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An interview with Joseph Delaney

The Wardstone Chronicles began in 2004 with the publication of The Spook's Apprentice. In 2008 the fifth book in the series, The Spook's Mistake, was released to further complement a series that is without doubt the best ongoing fantasy series for young adults. Set in locations based on real places in Lancashire, the inspiration behind the stories often comes from local ghost stories and legends. The Spook's Apprentice, The Spook's Curse and The Spook's Secret have all been short listed for the Lancashire children's Book for the Year Award. The Spook's Apprentice is the winner of both the Sefton Book Award and the Hampshire Book Award.

Joseph Delaney kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in December 2008.

Your first novel was written under the pen name JK Haderack. Was this a reference to the Kwisatz Haderach from Frank Herbert's Dune trilogy?

Joseph Delaney: Yes, very much so. I thought a character who could see into the future was an excellent name for a science fiction and/or fantasy author. Free will versus predestination are themes which figure in 'The Wardstone Chronicles'. Some witches think they can scry the future but the Spook doesn't and believes he can make choices and change things. Lord of the Rings is my all-time favourite read but the Dune Series comes a very close second. Those books inspired me.

Did writing The Wardstone Chronicles in the first person ever become constrictive? Did you ever yearn for the greater freedom that the third person perspective could offer?

Joseph Delaney: No, because I felt very comfortable writing the story from Tom Ward's point of view. Only in the most recent book, 'The Spook's Sacrifice', which I've just completed, has that been a slight problem. It has a larger cast of characters and more action than previous books; it would have been easier to tell the story from multiple perspectives. But I always seem to do things the hard way!

The character of Alice feels like she could turn bad at any moment, you are never quite sure which way she will turn. Was writing her character a similar experience for you or have you always know where she is heading?

Yes, it was a similar experience particularly because I don't do detailed plots in advance and I'm always open to flashes of inspiration and am prepared to change things at short notice. When I tell people that I don't know how the series will end they sometimes don't believe me - but it is true! I like Alice and hope that I can save her - but you never know. Anything could happen!

The stories have a distinct northern feel to them, was this something you were conscious of and were you ever worried about ostracising some readers?

Joseph Delaney: They are set in the north, in Lancashire where I live and it was the choice I made from the start. I never really gave much thought to the fact that it might ostracise some readers because the County is a fantasy world, and readers of fantasy are usually robust and able to enter imaginatively into such creations. I was aware however of the pitfall of using strong dialect which really can put people off and make a book difficult to read. So there are a few colloquialisms and light touches but I tried to make the books accessible.

Would you personally have made a good Spook's Apprentice?

Joseph Delaney: Not at all! I hate total darkness and if I wake up in the night like to be able to just about see my hand in front of my face. I don't think I would have survived the night in the haunted house in 'The Spook's Apprentice'!

The following is taken from The Spook's Curse: "The Spook paused and sighed deeply. 'I don't believe in the God they preach about in church,' he said. 'I don't believe in an old man with a white beard. But there's something watching what we do, and if you live your life right, in your hour of need it'll stand at your side and lend you its strength. That's what I believe. Well, come on, lad. We've dawdled here long enough and had best be on our way.'"

This paragraph really stood out for me because it is such a beautiful way of describing personal and non-organised faith. As the reader I felt that this was not only the Spook's belief but also the authors - would this be accurate?

Joseph Delaney: Yes you are perfectly correct. The Spook embodies my own beliefs regarding religion. I believe in respecting all religions and being tolerant. But I also think non-organised faith is a valid option for anyone to pursue.

Are you the seventh son of a seventh son?

Joseph Delaney: No! I was the first of four children but I do now have seven grandchildren.

Is there any up to date news on the proposed film adaptation of The Spook's Apprentice?

Joseph Delaney: The latest news: the film is still on schedule for production in 2009; Kevin Lima is working on the script and it is progressing well; they are likely to use unknown or relatively unknown child actors for Tom and Alice; they are searching for a big star to play the Spook. Although they won't say who they are approaching for the role, my own personal favourites are either Sean Bean or Gary Oldman. Wish I knew more!

Our Joseph Delaney reviews

The Spook's Apprentice by Joseph Delaney

Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son and has been apprenticed to the local Spook. The job is hard, the spook is distant and many apprentices have failed before him. Somehow Thomas must learn how to exorcise ghosts, contain witches and bind boggarts. But when he is tricked into freeing Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the Country, the horror begins…The Spook’s Apprentice is part ghost story; part coming of age story. We are introduced to Thomas J. Ward, the apprentice of the book’s title, at a time when he has reached the age where he must l [...]

10.0/10

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The Spook's Mistake by Joseph Delaney

The Spook’s Mistake is the fifth book in The Wardstone Chronicles, a series of novels for young-adults written by Joseph Delaney.SynopsisAs danger increases in the Country, Tom is sent north by his master to be trained by Bill Arkwright, another spook. Arkwright lives in a haunted mill on the edge if a treacherous marsh and his training methods are harsh. He has toughened up many previous apprentices though and now must do the same for Tom.But when the Fiend sends his own daughter, a powerful water witch, to destroy Tom, Arkwright makes an error of judgeme [...]

9.5/10

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The Spook's Curse by Joseph Delaney

The Spook and his apprentice, Thomas Ward, have travelled to Priestown to defeat the Bane, a powerful, evil creature that lurks in the catacombs of the cathedral and is corrupting the County. As Thomas and his master prepare to battle with the Bane, they soon realize it isn’t their only enemy in Priestown. The Quisitor has arrived, searching the County for those who meddle in the dark – witches, warlocks and spooks! Can Thomas and his master survive the horror that follows…?The Spook’s Curse is the second book in Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone [...]

9.0/10

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The Spook's Secret by Joseph Delaney

As the weather gets colder, the Spook announces that it’s time to move to his winter house on Anglezarke – a bleak, forbidding place, close to the dark with a deep cellar full of bound witches and boggarts. Once there, Tom finds himself discovering more and more about his master’s past and the identity of a mysterious visitor who, it seems, is the Spook’s sworn enemy. Is the Spook’s past catching up with him? And how much danger will Tom be in if his master’s secrets are revealed?The third book in Joseph Delaney’s Spook’s serie [...]

9.0/10

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I Am Grimalkin by Joseph Delaney

'I am Grimalkin, and I have already chosen those I will kill…'Grimalkin has made it her lifetime ambition to destroy the Fiend, avenging the brutal murder of her son.Having grudgingly joined forces with the Spook and his apprentice, Tom, and assisted them in the binding of the Fiend, she is now on the run. And her mission is deadly.She has to help them bind the Fiend's spirit for ever no matter who - or what - comes after it…The Wardstone Chronicles now consists of eight main series books and four companion pieces and the challenge for a [...]

9.0/10

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The Spook's Battle by Joseph Delaney

In Pendle the witches are rising and the three most powerful witch clans are rumoured to be uniting in order to conjure an unimaginable evil. Together they will be capable of raising the dark made flesh – the Devil himself. Tom and the Spook need to set off for Pendle to avert the unthinkable. Before they go, the Spook tells Tom to journey home and collect the trunks Mam left behind for him. But what dark family secrets are contained in the trunks? And will they place Tom’s family in even greater danger or provide the help Tom and his master need in Pendle?The de [...]

9.0/10

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The Spook's Stories: Witches by Joseph Delaney

SynopsisFor years, the local Spook has been keeping the County safe from ghosts and boggarts, but more especially from witches. The Spook’s Stories: Witches features stories from the Spook’s own collection; the stories include child-eating witches, witch assassins, Celtic witches, dead witches and witches so beautiful they can break a man’s heart… these are certainly not to be read after dark! ReviewThis gathering of five short stories is an invaluable addition to The Wardstone Chronicles; much is explained in [...]

9.0/10

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The Spook's Blood by Joseph Delaney

The Spook’s Blood is the tenth book in Joseph Delaney’s long-running Wardstone Chronicles (I think the series will run to thirteen, which seems an appropriate number) and it continues the return to form first seen in book nine, I Am Grimalkin. I am a Spooks fan and if ever I am asked to recommend great fantasy books for older children then I will immediately mention Joseph Delaney's work, but this recommendation has recently begun to feature this caveat - the first five books are amazing, the very best you'll find for the 9-12 age group, but books six through to eight fa [...]

9.0/10

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The Spook's Sacrifice by Joseph Delaney

As the Spook’s apprentice, Tom’s first duty is to protect the County from the dark. But now Mam needs his help in her homeland of Greece. One of the most dangerous of the Old Gods, the Ordeen, is about to return there, bringing slaughter and devastation. Man has summoned a powerful group to her side, but among them are Tom’s old enemies, the Pendle witches. Can Tom go against all the Spook has taught him and ally himself with the witches? What is the secret that Mam is keeping from him? And what sacrifices must be made in the battle against the dark? [...]

8.5/10

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The Spook's Nightmare by Joseph Delaney

Joseph Delaney's The Wardstone Chronicles are a series of books that have maintained the very highest standard for nearly a decade. 2010 sees the publication of The Spook's Nightmare, the seventh instalment, and it is a worthy addition to what is arguably the best ongoing fantasy series accessible to older children.The Spook, Tom and Alice return from Greece to find the County under siege - and the Spook's home is burnt to the ground. With his precious library of knowledge destroyed, they seek refuge on the nearby island of Mona. But with Mona in the thrall of a twisted S [...]

8.7/10

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Spooks: Alice by Joseph Delaney

A lot of dark stuff happened when I was young that I’ve never even told to my dearest friend, Tom Ward. Dark and scary things I hoped I had left behind forever...Over the years, Alice has fought evil side by side with the Spook and his apprentice, Thomas Ward. But now Alice is alone – in the realm of the dark. And the creatures she has helped to banish there now have the chance to take their revenge. Alice must seek the final weapon needed to destroy the Fiend for good. If she fails, the world will fall into despair and darkness. If she succeeds, it means facing [...]

8.8/10

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The Spook's Tale by Joseph Delaney

Dare you face the dark?'How would you like to train as a spook?I need a brave lad for my line of work…'The Spook keeps the County safe from creatures of the dark; things that suck your blood and snatch your bones and squeeze the breath from your body. When young John Gregory stumbles into the trap set by a powerful witch, it seems he may possess some spook's skill of his own. But is he ready to face the dark or will his first fight be his last?The Wardstone Chronicles are a wonderful series of young-ad [...]

8.4/10

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The Spook's Destiny by Joseph Delaney

The Spook, Tom and Alice travel to Ireland, fleeing from the war in the County. There, Tom must tackle a group of evil mages who are desperate to rid their land of the Spook and his apprentice, and to increase their own dark powers. His dangerous mission against the mages leads Tom to the Destiny Blade - a sword with a dark side, and a thirst for blood… Will this new weapon give him a fighting chance against the Fiend? If he's to survive, he'll need training, and only one person can help - Grimalkin, the witch assassin. The dark against the dark…The release of a [...]

8.0/10

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Slither's Tale by Joseph Delaney

Slither's Tale is the eleventh novel of Joseph Delaney's Wardstone Chronicles, first published in April 2013.Slither is a haizda mage who preys upon humans, drinking their blood to feed his dark urges. So when a local farmer dies, it's only natural that Slither should want to feast on his lovely daughters.But then the farmer offers him a deal, and extracts from Slither a promise that will take him on a journey to the City of the Petrified Tree, to a fallen star-stone that holds great power, and straight into the path of Grimalkin, the Witch Assassin.Although [...]

6.0/10

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