5 Reasons to Set Your Middle Grade Horror Story at Sea

5 Reasons to Set Your Middle Grade Horror Story at Sea

Posted on October 3 by Philippa Dowding in Kids, Recent Releases
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Pinterest

When you write for kids, you can revisit all the exciting (or terrifying) things you did as a child.

I learned to sail as a 10-year-old, and have been lucky enough to sail now and then ever since. I love sailing, and that’s why I set much of the action of my newest book, Blackwells and the Briny Deep (book five in the award-winning Weird Stories Gone Wrong series), on a sailboat.

But there are plenty of good reasons to set a children’s horror story at sea…. 

  1. 1. Novelty. I wanted to share my joy of sailing with young readers, but I also wanted to take advantage of a fairly unique setting and skillset that kids might not have read much about.
  2. 2. Responsibility. Sailing your own boatis great for building self-esteem, maturity, and responsibility. There’s a lot to learn and remember when you sail. In this story, Emma, Jonah, and William Blackwell are all alone and in charge of their sailboat, Peregrine. Despite quarrelling at the beginning of the story, they’re  forced to be mature and work together in order to survive.
  3. 3. Vocabulary. Sailing has its own vocabulary, so I saw it as a great chance for kids to learn. When was the last time you used the word scuppers in casual conversation? In fact, I wrote a glossary of nautical terms at the back of the book. It includes words you really don’t see very often, like ensign, brigantine, flotsam, and Kaboutermanneke. Well, that last one is unlikely perhaps, but not if you’re a Dutch sailor from the 1800s.
  4. 4. SEA TERRORS! Personally, I think some of the most terrifying stories take place on the water. From the legend of the Flying Dutchman to the mystery of the Mary Celeste or the suspense of Jaws, a character is never more vulnerable than when they’re in a small boat on the vast ocean.
    The Blackwell kids face a phantom ship, a terrible storm, and then drift into a fog bank until they eventually run aground — all things that have happened to me at sea (except maybe the phantom ship part). Then they’re separated on an enchanted island, and each Blackwell has a scary adventure. Captain William Blackwell meets the Mermaid Queen, and she doesn’t care much for Captains. Jonah has to outsmart zombie pirates. And Emma stumbles across a graveyard of cursed, shipwrecked figureheads that have come to life. For the record, these are all things that have not happened to me at sea (not yet anyway)!
  5. 5. Because … mermaids. The last reason I set this story at sea? The wonderful series illustrator, Shawna Daigle, asked me to write “a story with mermaids” this time around. How could I refuse!

Stay tuned for Quinn and the Quiet, Quiet, book six in the Weird Stories Gone Wrong series, coming June 2019.

Philippa Dowding

Posted by Dundurn Guest on October 30, 2014
Philippa Dowding photo

Philippa Dowding

Philippa Dowding is an award-winning children’s author, a poet, and a copywriter. Her many literary nominations include the Silver Birch Express, Red Cedar, and Red Maple awards. She lives in Toronto.