Ghostcloud by Michael Mann

Publication Date: 7 October 2021

The Blurb

Kidnapped and forced to shovel coal underneath a half-bombed, blackened power station, 12-year-old Luke’s life is miserable. Then, he discovers he can see things others can’t. Ghostly things. Specifically, a ghost-girl named Alma. Alma, who can ride clouds through the night sky and bend their shape to her will, befriends Luke. And with Alma’s help, Luke discovers he is in fact a rare being – half-human and half-something else …

Then Luke learns the terrible truth of why children are being kidnapped and forced to work in the power station, and he becomes even more desperate to escape.

Can Luke find out who he really is … and find his freedom?

Illustrations by Chaaya Prabhat

The Review

A delightfully dark, dystopian adventure set in a London besieged by smog and struggling to recover from war.

There is so much joy and hope beneath the desperation of the kidnapped children. Luke, Ravi and Jess work under the cold, clinical, calculating Tabitha who cares little for the children she snatches other than they work themselves to the bone for her. We see friendships tested to the limit as they struggle to survive the constant shovelling under the scrutiny of the ever present guards and threat of punishments. Luke’s dreams of home keep his hope burning, where Ravi’s business sense has him wanting to work to secure his release.

The world building is superb as we are immersed in a London changed by the war, yet recognisable by key locations. I loved the ghostly aspect to the story allowing us freedom beyond the confines of the underground existence within Battersea Power Station, but it is never comfortable given the constant threat of the menacing fog and what lies within it.

It would make a fantastic class read aloud with so much to discuss intertwined within the riveting adventure – following your dreams, self-acceptance, grief and belonging to name a few.

Great for fans of:

Like what you’ve heard so far? Read on for an exclusive extract…

The Extract

CHAPTER 8 – THE UNDERSKY

Falling through a cloud-ravine was more pleasant than he’d expected. Logically, he knew he should worry. A fall from this height, even into water, would kill him on impact. But then, logically, you couldn’t stand on clouds in the first place – so he ignored reason for once and enjoyed the glide. He stretched out and brushed his hands against the sides as he fell. The clouds were like bubbles between his fingers. A floor of charcoal-grey cloudfluff reared up towards him. He braced himself, but there was no impact, he merely sank softly into the grey. Then gradually, through the grey, faint lights appeared. Not the white light of the stars – something yellower, sharper. They clustered, came into focus and the cloud thinned out, and the glittering sprawl of London emerged.

Alma grabbed his hand and pulled him to a stop next to her, on a swan-shaped cloud. She gestured down at the view. ‘To die for, right?’

‘It’s something else.’

The chimneys belched smoke high into the air. The great river slurped, brown and grey. Ant-sized people marched past matchbox houses, and even the chugging riverboats looked small. But the city seemed endless, swallowing the land in all directions. To the north, it gleamed with wealth and grandeur: regal townhouses, well-kept parks and the rising green of Hampstead Heath. To the south, the slums stretched out for miles of barbed wire fences and corrugated iron, burning rubbish and crumbling walls, hollow-eyed buildings and sunken streets. His dad had never let them go south, now he saw why. Only the lights of Battersea glowed bright in the south. She turned to him. ‘And now we just need to teach you to fly.’

‘Fly? Me?’

‘Yep, and for you, the first step is to relax. You’re far too uptight. The water drops are all pent up inside you.’

‘Uptight?’ Luke frowned. ‘I’m not uptight.’

Alma tutted. ‘That’s exactly what an uptight person would say. If you loosened up, your raindrops would too, and they’d spread into cloud, like my swan here.’

Being told to calm down, Luke thought, was like being told to forget something. The more you tried, the harder it was. And those who went around saying it usually knew better.

‘I don’t get it. Why do I need a swan?’

She put her hand on her chest, where her heart would have been. ‘I’m only trying to help, no need to be defensive. If it’s too difficult, I can drop you back at the plant. I’m sure wiping up sewage is just as much fun.’

He didn’t rise to the bait. He took a breath and smiled back.

‘I’m curious, that’s all.’

‘Well, if you must know, you need your own cloud to catch the wind. That’s how you fly.’

Something stirred inside him. ‘Like flying a kite?’

‘A bit but, of course, it’s far more difficult.’ Alma shook her head. ‘It takes lots of practice. And for a start you need to imagine your shape . . .’

Luke had stopped listening. He remembered flying kites on Parliament Hill with Lizzy and Dad, their tasseled diamonds soaring high in the air. The image burned in his mind. His skin seemed to tingle with the thought of it all.

‘You’re doing it,’ Alma whispered. ‘Whatever you’re doing, don’t stop!’

He couldn’t have stopped if he’d wanted to. It was all flooding back. They’d bundle their kites up with string and catch the train, then climb the steep, muddy hill together. His dad walked in the middle, holding them each by the hand. Then when they reached the top . . .

He stopped for a moment and caught his breath. It was as though all the memories, after being buried for so long, were bursting out of him, in all directions. And there was that tingling again – from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. Alma pulled at his hand. ‘Luke, look down.’

There at his feet, a cloud was unfolding. It seemed to come from inside him, he could feel it stretching, like an endless yawn. Larger and larger, until he stood on a diamond-shaped cloud of his own.

She frowned a little. ‘Beginners’ luck, I guess, but it’s a bit . . . edgy.’

‘It’s my kite, from home.’

‘It’s ugly. Normally, we make animals. Like my swan, you see. It’s prettier that way. But I guess, if I must, I can work with a triangle.’

‘It’s not a triangle. It’s a diamond.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Same difference. Now, pay attention. Flying a cloud is a most technical thing . . .’

And she was talking again. Talking his ear off. A girl, he thought, who didn’t know the difference between a triangle and a diamond.

‘. . . and honestly, quite dangerous, if a storm gets you . . .’ she prattled on.

What did Alma know about danger? She was already dead, for a start, and that morning had got herself stuck inside an incinerator.

‘Are you listening, Luke? This is a regulation safety briefing. It’s very—’

‘But you said to seize the day, and we just seem to be—’

‘Seize it, yes. Interrupt me, no.’

So he didn’t interrupt again. Not when he felt the breeze brewing behind him. Nor when he realised that he could move his cloud (it was not half as technical as Alma made out). And when the wind finally peaked, in a powerful gust, he didn’t say a word to interrupt her flow. He just took a deep breath, tilted his cloud to catch the wind, and rocketed down towards the city. Whooping, he turned back to wave at Alma. He didn’t know which was sweeter: flying a cloud, or the fact that Alma, for once, looked lost for words.

Huge thanks to Hachette for inviting me to take part in the Ghostcloud blog tour. Do make sure you check out all of the other stops.