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…

"You could say that if Ursula Le Guin and The Sixth Sense merged then the outcome may be as good as The Spook’s Apprentice. I would heavily recommend The Spook’s Apprentice to young adults looking for a fantastic series. Chilling, memorable, full of wonderful characters and written in a fluid style that makes the narrative accessible to all ages."

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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. As 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.

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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 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…?"

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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 series. The first book was excellent, so too was the second – can Delaney keep it going or will the things begin to tail off? I began to read The Spook’s Secret the very same day that I finished The Spook’s Curse; this is a fine testament to the quality of the series, as I often like to take a break before once again continuing with a series."

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I Am Grimalkin by Joseph Delaney

The Wardstone Chronicles now consists of eight main series books and four companion pieces and the challenge for any author writing a series of this length is to keep the quality of the individual book's high, maintain the interest of the reader and continually develop the characters. And all this Joseph Delaney has done very, very well. In my last review, for The Spook's Destiny, I mentioned that Spook's books are either good, very good or excellent. I found the first five books in the Wardstone Chronicles to be excellent while the three that followed, although still good, didn't quite reach the same heights. I must admit that I had begun to wonder if the series was running out of steam and so it came as a wonderful surprise to find that I Am Grimalkin finds Joseph Delaney back on top form once again.

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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 delightfully dark Wardstone Chronicles continues with the fourth instalment in the series, The Spook’s Battle. 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."

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The Spook's Stories: Witches by Joseph Delaney

This gathering of five short stories is an invaluable addition to The Wardstone Chronicles; much is explained in detail and Delaney gives Spook’s devotees a greater insight into some of his most beloved and intriguing characters.

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The Spook's Blood by Joseph Delaney

It was a joy to once again experience the same reading enjoyment found in the first five books. The book was full of twists and turns, both addictive and thrilling and with as many questions answered as raised it left me greatly looking forward to reading the next instalments and reaching the end of this excellent series. Highly recommended - Delaney back to his best.

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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?

"Many questions are answered in The Spook’s Sacrifice, and some of them are BIG revelations. Expect to be in for a big surprise! Although The Spook’s Sacrifice is not the strongest book in the series, it is essential in regards to plot progression. Spook devotees will thoroughly enjoy this latest addition."

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The Spook's Nightmare by Joseph Delaney

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 Shaman there is little respite from hostility or denizens of the dark. And as Alice dodges the ever-tightening net of the island's witch hunters, a more deadly enemy emerges... Bony Lizzie, freshly-escaped from the Spook's bonds, has grand ambitions: to take for herself the throne of isle. She has harnessed the services of a tunnel-dwelling buggane, an evil creature which thrives on stealing the animas, or life force, from its unsuspecting victims. With the buggane as her secret weapon can she become an all-powerful Witch Queen?

"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."

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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...

"The use of place and local folklore appealed to me most of all, and of course, having such a strong and resourceful heroine. If adventures in a world where black magic is real and nightmares come to life are your thing, then this will suit you well. Be prepared to shiver – and to hanker after the next one."

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The Spook's Tale by Joseph Delaney

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 Spook's Tale is an essential buy, both for the reading pleasure it gives and the money it raises for charity. Go out and buy it today."

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The Spook's Destiny by Joseph Delaney

There are no bad books in the Wardstone Chronicles, they are all either good, very good or excellent. The Spook’s Destiny is one of the good ones, as well-written and as engaging as ever but arguably without that extra sparkle provided by a great plot and great new characters, that lifted The Spook’s Apprentice and The Spook’s Mistake to amongst the very best fantasy books available for children. It was, to put it simply, a fun and satisfying read.

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Slither's Tale by Joseph Delaney

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. ut 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.

"The major problem with Slither's Tale is that readers are getting impatient for the end, they want to find out what becomes of the Spook, Alice and Tom. And although the final confrontation is now finally here many feel that it has been overly long in arriving. It is as if there has been a reluctance to close it out too quickly and the result has been a loss of momentum and the publication of Spook's novels that are, while of a consistently decent standard, inferior to the wonderful novels earlier in the series."

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