Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Room Upstairs

Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. If you're not familiar with this blog, scroll down to see what it's all about.

The Room Upstairs (Post 63)

The Room Upstairs (1978) was, I'm pretty sure, my second published book. Not long after my first book Her Kingdom for a Pony, Post 2, was underway I was invited to contribute to a new series for what were then called reluctant readers, readers in their teens who, because of learning difficulties or just a disinclination to read, had reading ages well behind their peers'. I think I turned in a plot-line first (it might eventually have become Down River, Post 53) and the editor said it was too young in focus. Therefore I turned in the story that became The Room Upstairs. It was the story of three or four teenagers who dared one another into going upstairs in a creepy old house, and who were terrorised by either the resident ghost or maybe just be the general creepiness. It is so many years since I re-read this book that I really don't remember it well. What I do remember was that the old house and the room were based on a real house where my grandmother lived when I was very young. She moved into a bungalow when I was about six, and the old house just went on quietly falling apart; something it had been wanting to do since just about forever, owing to its (shall we say) creatively designed foundation. As I was growing up, I used to go up the old stairs occasionally, usually because a visitor or friend wanted to see the place. I was always frightened when I was in the top two rooms. Once when I went up with a cousin, we managed to get an old clock going. It struck twelve and kept on striking. You have no idea how eerie that was. Anyway, I felt silly being afraid of empty rooms, and it wasn't until I was well into my teens that I mentioned to my mother (who grew up in that house) that I was scared in the top two rooms. I was surprised when she said matter-of-factly that she always had been too. She'd never mentioned it before and she was by no means a fanciful woman. She didn't read fantasy or sf, and, as far as I know, had no interest in the paranormal. I asked her to expand on this and she said she'd always thought it was probably her grandfather, who had been a bit gruff and eccentric, although he'd always been kind to her. He died in the 1940s, when Mum was in her teens. We compared notes and it seems we were both uneasy and scared but we didn't feel threatened; it was more the feeling of someone waiting. 

Anyway, I think I conflated my uneasy feelings and the clock incident and used them in the story.

The other odd thing about this manuscript was that although the plot was approved, I had to rewrite it for the editor. She said the problem was that the teenagers didn't act or talk like teenagers, and she recommended that I get to know some teens as research. I pointed out that I was in fact 17 years old. "Oh," she said. She then asked me a few questions about my habits, relationships and world view and informed me I might be chronologically a teenager, but I clearly wasn't one and probably never had been and never would be. (Well, that's the impression I have on that conversation forty years later!) She wanted me to make my characters much less pleasant to one another, so I did.

The Room Upstairs duly came out with the rather striking cover which was, I think, done by the same illustrator who did Dreadful David (Post 4), six or seven years later. There was something odd about the binding of the book, so most copies fell apart quickly. In this they resembled the Armada paperbacks of the 1960s. Now and then a copy pops up on eBay. I suspect these, if intact, have never been read or were maybe read once and then preserved in a stasis chamber. Or maybe a haunted house.

About the Blog

Sally is Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future.

The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. 

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