City of Ghosts author J.H. Moncrieff shares her own experiences exploring the world’s most haunted locations and how they affect her books.
About ‘City of Ghosts’
On the day the villagers were forced to flee Hensu, not everyone got out alive.
Jackson Stone is touring the abandoned Chinese city when he slips away from the group to spend the night, determined to publish an account of his ghostly experiences there.
Then he meets Yuèhai, a strange, soft-spoken woman who can tell him the city’s secrets — secrets the Chinese government would kill to keep hidden.
As Jackson uncovers the truth about Yuèhai and the ghost city, he’s drawn into a web of conspiracy, betrayal, and murder. He must risk everything to save himself and bring honor back to Yuèhai and her family.
J.H. Moncrieff talks visiting the world’s most haunted locations
“You realize you are alone on this island.”
With a deafening roar, the sky cracked open. I saw a familiar expression on the water taxi driver’s face — the same expression I’d seen whenever a Venetian learned I wanted to go to Poveglia.
(Otherwise known as the world’s most haunted island.)
Now that I was here, I wasn’t sure it had been such a good idea. A sense of foreboding had pressed down on my shoulders as soon as I’d glimpsed the tower where a wicked doctor had once plunged to his death.
Hurrying into one of the abandoned buildings to escape the rain, I decided to take my chances with the island’s ghosts.
No matter what happens, I told myself, it’ll be good for a story.
Scribes who travel have no fear of writer’s block. (Ghosts are another matter.) Every place I’ve explored has given me fresh ideas for settings, characters, plots, and themes. From the creepy, bricked-up house in the Caribbean which had two life-sized ragdolls slumped on its porch to the notorious forest in Romania that made me ill, the experiences I’ve gleaned while traveling often find their way into my books.
When you read a novel with a setting where the author has spent some time, you can instantly tell. There’s an authenticity, an originality, to the story that writers just can’t get from studying Google Earth and reading Wikipedia articles.
While attempting to write a series set in ancient Egypt, I kept running into barriers until I finally realized I had to experience the place to write about it with authority. What did the sand feel like? Was it gritty or soft? What did the air smell like? What do people eat? Some details will have changed over time, of course, but many things remain the same. The ill-fated King Tutankhamun is a character in that series, and the sadness I felt when I viewed his tiny body in Luxor will enhance the way I’m able to tell his story.
The entire plot of City of Ghosts came from visiting a Chinese ghost city. As I made my way through the abandoned village, with statues of the damned looming over me and rusting cable cars bearing testament to the people who had once lived there, I thought about how eerie it must be at night, after all the tourists had gone home.
What if someone got trapped here? What if they wanted to get trapped here?
That’s how Jackson Stone, a tourist who stays overnight in a Chinese ghost city so he can write a bestseller about his paranormal experiences, was born.
As for Poveglia, the two hours I spent alone on the island were terrifying. But I survived, and now Jackson and his medium friend, Kate, are back in The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts.
Traveling is fantastic for everyone. Meeting people from other cultures and learning to cope when few people speak your language opens your heart and mind and broadens your world view.
But for writers, it’s priceless.
About the author
J.H. Moncrieff writes psychological and supernatural suspense novels that let her readers safely explore the dark corners of the world. She won Harlequin’s search for the next Gillian Flynn in 2016.
Her first published novella, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, was featured in Samhain’s Childhood Fears collection and stayed on its horror bestsellers list for over a year.
When not writing, J.H. loves visiting the world’s most haunted places, advocating for animal rights, and summoning her inner ninja in muay thai class.