Book Time is the first stop on The Ghost Collector Blog Tour. Thank you, Allison Mills, for joining me today to talk about music, which connects the characters in your middle grade book, set to be released Sept. 10 ($11.95, Annick Press.) See my review of this book below. 

Head and shoulder shot of author Allison Mills.
Allison Mills wrote The Ghost Collector, which comes out Sept. 10. Photo by KHo

Guest Post by Allison Mills

A major thread that ties The Ghost Collector together is the relationship characters have not with ghosts – or not just with ghosts- but with music.

That thread of connection wasn’t there from the start though; it developed over time. When I first wrote the short story that inspired the novel, one of my favourite characters to write was Joseph. I knew exactly who he was right away – a friend and the cool older brother figure Shelly didn’t have in her life.

One of the things that has delighted me most since If a Bird Can be a Ghost – the short story version – came out is that many readers seem to hold the same affection for Joseph than I do. I guess there’s something universally appealing about the concept of an older kid who is friendly despite the fact that their taste in music clearly indicates that they’re too cool to hang out with you.

He’s sardonic, smart, and vaguely counter-culture – everything you want in a fictional older sibling, maybe some things you wish you’d been or want to be as a teen. He provides a valuable anchor for Shelly as the most self-aware ghost in the book, even when it turns out that he doesn’t have all the answers Shelly is looking for.

Joseph is also how music became an integral part of the world of The Ghost Collector. His taste in music – The Cure, Sousxie and the Banshees, The Smiths – tells you a lot about the time period he’s from and the kind of person he was.

Even if you’ve never heard any of the music referenced in the novel – and likely most readers of The Ghost Collector haven’t, as it all came out in the early 90s – I hope that everyone else’s reaction to Joseph’s taste in music and Shelly’s descriptions of the songs she hears tells you what you need to know.

Joseph finds meaning and creates an identity for himself through his choice in music. It’s how he expresses himself and lets himself be known by other characters. It’s how he and Shelly connect – he shares his music with her, and she brings him music they can listen to together.

Music as a point of connection is something that was sort of present in the original short story, but that was significantly expanded when I started turning the story into a novel.

This was partially because I wanted to add more Joseph, and partially to emphasize that Joseph is the intersection of Shelly’s relationships with her mother and grandmother – a ghost who loves music like her mom does. A ghost who listens to the same music her mother listened to as a teenager.

Music connects Shelly and her mom, too. They sing along to songs in her car and search the thrift store for cassette tapes together. Shelly feels comfortable around Joseph not just because he’s close to her age, but also because he’s someone who uses music to bond with people, just like her mother did. In that way, even though Joseph and Shelly’s mom never meet, they’re also connected.

Truthfully, before I sat down to expand on Joseph and Shelly and Shelly’s mom and their unique relationships to music, my own relationship with it was mostly thinking songs were nice to listen to.

Music was good background noise for whatever else I was doing. Writing The Ghost Collector made me think about music in a way I hadn’t before. Hearing the right song or discovering the right album at the right time in your life is like stumbling over a book that speaks to you. (Something that’s happened to me more than once in my life.) It reflects your feelings, your state of being, your sense of self – it can become, as it is for Joseph, how you tell the world who you are.

Music can help you make meaning in the world. It can also, when someone shares that music with you or when you share your music with them, bring people together.

Looking back now, I can see that I had that, I just didn’t think about my memories of music that way. I have songs I associate with certain people or memories – “Let It Snow” and my mother, for example, who sings “Oh, the weather outside is frightful” in response to all bad weather, even when it’s not snow, or the song “Our House” with dancing across the lines of sunlight-shade-sunlight cast by the curtains in my parents’ living room when I was small.

That deeper appreciation for music and memory making, with people I love, is one of the great joys of writing this book, and I hope that readers are able to come out of The Ghost Collector and find the little ways they connect with the important people in their lives, too.

Allison Mills (lliliw/Cree and settler) is a writer, archivist and librarian who loves all things ghost-related. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Review The Ghost Collector

I really liked the story of the ghost collector, in this case Shelly’s grandmother, who is lliliw/Cree, who collects ghosts by pulling her hair down and wrapping it around the ghost. Her grandmother, a kind person who is teaching Shelly how to help ghosts transition, brings the ghosts home, provides hot tea and watch them fade away. I particularly liked that The Ghost Collector is based on the true story of how Mill’s great-grandmother, Louisa, was asked by the police to help them find missing people in Chapleau, Ontario

In the book The Ghost Collector, Shelly helps her grandmother catch ghosts – in their hair. Shelly and her grandmother – her mom, too, but she doesn’t like to use her gift – catch the ghosts to help them transition to what is beyond, although no one seems to know what that is, not her grandmother and not Joseph, the teenage ghost who Shelly talks to about music and, eventually, her mom, who dies unexpectedly. After her mom dies, Shelly begins to collect ghosts, hoarding people and animals in her room.

“Shelly can’t ignore the one ghost that’s missing. Why hasn’t her mom’s ghost come home yet?”

I love the idea of how some people remain on Earth and need help going to the next place, whatever that is. I also liked the visual of animals being stuck, often literally. Shelly and her grandmother free the ghost of a raccoon, which died by getting stuck in a chimney, poor thing. I didn’t like, however, the idea of ghost mice. It’s bad enough to have real mice, but to be haunted by the sounds of mice running around your house is just gross.

Follow along

Want to read more about The Ghost Collector? Follow the blog tour.

post with the front cover of the book The Ghost Collector plus blog names of participants.
Follow along with the Ghost Collector Blog Tour.

A copy of The Ghost Collector was provided by Annick Press for an honest review.
The opinions are my own.