I never slept as a child. Never ever. If I was lucky, I would scratch out two hours of sleep just before school, when it was light and the monsters had retreated from the cupboard and behind the curtains, but mostly I lay, alert and unblinking, counting the minutes til daylight. How on earth could other people sleep, I wondered as I watched a suspicious-looking crack in the wall. Were they insane?
The one good thing about having such a dementedly active imagination was that I wrote a lot of stories, and they were almost exclusively horror stories. There wasn’t a contraband VHS going that revealed anything worse that what I had imagined in one of my dark nights of the soul. Freddy Kruger? LAME. The Exorcist? LOW-FI. The Silence of the Lambs? No, actually that scared the heckins out of me. I should never have watched that.
The teacher’s comments in my Year Five Creative Writing exercise books pretty much sum it up: “Emerald - This was a really nice story about your summer holiday in Cornwall. It’s a shame it is ruined by the murder at the end.” My poor parents.
If I wasn’t writing stories about babies hanging from trees, or old ladies being buried alive, I was reading. My bookshelf was a cornucopia of blissful, gaudy, mid-90s YA literature. Once I had flipped my way through those pastel-coloured treats I hit the hard stuff. It started with Goosebumps. Doesn’t it always? Those acid-green, bubbling covers with titles like Say Cheese and Die! and The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight called to me from across the library. R. L. Stine was my hero.
From then I graduated swiftly to Point Horror, and books by Christopher Pike, in which the horror was more immediate, the villains weren’t cursed masks or evil ventriloquists' dummies, but creepy teachers and murderous boyfriends. They had real blood, and real knives, and sometimes the pretty cheerleaders, well, they just didn’t make it.
Soon it was difficult to tell whether I was reading to distract myself from not sleeping, or if I was not sleeping because I was reading. And if I wasn’t reading then I was frantically scrawling bloodthirsty horror with my apple-scented glitter pen.
I still don’t sleep much, and when I don’t sleep, I write. I feel a little guilty that maybe some night soon, insomniac children like me will be not-sleeping on my account. But not that guilty, because one day they might start writing horror stories of their own, underneath the duvet, with an apple-scented glitter pen.
Shiverton Hall by Emerald Fennell is published by Bloomsbury Children's Books.