Category Archives: Horror

Shadow of the Wolf

Robin Hood as you’ve never seen him before. Especially if the Robin you know best is a Disney fox.

Tim Hall has written a background for Robin that you couldn’t easily imagine without help. It’s even quite hard with what Tim has written. It is hard all over, in that the story is full of horror and cruelty. There was a point when I felt I’d had enough. The concept is interesting, to say the least, but I found the characters hard to like.

That will be why it was difficult to engage with all this, and I was disappointed, if not totally surprised, to discover that the last words are ‘to be continued.’

We meet a very young Robin and watch as he learns the ways of his world. There is a young Marian, and the most vicious Sheriff of Nottingham I have ever encountered. The story contains countless fantastical elements, which haven’t – yet – been explained, and which I felt were there to paper over some of the cracks caused by the plot developments.

The Sheriff behaves more and more irrationally and his cruelty seems endless. Robin is very skilled at what he does, but also still quite young. Marian is nothing like we have known before, and it would have been good to have seen a bit more of her, and perhaps a little less of Robin. The ‘Merry Men’ show some promise when at last they appear on the scene.

As I said, an interestingly different concept of something so familiar, and well written. Just hard to like.

Ghostly Tales

Eleanor Hawken, Curtis Jobling and Cathy MacPhail

But I didn’t. Back out, I mean. I entered with some determination, because I was there for ghosts with Cathy MacPhail and Eleanor Hawken and Curtis Jobling, which is no small thing. I had only read Eleanor’s Grey Girl, but am happy to take the word of others as to the ghostliness of Cathy and Curtis. Their books. Not them.

Cathy’s most recent title is Scarred to Death, which is a great play on words. Haunt, Dead Scared by Curtis is about a dead boy whose trainers are either intact or quite ruined, depending on whether you are dead or alive.

Eleanor Hawken

For all three the fondness for ghostly things began at an early age. Eleanor consumed two Point Horror books a day before going to a boarding school with a resident ghost at 13. Cathy liked ghosts ‘ever since she was a wee girl’ and then she came up with the idea of seeing your dead teacher in the queue at Tesco. Curtis has loved ghost stories ‘since he was a little girl as well’ – the remains of hurricane Bertha flapped the tent at this point, if it was Bertha – and has a past which includes flour and string, and a father who liked to scare his children.

Andrew Jamieson, who chaired the event, sensibly let the audience ask questions early on. It was a pretty ghostly minded audience – apart from the lovely baby who chewed on a green guest lanyard to avoid crying – and the answer to whether novels tend always to be autobiographical is yes.

Cathy MacPhail

Eleanor dreamed Grey Girl and Cathy also made a sleep related comment. She started work in the mill at 15, being too poor to stay on at school, and then began writing when her children were small, in the belief that one short story ought to be enough, and then discovering she was addicted. Mills & Boon found her attempts too humorous.

Curtis Jobling

Curtis reckons you should work hard at your hobbies, and you might find your hobby turns to work (yes, but we can’t all draw Bob the Builder!). He drew us a Were-Bob on the strategically placed flipchart next to him.

On what they like to read, Eleanor fell in love with Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials as a teenager. Cathy reads anything from Stephen King to Young Women, but not romance. (I suspect the M&B problem has just been explained.) All seem to be fans of Let the Right One In, which doesn’t reassure me one bit. Bite.

And do they believe in ghosts? Eleanor does. Curtis doesn’t. He said it was just the wind, since we’re in Scotland now. Cathy, well, maybe. She’s not scared, but… Have they seen a ghost? Eleanor has (the advantages of having attended the right school), while Curtis explained that he wakes his wife if he hears a noise in the night. Poor Mrs J.

If anyone is still not scared enough, Andrew mentioned that he quite likes Chris Priestley’s short stories.

Asked if they have plans for what they will do next; yes, they do.

Eleanor Hawken, Curtis Jobling, Cathy MacPhail, next to David Roberts and Alan MacDonald

At this point we’d run over in time, and as we were ‘thrown out’ I glanced at the bookshop’s signing area and decided they’d have their work cut out to fit three more authors in, next to the two who were still there. And that while they did, I’d have time for a super fast comfort stop.

As I re-emerged, I found that Curtis had had the same idea, so we walked back to the bookshop together, where there was just space for him between the ladies. There were queues everywhere, and people wanted all kinds of things signed. Curtis even got to ‘deface’ someone’s notebook.

Wish I’d thought of that!

A moving account

This is your second-hand witch speaking to you. (Blogging, really, but you knew that.)

We moved in yesterday. Well, the furniture moved in, and when it had done so there was no room for us, so we are biding our time until such a moment that we have cut a path through the house.

And because of this, as you already know very well, I am not swanning around the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. The lovely people there have their own blog and you can read what they get up too. They have said I can borrow their photos, so I shall jolly well do so, and here are some of them. Doesn’t it look like they are having a good time?

Curtis Jobling started off the whole book festival and I can see he’s up to his normal tricks, cartooning away. He looks a little hairier than last time, but the man does write werewolf books.

Author of the Wereworld Series and Illustrator of Bob the Builder Sketches a Bob-the-Builder-Turned-Werewolf

These two people I always ‘manage to avoid.’ No matter how many festivals they and I go to, we never coincide. I’m in despair, actually. Who wouldn’t want to be dazzled by the very pretty Sarah McIntyre, and the almost as pretty Philip Reeve?

Authors of 'Oliver and the Seawigs' - Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre and the Sea Monkeys

As for avoiding, you can see what the green bear is doing, can’t you? He’s got James Draper on his blind side, which in effect must mean James wasn’t there at all.

Festival Director James Draper and Humphrey the Hospital Bear

Iris Feindt and Livi Michael look like they think it’s their festival. That they can play on the furniture. (Oh, I suppose it’s all right.)

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And my blogging colleague Kevin with – the to me – unknown lady passenger is having a fun time, too.

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Kaye and Claudia are posing with two lovely St John Ambulance men (the Resident IT Consultant was also unavailable, for the same reason as the witch). I do hope they weren’t needed. SJA, not Kaye and Claudia. They are always needed.

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That path I mentioned before? I reckon the best thing would be to burn all the books. There can be no earthly reason for us keeping all those books. The boys from Tillicoultry clearly thought so, as they staggered in with thousands of book boxes. (I swear – pardon – they must have been breeding in storage. The books. Not the Tillicoultry boys.)

(I – probably – didn’t mean that. I am just in a jealous mood, festival-wise, and wishing I could see my new house for boxes full of books. My heart is in Manchester. Which is an odd phrase, but why not?)

Theory of battle

We arrived in the run-up to the Battle of Bannockburn 700th celebrations, which kick off big time today. The Resident IT Consultant has understandably been more excited than me. He is the historian of us, and the native. But I thought I’d be reasonably OK with going along to the new visitors’ centre to experience the battle.

Maybe I’d have been less underwhelmed if I’d studied the website in detail before going. I didn’t look at it at all, because in general I’d expect anywhere like that to be possible to negotiate without an instruction manual.

It was complicated, as well as dark and confusing and it involved standing up at all times, which pales rather when you’ve signed up for nearly two hours of battle. (I know. It was worse back in 1314. I shouldn’t moan.) I don’t take in unexpected oral instructions very quickly, and I feel if a venue has to send you off into battle with a written booklet (there wasn’t one) they have missed out in the design of the whole place.

I suspect what it is, is a lack of theory of mind on their behalf. They know how it works, because they built it and/or work there. I’d be a lot better on a second visit, but at £11 a pop it’s not something people will do (unless a member of the Scottish – or English – National Trust), or can’t do if they are visiting from elsewhere.

You start off with 3D glasses which put you straight into the path of battle. We discovered we were in direct line between the arrows being fired and their goal. We had soldiers impaled by horrible weapons right next to us, and horses riding by an inch away. That was very instructive.

Next you can meet and chat to a dozen or so people involved in the battle, from both sides. Technically it veered between very easy to impossible to get your hand-waves hit the right spot. But like the first bit, it was quite interesting and helps you understand war of any kind.

Then came the ‘shows’ we had time booked tickets for. I’d assumed sitting down. I’d assumed slightly bigger venue. Finding it was tiny and standing up, and nowhere near interesting enough (to me) to remove the claustrophobia from being foremost on my mind, I spent five minutes picking up the courage to leave the room. As I’d suspected, the doors were not easy to open, and required the help of the person running the battle show, which rather removed any hoped for inconspicuousness on my part.

Once out, I didn’t mind ‘losing out’ or having to wait for my historian to stand through the whole thing. Although, the only choices for sitting down (I had over an hour to wait) was the wall by the car park or in the café. I tried both. Outside was cold, and inside I found out exactly how uncomfortable those trendy Tolix chairs can be.

When I had also witnessed other visitors being unable to identify the correct door to the toilets and overheard a member of staff saying they were badly signposted, I could only conclude someone has forgotten that first-time – and possibly once-only – visitors need clarity, and in more ways than one.

It’s like starting a new school. You know nothing to begin with, but learn by returning every day. You won’t be going to Bannockburn quite as frequently as that.

But, all in all, a lovely concept. I liked finding out what it might have been like standing in that field 700 years ago. I would have appreciated more information beforehand, but then so would the soldiers back in 1314, I imagine.

If you are not phobic, do go. But watch out for the arrows!

Launching demons in Edinburgh

From the ‘dark underbelly of Crieff’ emerged two fabulous ladies to chat about The Demons of Ghent. I’m – almost – not sure who I liked best; author Helen Grant or her ‘chair’ Suzy McPhee. It’s a rare thing when two people sit in front of lots of other people and it’s both fun and interesting. (On the way back to Waverley I wondered why I felt so hungry and realised I’d forgotten about food. That’s how much I enjoyed it.)

Helen launched her new book at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh – or Thins, as the Resident IT Consultant prefers to call it – and for me who’d never been before (sorry) it made for a nice experience. I had enticed Son and Dodo to join us (Son used to work there…) so it was a family affair, with only Daughter missing, which is why the photos are not what they should be.

Demons of Ghent launch

I’ve obviously been around some authors too much when I recognise their parents even when I’ve never met them before. Their children. Their facebook friends. Nicola Morgan was there, a week early. Presumably to do a practise run before her launch next week.

The place was full, and the wine flowed. I found a most comfortable sofa to sit on. It was a bit difficult to get up from it again, but it was good while it lasted. The youngest there was 7 (and a half) weeks old. Didn’t ask how old the oldest one was.

Suzy McPhee and Helen Grant with Ann Landmann

Blackwell’s events organiser made one of the best introductions I’ve heard at an event like this. Admittedly there are a few words Ann Landmann actually can’t say, but we only found out one last night. (So we’ll have to return for more…)

Suzy McPhee and Helen Grant

Helen described her British rustiness, which is why she writes about Germans and Belgians. She and Suzy had some difficulty in finding spoiler safe topics, but settled for the famous altar piece, which plays such an important part in The Demons of Ghent. There was something else Suzy wanted to ask, but which met with a resounding ‘no’ after some whispered negotiations behind hands.

Helen Grant

Helen never set out to write YA books, but just wrote what she wanted to write. There is no need to ‘write down’ to younger readers, and they can always look things up on Google if necessary. Suzy described how she had needed to look up rorschach tests, and proceeded to test Helen on some inkblots she’d printed out and brought along. (See, not all people in her position would think to do such a thing.) I will await the results of the ‘dead chicken’ interpretation with interest.

Without the internet Helen reckons it’d be impossibly expensive for her to get research right. She’d need to travel to Ghent to find out how high the pavement is in the spot she needs for something to happen. And making sure Veerle eats the right kind of waffles, and not simply any old waffle. She doesn’t want it to be ‘Britain dressed up.’

She’s now eyeing up parts of Scotland for future books, and described her happiness after finding a hidden church in a churchyard, when all she’d expected were more old tomb stones.

Helen Grant

In the end there was no time for a reading and Ann craftily suggested we should (buy, and) read the book ourselves. Someone wanted Helen’s phone number to call for a private reading, but she hastily offered to put a chapter up on her blog. So I suppose that will have to tide us over while we wait for Urban Legends.

And there was time for more wine.

The #9 profile – Helen Grant

Today sees the long awaited publication of Helen Grant’s The Demons of Ghent, and I decided to grill Helen on a few topics I’d not yet got round to asking her about. It seems she’s not like her heroine Veerle, and all that running around on rooftops is simply fiction. (If not, then the photo of Helen was taken just after her windswept run across the top of Ghent, followed by her abseiling down some old church, or other.)

I give you the Queen of “he’s behind you” fiction:Helen Grant How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book? One. It was called Naming Rupert and it was about the dilemma faced by a young couple in financial difficulties who are offered a fortune in someone’s will if they will agree to name their unborn baby after him – although they don’t like him or the name. I completed the whole book and sent it off to various agents; I had some very positive feedback but no bites. In the meantime I got on with The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, and when that was accepted for publication the earlier manuscript was mothballed. I don’t think it will ever be published. It isn’t like my other books, which are more obviously thrillers, and was mainly an exercise in proving to myself that I could write 100,000 words of a single story. Once I had done that, I sat down and tried to write 100,000 better words.

Best place for inspiration? A room with a large window and a restful view: a hillside, forest or trees. I also find a country walk does wonders if I need to think through a plot issue.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do? Yes, I suppose so, if there were a good reason for it. At the moment I’m keen to get my actual name known so I think writing under a pseudonym would just double the work! I sometimes think perhaps I should have selected a pseudonym, because Helen Grant isn’t as memorable a name as, say, Desiree Von Tannenbaum. Also there are rather a lot of Helen Grants around – including a Tory MP – which can be a bit confusing.

What would you never write about? Stuff I don’t know enough about. Politics, for example, or quantum physics.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in? I’ve ended up in some very unexpected places while researching my current Forbidden Spaces trilogy, so it would probably be one of those. It’s hard to pick one, though. I have been up more bell towers than I ever wanted to (I hate heights) including one in a little village church in Flanders; that one appeared not to have been climbed for years as it was full of pigeon droppings – very nasty. I also went down the Paris catacombs and the Brussels sewers. Perhaps the most unusual location was a deserted factory in Belgium that was scheduled for demolition. I went around that with some seasoned urban explorers. When it closed down, everyone had just walked out leaving everything lying where it was: files, coffee cups, stuff like that. That was strange and a bit creepy.

Which of your characters would you most like to be? I don’t have to think about that for even half a second. Veerle De Keyser, the heroine of Silent Saturday and Demons of Ghent. She has a lot of challenges in her life even without tangling with serial killers, but she’s fearless and compassionate and inquisitive. Also she has really exciting adventures and a very hot boyfriend. And she isn’t afraid of heights, as I am.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing? I think it would be fabulous. Mostly, film adaptations of books do tinker about with the plot and characters – after all, the director is fitting the story into a new medium – but I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. I’d be interested to see what another creative person would do with the stories. I don’t really think of the characters in my books as ending when the book ends. I imagine them going off without me, the author, and having some more adventures of their own. (Does that sound goofy?!) I guess I’d see a film version with a reworked plot as an extension of that. The only thing I’d be sorry about would be if a film version relocated the action to another country entirely. To me, the characters in Silent Saturday and Demons of Ghent are intrinsically Flemish, and if the books were suddenly set in London or New York instead, something would be lost.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event? I’m trying to think…I remember talking about “real life” ghost stories at a school visit once so I guess someone had asked me whether I believe in ghosts.

Do you have any unexpected skills? I can do a back flip off a one metre springboard into a swimming pool. I have no other sporty skills at all but I learnt to do that when I was a kid and it stuck. It’s not really about physical prowess, it’s about having the nerve to fling yourself backwards. I like to do this when I’m in a pool and the teenage boys are showing off doing dive bombs. I get up on the springboard and you can see them thinking, yo grandma! And then I do a perfect back flip. Usually.

The Famous Five or Narnia? Oooh…difficult. Narnia, I guess. I did like the Famous Five a lot when I was a kid, especially the fact that Julian’s voice got politer and politer the ruder he was being; I always thought that was very cool. But I think Narnia is a lot deeper. The White Witch is genuinely scary because superficially she seems nice when Edmund first meets her but of course she isn’t at all.

Who is your most favourite Swede? Does everyone say “ABBA” at this point? Well, my favourite Swede (apart from you, dear Bookwitch) is the writer John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote Let the right one in. I’ve read all his books in translation. My favourite is Handling the undead, which is so brilliant that I think it transcends “horror.” I’ve read it twice and both times I cried at the ending. My favourite fictional Swede has to be Count Magnus De La Gardie from the M.R.James story Count Magnus. He’s not a cuddly count. He’s been on the “Black Pilgrimage” and brought back some kind of nasty servant with tentacles. But he’s, er, unforgettable.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically? I don’t arrange them at all. They are stuffed willy-nilly into far too few bookcases and the ones left over are laid horizontally on top of the others. There are always books in subsiding heaps by the side of my bed and on the bathroom floor and tucked into the side pockets of the car.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader? A graphic novel. Or perhaps Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I remember when my son first got the Wimpy Kid books. We were living in Germany and he had learnt to read there so he had the German version. We read the bit about the Käsefinger (“cheese touch”) and we all laughed so much that our sides hurt. It’s good to associate holding a book with having fun!

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be? Writing. This is a truly terrible admission, but since I started writing full time, I have read fewer and fewer new books. It’s as though my brain only has enough room for so many fictional universes and I’m too immersed in my own to concentrate on other ones. I re-read a lot of old favourites instead. If I had to choose between reading and writing, I would choose writing and I would amuse myself by dreaming up new adventures for my characters, rather than reading.

And that’s all from Desiree Von Tannenbaum, and all from me.  See you at the Sint-Baafsplein, maybe. But not if it sees you first.

Belfort Tower, Ghent

Bookwitch bites #121

I was a bit busy last week, so will have to join the rest of you in catching up on my favourite physics teacher, Lucy Hawking (here). You get a whole forty minutes of Lucy talking interesting stuff, courtesy of the Scottish Book Trust. Lucy has a new George book out – George and the Unbreakable Code – and you will hear more about that a little later. (My copy has had a close encounter with a black hole, mainly filled with water. Not of my doing!)

Lucy Hawking

More online fun for a new book can be found on various blogs this week, as Helen Grant spreads herself out with guest posts and things, to celebrate the publication of The Demons of Ghent on Thursday. Needless to say I bagged the 5th of June itself.

Helen Grant blog tourThe water-filled hole apart, the holiday reading chez Bookwitch Vacations is going well. Yeah, OK, so Birdie read complicated textbooks, but Daughter was wanting to prove my prediction on the likelihood of non-reading wrong, so has read several recent box office titles. She went to see the films and then decided to read the books (possibly to see what they got ‘wrong’).

The Resident IT Consultant, on the other hand, reads what he finds. I sometimes have to forbid him to go for what I need to read next, and he has been reasonably obedient. He did go looking for the charging cable for his Kindle, and was a little surprised when I said it was in the flower pot (I thought that was a good place for it). His main concern was whether it had been watered (like George, I suppose), but you don’t water artificial plants.

At least, I hope you don’t.