Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls || Release date: November 7th 2013.
Eleven-year-old Olivia has been in care since she was five, and is just beginning her nineteenth placement. Her new home is a secluded farmhouse, centuries old, where she slowly bonds with her foster family. But the house holds dark secrets. Olivia discovers that it was once a notorious baby farm, where unwanted children were left to die. She becomes convinced that the place is haunted. She is desperate to save her new family from the ghosts. The danger is real - but does it come from the twisted mind of a very disturbed child?
Guest Post: Sally Nicholls on Ghost Stories and Inspiration.
Why do we tell ghost stories? Is it because we still believe in ghosts? Because we like to be scared? Or is sometimes a ghost story the right way to tell another, sadder story? Er … probably not. But that’s what I’m trying to do in my latest novel, Close Your Pretty Eyes.
Close Your Pretty Eyes is about a young girl who has never been able to escape the first five years of her life. Years in which her mother beat her, starved her, locked her in cupboards, and went off for days at a time leaving her to look after her younger siblings. To Olivia, her mother and the other monstrous women in her childhood are still very real presences in her life. She dreams about them. She has vivid flashbacks that take her back to her early childhood. Her ability to feel safe and to form new relationships has been damaged by her early experiences.
When I was reading about post-traumatic stress disorder for this novel, one fact stayed with me. Adults suffering from PTSD become frightened of the thing that hurt them – earthquake, car crash, attack, whatever. Children become frightened of monsters.
Close Your Pretty Eyes is a book about monsters. It’s about the monsters in Olivia’s past and the monster she’s terrified she will become. And there’s a particularly monstrous ghost as well, with a dark purpose of her own.
Olivia’s ghost is one of Victorian England’s most notorious serial killers, the wonderfully scary Amelia Dyer. Amelia Dyer was a baby farmer. She would deliver your baby for you – for an extra fee, she would guarantee that the child would be stillborn. For around £10, she would ‘adopt’ the child, who would be quietly murdered and dropped in the river. And if you weren’t willing to give up the rights to your child, you could pay her a weekly fee to care for it. Infant mortality in 1896 was rife, and if the baby died a few months later, you would be hard-pressed to prove that it had died as a result of neglect. Nobody knows exactly how many people Dyer murdered, or allowed to die, but it is believed to be around four hundred.
Close Your Pretty Eyes is a scary book. Amelia Dyer is a scary ghost, but she isn’t the most frightening monster in the book. In many ways, that’s Olivia herself.
The best stories aren’t about other people. They’re about ourselves.
Thanks to Sally for the great guest post. I first read about Victorian Baby Farms and Amelia Dyer in Mary Hooper's Velvet and I've been on the lookout for another book that deals with the subject, so this one sounds like it'll be right up my street. Close Your Pretty Eyes releases tomorrow. Find out more about Sally and her books by checking out her WEBSITE and following her on TWITTER.