CELEBRATING ITS TWENTY-FIFTH YEAR IN PRINT: THE GHOST DOG
Pete tells us what this best-selling spooky tale means to him.
‘THE GHOST DOG’ wasn’t my first book. I’d written several novels for teenagers first. They had achieved good reviews and moderate sales. To be honest, none had set the world alight.
Then a publisher suggested I wrote a book for a slightly younger audience, 8-12 year olds. So I submitted a synopsis, which I saw as a modern, updating of Blyton’s ‘Faraway Tree,’ books. I was excited about it. My publishers weren’t. The only positive thing they said was - ‘We still believe you can do it.’
So I immersed myself in my new audience’s world. I chatted with so many families. I was even invited to a ghost story telling night. This was brilliant fun. A group of boys sat round telling eerie tales. There was a great atmosphere and I thought wouldn’t this be a top way to begin a story. But where was I going to take it?
The idea came to me quite suddenly. A real flash of inspiration. What if one of the ghost stories become real? What if a fearsome monster leaps out of their tales and haunts their dreams every single night? And they just can’t get rid of it.
Every other idea I’d had crumpled away. I knew this was it. My publishers agreed. And ‘THE GHOST DOG’ came to life.
It was my first book to win a prize. My first best seller. My first to be translated into several languages. So many firsts.
Nearly a quarter of a century later it has never gone out of print. And schools still read it, especially around the weeks leading up to HALLOWEEN. One boy told me recently, ‘The Ghost Dog set fire to my imagination’.
To be a writer you need a number of things and one of them is a deep faith in yourself. And actually, before ‘The Ghost Dog’ I was starting to lose that belief. Did I really have anything to offer? Didn’t those mild sales mean I was kidding myself?
The strangest thing of all is that I really struggled over those teen titles, while ‘The Ghost Dog’ flowed from my pen almost as if it had been waiting for me.
I am so cheered that people are still enjoying The Ghost Dog. And I will always be grateful to it.
THE GHOST DOG’SFAMOUS OPENING The first time I only saw its face. Out of the darkness it came floating towards me. It had evil eyes. Blood poured out of its mouth. It was the ugliest, most horrible thing I had ever seen. And I’d brought it to life . . .
The Ghost Dog, by Pete Johnson
When Daniel and his friends make up a ghost story about a terrifying dog what begins as a story turns into a nightmare… A spine tingling tale about a boy haunted by the monsterous creature he created in his own imagination.
Young Telegraph Paperback of the Year, 1997
Stockton Children's Book of the Year Award 1997
"An incredibly enjoyable book . . . from a very accomplished writer. The children are drawn convincingly and the author gets into his main character very well . . . an exciting and touching story about friendship and the power of imagination, especially that of a child." Books for Keeps
"Compelling." Federation of Children's Book Groups, Pick of the Year 1996.
An extract from The Ghost Dog
Laura, Harry and Daniel are telling scary stories on Halloween. Then they are joined by two unwelcome guests: Aaron and his dad . . .
‘It all began one dark and gloomy night,’ said Harry, ‘when this woman, who’s in the house all on her own, gets a phone call. This really husky voice says to her: ‘Hello, I am Blood Fingers and I’m coming to get you.’ The woman put the phone down, shaking. Then a minute later the phone rings again and she hears that horrible, husky voice say, ‘I am Blood Fingers and I am at your gate.’ The phone keeps ringing and each time he is getting closer. ‘I am Blood Fingers and I am in your garden. I am Blood Fingers and I am at your door’ and then … ‘I am Blood Fingers and I am in your house and I know where you are. I can see you. I am standing right next to you.’ The woman turns round and there is this huge guy with blood all over his hands. ‘Hello,’ he goes, ‘I’m Blood Fingers. You haven’t got any plasters, have you?’
At once, Harry burst into peals of laughter. And it was hard not to join in. Even Aaron laughed faintly.
‘You really had me going there,’ Roy said to Harry. He grinned broadly.
‘Laura’s turn now,’ joked Harry.
‘Oh, I can’t think,’ began Laura, ‘my mind’s gone blank. They do say, if at midnight on Halloween night you comb your hair a hundred times, then stare hard into the mirror, you’ll see the face of the person you’re going to marry.
‘That’s not scary,’ I said.
‘Depends who you see,’ said Harry.
‘There’s a story,’ went on Laura, ‘that a man did this and then he saw a vampire in his mirror which ripped his face open.’
‘Nice,’ murmured Harry.
Roy got up. ‘I expect I’ll be told off if I don’t give a hand with the drying-up. So I’ll leave you to it. I enjoyed your story, Harry.’ Then, in a piercing whisper to Aaron, ‘And don’t be afraid to join in.’
Even I couldn’t help feeling a bit embarrassed for Aaron at that moment. There’s nothing worse than a parent who tries to push you into things.
I think Laura felt a bit sorry for Aaron, too, because she said, quite gently to him. ‘Would you like to have a go at telling a ghost story now?’
Aaron didn’t answer for a moment. Then he said in this really sneery voice. ‘I stopped telling ghost stories years ago. They never scared me anyway …’
I was so angry I couldn’t speak at first. Why did Aaron always have to act as if he was way above us? He ruined everything. Then Harry looked across at me. ‘There’s one ghost story which scares everyone, isn’t there, Dan … a true one, too?’
I hadn’t a clue what Harry was talking about, but I went along with him. ‘Yeah, that’s a terrible story, but we’d better not tell Aaron that one; it would only give him nightmares.’
Aaron gave a mocking laugh.
‘Will you tell Aaron the story or shall I?’ asked Harry.
‘I will,’ I said. ‘This is the true story of … of the ghost dog.’
HORROR SPECIAL THE AWARD WINNING ‘THE GHOST DOG’
Daniel invents the story of ‘The Ghost Dog to frighten Aaron – because he thinks Aaron is a big head. But the plan backfires as Daniel and his mates become haunted by the Ghost Dog in their dreams Each night it gets closer and closer, fangs bared and dripping blood and evil in its eyes. But surely The Ghost Dog is just a story. Or is it…?
WHAT YOU SAY . . .
‘I was really hooked into ‘The Ghost Dog’ and sometimes I felt like what was happening in the book was happening to me, and I also got scared. sometimes and had goosebumps on my arm after I had finished reading it.’
‘A very spooky story – a compulsive read. Not for the fainthearted.’
SCHOOL LIBRARY ASSOCIATION
A haunting and captivating read which will keep you hooked to the end.’
YOUNG BOOK TRUST
And now available from Oakhill Audio Books . . .
The complete, unabridged THE GHOST DOG
Pete says: ‘This is brilliantly atmospheric with top actor, Thomas Eyre really bringing the book alive.’
‘Pete Johnson brings us a story which is scary and spooky with ghostly apparitions seeking horrible revenge. Readers will love it.’
‘The Vampire Blog’
Wonderfully amazing, I would definitely pick this book over The Hunger Game trilogy, The Twilight Saga and The Dork Diaries.
Well done Pete Johnson.’
‘CHICKEN AND FROG’ BOOK CLUB, ESSEX, GIVE THEIR VERDICT ON‘THE GHOST DOG’
‘We have just read ‘The Ghost Dog’ for this month’s Book Club meeting. The kids loved it and wanted to send you the following messages.’
‘The Thing that I liked most was when you made the story about the ghost dog and it haunts everybody that listened to it. I loved all of it. Thanks for the book.’
‘I really liked where Aaron turned nice and he didn’t want to leave Daniel’s house, plus I liked when the dog turned really nice. When I first started reading it I didn’t really get it but I really got into it. I think I would like to read more of your books.’ ‘I really liked the part about when they had a party because I liked that they had fun and told spooky stories. I liked the part when they told the spooky story to Aaron and scared him. I really got in it. I would love to read more of your books.’
‘I really like page 50 to 55. I think the bit on page 50 is really cool. I also like the blood fingers part and the taking away a stone and a dog howls. It is really cool.’ ‘I have read your book. It is amazing! My favourite book so far. My favourite bit is blood fingers.’
‘The thing I really hated is Aaron! The thing I really loved was the bit at the end about Daniel when he was friends with the ghost dog.’
A resounding success!
Natasha, Chicken and Frog Bookshop