Tag Archives: Helen Grant

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!

Hurling oneself off towers

Is never a good idea. We took the day off for the Resident IT Consultant’s birthday yesterday and looked at a ruin. Not me, but a really big and even older one.

Cambuskenneth Abbey

I’m in the middle of reading Helen Grant’s Demons of Ghent and am feeling distinctly anti-tower at the moment. Which will be why I suggested we go and look at Cambuskenneth Abbey – ruin of – yesterday morning. It is primarily a tower, off which you can’t really hurl yourself, as they have closed the door to the staircase.

Cambuskenneth Abbey

So it’s mostly a nice tower and ruined Abbey walls and some old graves. An old King – James III, I believe – is buried there. He’s got a nice view, in his old age. Pretty grassy meadow and the river, and some nettles, and the Ochils in the background.

Cambuskenneth Abbey

So we looked around and took a circular stroll round the village, and all I had with me was a mobile phone on which to take photos. (Took me hours to work out how to squeeze them off the phone and onto the computer and then to the blog. I hope you appreciate it.)

After this ‘taxing’ stroll we had scones and tea in a nearby (-ish) farm café. They also sold local stuff such as bananas and genuine vegetable pakoras.

(Helen Grant has a lot to answer for, starting me off on visiting graves and ruins like this.)

Why she’s still reading, fifteen years later…

Remember my appalling reading habits when I was young? Well, here is a glowing example of what the perfect parent should do – according to Bookwitch. Author Helen Grant makes me green with envy. I’m hoping that now that I will be living closer to her, some of her excellence might rub off.

Who am I fooling? Over to Helen:

‘I read to my teenager. I didn’t think there was anything particularly noteworthy in that, until the Bookwitch wrote and asked me whether I would be prepared to do a guest blog about it for her: what I read, how I find the time, and also something about the fact that the teenager in question is prepared to listen to me reading.

Helen Grant

I started to think about the topic a bit and it is perfectly true that when you think “bedtime story” you don’t think “mum and teen.” You think of sweet little shock-headed toddlers who have to be read to, because they can’t read themselves yet, or primary school kids who like a reassuring half-hour with mum before bed. Hey, look at the music video for Ylvis’ What does the fox say? – how old is the kid sitting on his grandpa’s lap, do you think? Four, maybe five years old, tops.

What you don’t imagine is gramps reading to 170cm of gum-chewing teenager in a hoodie.

So how come I’m doing it? It’s a long story.

My daughter made her appearance in the world almost three weeks late, and I have often wondered whether it was missing that three weeks of thrilling outside world experience that made her so darn sleepless as a baby. I know all mums think their darling is special, but I really am convinced that I had the wakefullest baby ever. She resisted sleep at all costs, maintaining instead a kind of squirelly perma-attention that would continue until she was screeching with tiredness. Car drives and being carried around in someone’s arms would make her drop off (eventually) but it can be difficult to prepare meals whilst driving a car or carrying a baby. Another solution had to be found.

By trial and error, we discovered that reading aloud would make her go to sleep. I suppose it was the reassurance of a familiar voice without too much interaction: no coochy-coo, who’s a nice baby then? – more, I read, you listen. As she was too tiny to know or care what the reading matter was, we chose our own. My husband read her Heinrich Harrer’s mountaineering classic The White Spider; I read her Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (another of those cultural experiences she was too young to remember later, like visiting every single Antoni Gaudi building in Barcelona). A few terrifying crevasses or paragraphs of war-torn love and she would be fast asleep.

Helen Grant's reading pile

Over the years that followed I often read to her and her little brother. Greater love hath no mother than this, that she readeth every single volume of Beast Quest, believe me. I discovered that the classics are still the best. Beatrix Potter’s language is so flowing and elegant that it can be read accurately even when the person reading is three-quarters dead with exhaustion.

Eventually, of course, both kids learnt to read themselves, and were able to pursue the time-honoured custom of covert under-the-bedclothes reading after lights out, whilst I put my feet up – or more probably, emptied the dishwasher.

Reading aloud was relegated to one of those things we did during particularly long car journeys or intolerably wet days on holiday.

Over the last couple of years, however, we’ve started it again. My daughter is a voracious reader, so she doesn’t really need any encouragement to get through books, but she did need some help with sleeping. The dawn of the teenage years seemed to have restored her to factory settings, so to speak: all of a sudden she was having problems sleeping again, resulting in exhaustion in the mornings. Sitting up late at night in front of a bright screen – whether tv, computer or hand held console – is not a good recipe for sound sleep. Science says all that artificial light close to the face fools the body into thinking it is still daytime, and delays the production of the hormone melatonin, which helps us fall asleep. Trouble is, if you are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 11pm it is difficult to lie patiently in a darkened room waiting for the elusive sleep to arrive.

Alan Grant at bedtime

I suggested reading to her again. And that is what we have done. We started off with The Hound of the Baskervilles; since then we have also done King Solomon’s Mines, The Lost World, Dracula, The Chrysalids, The Werewolf, Carmilla, my own novel The Glass Demon, and various short stories including those of Arthur Conan Doyle, Saki, M.R.James and L.T.C.Rolt. We choose the books between us. I think this is pretty key to the teen-being-prepared-to-listen bit. It helps that we share a taste for thrilling and creepy stories. If she wanted me to read her endless romances I would still read them, but I’d be reading between clenched teeth. We’ve also tended to go for stuff she might not tackle on her own: Dracula, for example, is easier if you have someone ancient on hand to explain what telegraphy, collar studs and hansom cabs are (not, I hasten to add, that I actually remember those things!!).

Yes, it does take up a bit of time in the evening – but on the other hand, the time is more pleasantly spent than if I were passing her door every ten minutes saying “Haven’t you turned that light out yet?” Nobody gets nagged, she gets entertainment as she slides into sleep, and I get to rediscover books I loved in the past.’

Puzzles

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.)