Poppy put the kettle on the stove.
“Where did we leave off? Oh, that’s right,” Gran said, unpicking a few of the scales from a pair of beetle wings she was making. “The fabric made in the Helligan Mills became more and more famous. The town of Suds prospered and grew…until something odd began to happen.”
The kettle whistled as it began to boil and Poppy poured the hot water over the fragrant tea leaves.
“One by one, like the birds of summer, children began to vanish.”
Poppy put the kettle down and brought Grandma her tea.
“What do you mean? How did they vanish? When did this happen?”
Churchill the pig rested his snout on the edge of his basket, as if listening to the story too.
“I mean just what I say: children began to vanish. One here, one there. They faded away. I remember I was twenty-three when Wilma Norbles disappeared. Wilma was a swimming champion. Every day before school she would swim up and down the river like a seal, until one morning something peculiar began to happen. It started with Wilma’s eyes. Very slowly, little by little, their colour began to fade. Before she knew it, the colour from her hair began to drain away too. The last time Wilma climbed into the river, despite being ten years old, she was as grey as an old woman. People watching from the shore said that she took a deep breath, sunk beneath the water and dissolved like a blob of paint. Some said she was eaten by the old fish rumoured to live in the River Suds. But even I’m not superstitious enough to think that’s likely.”
Poppy nodded politely. She didn’t quite know if she believed her wily old gran. She was twelve after all, and twelve is the age when one truly starts reasoning what is real and what is fabricated.
“I can see you don’t believe me, but let me tell you this: ever since, and ever so slowly, the children of Suds have been dwindling away.”
“Where did they go?” Poppy asked. “When was the last time it happened?”
Gran looked at Poppy and answered only one of her questions. “No one knows. Sugar, my button. Two lumps.”
Poppy retrieved the sugar, heeding Grandma’s instructions.
“And what’s happened to the Mills now?”
“They’re still there,” said Gran, sipping her tea. “Somewhere in the woods outside of town. Riddling Woods. Neglected, ruined and overgrown. Whether the fabric which floats down the river comes from the Mills or not is anybody’s guess. People in the village like to say they are haunted.”
“Haunted,” said Gran. “By the ghost of a washerwoman who crouches beside the river’s edge, washing the stains from a grey cloth.”
“That’s not real,” muttered Poppy, her chest swimming with unease.
“It might not be real, but it’s a fact that people have seen her,” said Gran wryly. “Now, while your dad is away for the next few weeks and you’re staying with me here in Suds, I want you to follow four simple rules. No one else seems to bother with them these days, but I’m a bit old-fashioned sometimes, Poppy, and I like to stick to them.”
Poppy fetched her notepad from her backpack and wrote down what Grandma said. With each line she wrote, her fingers stiffened and her heart began to dance its familiar dance.
1. All washing must be done during the day. Bring your clothes in off the washing line (even if they are wet) before six o’clock every night.
2. All sugar cubes are to be kept under lock and key.
3. At night close your window, lock it, draw the curtains.
4. NEVER, DON’T YOU EVER, dust the window sills.
You have 0 of these in your Basket.
This is the story of a sleepy town called Suds. A place where stories fill the air of children who keep turning grey and disappearing without a trace…
Poppy and Erasmus are certain there's something peculiar going on in Suds, and they're determined to unravel its secrets. But when they discover the answers might lie in the darking and twisting woods, can they find the courage to creep inside and solve this riddling mystery?
“A thrilling read...flavoured with fairytales, drizzled with a syrup of fear and sprinkled with heart.”
M.G. Leonard, author of Beetle Boy
Born in Tasmania with Irish roots, Samuel J. Halpin is 27 and writes daily. Having studied journalism at the University of New South Wales, Samuel went on to take cinematography at AFTRS, the national Australian film school in Sydney before moving to London and working in comedy TV production. The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods is his first answer to a childhood raised on a hodgepodge of fairy tales, crowded bookshelves and cups of hot chocolate.
“A story woven in the finest of silk threads and stitched full of imagination. Poppy and Erasmus will warm even the coldest of beating hearts!”
Helena Duggan, author of A Place Called Perfect
“A deliciously dark fairytale.”
Lisa Thompson, author of The Goldfish Boy
“Darker in tone than much of the current crop of middle-grade adventures, Halpin weaves a tantalising web with echoes of Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman.”
“a charmingly dark tale that's dripping with style. Drawing inspiration from fables and legends, it creates an adventure that will send a chill up even the bravest reader's spine.”
NYA LitFest Newsletter review