Out now! Special 20th Anniversary Edition, with a new short story featuring the witch, Dragwena, Morpeth and many of your favourite characters.

Out now! The Special Edition, including a new story featuring the witch, Dragwena.
Breathe: A Ghost Story by author Cliff McNish






Read chapters 1 & 2



Jack is used to danger. His asthma has nearly killed him more than once.

But his new home has a danger he’s never known before - the spirits of the dead.


They can’t breathe, but in Jack’s house they CHASE, HIDE, SCREAM.

Only Jack can see them. Only he can hear them.

And only he can learn their secrets in time to save himself... and his mother...




U.S. cover
U.S. cover

My wife said to me one day, “You’re always writing these dark and scary fantasies. Why don’t you write a proper scary story for a change —  a ghost story?”


I didn't think much about it at the time, but the idea must have lodged somewhere in my head because I started to talk to young people about ghost stories, and I soon realized two things: first, that everyone loves a real, true frightener of a ghost story; and second, that hardly any of them could name a single novel-length ghost story of any substance.

So I started to think a bit more about this, and pretty soon the image of Isabella came into my mind: an ill girl, stuck in a chair, barely able even to move any longer, but somehow holding onto life. The rest of the story flowed from that eerie image.

This is a very different book from my other novels. It has a more realistic setting for a start. Plus I had to do plenty of historical research to get the feel of the ghosts right. The whole novel was intriguing to work on, but perhaps I had most enjoyment when I donned my pure fantasy hat again to create the desolation of the Nightmare Passage. I’ll let you find out about that for yourself...



What is the main theme of your ghost novel Breathe?

I guess Breathe is really about the subject of obsessive love. Can someone love too much - as Mary does - and where does that lead? In addition, if someone commits a terrible crime do they ever deserve to be forgiven? I don't think there are any right or wrong answers to such moral questions. But it's interesting to explore them. That is why, without giving anything away, I leave those final decisions up to the loved ones in the end. Only they can decide. Oh — and the reader, of course. What should happen to the ghost mother? I wanted you to think about it and decide for yourselves. One way or another I guess I'm always exploring the theme of love in my novels — different kinds of love, and how it is expressed, including the opposite of love sometimes. That's where the monsters — human an inhuman — come in!   


Why did you decide to write your first ghost story, BREATHE?

Illustration from Breathe

Breathe came about initially because my wife, Ciara, said that since I keep writing scary fantasy stories, I should write a proper scary story for a change. For her that meant a ghost story. When I started to look at what ghost stories  were available for young people, I was surprised. There were also plenty of ghost stories that were meant to be scary (like Goosebumps) but weren't. But where was the story to keep you up at night? I decided to write one.  




Why did you create the ghost mother in Breathe?

In most children’s fantasy/horror books the monsters start off horrible (e.g. Voldemort) and the only real question is how you defeat them. I wanted to start the other way: with a mother who could not be more loving, and then see what happens when her love fails to save her own child. Could she survive that? If she did, what would she be like? It’s a dark line of enquiry, but I thought it would be interesting to pursue.



Do you believe in ghosts in real life?

No, though I’m keeping an open mind. Hold on, what’s that dark thing moving just behind my curtain?



'A true ghost story - the kind that lays its cold fingers on you, grips tight and doesn't let go even when the last page has been turned - Wonderfully spine-chilling.'

The Bookseller


'You shouldn't really read this before you go to sleep.' The Independent on Sunday


'Such is McNish's skill that when you read of the young hero Jack's asthma attacks, you'll find your own breathing feels constricted. He evokes the same empathy when dealing with the ghosts who haunt Jack, taking us into the realms of inventiveness that are his trademark. Breathtaking.' The Guardian



'An intense supernatural story that haunts the reader.' The Funday Times

'Just the thing for adolescents in search of something engagingly horrible ... startling.'
The Independent

'Scary, disturbing and intense, a thoroughbred amongst haunted house tales.'  SFX

'Jack's susceptibility to frightening asthma attacks matches the consumptive sufferings of a long dead girl - readers aged ten and above with be gripped and spooked.'

The Times Educational Supplement

'Breathe is a brilliantly inventive ghost story, compellingly written. It is spine-chilling, disturbing and truly frightening. A real page turner.' Booktrust

'An astoundingly creative story, with some truly scary moments ... the remarkable way in which Mcnish develops the theme of breathing, including an acutely well-drawn represntation of Jack's chronic asthma, and you find yourself with a multi-layered story that will genuinely unnerve the reader, in a way so many ghost stories fail to do.'

Books for Keeps

'A genuinely spooky ghost story that leaves you breathless.'  First News

'This is a tautly-written psychological thriller. A genuinely spooky story; the kind you read at arm's length, neck prickling and with the lights on.'

School Library Association

'Nothing is as simple as it seems until the very last explosive climax. A brilliant winter warmer.' Insight

'A terrifyingly well-written and disturbing story — the ending is moving testament to the transforming power of love.' Undercover

'If you're after a seriously spooky story, this is the one for you — a truly terrifying tale.' TBK

'This title is pure, traditional ghost story. It sets out to chill and it does ... a suspenseful page-turner ... a spine-tingler.' Achuka

'Gripping in its claustrophobic intensity ... An irresistible page-turner.' Carousel

'A brilliant ghost story —  the descriptions are wonderfully vivid.'  Dunmow Observer