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MISS MAGPIE is the fourth story in CHRISTMAS DINNER OF SOULS, told by the vicious equestrian poisoner Miss Ariadne Biter. It’s the story of an incident from her own childhood, where an elderly neighbour of hers is tormented by a cruel new landlord – until one day, the truth of what Miss Magpie gets up to in her lonely attic room is revealed, and she enacts a terrible revenge…

MISS MAGPIE is definitely the strangest story in CHRISTMAS DINNER OF SOULS. I wanted to write something that was creepy, unsettling and mysterious, and that never fully explained what had happened. Some people will find it very frustrating that they never completely understand what happened to Miss Magpie and the landlord – others will love how unexplained it is!

When I first came up with the idea, it was actually a horror story for adults. I remember I was walking around Finsbury Park and looking at the pigeons when I decided I wanted to write a story about someone recollecting a strange, scary moment from their childhood – and I wanted it to be a young girl observing an old woman, and how strange and mysterious the elderly can seem sometimes when you’re young.

At the same time, my friends were in a band and had written a dark, scary song about a witch. Whenever I listened to it, it made me think of a sequence in the film SUNRISE (1927) by F.W Murnau where a man walks through a foggy swamp – it made me imagine that the witch in the song might live in a horrific nest made of sticks in a black and white swamp, surrounded by a foul mist! Try listening to the song on the top left while playing the sequence from the film on mute to get an idea of what I was thinking about…

In terms of style, I wanted MISS MAGPIE to be like one of Roald Dahl’s TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED. As well as writing children’s books, Dahl also wrote fantastically nasty stories for adults – some of which were strange, some of which were funny, and some of which were terrifying! I loved reading them and watching repeats of the ITV series when I was younger – one of my all-time favourites is THE LANDLADY, the story of a man who takes a room in a very strange B&B with a kind, forgetful landlady. Part of its terror is that nothing is ever fully explained – instead, all you get is a sense that something terrible is about to happen and you never fully understand what it is.

All of these elements came together in MISS MAGPIE and I didn’t want to spell out too much for the reader. Sometimes, the scariest thing is when you can’t see something and don’t know what’s happened – that’s why I decided to leave what the landlord sees inside the nest as unmentioned. I figured that the reader would fill that blank in with the scariest thing they can think of!

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