Tag Archives: Helen Grant


Have you any idea how hard it can be chasing someone across Dobbies’ car park, carrying a saxophone case? With a sax in it. And a bag of books.

There were no more houses on Sunday, but the desired sleeping in didn’t happen. In a burst of wanting to do the right thing, I even went for a walk in the park. It was sunny and rather nice. Typical Scotland in February.

The Grandmother was driven away (so to speak) by the Resident IT Consultant, and brought back by Aunt Blane. She’d come to swap jigsaw puzzle boards. She brought her empty one and took away the Grandmother’s, which held a half made, very difficult to do, jigsaw. Aunt Blane wished to complete it at home, so the Resident IT Consultant balanced the whole thing down the stairs for her.

They’re crazy in that family.

With no more houses to go see, I’d arranged to take tea with Helen Grant. One of these days she’ll know to say no. She brought Miss Grant, who couldn’t resist the lure of cake. Good thing, as we were facing dealing with laden tea trays while manouvering the saxophone and the books through the café. It was a case of child labour again. She sagged under the weight of it all, while we sailed on with our trays. But she was rewarded with cake.

Miss Grant is a properly brought up young person, so once the hot chocolate had been slurped, she sat reading a book. Us oldies gossiped about the publishing industry and books in general. There might have been some mention of taking American tourists on muddy and dark tours through Perthshire’s graveyards, but I wouldn’t count on it if I were you.

Holy Rude, Stirling

The talk

‘Are you going to the event next week?’ Helen Grant asked. Since I wasn’t going to anything at all, I knew my answer would have to be ‘no.’ But I still pressed for more information on the what, where and when. (A witch likes to keep track of that which goes on without her. Actually, no, not really. But still I asked.)

It was a shared presentation evening for four of Random’s authors, and once the event was over I even found out who they were. Not a random bunch at all. They are all at the crime-y thrillery end of YA. Good stuff, in other words.

So, Helen was on her own. Apart from the other three and those who had actually been invited. (If anyone is reading this; don’t take it as a heavy hint. I’ll be distancing myself much further from London soon, so will not be able to say yes to very many Southern events.)

Anyway, as you will have worked out from my post about the cover of The Demons of Ghent a couple of weeks ago, Helen has a new book coming ‘soon.’ She talked about that, as well as her first Belgian book, Silent Saturday. And because she’s a well organised kind of woman she recorded her talk and put it on YouTube for the rest of us.

Forbidden Spaces 1  Forbidden Spaces 2

Please enjoy.

The other three were Simon Mason who wrote that very good crime novel that I loved so much, as well as Jane Casey and Niall Leonard, who I am sure are responsible for equally excellent books. I just haven’t read them…

Jane Casey, Simon Mason, Helen Grant and Niall Leonard

And here they all are! I wouldn’t trust a single one of them. Would you? But I shouldn’t speak, seeing as I have ‘borrowed’ this photo without asking. Possibly the handcuffs are for me.

The Demons of Ghent – the cover

You saw it here first! ‘It’ being the cover of Helen Grant’s next book, the second instalment in her Forbidden Spaces trilogy. Helen is very happy with it. The cover, I mean. But presumably also with her book, which we will have to wait another 129 days for. Personally, I think I might find it a bit hard.

Helen Grant, Demons of Ghent

The cover is beautifully sinister, which reminds me that her books are actually quite scary. In The Demons of Ghent, I will expect our heroine Veerle getting up to more inadvisable things, only this time in the lovely old city of Ghent. I love it when creepy stuff happens in ‘beautiful old churches, castles and guildhouses.’

From behind the sofa, obviously. But still.

Bring on June 5th! (At least it’s the day before a certain person’s birthday, which shows some consideration for what’s right and proper.)

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

Don’t be late

You could interpret the above suggestion as a ‘don’t forget to return your library books on time,’ but there is also a slight warning about being dead, i.e. the other kind of ‘late.’

I’d not previously connected Christmas with ghost stories, but after the Christmas anthology I reviewed yesterday, I’m beginning to realise that some people do. I’m obviously not ‘some people.’

It’s been a while since Halloween, but I shall treat you to the recording of Helen Grant reading one of three ghost stories at Innerpeffray Library on the evening of October 31st. (That’s mere hours before Helen succeeded in getting stuck in the mud in a graveyard in the middle of the night…)

Here is Lilith’s Story. And here‘s Helen on her blog, enthusing about ghosts and Christmas. Whatever happened to light and happiness? (You might also consider very carefully if you really think becoming a librarian is a wise career move.)

Innerpeffray Library

A Bloody Scotland Sunday

I was woken by a strange noise. Worked out it was probably caused by rain hammering on my window. I’m used to the Scottish sunshine which makes no sound at all.

My first Bloody Scotland event of the day was Masters of the Dark with Stuart Neville and Mark Billingham. I arrived far too early, so started by checking out an empty Waterstones, where they were tidying up the piles of books from yesterday.

Stuart Neville books

Stuart arrived, looking rather wet, but better a wet author than no author, I say. I was wondering who gets up on a rainy Sunday morning to go to a literary event, but quite a few did, among them Arne Dahl who perhaps came to check out the competition. Fantastic event (and more about it later, as you well know).

Bloody Scotland bookshop on a Sunday morning

Went back to the bookshop in the lift, and one of the other occupants wondered out loud if it was safe to get into lifts with a group of strangers, given what we’d been listening to. Happily we all survived to have our books signed.

Mark Billingham and Stuart Neville

The name Bookwitch rang a little bell for Stuart, who asked if I was the one with the blog. I was. He had dried out somewhat, and I think he might even have combed his hair, possibly with a view to being photographed.

Stuart Neville

When I discovered the rain had been replaced by blue sky, my sandwich and I went outside to sit on a bench, and soon the sandwich was no more. After some dithering I decided to walk up to the Stirling Highland Hotel, just to see if anything interesting was happening. The steep path looked even steeper from the bottom, so I chickened out and went up the less steep path. (In theory I suppose it’s exactly the same height, since you leave one place and end up in the other, and it’s the same for both options.)

After some aimless walking around the hotel, and coming to the conclusion that the bar looked deserted, I saw Stuart being driven away by car along with Arne Dahl, so that was a brief three-hour visit  for Stuart. Arne was on his way to Manchester. Bought some tea to go with my cake. Had left behind my slices of cake in the freezer at Bookwitch Towers, but the Grandmother got out the lemon cake Helen Grant didn’t eat when she visited. The icing is a bit cardboardy, actually, so that might have been for the best.

Nicola Upson, Martha Lea and Catriona McPherson

Went into the other Waterstones and snapped some author pics of Nicola Upson, Martha Lea and Catriona McPherson, along with Craig Robertson and Chris Carter, who complemented each other well in the hair department. History for the ladies and serial killers for the men.

Craig Robertson

Chris Carter

Decided to get the wee shuttle bus down the hill, and ended up on the long scenic route, when I was expecting merely the long but sensible route. Ballengeich Road was an interesting choice for a bus, even when wee.

There was still too much time left before my Lee Child event, and with very little prospect of staying awake, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that Lee would do perfectly fine without me, and walked ‘home’ instead. Clearly timed that wrong, because the rain only started when I was safely back.

Alex Gray, The Swedish Girl

The Sea Change & Other Stories

She knows what she’s doing, that Helen Grant. In The Sea Change & Other Stories (seven altogether) she does that scary thing we’ve got used to from her novels, only in more concentrated form, making everything scarier still.

I brought her story collection on holiday as a special treat – for me – and also so I could read a story every now and then, diluting the horror by pausing between stories. Hah! That didn’t work. Not only didn’t the stories feel any less frightening, but they were so good there was no way I was going to pause at all.

They are quite traditional in many ways. They could have been written many years ago, by one of the old masters. As it is, they have been written more recently, by one of the new masters. What struck me, apart from being so well written, was how much Helen knows about what she’s writing about. Or seems to know.

Helen Grant, Sea Change & Other Stories

I couldn’t write a diving story to save my life, and in The Sea Change we get all the – seemingly correct – jargon to do with diving. Remember; don’t dive near any suspicious looking old wrecks. That one was creepy. Wet. Oozing.

Before it there was Grauer Hans, where Helen has returned to traditional old German horror tales. That’s very, very creepy. In fact, you want to take care where and when you finish that story.

17th century France, modern Slovakia, Scottish climbing, really weird holidays; it’s all there. It’s all scary. Always interesting, always good writing.

The Sea Change & Other Stories is a most exclusive collection, limited to 400 copies. Hurry, get yours now.

The burial mound

My first idea for the title was ‘A grave for Helen Grant’ but came to the conclusion it sounded a little too gruesome. I meant a grave to interest her, not one to bury her in.

I’m not madly into graves myself, but I keep an open mind in regard to others who like churchyards and tombs and gravestones and that kind of thing. Last time I saw Helen she half suggested we could meet when she went back to the cemetery that she had had to miss due to it being closed the time before when we were in the same town at the same time. Sort of ‘kill a witch and some more graves with one stone.’

Stone - halfway to the Burial Mound

This means if you’re lucky, she’ll fit you in when she has graves to examine in a dark corner near you.

But this time it was me who trudged through trees and stuff to find a burial mound for Helen. The Resident IT Consultant wanted to find a little walk just the right distance for me, and preferably somewhere away from the cold wind we. So, woods it had to be.

The sign - Burial Mound

I’ve spent part of the last 45 years in the vicinity of this mound, but never really had enough motivation to do more than read the sign as I swooshed past on the main road.

The sign mentions the bronze age. My history is rusty (bronzed, even) and I suffer from a possible delusion to do with ‘ages’ but I believe my bronze age might be different from yours. So I don’t know when this was. A while ago.

The mound

I didn’t read the words. I instructed the Resident IT Consultant to take pictures for ‘his pal Helen Grant.’ He did. I emailed them to Helen and she was suitably polite about this pile of stones and earth.

The mound

It was quite nice in there. Warm, away from the wind. Too warm, actually. There were insects. I sat down briefly on a stile, seeing as there was no bench by the mound (should have been!), and discovered it wasn’t a good idea to be wearing yellow socks. I became popular with the giant ants, who have less dress sense than the rest of you, who are shuddering at the thought of yellow socks.

Stile - with ants

What can I say? They were to match my yellow jacket, which I didn’t need, on account of the windproofness of the woods.

The view - Burial Mound

At last I can say I’ve seen it. Don’t quite have the t-shirt. There was also an ‘interesting’ stone wall, but I didn’t grasp why it is so interesting. Nice enough, I suppose. And I suspect that without Helen’s grave postings on her own blog, I’d never even have agreed to this ant encounter.

The wall

Reading books can have a funny effect on people.

The author’s bookshelves

When I feel really confused I believe that one of Helen Grant’s bookcases is a fireplace. But apart from that I am completely normal.

(It’s because it looks a little fireplace-ish. More than mine, anyway.)

The Resident IT Consultant and I enjoyed looking through Helen’s shelves when we were waiting for her to get lunch ready the other week. (She had declined my help. I let her. That’s the kind of visitor I am.) They are shelves that anyone would enjoy browsing for unexpected – or for that matter, totally expected – books. We flitted from side to side, since there was no discernible system. Lovely.

They are nice bookcases. The furniture, I mean. Dark brown. Not too plain and not too ornamental. Just right. And one of them sits where the fireplace would be if there was one. Hence my understandable memory lapse. As befits a proper library, the room boasts leather sofas. And cats.

I am sure that Helen, or the younger Grants, own every one of the Harry Potter books. But they are so nicely spread out that you could never accuse the family of believing in alphabetical order. The HPs are not even in the same bookcase, or along the same wall!

And they have at least two copies of a book about witches and magic. Either they don’t know this, or they need both. I felt suitably appreciated, anyway. There are books by Johan Ajvide Lindqvist, or what I call horror of horrors. Someone likes outdoorsy books. They have books on food. On health. And, er, some by Helen Grant.

Some books stand in front of other books. In other words, the Grant book collection is very, very normal. I suspect they haven’t acquired books with an eye to what others will think. Which is just as well, since when they moved (I have forgotten now if it was to Germany or to Belgium) their new neighbours asked why they’d bothered dragging all those old books with them.

Yeah, I mean, you’d think people wouldn’t take things they’d already used when moving house.

Ach, it’s Auchtermuchty

‘Did you bring even more books I have to read?’ asked Daughter. ‘Yes!’ I did. With a car you should make the most of not having to carry stuff back and forth.

It was student moving day. While the more normal parents had come from Berkshire and beyond, to convey their little darlings back home after a year at uni, us abnormals traversed half the country (in the last few days I’ve been on more scenic routes than I thought possible) in order to give a lift to someone’s belongings from one room to another, two minutes down the road. And then go home again, with as empty a car as when we arrived.

So naturally I took the opportunity of providing more reading material seriously. Meanwhile, the Resident IT Consultant checked out the new landlady’s library, and found it reasonably satisfactory.

En route for this mini-move we stopped in Auchtermuchty for elevenses at the Tannochbrae Tearoom. Very Dr Finlay it was. Strangely quiet little town, but with lovely cake, and a refill of coffee for the Resident IT Consultant. I was a little taken aback to find a portrait of Alex Salmond perched on the cistern in the toilet, but each to their own, I suppose.

(For anyone who fancies running a tearoom, I gather it’s for sale.)

Oddly enough it was my second ‘Finlay sighting’ in two days. Helen Grant lives near a street called Rintoul Avenue, so my mind was already on Dr F.

David Rintoul

If I’d had my wits about me you could have been admiring a picture of the tiny, but lovely, Auchtermuchty Library here. But I didn’t, so you can’t. I blame it on the lemon & lime cake. And the portrait in the WC. (I’d have understood if they’d put David Rintoul there.)

While all this was taking place, Son and Dodo set off for Sweden, to cut some grass, encountering rather hot weather. Son had a meeting to go to, so parked Dodo in the library park in the sunshine while he talked business.

Halmstad Library

It strikes me that that’s two pretty long trips for two small jobs. I’m glad insanity seems to be hereditary.