Defeating the Worry Creatures: A Guest Piece by Francesca Gibbons
Beyond the Mountains is the second instalment of the Clock of Stars series. In this book, two sisters (Imogen and Marie) return to the magical world that they visited in book one. But this time, Marie gets kidnapped and Imogen, desperate to save her sister, gives chase.
Imogen comes up against some formidable monsters on her journey – including worry creatures. These pint-sized beasts can only be seen by her. They spend their days whispering negative thoughts and are, essentially, an embodiment of her anxieties.
You will not be surprised to hear that I was struggling with anxiety myself when the idea for the worry creatures first popped into my head. It’s something that I know many children suffer from too.
I felt it was important to show Imogen fighting her worry creatures and (spoiler alert!) finding a way to disempower them… which doesn’t involve fighting at all. I hope it encourages young readers to talk – and us adults to be the best listeners we can.
Here’s an extract, from Beyond the Mountain, when the worry creatures first reappear...
Something stirred behind the curtain. ‘Hello?’ said Imogen, lifting her head. ‘Who’s there? Why are you hiding?’ The curtain’s tasselled hem lifted and Imogen held her breath. ‘It can’t be,’ she whispered. ‘I got rid of my worry creatures.’
But there it was. Defying all logic. The worry creature crawled into view. It was as tall as a garden gnome, with a potato-shaped body and pale skinny limbs.
You can’t get rid of us, it hissed. We’re always in the shadows, getting fat on your fear.
‘I’m not afraid,’ gasped Imogen. But as the words left her lips, she knew it was a lie.
The worry creature reached towards her and Imogen’s chest tightened, her breaths coming shallow and sharp. ‘You’re not real,’ she whimpered. ‘You can’t be.’
Imogen hadn’t told anyone about the worry creatures. Not her therapist. Not her mum. Not even Marie.
You should be ashamed of yourself, it snarled. Luring your sister away from the hotel . . . bringing her here just to prove that you’re right. You love having an audience, don’t you?
‘Leave me alone,’ said Imogen, trying to keep the wobble from her voice. ‘Everything’s going to be fine.’
The creature gave her an evil smile. Marie will be dead before you find her.
‘Go away!’ Imogen’s voice was a squeak. She sprang out of bed, but the worry creature wouldn’t back down. They never did.
It was all coming back to her now – the long lonely nights, the bad thoughts, the terror that seized her by the throat. She’d thought it was over. She’d thought that, if only she could forget about the worry creatures, they’d forget about her too.
The creature drew its finger across its neck. Dead, dead, dead. Dead before you find her.
That was enough. Imogen flung the curtains apart. The worry creature grabbed the hem of her nightdress and started to climb the outside. Dead, dead, dead. It swung on to her shoulder, sharp little fingers tugging her hair.
Imogen opened the window and wrenched the creature from her neck. DEAD, DEAD, DEAD! It writhed and screamed.
‘Leave me alone,’ cried Imogen and she hurled it out of the window. The worry creature hit the cobbles with a splat.
She listened for a reply . . .
But the creature would soon pick itself up and begin climbing the gutter. Imogen shut the window and secured the latch.
‘Everything’s going to be fine,’ she sobbed as she ran back to her bed.
A Clock of Stars (3) — THE GREATEST KINGDOM, Francesca Gibbons illustrated by Chris Riddell, £12.99 – publishing 27 Oct 2022 [HarperCollins Children’s Books]
Author Photo © Ed Miller