I am delighted to welcome Lois Murphy, author of the award-winning gripping thriller Soon, to discuss the inspiration for her first junior fiction book, You’ve Let Them In. Plus, we share our review of this fun scary story with heart.
Lois Murphy on her first junior fiction: You’ve Let Them In
It’s a bit of a worn metaphor, but I always think of writing as weaving, pulling together threads, and You’ve Let Them In is very much an embodiment of this. The first thread that inspired the book was actually the character of Ian, the garden gnome, who is based on a boss I used to have. He was meant to be a joke and a tribute. I won’t go into details in case his namesake doesn’t feel it’s either!
The next thread that seemed to weave in with a kitsch garden gnome was my allergy to heroes, to the Harry Potters who face up to incredible danger because it’s their destiny and they’re brave and true to their very bones. While I love the Harry Potter books, I’m more onboard with down-to-earth people (like most of humanity), who would run like hell in the face of things that go bump in the night and hide under the bed. So I came up with Scott, just a typical teenage boy who wants sloth and comfort and his mates and no drama, and definitely no feats of bravery. And teamed him with Ian, the daggiest, most unacceptable co-conspirator imaginable, just to add another woe, an extra, everyday-boy trial.
“So ultimately, the inspiration behind the book was a tale of reluctance, an anti-Harry.”
The subtitle could have been: Leave Me Alone. Please. Which was entertaining because it allowed me to indulge in tormenting poor old Scott, and I really enjoyed driving him mad. Ian, and of course Sally, were integral threads in his ongoing mortification.
And then of course the ghosts – or in this case the faeries. The faeries were another thread of the same ply, Scott couldn’t even claim to be up against something impressive, like werewolves or vampires. Instead he was in cahoots with a garden gnome, and threatened by a tribe of faeries, enough to destroy any teenage boy’s self-esteem.
I’ve always loved ghost stories. You’ve got to love creatures at the bottom of the garden, things that crawl up after dark and try to scratch their way through your windows. Who wouldn’t want to hide under the bed? But I also like to have a bit of fun, to build and relieve tension. Imagine having to face up to vicious supernatural beasts, with only the help of a garden gnome and pets who think you’re a moron? With your family rolling their eyes in the background.
I really enjoyed writing this book, weaving the threads of claws and teeth and bloodthirsty monsters with the everyday family life of a teenage boy, who, to his very bones, is really just pretty ordinary.
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You’ve Let Them In Synopsis
‘Gripping, suspenseful, genuinely scary – with an unexpected seam of humour running all the way through.’ – Susan Green, author of the Verity Sparks series
Scott is in shock when his family – his father Leo, sister Natalie, the twins and their eccentric stepmother Sally – move to a rundown old house on the outskirts of town.
The garden is a menacing jungle that refuses to be tamed. An ancient gnome in its midst supposedly stands guard against lurking secrets, much to Scott’s disgust and Sally’s delight.
When strange and scary things start occurring and the creatures from the trees begin to invade the house, Scott must face the peril of an unknown force that threatens to turn their world upside down.
Recommended for ages 9-12 years; 256 pages
(Transit Lounge Publishing, April 2021)
Genre: Childrens, Mystery, Thriller
Is it just me, or has junior fiction come a long way since I was last reading it? I recall almost jumping straight from picture books to teen and adult fiction (suitable titles of course) quite early in my personal reading journey. I am heartened there are considerably more quality titles published for the middle-grade age bracket now.
While I am clearly no expert in this genre, there were several things about You’ve Let Them In that impressed me.
Murphy’s teen narrative felt authentically frustrated and stubborn without labouring the angst. Scott’s inner thoughts acknowledge an emotional maturity and capacity to self-reflect not often afforded to teen male characters. I found this refreshing respectful to the target audience. This, along with the seam of ‘down-to-earth, don’t take ourselves too seriously’ irreverence that runs through this family’s daily lives was key to the speed and depth of my engagement with their plight. It turns out they’ve been through a lot, and done so with great dignity, so we cannot help but barrack for them when things turn scary…. and I mean genuinely scary!
You’ve Let Them In is a real pageturner, with Murphy’s talent for vivid description and cultivating suspense (first displayed in her award-winning adult horror thriller novel Soon) on full display. But, is it too scary for the age group? No, I don’t think so, compared to what most pre-teens have experienced in movies and on TV these days. And, that Scott typically finds he has back-up or support (sometimes from unexpected sources) and he learns a heartwarming life-lesson or two along the way, tempered the traumatic elements quite nicely I thought.
Importantly though, the story’s resonant theme of ‘not judging people’s value on surface appearances’ felt organic, never weighty. First and foremost, Lois Murphy’s You’ve Let Them In is a highly accessible, well-paced and engaging read.
Get your copy of You’ve Let Them In from:
More children’s fiction:
Spellraiser by Tim Hawken / The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey / The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang / The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery / A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
About the Author, Lois Murphy
Lois Murphy has travelled widely, spending six years exploring Australia in a homemade 4WD truck, working mainly in small or remote towns, before settling in Darwin for a number of years. The majority of Soon, her first adult novel, was written while living in a caravan park in Carnarvon. The bulk of You’ve Let Them In, her first book for children, was written in Broken Hill. She recently settled in regional Victoria, in a house strangely similar to the one in this book. She lives in her particular shambles with two black cats and three chickens, but doesn’t really like garden gnomes, so thankfully has no idea what they’re talking about.
* My receipt of a review copy from the publisher did not impact the expression of my honest opinions above.