There’s a tradition of children being told dark tales, and given an insight into the scarier side of life through our songs, stories and rhymes.
The original versions of the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales were indeed grim. The ugly sisters in Cinderella hacked at their feet to try and make them fit into those precious glass slippers. The evil queen in Snow White was forced to dance in red hot shoes. The stories featured a hefty dose of child abuse, sexism and horror and yet they have become some of our best loved tales – retold over and over to our children even now.
When I was growing up in Derry there was a similar air of the macabre in some of the traditional songs and stories sung and told to children. I remember the words of one song about chopping a child up for firewood, and making gingerbread from their boiled bones.
There is an ominous creature lurking just outside the child’s house, getting ready to snatch their victim and carry them away to a terrible fate ‘over the hill’.
The song that haunted me the most however was a traditional song called ‘Who’s at the Window, Who?’ It’s not a song you’ll find in any song book. Most families have slightly different variations of the words but the jist is always the same. There is an ominous creature lurking just outside the child’s house, getting ready to snatch their victim and carry them away to a terrible fate ‘over the hill’.
When I was a child, it terrified me. It made me afraid to look out of the windows of our house, especially at night when the blackness stared back at me. This was a song which warned about the bogey-man and his presence.
That song has never left me, nor has the fear of the bogey-man. So when it had always been in my mind to weave it into a book at some stage. When I decided I wanted to write a novel with my recurring character journalist Ingrid Devlin at the centre of it, it seemed like the perfect opportunity was presenting itself. Having grown up in Derry, in the heart of a close knit, working class community Ingrid was left forever scarred by the murder of her school-friend Kelly Doherty twenty-five years earlier. She recalls this was the first time, despite the turmoil that existed in Northern Ireland at the time, that she believed that monsters were in fact real. The bogey-man was no longer just the character in a song, but a person who took little girls from the streets and killed them. And in Ask No Questions, Ingrid might just find herself face to face with the man at the window.
Claire Allan is a bestselling author from Derry in Northern Ireland. A former journalist, she has published fifteen novels including USA Today bestsellers Her Name Was Rose and The Liar’s Daughter. Ask No Questions is Claire’s fifth psychological thriller and is published by Avon/ HarperCollins.
You can follow her on Twitter @claireallan