Tag Archives: Helen Grant

A few words from the ambassador

The last week in November will yet again be Book Week Scotland. I was going to say a few things about it, but have found out that the week has its own ambassadors, and here is one of them to tell you about the grand launch last Wednesday, and about her love for libraries. Over to Helen Grant:

Helen Grant

“When I heard that the launch event for Book Week Scotland 2014 was going to be at a boxing gym in Edinburgh, I naively assumed that the boxing gym had a conference room and the launch would be in that (I’m not sure why I had this mad thought; I don’t suppose boxers pause from boxing each other to have management meetings). But no! It was far more interesting than that! I arrived at the gym to find that the boxing ring was full of Scottish book characters, all vying for the ‘favourite’ spot! In fact, Peter Pan was slugging it out with Sherlock Holmes at that very moment. Many well-loved characters were there, ranging from Badger to Harry Potter and Hit Girl.

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND 2014 LAUNCH

After a particularly dynamic photo call, we sat down and listened to Sophie Moxon of the Scottish Book Trust talk about Book Week Scotland’s 2014 programme, followed by Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, who demonstrated support at the highest level! Amongst this year’s highlights are plans to give books to every P1 child in Scotland and to distribute 150,000 free copies of Scotland’s Stories of Home, a collection of short stories and poems written by Scottish people. Plus there is the chance to settle the question of who is the most popular Scottish book character by voting at http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/reading/book-week-scotland/vote-for-your-favourite-character-from-a-scottish-book. I’m still trying to make my mind up. I’m a bit of a traditionalist, but I can’t decide between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde!

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND 2014 LAUNCH

Then it was the turn of the Author Ambassadors to take the stage. The theme of this year’s Book Week Scotland is love, so we had each written a love letter to our favourite library. Paul Cuddihy kicked off with an appreciative epistle to Bishopbriggs library, with which he evidently had a very long term relationship in spite of the rival lures of the local pub!

I felt rather abashed when I got up after him, and had to confess that due to having moved around a lot, I am a bit of a library philanderer, with a hoard of expired library cards that I keep as carefully as old love letters. However I did promise to change my fickle ways, and settle down with the one, for which role I nominated Strathearn Community Library in Crieff.

My relationship with the library shows that a community library is more than just a collection of books. If you have lived all over the place as I have, it is difficult to feel at home anywhere, but the day I found my husband’s birth announcement in an ancient and yellowing copy of the Crieff Herald in the library’s local history section, was the day that I felt we had come home.

Shari Low’s love letter to Renfrew library was touching and hilarious, especially when she described some of the scurrilous books by Jackie Collins and the like that she had relished in former years.

I’m thrilled to be one of the 2014 Author Ambassadors. Our role is to spread the word about Book Week Scotland and trumpet out the love for libraries and reading. Books have been such a big part of my life. I can remember which ones I was reading during some of the most exciting adventures I have ever had, and the ones that cheered me up and kept me going during the worst times.

Here is one of the most important things I had to say to Strathearn Community Library in my love letter:

‘The thing I love most about you is not the modern stuff. It’s the local history section, over in the back corner. Because I’m new to this part of the world, I don’t have a past here. I’m finding out about my new home, just as I would ask a new friend all about their life before we met. You have so much to tell me! Folk stories, curious little snippets of history, amazing ancedotes of past lives.

One of my favourites is the tale of John Steedman, the timorous minister of Auchterarder during the Jacobite rising of 1715, who was too afraid to preach while the Rebel Army were in the neighbourhood. William Reid, the minister of Dunning, who was made of sterner stuff, swapped with him, and for several weeks gave the sermon at Auchterarder armed with a loaded pistol!

I love that story. It makes eighteenth century Perthshire sound like the Wild West! I found that tale in a very old book. Thank you for keeping books like that safe, so that history stays alive, and we can read about more than just the big national events.’

Libraries are a treasure trove, and I’d love to encourage people to use them and get the most out of them.”

There will be many events, and I’ll let you know as and when I have any news or firsthand tales to tell. Or I suppose I’ll have to keep feeding ‘my’ ambassador plenty of chocolate. (Although I’m sure that Mr Grant isn’t old enough to have had his birth announced in an ‘ancient’ copy of the Crieff Herald, in the library’s local history department… I mean, where would that leave me?)

Bookwitch bites #128

Listing. Not me personally, or at least, not very much. I’ve had some sleep now. But there are lists. Everywhere.

And I will start with me. It seems I am on the Cision Top 10 UK Children’s Literature Blogs. Which is nice. (I’m sure they are mistaken, but I will not insist on a recount.) I’m in excellent company, and I shall bask in the glory for a day or two.

Various lists appear every now and then, listing (well, obviously) really good books. There was the UKLA list a couple of weeks ago, and I was relieved to see I’d actually read a respectable number of the books on there.

Then we had the 100 best children’s books in the Sunday Times, and I can’t tell you much at all about them. Plenty of people on fb were enthusing, but most ran out of steam before they’d copied all 100 book titles for us who are on the wrong side of the Times paywall. I do know Helen Grant and Keith Gray were on it, which I’m pleased about. The pleasure I’d get from knowing how many of the 100 I’ve read and liked, will have to wait. Possibly forever.

The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award list was made public this week, and I’m definitely not going to publish the names of all 197 candidates. Good luck to them!

It’s been an awardy kind of week, hasn’t it? The Nobel prize almost passed me by completely, as I was so busy I barely even registered it was that time of year again. The 2014 prize went to Patrick Modiano, as I’m sure you know. (Has anyone here read him?) I was intrigued to see that Philip Roth should have got it instead. (Surely there must be more writers out there who ‘should’ have won?)

On the popularity front I’m sure Malala getting the Nobel peace prize is good news to – almost – everyone. Let’s hope it will make a difference, somehow.

Bookwitch bites #122

If you’re up early and you’re near St Andrews, you could still make it to this children’s books day, organised by Waterstones. I had thought I might go, but realised I need to slow down and get some real work done, and not go gadding about, having my face painted. Helen Grant will be at the Town Hall, as will Lari Don and a few others. Sounds nice.

St Andrews children's events day

While I’m in poster mode, I will show you the poster for a blog tour in early July, for Janet Quin-Harkin’s HeartBreak Café. I don’t often do this, but I have my reasons…

HeartBreak Café blog tour

Sorry to have moved away from Sefton Super Reads, which took place this week. Eleanor Updale won with The Last Minute, which is a Bookwitch favourite. Here is Eleanor with Piers Torday and Catherine MacPhail, and if my eyes don’t deceive me they are sitting in front of that rather nice fireplace I saw last year in Southport.

Sefton Super Reads - Eleanor Updale with Piers Torday and Catherine MacPhail

Eleanor is a busy woman. Today she is at the Borders Book Festival (which I won’t be going to either…) chairing an event with Elizabeth Laird, and tomorrow Mr Updale, aka Jim Naughtie will be doing an event for his book. The day after – i.e. on Monday – Jim will be appearing in Edinburgh, talking to Gordon Brown (the ‘real’ one) and Tom Devine (I have this from Son and Dodo who are going).

From historians and politicians to royalty. Keren David, Keris Stainton and Candy Gourlay were invited to Buckingham Palace this week. It was a garden party to celebrate their good work on getting authors to donate stuff for the Philippines. I’m very pleased for them, and it seems they had a lovely time. (Strangely enough, they weren’t the only ones I knew who had been invited, so I must really know the right people these days.)

Candy Gourlay, Keren David and Keris Stainton

Lucy Coats is another author with ties to Buckingham Palace, and she has been celebrating her new website. I gather she’s also celebrating something else this weekend.

Someone who is no stranger to the royals, is Carol Ann Duffy, who has been involved in making a poetry anthology – Let In The Stars – written by real grown proper poets for children. It will launch at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival on July 1st.

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.

The Demons of Ghent

You know that feeling you have when you’re climbing about on the rooftops of Ghent, with Death right behind you? That’s The Demons of Ghent, the second of Helen Grant’s Flemish trilogy. It’s that strange thing, the perfect book, both extremely soothing and calm (I suspect it’s the Flemish aspect), and heart-stoppingly scary.

Climbing to the top of buildings and walking across whole city blocks is frightening enough on its own, without adding a stalking monster who kills people. Someone you might encounter as you run along some vertigo-inducing parapet or other narrow strip of roof. Add rain or darkness, and it’s almost heaven. (If you’ve been good. If not, it will be the other place.)

Helen Grant, Demons of Ghent

Veerle has had to move from the small village that she loved and knew so well, and is forced to live with her father and his new – pregnant – wife, who resents her presence. Not happy at school, Veerle bunks off, and meets Bram, another desirable young man (Kris seems to have dropped out of sight, to begin with), who is into rooftops.

People are dying, though. ‘Suicides’ jumping off houses. And Ghent natives are seeing ‘demons’ on the rooftops at night. As an outsider Veerle finds this rather odd.

Until the day she comes across someone whom she thought was dead and it all goes horribly wrong. It’s tough being wanted by two handsome young men all at once, as well as having Death turn up wherever you go.

I’m wondering if we will ever have an explanation, or if Veerle will keep putting herself in danger until it’s too late? Are the odd things that happen to her connected, or is she just prone to meeting new monsters at every new turn?

Helen writes so naturally that you can’t really see how she pulls it off. And although the reader screams at Veerle not to do whatever she has in mind to try next, it makes for surprisingly comfortable reading. Yes, Death and vertigo are both scary, but there is an intrinsic calm to this Flemish life.

Comfy horror. I love it!