Monday, May 06, 2013

Beware of the Cliff(hanger)! by Deborah Abela

    During the year six sleepover, a few students decide to sneak to the bathroom at night and summon a ghost. It doesn’t work. Or so they think? Just as they decide to go to bed, they see, ‘wrapped in a dark cloak, its face concealed, a figure lift its arms and slowly move towards them'  
    (Ghost Club: The Haunted School by Deborah Abela)

When I was young, I loved the cliffhanger… that moment when you reach the end of the chapter and it literally leaves you hanging on a moment, a thought or an action where you just have to know what happens next! Is it a real ghost the kids have seen, or a trick, or a very vivid dream? And what should they do next?

As a writer, I love playing with cliffhangers and leaving my readers poised on the edge of an idea, desperate to know the fate of the characters. Sometimes I know what’s going to happen and other times it creeps up and even surprises me.

In my novel Grimsdon, chapters end with sneaker waves barrelling towards my characters, a flying machine plunging through the air about to crash and my heroine tied in ropes falling from a ship into cold harbour waters below. In my Max Remy books, Ghost Club and The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen, there are chapter endings where spies dangle over jellyfish infested lagoons, headless horsemen appear from gloomy fog and beloved homes crackle with fire... these are the kinds of stories I love.

Some of my favourite books as a kid were Professor Branestawn by Norman Hunter and The Lorax by Dr Seuss. Glorious books with great cliffhangers! Inventions that threaten to explode and a planet in peril, unless a young boy cares enough to save his once beautiful town.

Stories are like this blog... where will it all end and how? But what we do know, is that we will go to very fine destinations along the way and ‘the more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.’ (I Can Read With My Eyes Shut by Dr Seuss)

BUT a word of warning… ALWAYS watch out for the cliffhangers.

About the Author

Deborah is short and not very brave, which may explain why she writes books about spies, ghosts, soccer legends and children living in a flooded city battling sea monsters and sneaker waves. She’s written the Max Remy Superspy and Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen, Grimsdon and the Ghost Club series, about two 11-year-olds who deal with cheeky paranormal pests. Deborah’s won awards for her books, but mostly hopes to be as brave as her characters.

When I was young, as well as Professor Branestawm, I loved just about any book I could get my hands on. Our librarian was brilliant at reading out passages of books and leaving us at cliffhanger moments where we all bounded to the circulation desk to reserve our chance to know what happened next.

At the moment, I am reading 'Now' by Morris Gleitzman, 'Pippi Longstocking' by Astrid Lindgren, 'Peter Pan' by J M Barrie and 'Gangsta Granny' by David Walliams. I've also just read An Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks, which I loved.

NSW National Year of Reading & Premier's Reading Challenge Ambassador 2012
2013 Maurice Saxby Award for Services to Children's Literature
2012 USBBY Outstanding International Book Awards & Real Awards
2011 Favourite Kids' Book KBR, shortlisted Aurealis, Real & Speech Pathology Awards
2010 Shortlisted Koala, YABBA, Aurealis Awards & CBC Notable Book


  1. Love a good cliffhanger! J. K. Rowling is one of my favourite writers for these, although I loved those in Grimsdon, too.

    Sometimes I worry I overuse them as a writer myself, though ... do you think it's possible to have too many cliffhangers?

  2. Bertie's friend6 May 2013 at 17:01

    Thanks Deborah I do enjoy a good cliffhanger. I think Australian team's participation in Kid's Lit Quiz is a real-life cliffhanger. Will they get to go to South Africa? Can they win? It is all very exciting and we wish them the best. Bertie's friend

  3. Thanks Deb. There's nothing like a good cliffhanger to keep a reader engaged in a book series.

    JKR did it very effectively in the Harry Potter series that kept the whole world in a state of suspense over 7 books and a number of years. How was it all going to turn out? What did the secret prophesy mean? How would good triumph over evil? Who would die?

    Rick Riordan did the same in his very popular Percy Jackson series.

    I'm interested in Alexa's question too - can you have too many? I think, yes. If a reader is left with too many questions the book is less satisfying - like a murder mystery without a perpetrator.

    Nick made a comment on Sam's review of Space Demons that the second book in the Galax-Arena ends on a cliffhanger but then a third book didn't eventuate. That could be very frustrating!

    I'd be interested to know what other readers think too.

    Which books have great cliffhangers? (no spoilers,please!)

  4. Another point that Deb made which made me think that cliffhanger endings are hard to write is that sometimes even she is surprised by how a story turns out. Almost as if it has taken on a character of its own in the telling.

    You might think that a story's going one way when you start out and then you find it developing in all sorts of unexpected ways (a bit like this blog!).

    Is that a good thing or not? How do writers react when a story takes an unexpected turn?

  5. I like cliff hangerS but not when they are the end of the book and you have to wait and wait for the next one in the series! Tanya, Sydney

  6. In How to Ride A Dragon's Storm (The How to Train your Dragon Series by Cressida Cowell) it ended with the line
    'Too many questions, not enough answers'
    I think that describes a cliffhanger well.
    (The book ended in a cliffhanger as well!!)

  7. And the Heroes of Olympus series, ALWAYS ended in a cliffhanger. Each book came out in October every year, so far 12 months you torture yourself thinking 'What is going to happen?'
    A dark part of me thinks that Rick Riordan, the author, does this on purpose!!!

  8. In the Princess Bride, the main character who us narrating the story, ends it on a cliffhanger. He then explains his actions, by saying that he liked to make up his own ending to the story.
    I think that this can be good, because there is no finality to it, and you can think about it however you like. When I was reading the Gone series, and the last book came out, I almost didn't want to read it because I knew that would be the end.

  9. I have just finished Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge,(Which I LOVED) and it ended on a cliffhanger. It made me wonder; do authors sometimes not intend to leave books on cliffhangers?
    If you have read Fly By Night, what do you think of the ending, and why it happened? Will there be a sequel?