Shortlisted for the 2021 CrimeFest Award for Best Crime Novel for Young Adults
“Congratulations, new kid. Welcome to the afterlife.”
What if death is only the beginning?
When Harriet Stoker dies after falling from a balcony in a long-abandoned building, she discovers a world of ghosts with magical powers – shape-shifting, hypnosis, even the ability to possess the living.
Felix, Kasper, Rima and Leah welcome her into their world, eager to make friends with the new arrival. Yet Harriet is more interested in unleashing her own power, even if it means destroying everyone around her. But when all of eternity is at stake, the afterlife can be a dangerous place to make an enemy.
Word count: 93,000 Ages 14+
The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker is published in the UK and Australia by Walker Books (2020). The cover was designed by Chloé Tartinville.
“This intriguing, often funny supernatural drama is full of diverse characters grappling with power, the value of loyalty and discovering that sometimes friends make the best family.” – The Sydney Morning Herald
“A wildly original, pleasantly diverse and wickedly engaging supernatural thriller. Fans of anti-heroes, the found family trope, queer relationships, and cool mythology will enjoy this one!” – The Nerd Daily
“Dead character Harriet discovers a world of ghosts with magical powers – shape-shifting, hypnosis, even the ability to possess the living (great for fans of TV shows Upload and the Good Place)” – BookTrust
“Harriet Stoker is such a wild ride. Twisty plot, murderous ghosts, found family, slow-burn romance – I was hooked from the very first chapter and could not put this book down. With characters I instantly loved (and some I hated) this book is my favourite Lauren James story” – Alice Oseman, author of Heartstopper
“If you can’t get enough of books with ghosts, found family, anti-heroines, and ‘edge of your seat’ plot twists, say hello to The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, the gripping new paranormal YA release from UKYA superstar, Lauren James (aka, your new favourite read.)” – United by Pop
“Harriet Stoker is dead. And she’s really not very happy about it. James’s hugely entertaining novel follows Harriet as she tries to adjust to her new life while creating mayhem all around.” – The i Paper
“A twisty and unpredictable afterlife tale . . . with impeccable world-building, this novel is highly entertaining and just the right amount of creepy.” – Readings AU
“Another corker of a book from Lauren James, who has created a complex world of well-rounded characters and a mysterious plot that twists and turns throughout. […] Genuinely tense and dark in places, but also humorous with a LGBTQ+ romantic thread running through, this book has it all.” – The School Librarian
“Lauren James is one of our best UKYA writers, who never fails to produce a page-turning, exciting and flawlessly crafted novel. The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker is no different; it’s a masterpiece” – Lucy Powrie, author of The Paper & Hearts Society
“Startlingly original, so twisty and clever and tense with wit and humour thrown in too” – Laura Wood, author of A Sky Painted Gold
“A fast-paced spookfest full of twists and turns, with characters you’ll love (and love to hate!)” – Kat Ellis, author of Harrow Lake
This is my first ever fantasy novel, about a girl who gets in above her head when she tries to become the most powerful ghost in a building of ancient spirits.
The other ghosts happen to be freshers who all died in their halls of residence during their first year of uni, decades earlier. They’ve spent years bickering, flirting, play-fighting and developing in-jokes with each other in the decrepit and abandoned building where they all died. When Harriet becomes a ghost, she finds them as baffling as they find her modern. She has a lot to learn about life, even after she’s died.
I’ve always loved the idea of ghosts, but I’ve always felt like there was something missing from paranormal stories. Where do ghosts get their energy from? What happens when ghosts live together in the same building? Do they share ‘haunting’ duties, or do they have to compete for space? And, most importantly, can a ghost die? What happens to them when things go wrong? I wanted to answer those questions in this novel.
I’m so excited for you to meet my nineties ghost gang – Rima, Felix, Kasper and Leah, as well as Leah’s young baby Claudia, and Rima’s pet fox Cody. If you liked Being Human, Misfits or Crashing by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, then I hope you’ll like this book. It’s a horrom-com (AKA a genre I just invented, the horror romantic comedy). It’s grisly and gory, with an epic romance and quite a few plot twists along the way (would it be a Lauren James book without them?).
For more information, check out the writing journey blog posts I’ve been posting about this project since 2016 – parts one , two, three and four. There’s also lots of additional content in the Tumblr tag. There are some fun extras below!
Moodboard (on Tumblr)
Fancasting the characters (on Tumblr)
Harriet is Daisy Ridley
Rima is Mandip Gill
Leah is Sofia Boutella
Felix is Keiynan Lonsdale
Kasper is Froy Gutierrez
Qi is Sandra Oh
Rufus is Rami Malek
Vini is Dylan O’Brien
Oscar is Idris Elba
Norma is Emma Thompson
[spoiler] is Michael Sheen
Greg is Dominic West
Writing inspirations (on Goodreads)
- Stoker (2013)
- The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
- Monsters by Emerald Fennell
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
- The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt
- The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
- Pure by Andrew Miller
- What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
- Beetlejuice (1988)
- Crashing (Channel 4, 2016)
- Being Human (BBC, 2008)
- Misfits (Channel 4, 2009)
What can readers expect from The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, and how is it similar or different to your other novels?
It’s very different from my other books – it’s a horror, which I’ve written a bit of in The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, but not fully explored. It’s also my first book outside of the realm of science fiction, as this is a paranormal fantasy. I’m so glad I was allowed to explore other genres, as often authors are expected to continue writing similar types of books – so I feel really lucky to have stepped outside my comfort zone into something new. But it has a lot of the same elements of previous novels – humour, romance, plot twists, funny characters (or rather, characters who think they’re funny) and found families.
The ghosts in your world have their own energies, rules, powers: what made you want to show a different side to ghosts than we’ve seen in pop culture before, and how did you decide on the shape and structure of the afterlife in The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker?
My sci-fi is always heavily based on rules and real science, so when I started thinking about the world of ghosts, I naturally gravitated towards thinking about how ghosts might work scientifically. Everything has to have an energy source, and ghosts would no exception. The world expanded from there, as I tried to work out how that might shape a society where there is one valuable resource – the energy that keeps spirits together. If you can get enough energy, there’s no limit to how long a ghost can survive, which means the oldest ghosts are the most powerful, as they’ve had many centuries to take and retain that energy. It gets quite dark, as Harriet learns how far they’ve gone to achieve that.
Harriet isn’t always a very likeable character. Why do you think it’s important to have female protagonists that aren’t always likeable, and who are some of your favourite female antiheroes?
Oh, gosh. There are so many I love! Villanelle in Killing Eve, Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials, Fleabag in Fleabag, Alyssa in The End of the F***ing World, Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development, Petra in Jane the Virgin and Kerry Mucklowe in This Country – and I’ll stop myself there, before I fill a textbook with complicated women!
I think the appeal for me is a female character whose goals are more important to her than being liked – she’s willing to be rejected from society to make herself happy, and values her own judgement above anyone else’s viewpoint. That takes a kind of selfishness that is really interesting to me, from a character creation point of view.
Tell us about your experience writing The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker.
It was really tough, actually! It took a few years of coming back to the first draft before I managed to get it right. This was my first fantasy novel after writing several sci-fi, which follow the rules of the real world. This is a paranormal fantasy with magic, so the plot possibilities seemed endless and overwhelming. Everything clicked into place when I realised the importance of a magic system with rules and limitations. When your characters have powers – each of the ghosts can do something unique, like hypnotism, shapeshifting or clairvoyance – it’s very important that the magic has restrictions. Otherwise, what are the consequences of their actions? What is stopping them from becoming impossibly powerful? That gave my plot a structure that made the novel a lot easier to work with.
Out of all the powers the ghosts have in the book, which one would you most want?
I would love Rima’s power of shapeshifting into different animals – it seems like the most fun, especially as she can fly as birds, or explore inside the walls of the building as a little mouse.
What’s up next for you?
I’m currently working on a novel about climate change – something I’ve wanted to write about for years, but never felt good enough to tackle, as it’s such an enormous topic. I’m finding it tough, and there’s a lot research to do, but it’s such an important discussion to have. When I’m struggling to write something, I tend to go away and read lots of books, to teach myself more about writing by seeing how the masters do it. So I’ve been reading a lot recently – authors like N K Jemisin and Naomi Novik have been especially inspiring.
Writing playlist (on Spotify)
- Reckless Serenade//Arctic Monkeys
- House Party//Sam Hunt
- 400 Lux//Lorde
- Me//The 1975
- Ghosts//The Head and the Heart
- Fantasy//MS MR
- Golden Years//David Bowie
- Ghosts that we knew//Mumford & Sons
- Everything about you//Ugly Kid Joe
- This is why we can’t have nice things//Taylor Swift
- The Whip//Locksley
- Half Moon Rising//Yonder Mountain String Band
Latest posts about The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker
- Writing an Unreliable NarratorIf you’re a voracious reader, you probably recognise the structure of familiar plot formats as soon as you start reading a novel. It can sometimes get a bit boring when you can guess the twists of stories before they happen.Continue reading “Writing an Unreliable Narrator”
- A Definitive Ranking of the Deadliest Ghosts in FictionIn my new novel The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, my ghosts have magical powers, based on their personality and heritage. These powers can be anything from shape-shifting and hypnotism to clothing manipulation, so some are more useful than others.Continue reading “A Definitive Ranking of the Deadliest Ghosts in Fiction”
- My favourite female antiheroesIn my new novel The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, I did something I’ve wanted to do for years – write about a girl who is unapologetically, completely evil. I’d never seen a villainous female character – like Loki –Continue reading “My favourite female antiheroes”