Series: Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog: Book 2
By Claire Barker
Starcross Hall was Knitbone Pepper’s idea of Heaven. Hiding down a grassy lane in Bartonshire, England, it had spelled H-O-M-E for generations of the Pepper family – both people and pets – for the last 904 years.
The tumbledown house had snoozed away the centuries, hugged by ivy and soothed by birdsong. Within its crumbling walls and rickety towers, there were interesting secrets; secrets that scampered round corners, waddled down its echoing corridors and pattered through the half-abandoned rooms.
Normal house rules did not apply at Starcross Hall. Nobody ever said “Tidy up” or “Where are you going with that catapult?”
No game was ever too noisy, too mad or too messy. It was never too late, or too early or too anything to play. It was the best adventure playground in the world and dogs were definitely allowed in. Especially ghost dogs.
Knitbone Pepper lay in the darkness of Winnie’s bedroom, waiting inside the wardrobe with his paws over his eyes, counting to himself as patiently as he could. Hide-and-seek was his favourite game because it involved all the things that dogs liked doing best, i.e. sniffing, finding, chasing and fetching. He wiggled his eyebrows and gave his nose a thoughtful lick.
To pass the time, Knitbone worked on his strategy which, as he knew the other ghosts’ favourite hiding places like the back of his paw, didn’t take very long.
Martin was bound to be in the biscuit tin, giving himself away with hamstery crunching and munching noises. Gabriel the goose would be perched on the top shelf in the library, squeezed next to the encyclopaedias. What about Valentine? A hare, he’d be lying low in the shady space under the big hedge in the courtyard. Orlando would be monkeying around in the kitchen cutlery drawer, clattering about amongst the spoons.
That just left wonderful Winnie Pepper. Knitbone was certain that she was the best and cleverest human person in the whole world, but even she couldn’t hide from her beloved ghost dog.
This was for three reasons:
“Sixteen…seventeen…eighteennineteen TWENTY!” Knitbone shot out of the wardrobe, across Winnie’s bedroom and raced down the dusty corridor howling, “COMING! READY OR NOT!”
Galloping down the sweeping Starcross staircase, Knitbone momentarily remembered that, once upon a time, he had been very sad.
But now Winnie could see him again, his days whizzed by in a blur of doggy joy. Knitbone was Winnie’s “Beloved”: an extra-special ghost pet and her best friend for ever. His afterlife was dead good and he never, ever wanted things to change.
“EVERYTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE!”
The very next morning, Winnie’s dad, the 18th Lord of Starcross, burst through the kitchen door, his eyes wide and his hair standing on end. He thrust his arms in the air, knocking down a copper pan with a loud clatter.
Astonished, Lady Pepper put her honey crumpet down. Winnie stopped eating her cereal, spoon halfway to her mouth. Knitbone, sitting next to Winnie and invisible to the grown-ups, looked horrified.
“Last night I had a dream,” Lord Pepper continued, his cheeks pink and eyebrows waggling wildly, “that Starcross Hall was home to the largest hat collection IN THE WORLD!” He looked at his wife. “Oh, Isadora, it was so beautiful…you would have loved it. Shiny crowns, glossy bearskins, nightcaps with fluffy pompoms…” He sighed wistfully. “Then I woke up.”
“Our private collection is splendid, of course,” he said, gesturing at the towering piles of hats that lay around the kitchen, “but the undeniable fact is this: you simply can’t have too many hats.”
Lord Pepper began to pace around the kitchen, tapping his forehead. “Then I thought to myself, Hang on a minute, Hector Augustus Merriweather Pepper, what better way to spend money than by buying even more hats? Ha! It’s so obvious! Hats are where it’s at. Everybody’s ‘hat’ it! Look!” He held up the latest copy of Mad Hatter Monthly, his favourite magazine. On its cover was a glossy photograph of a yellow turban adorned with a glittering red ruby brooch the size of a potato.
The headline read:
Lord Pepper continued pacing. “I’ve got big, big plans. It’s time to get in on the act – we must expand our collection and open to the public!”
He reached into his dressing gown pocket and pulled out a jester’s hat, planting it firmly on his head. “It’s our destiny! The dream was a SIGN!”
He sat down on a kitchen chair with a plonk. Having never expressed this much ambition in his whole life, he was now worn out. Lady P slid a soothing cup of turnip tea down the length of the table and he took a long restorative slurp.
Everyone was quiet and thought about Lord Pepper’s idea for a moment. Even the other Beloved ghosts sitting under the kitchen table, used to centuries of Pepper peculiarities, stopped playing snap.
Winnie was the first to break the silence. “Dad, are you saying that you want visitors to come to Starcross?” She cast a doubtful eye at the cobwebs in the corners and the dusty hats on the floor. “Actual tourists? To come here?”
Her father nodded, restored by the miracle of turnip tea. “It’s time for a new start, Winnie.
All that dreadful auction business – nearly losing the dear old place – has made me realize that Starcross has been sleeping for far too long. It is the twenty-first century, you know! Lots and lots of visitors coming to see lots and lots of HATS – that’s what we need! People; smiling, jolly, happy people! Putting Starcross Hall on the map once more – it’ll be a smashing day out for all ages!” His words came tumbling like bonbons from a jar, “My head feels like it’s exploding with ideas for the first time in years.” He sprang back up onto his feet and did a little pirouette.
“It’ll be more fun than a pocketful of frogs. Isadora, what do you say, old girl?”
Lady P stood to attention, her thoughts clicking into place. “But, Hector, that would mean… we would have jobs!” Her mouth fell open. “Actual JOBS! What a brilliant idea! I’ve always wanted a job.” She pondered for a moment and then gasped, clutching at her feather boa. “Of course – my new oven! All those visitors will be hungry after looking at all the marvellous hats. I have always dreamed of opening my own cafe!” She began to pace around the kitchen, her eyebrows knitted together. “Somewhere that I could show off my boldest, most adventurous recipes. I could call it…The Burpy Buffet. Hang on…The Belly Deli… No…Pantry Pirates – that’s it!”
Lord and Lady Pepper climbed onto the table and danced a wild polka, swinging from the stag- antler chandelier, cheering and whooping with joy.
They were having such a great time they didn’t notice that Winnie had trailed out of the kitchen, opened the front door and left for school, a ghostly ribbon of invisible animals in tow.
“Well,” huffed Knitbone as he and the other Spirits of Starcross followed Winnie up the lane to the bus stop. “I’m not sure about this at all, no I’m not. It all sounds very risky.” He launched into a full-blown rant. “I don’t like the idea of lots of people coming and going. What if they get in the way of our games, or…or stop our Keep Fit sessions? I don’t want to go back to being a weak and flabby phantom. I like things exactly as they are. No, it’s definitely a Bad Idea. In fact, it’s a Terrible Idea, and that’s the end of the matter.”
He growled to underline his point.
Winnie patted him on the head. “Don’t worry, Knitbone, it might be a good thing. It’s tradition, anyway. Starcross always used to have lots of visitors, didn’t it, Gabriel?”
Gabriel the goose honked in agreement as he waddled along, kicking the weeds growing in the middle of the road. “Oh-yes-oh-yes-oh-yes, it certainly-certainly did.”
Valentine the hare hopped along next to Winnie. “Hundreds of years ago parties and feasts used to happen here all the time.”
Excited, Orlando the Elizabethan monkey jumped up onto her shoulder. “Oh! Oh! Once we had a beeg, beeg celebration with lions and tigers and snugglers…”
Winnie giggled as she walked. “Snugglers?”
Valentine rolled his eyes. “He means jugglers.”
Martin the hamster was panting heavily as he ran alongside, trying to keep up with everyone else. “At the end of the Second World War,” he gasped, “we had a party. Everybody in Bartonshire came. I ate a dodgy Scotch egg. Then I died.”
“You see?” whined Knitbone, scampering backwards in front of Winnie, his eyes like saucers. “Did you hear that? Martin actually died. It’s not safe. Why can’t it just be us? We’re happy as we are, aren’t we? It’s nearly the summer holidays and I’ve been looking forward to them for ages! Why can’t everything just stay the same?”
They reached the top of the lane just as the school bus drew up. Winnie kneeled down and stroked Knitbone’s ears, trying to soothe his anxiousness. “Because, Knitbone Pepper, dear old Beloved, change is sometimes a good thing. And you never know, it might actually be fun!”
Winnie clambered up on to the bus, took her seat and huffed hot breath onto the cool window. She drew a heart in the disappearing mist with her finger and blew Knitbone a kiss, unaware of the driver watching her in his rear-view mirror. That Winnie Pepper certainly is an odd one, he thought to himself, pulling away from the bus stop.
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Knitbone Pepper is a friendly ghost dog, haunting the crumbling Starcross Hall with a gaggle of other ghostly pets. When Knitbone and his beloved owner Winnie invite the circus to Starcross, the spooks are so excited! But amidst the magicians, the acrobats and the clowns, Knitbone senses something beastly in the big top… A wonderfully warm, whimsical series jam-packed with mayhem, chuckles and woofs!
“Funny, wonderfully imaginative and beautifully illustrated, the Knitbone Pepper books are highly recommended.”
The Daily Express
Claire Barker graduated from Bath Spa University with a degree in English Literature and History. She studied illustration for a further two years and worked as a teaching assistant for several more. Claire used to live on narrowboats but now lives with her family on a small, untidy farm in deepest, darkest Devon. When she’s not busy writing or illustrating she spends her days wrestling sheep, battling through nettle patches and triumphantly catching rogue chickens.
Visit clairebarkerauthor.com to find out more.
“The setting, the motley crew of ghosts, Winnie’s eccentric parents and the perfect understanding of that special bond between pet and owner make this very special, heaven in a book for young animal fans.”
“Claire Barker's characters are warm and full of life... Ross Collins' beautifully drawn little vignettes add humour and even more personality to the characters, bringing the story and the individuals to life.”
“Ross Collins’ enchanting and expressive illustrations add extra sparkle to a brilliantly conceived and warm-hearted series.”
Lancashire Evening Post
“A charming, spooky mystery.”
Sunday Express S magazine
“A sweet, charming and friendly ghost story with liberal helpings of bonkers as well. Young readers will love it.”
“Perfect for animal lovers.”
Aldershot News and Mail
“Funny and tender.”
The Metro review for Knitbone Pepper - Ghost Dog
“Packed with mayhem, chuckles and woofs.”
The Bookseller review for Knitbone Pepper - Ghost Dog
“A gentle, eccentric tale of the supernatural, full of hilarity, warmth and undefeated love.”
Middle Grade Strikes Back review for Knitbone Pepper - Ghost Dog
“Death has come as a shock to Knitbone, the pet of the whimsical Pepper family who inhabit ramshackle Starcross Hall. But when the Hall is under threat and the family are facing eviction, Knitbone and his fellow ghosts, including a hamster and a hare, plan a charmingly spirited defence of their haunted home.”
S Magazine (Daily Express) review for Knitbone Pepper - Ghost Dog
“What an endearingly mad romp, elegantly and hilariously illustrated by the talented Mr Collins. A triumph!”
Debi Gliori, award winning children's author and illustrator review for Knitbone Pepper - Ghost Dog
“This superbly entertaining story left me feeling all warm and happy inside... Claire understands and perfectly conveys the unbreakable bond we have with our pets and how loss can be unbearable and leave a huge hole in our lives. This story is filled with humour, craziness but mostly heart.”