shipwreck Treasure Museum’ in Charlestown, Cornwall. I even spent considerable time at my local SS Great Britain in Bristol, to get a feel as a passenger! Plus, I dug deeper into my own nautical history, using old family artefacts (telescope, clock, model ship) within the story.
I also did a lot of exploration into the myths around ‘Wreckers’ and how they would (allegedly!) wilfully entice ships to crash in order to loot them.
Do you have a favourite scene in the book?
I loved writing the scene in the museum, partly because it’s based on my own local museum so I wrote much of it in situ! And partly because I just loved Sam’s passion for history, even when it’s dark and dusty! I also really enjoyed writing the scene where Faith finally goes down into the spooky cellar – my heart was in my mouth!
What were your favourite childhood books and authors?
‘The Faraway Tree’ was the first book I read in full to myself and it made me determined, aged seven, to become a writer (in fact I began my writing career straight after . . . with a very similar plot). Nesbit’s ‘Treasure Seekers’ was another favourite and I related A LOT to ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ . . . From around ten onwards, I becameaddicted to Judy Blume. ‘Are you there, God? It’s me Margaret’ was a game-changer – the way she spoke directly to me (just me!).
And finally, are you working on another book at the moment? Can you give us any hints or teasers about what we can expect next?
I am! I’m very excited by it I have to admit. It’s set in a fictional lakeside village in Cumbria that survives on the tourism created by its mythical freshwater mermaid (the Loch Ness of merfolk!). Another MG mystery/thriller, this one explores destructive friendships, identity, feminism, and the power of pretence – and what can happen when we feel pressured to be something we’re not.
Alex Cotter has worked hard all her life at daydreaming, while making a living from words: from bookselling at W.H.Smith and publicising The Booker Prize to copywriting and teaching creative writing. Alex lives near Bath in an ancient house, with cobwebs, creaky floorboards, one husband, two children, and a revolutionary cat called Trotsky.
The House on the Edge had me gripped from cover to cover. I’m a sucker for an atmospheric seaside read and this had all the eeerie undertones of Aveline Jones, whilst the moody, threatening feel of the cliffs and mum’s battle with mental illness was reminiscent of Otters’ Moon.
Where has Faith’s dad gone?
Why has he left his family living in an old house perched on a crumbling cliff top?
A crack has appeared in the cliff and Faith watches anxiously as it gets bigger and bigger each day…
Her brother is obsessed with the sea ghosts he claims live in the basement, and when he disappears as well, Faith starts to believe in the ghosts too. Can she find her brother and bring her father back before everything she cares about falls into the sea below?
The Lookout has perched precariously on the cliff edge for generations – from it’s high turret west window, a lantern would be lit to warn sailors of the treacherous rocks below. And it’s not the only one teetering on the edge…
13 year old Faith is balancing looking after herself, younger brother Noah and her mum. Since their dad disappeared, mum is suffering with crippling depression and rarely gets out of bed. Faith shops, cooks and generally cares for them all. She’s made herself invisible to others – her old friends have faded away and it’s better that way, no-one asking questions. But the cracks are starting to appear and not just in the eroding cliffs.
When Noah begins drawing disturbing images of sea ghosts at school, teachers begin digging for information about mum. And with dad out of the way, obnoxious Uncle Art barges into the Lookout, searching for treasure allegedly hidden there by long-lost relative and Lantern Keeper Thomas Walker. It looks like Faith won’t be able to keep her secret troubles hidden any longer.
Lost and alone, Faith makes an unlikely friend in Sam, a boy in a blue parka, not much older than her. A loner who spends his days beach-combing and wandering the cliff top paths. Sam is fascinated by the history of Providence, a galleon that was wrecked on the rocks below The Lookout. But when Noah disappears, Faith makes a shocking discovery which forces her to question everything she thought she knew about The Lookout, Thomas Walker, her father and Sam.
The House on the Edge takes cliff-hangers to a whole new level! There are so many twists and turns and suspense, mystery and spookiness delivered in spades. There’s crashing waves, vicious winds, shrieking gulls whirling overhead all whilst floorboards creak and cellar doors inch open…definitely one to set your hairs on edge and have you looking over your shoulder.
The House on the Edge was published by Nosy Crow on the 1st July.
With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me an early copy of this gripping book and inviting me to be part of the blog tour.