Review & Guest Feature: Blurring genres with The Ash House by Angharad Walker

The ash House by Angharad Walker

I devoured this book and my immediate thoughts were please Chicken House I want some more?! I want to know what happens next and how did the protagonist Sol even arrive at this mysterious place!!! That or just hungry to slip into Angharad’s writing and worlds again!! In my review I reflect on the surreal and fabulist writings, tv series and films that are evoked within its story craft.

I am so lucky to be hosting Angharad’s reflections on blurring genres with The Ash House. The Ash House is a feast of imagination, symbolism, folktales and cultural references blurring across horror, fantasy, sci-fi and contemporary issues.

Shunted from care home to foster home onwards and back the boy suffers with gripping seizure-like pains, and this home is his last chance.

Gifted the name Solitude by Freedom the boy who greets him, he is not exactly welcome in this close knit family of children who dance the line between feral and regimented against the backdrop of a house of Ash, and a mysterious missing father-like figure, especially when the Doctor arrives.

The ash House by Angharad Walker

Angharad has this amazing way of making us unsettled and not be able to quite orientate and secure ourselves temporally or emotionally in this world.

There is this timelessness throughout the grounds of Ash House from Never-Never-like Wild Boys in the Victorian greenhouse dormitory to evoking the time slippiness of Life on Mars with the vintage style ‘BBC2 Learn at Home’ lectures on Niceness on projected vhs up against the clear 21st century technology of ‘bird’ drones. The watching, the observation of the children in this upside down landscape is even more sinister. What is being observed, why, or worse, is there no reason but madness?

We know something is terribly wrong like Sol, but we can’t quite work out how and why it is happening. Feeling the only sane person in the asylum gives a prickling feeling, a nervous twitching, a need to KNOW, a claustrophobic urge to tear down the walls of reality yet equally evoking that classic way that children go along with things because they are brought up that way or wander into danger because no one has told them not to.

The book underlines the scary ability to warp children’s view of the world through routine, stories and fabulism- every morning you do this, watching drones are ‘birds’ or that you will die if you cross the boundary.

You get this Lord of the Flies feeling of wild abandon rubbing up against vigorous self-policed rules as the children rinse and repeat their days under the rules of the missing Headmaster, terrified you cross the border and terrorised by the threat of the shucks like the inhabitants of M Knight Shyamalan’s The Village with the silent obedience of The Children of the Corn except as we learn in a Running Man like test that these monsters are very very real.

There’s also a Wicker Man sense of foreboding and secrecy, that everyone is in on the truth except you the reader and Sol, and the horrors that await are deliciously amplified by the tension.

We don’t know if we have stumbled with Sol upon a time slip, danced under a merrie hill or been drawn into the country estate of Doctor Moreau but how glorious the journey of that unknowing is.

Angharad Walker on blurring genres with The Ash House

What’s The Ash House about?

It’s about a boy who is struggling with a mysterious illness. He’s sent to the Ash House to heal, but when he gets there, nothing is as it seems. The house is made of smoke and ash, mythical creatures called Shucks prowl the grounds and drones hover in the air instead of birds. He meets a group of children who live there, waiting for the ominous Headmaster to return.

What genres inspired who in writing the story?

So many! It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I wanted to write a book I loved, and that meant stealing from all my favourite stories, whether those are books, myths, movies and TV, even songs. There are spooky elements of psychological horror. I drew from folklore—Shucks are straight from traditional English myths—and fantasy. Magical realism was a big influence. But I also wanted the story to feel really contemporary.

Was it difficult trying to do so much?

It was and it wasn’t. The book was a pleasure to write to be honest. But the way the world of the Ash House works is quite layered and complicated. Every world has to follow a logic, even if that logic isn’t immediately clear to the reader. The book contains all these mysteries and questions, but as the writer, it’s your job to know the answers, even if you don’t always share them. So it was tricky knowing when to hold back and let the reader make up their own minds.

You’ve described The Ash House as ‘fabulism’. What do you mean by that?

Fabulism is a useful term for books like mine, because it can be applied pretty broadly. Fabulist stories are strange and surreal, where fantastical elements meet the real world in a way that can be jarring or funny or moving. The Ash House is not quite in our world, but it’s not fully removed from it either. I think it’s that house of mirrors effect that fabulism captures so well.

Will your next book blur genres in the same way?

It does, but not quite as much as The Ash House. It’s set in a new world with new characters. It was influenced by fantasy adventure stories I loved as a child, but there are also elements of horror and fabulism again, and there’s a real family drama at its heart. It’s coming out September 2022 — follow me on Twitter and Instagram for the title and cover reveals in due course!

Thank you so much Angharad for taking the time to write about The Ash House for us! I am definitely excited to see what you create next!!!

Make sure you check out the other stops on the tour!

The Ash House by Angharad Walker is published by Chicken House

Thank you for my copy!! 💜

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