So often the first advice given to writers is “Write what you know.” Fleur Bradley has a different take on that advice, which she shares below. Wandering outside her comfort zone led her to her brand new novel, Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking Books for Young Readers) and, perhaps, some ideas for more terrific books!
When I set out Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking Books for Young Readers), I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to write a mystery, an Agatha Christie style one, with a cool old hotel as a setting, and lots of colorful characters to add some fun. Oh, and there was going to be a dead guy in it—a real life murder. A middle-grade murder mystery. This was going to be good.
So I wrote the first draft, and it was time to edit. Around that time, we (my family and I) visited the Stanley Hotel, the real-life inspiration for the Barclay Hotel, where the book is set. It was fun, and we of course had to do the ghost hunting tour. Now, I’m not much of a believer in all this stuff. But I played along, mostly because my kids and husband are big believers in all things spiritual. I was beginning to feel like a party pooper.
I’ll cut to the chase, just in case it seemed like I was about to share a good ghost story. There was no spooky encounter. No ghosts, no scary voices, no dust clouds that could have been something paranormal. If the Stanley Hotel is haunted, the ghosts were not coming out the night we went ghost hunting.
I did really enjoy the old hotel, though. And I had lots of inspiration for Midnight at the Barclay Hotel. I added some spooky stuff—nothing too much. After all, I am a sceptic.
Some months later, when I got feedback from my editor at Viking, the message was: we want more ghost hunting.
Okay, I said, because that’s what you do. But really, I was getting out of my comfort zone here. I could tell you all about the great history of the Stanley Hotel, how I used some of it to build the stories surrounding my fictional Barclay Hotel. But more ghost hunting…? That was for people who believe in ghosts, right?
I always tell my kids to get out of their comfort zone, because that’s how you learn and grow, so I had to take my own advice. I watched many hours of Ghost Hunters, and all kinds of other ghost detecting sort of shows. And it was fun. I got it: ghost hunting was not unlike solving a mystery—and that I understood. There was research into each location’s history on these shows too, which I love (the stories!). And some evidence they caught on camera and audio was hard to explain away…
Midnight at the Barclay Hotel opens with JJ as he reads the invitation to the Barclay Hotel that was meant for his mother, and him getting excited about ghost hunting. I understood him better now. I could write about his ghost hunting, the equipment he uses to get evidence, and the research his friend Penny does—and I could do it because I got out of my comfort zone.
I’m still not sure if I believe in ghosts. But at least I can use all this research on ghost hunting in my next spooky middle-grade book…
Fleur Bradley is the author of the spooky middle-grade mystery Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking Books for Young Readers, Aug. 25th 2020). She’s passionate about two things: mysteries and getting kids to read. When she’s not active in her local SCBWI chapter, she’s doing school visits and is speaking at librarian and educator conferences on reaching reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, Fleur now lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and two daughters, and entirely too many cats.
For more information on Fleur and her books, visit www.ftbradley.com, and on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.
About Midnight at the Barclay Hotel:
Hunting ghosts and solving the case before checkout? All in a weekend’s work.
When JJ Jacobson convinced his mom to accept a surprise invitation to an all-expenses-paid weekend getaway at the illustrious Barclay Hotel, he never imagined that he’d find himself in the midst of a murder mystery. He thought he was in for a run-of-the-mill weekend ghost hunting at the most haunted spot in town, but when he arrives at the Barclay Hotel and his mother is blamed for the hotel owner’s death, he realizes his weekend is going to be anything but ordinary.
Now, with the help of his new friends, Penny and Emma, JJ has to track down a killer, clear his mother’s name, and maybe even meet a ghost or two along the way.