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Wondering how to write a good suspense novel? Kat Ellis tells us how!

YA author Kat Ellis is the author of Harrow Lake, an eerie blend of supernatural horror and psychological thriller. The book has a campiness that scary movie buffs will love, and a mystery that is major Stephen King vibes. Harrow Lake follows Lola Nox, the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker. But when her father is brutally attacked, Lola is quickly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake. The eerie town is where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot, and it’s full of weird locals, strange disappearances. Will she make it out alive? Kat Ellis spoke with YEM about writing a good horror novel, and took over our Twitter account for a day. Check out her advice, tips, and secrets here!

Young Entertainment Mag: How did you first get involved in writing? 

Kat Ellis: I always enjoyed writing from a young age, but it wasn’t until I was around 25 that I decided to try to write a whole novel (I’m 38 now). I’d been reading a lot of YA novels, and it rekindled my love of books — this having been well and truly crushed when I had to read Daniel Deronda in university. It’s over 800 pages! And not one single laugh in the entire book! So, basically YA saved me. My debut was Blackfin Sky which came out in 2014, and my next two were Breaker and Purge, followed by Harrow Lake this year. 

YEM: What are some inspirations into the horror genre that got you excited to write about it?

Kat: Growing up, I used to read Point Horror, Christopher Pike, RL Stine – later moving on to Anne Rice’s vampire books, and basically anything by Joe Hill. I’ve always been a huge horror movie fan, too. You can tell that from all the horror movie references there are in Harrow Lake!

And now, there are so many fantastic YA horror novels out there. Some of my recent favourites have been Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich, Hold Back the Tide by Melinda Salisbury, Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal, Good Girls Die First by Kathryn Foxfield, and The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones.

YEM: Do you have a favorite horror movie or show? What would you recommend to someone who asked you for a good horror recommendation?

Kat: The Babadook is fantastic, and definitely played a part in inspiring me to write Harrow Lake. I like the cleverness of it — that it explores the idea of what a monster really is, and how some of them you just have to learn to live with. 

I also love big sci-fi horror movies like Aliens and Event Horizon and Pitch Black, and TV shows that do interesting things with format, like American Horror Story, The Haunting of Hill House, and Locke & Key. 

YEM: You write thrillers as well as horror – are you interested in true crime? 

Kat: I am. I think true crime documentaries and books can provide great story ideas, and I’ve always been a touch morbid. I remember when I was around 14, I had to choose a topic for a presentation in class, so I chose the Moors Murders. But I do prefer fiction, whether it’s horror or thriller or something entirely different. True crime gets a bit too… real. I prefer my trauma to be fleeting and fiction-based, thank you.

YEM: Some stories end on a cliffhanger like a mystery of their own. Do you enjoy cliffhangers?

Kat: Not massively, no. Usually there’s a year or more between 2 books in a series being published, so if I read the first one when it comes out and then have to wait ages to find out what comes after the cliffhanger, I’ve usually forgotten half of what happened in the first book. I do like stories which end with a note of mystery, though – where you have enough information that you can draw your own conclusions about what really happened, or who was to blame. I feel like I’m more involved in the story that way.

YEM: What would you recommend to writers who want to be good at writing suspense?

Kat: Read plenty in your genre. Watch it, too – movies, shows, documentaries. I think the key to being able to write something which feels fresh and edgy is knowing what’s already out there, and honing your writing through trial and error. But that applies to any genre, really; for writing something suspenseful, it’s about carefully balancing what you reveal to the reader, and when. Every answer given should lead to another question, and keep the reader turning the pages. 

See Kat Ellis take over YEM’s Twitter account here! 

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