Plot Outline:

The boys and girls in the graveyard were shouting, but Koyasan no longer heard them. The world had become a wide, grey void. She could hear deep rasping sounds, the breath of creatures which had been human once but weren’t any more…

Koyasan is too scared to cross the bridge and play in the graveyard like the other children. But when her sister’s soul is stolen, she must find the courage to enter a realm of evil, shape-shifting spirits.

A spellbinding tale from the internationally bestselling author of Cirque Du Freak and Lord Loss.

This book was specially written and published for World Book Day 2006.

Author Notes:

On 2nd March 2006, HarperCollins published a short book by me, called "Koyasan". It was one of the World Book Day books -- each year, a selection of short novels are published in the UK for World Book Day, and are sold for £1 each. I was asked to do one for 2006, and luckily I had "Koyasan" bubbling about at the back of my mind, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to write it.

"Koyasan" entered the Official UK Top 50 chart at Number 4. That was the OVERALL chart -- including adult books as well as children's. That's the highest placing any of my books have enjoyed in the UK. Of course, WBD books traditionally sell very well, because lots of children in the UK receive £1 book vouchers, which most use to buy one of the WBD titles. Still, it was great to see one of my books riding so high in the charts, and hopefully it helped introduce lots of new readers to my other novels.

I visited the holy mountain of Koyasan on my third trip to Japan, in January 2005. After a fast, furious, hugely enjoyable weekend of events, my publishers and agent took me on a tour around some of the country, as they had done during my second visit. (That second trip was a of great relevance to the creation of this book, and will be explained further down...) We went to Kumano, Matsusaka and Nagoya, among other places. But we started with a trip to Koyasan.

A few of my publishing team came with me, and so did Maiko, my main contact at Tuttle Mori, my Japanese agency. I first met Maiko in Bologna in the early noughties, and we became good friends over the years. We always try and meet up with each other when we’re in the same country, even if it’s not for work.

Koyasan is a beautiful place. We stayed in an ancient temple and I ate a vegetarian meal which was so delicious, it almost persuaded me to stop eating meat! (Alas, in the end, the lure of hamburgers proved too strong!) It had been snowing just before we arrived and everywhere was white.

During our stay, we explored a vast, very old cemetery. I was a bit grumpy to begin with — the grips on my shoes were not very good, and the path was slippery when we first entered the cemetery, so I had to concentrate on trying to keep my balance. But as we progressed, the snow faded and I was able to relax and enjoy the cemetery sights.

And what sights! It was the most amazing cemetery I’d ever visited. There were over half a million tombs. Many dated back centuries, but modern companies also had tombs or monuments, adorned with company symbols, photos of some of the board members, etc. And some of the companies had installed carved models which were associated with their company's product, e.g. cars. The most impressive and astonishing was a 30 foot tall rocket! I’d never seen anything like this before!

But the most special part of the day came when we reached a stream. There was a temple on the other side. Maiko had told me in advance that she was nervous about this visit. Although Maiko is a true twenty-first century woman, who has travelled the globe independently, she has a strong sense of tradition. It’s a mix which fascinates me about Japan — the intertwining of the ancient with the ultra-modern. On my second trip to Japan, I had visited a place called OsoreZan, a spooky, volcanic part of the country, where the spirits of dead children are said to rest before making their way to the next world. Maiko told me that she had been very sick after our time in OsoreZan, and believed a malevolent spirit had possessed and upset her. Modern medicine had been unable to cure her, and in the end she had gone to a faith healer, who had driven out the evil spirit.

In the cemetery on Koyasan, Maiko had a bad feeling about the temple on the other side of the stream. She felt it was a place of dark spirits and she thought she might get sick again if she crossed the bridge over the stream. So she stayed behind while the rest of us went to see the temple.

On our way back, I gently teased Maiko and made up a story about spirits which might have been living over the bridge. But rather than try to scare her, I came up with ways to defeat the imaginary spirits, to show that there was no need to be afraid of them. I think we both enjoyed the crazy scenarios which I invented.

I knew even before we left the cemetery that I had the idea for a cool little story, but I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to release it, given that I was in the middle of getting ready to launch my Demonata series, which would run for several years. But when I got back home, I was asked to write a short novel for World Book Day. "Koyasan" seemed like the perfect story, an the timing was just right, so I sat down and wrote it.

I would have liked to call the main character Maiko, after the real Maiko who inspired it, but I felt it was important to honour the spirits of the mountain of Koyasan, so I named another character Maiko instead. Although the real Maiko is more worried about spirits than I am, in most ways she is much braver and tougher than me. She climbs mountains in her spare time, something I wouldn’t dare do! She has the same courageous soul as Koyasan, so it gave me great pleasure to dedicate the story to her, and to thank her for all the help, guidance and friendship she has offered to me every time I have come as a visitor to Japan.

Global Cover Variations

  • Book Cover Image Koyasan (Hungary)
  • Book Cover Image Koyasan (Turkey)
  • Book Cover Image Koyasan (UK)
  • Book Cover Image Koyasan (Indonesia)
  • Book Cover Image Koyasan (UK - first draft)
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