McNish has won numerous awards for his work. His 2006 ghost novel Breathe was voted in May 2013 as one of the top 100 adult and children’s novels of all time by the Schools Network of British Librarians.
McNish was born in Sunderland in the North-East of England. His father, a Marine Engineer, moved south a year later with his wife and Cliff McNish spent most of his early years before University in the south east of England.
He started writing in 1998 and has been a full-time author since 2003, combining novel writing with school visits, where he performs workshops on the craft of fiction.
The Doomspell Trilogy is a fantasy trilogy for middle-grade readers written in 2000–2003. The books are:The Doomspell
The Scent of Magic
The Wizard's Promise
The stories are set partly on Earth and also on the Witch Worlds of Ithrea and Ool.
The Doomspell is about two young and gifted siblings, Rachel and Eric, who are dragged from the cellar of their house into Ithrea, a world of ice and snow ruled by a wicked witch called Dragwena.
In The Scent of Magic the struggle returns to Earth, where the witches of Ool arrive to form children into armies against their ancient adversaries, the wizards.
The final novel of the trilogy, The Wizard’s Promise, pits the children and wizards against the combined forces of the witches for the future of the Earth.
The Doomspell novels have been published in 26 languages worldwide, with an especially wide readership in the U.K and in Japan. McNish acknowledges the influence of C. S. Lewis’ Narnian Chronicles on the style and characterisation of the Doomspell books.
The Silver Sequence (2003–2005) followed on immediately from the Doomspell Trilogy, and is a science fiction trilogy primarily for middle-grade and lower-teen readers. The books are:The Silver Child
A marked departure from the more traditional fantasy of the Doomspell books, The Silver Sequence concerns 6 children with unusual powers: Tom (a ‘giver of beauty’), Helen (a telepath), Walter (a giant), twin girls Freda and Alice, and Milo, a boy who finally turns into a being with silver wings seven miles long. The story concerns the effort of these children to stop a single vast entity from destroying all life on Earth – an entity known only by the terrifying noise it makes: the Roar.
Noted for its original storyline and intense imagery, the sequence was described in UK newspaper The Guardian as taking the reader ‘into uncharted territory, manipulating language in the most extraordinary way.’
Breathe: A Ghost Story (2006) is McNish’s first stand-alone novel. It is about a group of ghost children – Ann, Oliver, Gwyneth and Charlie – trapped inside a house by a Ghost Mother. A 12-year-old boy, Jack, suffering from chronic asthma, has just moved into the old house with his mother, and discovers that the Ghost Mother wants him to herself.
Winner of the Calderdale Award, the Virginia Readers’ Choice Award, the Salford Award and shortlisted for the Rhode Island Teen Book Award and the Texas Lonestar Awards, Breathe was voted in May 2013 by The U.K. Schools Library Network as one of the best 100 all time adult and children’s novels.
Angel (2008) is a teen fantasy novel about a fourteen-year-old girl, Freya, whose life is shaped by two angels: Hestron, bright, beautiful, surrounded by a mane of golden sunshine, and Mestraal, so impenetrably dark that nearly everything is erased by its shadow. Unusually in McNish’s fiction, Angel incorporates gritty elements of teen angst and bullying, as well as a moral debate about how to behave in the world.
Angel was shortlisted for the North East Teenage fiction Award and the Tayshas Reading List.
Savannah Grey (2010) is a pure teen horror novel about a 14-year-old girl, Savannah Grey, stalked by three monsters: (1) the Nyktomorph – a giant reptile (2) The horror (a terrifying childlike creature with one eye) and (3) The Ocrassa (a unique being that arrived on Earth at the dawn of time). McNish has described Savannah Grey as the novel he worked the longest and hardest on (seven major redrafts) and which ‘received the least attention of all my novels.’
Savannah Grey was nominated for the Carnegie Award in 2011.
The Hunting Ground (2011) is the Winner of the Calderdale Award 2013 and the Hillingdon Secondary Book of the Year Award 2013. It was shortlisted for the Lancashire Book of the Year and the Bay Book Award.
The Hunting Ground is a second ghost novel aimed at older teens. Two brothers, Elliott and Ben, move into an old house. At the centre of this house is the East Wing, a labyrinth of almost identical corridors and rooms. At the heart of the East Wing dwells the ancient malevolent ghost of Cullayn and also a child who died in the house – the frightening little girl, Eve.
Going Home (2014) is a new McNish novel aimed at middle-grade readers (with illustrations by Trish Phillips). It is a complete departure from McNish’s previous style, a heartfelt comedy about four dogs stuck in a rescue centre.
McNish has written two film scripts.
1. Breathe – an adaptation of his novel of 2006, Breathe. This is an adult version of McNish’s ghost novel, focusing less on the ghost children and more on the conflict between the Ghost Mother and Jack’s mother, Sarah.
2. The Lure - a black comedy film script about a monster that arrives on Earth in the shape of a lure, and the havoc it wreaks when four college students unleash it.