About the Author

Anne Fine was born and educated in the Midlands, and now lives in  County Durham. She has written numerous highly acclaimed and prize-winning books for children and adults. Her novel The Tulip Touch won the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award; Goggle-Eyes won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award and the Carnegie Medal, and was adapted for television by the BBC; Flour Babies won the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award; Bill’s New Frock won a Smarties Prize, and Madame Doubtfire has become a major feature film starring Robin Williams.


            This novel is a tale that is both funny and moving. Five children are stranded together for the night in a tower of creepy, dark old Harwick Hall. In that stormy night, the children uncover the story of Richard Clayton Harwick which is very disturbing. It is a tale of a boy who of many years ago learned what it was like to have a truly wicked stepfather.

            Richard Clayton Harwick’s long hidden journal provides an inner tale that triggers off, one by one, each of the stories of the listening children. It turns out eventually that they all have step parents, some kind, some bad, some just plain wrong and so they tell each other their stories. After listening to Richard’s story, each of the five tells his or her own. Their stories are powerful and intensely moving tales of children struggling with change and shifting family conditions

            Claudia’s story shows things well on the way to a happy ending. Claudia feels disloyal to her mum whenever she has a good time with her father and his new girlfriend, Stella. Thus, she is unfriendly towards Stella. Finally, in front of her Dad’s friends who are rude to Stella, she compliments Stella and makes everyone notice the lady.

            Colin’s story is moving. Colin’s seems the saddest. He had someone he thought of as his father and now he misses him so badly that it hurts. Colin’s mother leaves the only father Colin has known, a man she lived with for many years, and in her attempt to create a new life for herself does not see that Colin has been torn from a man he loves. Colin loves his stepfather, but hasn’t seen him for five years, and is obsessively determined to find him.

            Ralph’s story, though merry, is as complicated as a maze. He has three stepmothers to deal with. All of them are different in their ways. In addition, he has a lot of stepbrothers, stepsisters, half brother and half sisters to accept in his life. Ralph cannot keep track of which parent’s house he should go to after school each day, so his parents develop a lunchbox system: the Dumbo lunchbox means Dad’s house after school; the Mickey Mouse one directs him to his mother’s.Towards the end, we can see that he is anxiously waiting for his little half sister or half brother to be born.           

Pixie has to deal with two really irritating sisters. She hates to go over her dad’s house twice in a month. She feels that everyone is pretending to be in a happy family when thay are actually not. She has to deal with two really irritating stepsisters and father who pretends he doesn’t notice how difficult things are for her.Soon, Pixie discovers that her stepmother and stepsisters aren’t any happier about the situation than she is. She learns to adapt to the situation. One of her step sisters teaches her mathematics and in return she tells ghost stories.

Robbo and his sister, Callie find that their half sister, Dumpa is the problem. Both their Mum and stepfather, Roy keep on arguing. The arguments are mainly due to Callie.  Callie never seems to see eye to eye with Roy. Both Mum and Roy are committed with each other just because of Dumpa, their three year old son. Eventually, Callie moves out to her Dad’s place and that solves the problem

            Each of their stories is different, but through the act of telling, and through the responses of the other children, each one learns more about his or her life. 


The plot of a novel comprises of the series of events that make up the story. It shows the events and thoughts which make up the novel’s basic structure. It shows the arrangement of ideas and / or incidents that make up a story.

Climax – turning point


Rising Action – problems and conflicts are revealed

Exposition – characters and setting are revealed.

Falling Action – resolutions to conflicts solved

Resolution – final outcome




One stormy night, five children are thrown together in a creepy  tower, dark old Harwick Hall.

Rising Action

They explore the tower


The discover Richard Clayton Harwick’s room which is in a tower off the tower.

Falling Action

The find the long hidden journal that belongs to Richard Clayton Harwick.


They decide to read the journal as they never get the chance to peep into other people’s life.


(Richard Harwick’s Story)


Richard’s father had fever and eventually he died.

Rising Action

Richard’s mother remarried. She married Mr. Coldstone who was a cruel man.


Richard left home as he was not happy with the situation.

Falling Action

Richard found the note on the captain’s table. He realized that his family was looking for him. He returns home and finds a letter written by his sister, Charlotte. In the letter, Charlotte reveals all the difficulties they had had to undergo. He realized that his mother was searching for him.


He has to make a decision whether he should leave again.


(Claudia’s story) 



Claudia’s Mum and Dad quarrel a lot

Rising Action

Dad leaves the house to stay with Granny and later moves to Stella’s. Claudia is sent to Stella’s house all of a sudden and on that day Dad and Stella are having a party. Claudia excuses herself politely to be in her room during the dinner.


Wearing the green pyjamas given by Stella, she parades and makes a grand appearance at the party. She informs Stella that she likes the pyjamas.

Falling Action

Everyone starts noticing Stella and make a conversation with her.


Claudia is happy for Stella.


(Colin’s Story)


Colin lives with his mum and a man he assumes to be his father. He calls him ‘Dad”

Rising Action

Colin and his dad spend a lot of time together. His dad walks him to and fro from school and takes him to the park. Colin loves his dad very much.


Colin’s mum leaves the house and moves to another place. She finds a job at a canteen

Falling Action

Colin misses his dad very much. He even pretends to talk to him.


He waits for the day when he will be able to find his dad.


(Ralph’s Story)



Ralph has a big family. He has three stepmothers to deal with.

Rising Action

He manages to tolerate all of them


Flora, Stepmother number three is pregnant

Falling Action

He plans to help Flora to take care of his half sister or half brother.


With the help of Mum, he sorts out the baby’s clothes.


(Pixie’s Story)


Pixie goes over her father’s place twice in a month

Rising Action

Pixie hates her stepsisters’ habits


Hetty moves in Pixie’s room

Falling Action

Pixie and Lucy tells each other their feelings


Pixie learns to adapt to the situation


(Robbo’s Story)


Robbo’s parents have splited up long ago

Rising Action

His sister Callie hates Roy, their stepfather. Frequent quarrels are seen in the house.


Roy is very adamant and refuses to speak or do things for the step children as before

Falling Action

Callie decides to move to Dad’s place.


Mum helps to set up Dad’s home so that it would be comfortable for Callie.

Conclusion   The children feel proud to relate their stories. Everyone’s story is different. The message is not about solving the problems, but about simply dealing with them. Several of the stories are quite poignant, one is funny, and none reach a final resolution by the end–one, in fact, is left hanging rather ominously. But all of the children have had a chance to express what they’re feeling, and to realize (along with readers) that they are not alone.

Plot summary

A group of children are spending the night in the creepy Old Harwick Hall, as part of a school trip. They are placed into certain groups, and Claudia, Colin, Ralph, Pixie and Robbo find themselves together. None of the group members are really best friends, but throughout the night they discover a secret that the old mansion has kept hidden for years, and they suddenly find themselves coming closer together and discovering why they were put in a group with each other. They are all wondering why they are put together, when they discover that they each had two different addresses on their permission slips, one for their mother’s home and one for their father’s home. Each child comes from a divorced family. At least one of their parents has married again. Some children have to deal with either stepbrothers, stepsisters, or blood related siblings. They each in turn tell each other about how their parents broke up. It uncovers many mysterious questions.


The group of school-children are the main characters in this novel. Each one has a difficult time at home, with divorced parents, or evil step-fathers. The children are Claudia, Colin, Ralph, Pixie and Robbo. They are all different, but find out they are linked in some way. 


Theme refers to the central idea in the story. It is the main message that is more global in scope.  It is the idea or point of a story formulated as a generalization. There are many themes in the novel.


  • a.     All pain eventually heals and we have the power to change things for the better. 
  • b.     Sheer determination of a child can give strength and purpose. 
  • c.      Children lack choices and real opportunity to speak frankly and openly about their feelings and situations to the adults around them 
  • d.     Adults should look around them and listen



The setting provides the background of the story. It refers to the place where a particular event takes place. It also refers to the time of the event.


  1. In the bus that takes the children to Creepsville.
  2. At the tower where the children are going to spend the night.
  3. In Richard Clayton Harwick’s room where they find the journal.


Part 1  

  1. Harwick’s house
  2. Moredanger School
  3. Ship


Part 2

  1. Mum’s place where Claudia lives.
  2. Granny’s house
  3. Stella’s home.

Part 3

  1. First home
  2. Park
  3. Second home

Part 4

  1. Mum’s place
  2. Dad’s place
  3. The streets where they go to buy bread and mint sauce

Part 5

  1. Dad’s place

Part 6

  1. Mum’s place.
  2. The porch where Callie pushes her bike
  3. Outside the house when Roy cleans the shed.


  1. The tower

Moral Values

  • Do not look down on others
  • Do not give up easily when we are faced with problems
  • We must try to accept things the way they are and make the best out of it.

 Point of View

Point of view is the perspective from which a story is told. The author creates a narrator to tell the story. It is through the narrator’s perspective that readers learn what is happening in a story.

The introduction of the story is written in the third person’s point of view.  It is told through the eyes of the author, Anne Fine. All the other parts are told in the first person’s view.

Tone and Mood

Tone refers to the author’s attitude or position toward the action, characters, narrator, subject and even readers of the story.  To determine the tone of a story, the reader must examine the language the author uses and decide what effect the author’s diction and syntax creates.

 In this novel, the author recognizes and validates the anger many children feel when the adults who should be caring for them cause their lives to spin out of control, and then expect them to just adjust and be happy. It’s not all happy endings here, but it does have the taste of reality.

  Language and Style

It was quite chilling at first, but the rest of the book (which was the children telling stories) was written in a very life-like way, as if it really was young children speaking.