Category Archives: Horror

What about Deborah?

The Breadwinner

When I got to the last page of the Guardian Weekend last week, I stared. It was a film poster for a new animated film called The Breadwinner.

I thought, ‘it might be based on the book by Deborah Ellis.’ I began searching for the proof that it had something to do with this marvellous, if disturbing, tale about the young girl in Afghanistan who ends up as the breadwinner for her family by pretending to be a boy.

But there was nothing. Angelina Jolie gets a prominent mention, as executive producer. Well done. The film is by Nora Twomey. Well done again. There are various quotes about the film’s excellence.

There is some small print, but I am fairly certain that I squinted enough, and Deborah’s name wasn’t there either.

So I googled the film, and lo and behold, it is based on the book. It’s not even pretending not to be. Wikipedia lists her, and an interview with Nora begins by mentioning her.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

Film posters are large. There would have been room for the name of the person who thought up this whole story in the first place. Even if they have altered a lot, there is the sense of the original plot, the original characters.

If Deborah had been a really well known, big name, I suspect it would have been plastered all over the poster.

That said, I look forward to seeing the film. It’s out on May 25th.

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Ghost

Several things happened while I was reading Helen Grant’s new novel, Ghost.

I had an early e-version of this Gothic thriller, and I’d been describing to Helen how well it worked reading on the iPad. As I restarted, it sort of began scrolling the pages on its own. As I looked, I saw first a name, and soon after, a place. Both were familiar to me from what I’d been reading so far. ‘Damn,’ I thought. I didn’t want that to happen, and I didn’t want an accidental, electronic, spoiler.

But as I arrived at the end of Ghost, none of those things had appeared in the text, although something closely related to both had in fact happened. And as I got to the last line, there was a ghost of a flicker in my mind, reminding me of some other story. Except I can’t now think what, or even if. It was just rather ghost-like.

Helen Grant, Ghost

This is a beautifully written book. Not that I’d expect anything else from Helen Grant. It was hard to put down, and I did so as seldom as I could get away with. I wanted to bask in this quirky tale about the teenage Augusta – Ghost for short – who’d spent all her 17 years living with her grandmother, in secret, in a rambling but derelict house in Perthshire.

It’s a happy life, but frustrating and lonely, until the day Ghost’s grandmother goes shopping and never returns. And then 19-year-old Tom turns up. Both teenagers are equally shocked by the other, and together they have to try and make sense of Ghost’s strange existence.

Her quiet life in the Scottish countryside continues, while the reader waits for the bombshell that must surely come. What will it be, and when?

You’ll be surprised. At least I think you will be, if you have no unravelling pdf on your hands. Or, could it be that all copies of Ghost will have some kind of ghost inside? Not necessarily the same for all, but you know, some other-worldly hint.

Helen Grant is masterly at quietly worrying her readers.

I will – probably – be OK soon. I’m just not used to psychological thrillers.

The physical Ghost

Helen Grant, Ghost

Six weeks on, here it is; Helen Grant’s Ghost. But only chez Bookwitch, so far. The rest of you can wait another four weeks…

Helen Grant, Ghost

I was a little bit excited at the arrival of Ghost, and decided to photograph it to within an inch of its life. If a Ghost has a life.

Helen Grant, Ghost

Helen has described it as a psychological thriller, with a ghost of gothic thriller about it. And it’s not YA. You might be too young for this book. Whimper.

Helen Grant, Ghost

All the time she was writing Ghost I’d been wondering what Helen could do to her Scottish surroundings, that she hadn’t already done to Belgium and Germany.

Now I know.

Helen Grant, Ghost

The Slithers

Confession time. I had to cover up bits of the cover of Philip Caveney’s new book, The Slithers. I do realise it’s a great cover, but I was unable to look at it and kept the book facing the wrong way, until the time came to read it and stronger measures were required. But it’s fine, that pear looks almost as though it belongs.

But let me tell you, this is not a horror story about a pear.

Rather like his close colleague and ‘friend’ Danny Weston, Philip has conveyed his latest young hero Zach and his dad to Scotland, looking for a new life. His mum has died, and so has his grandfather, whose old cottage they now live in.

Now, there’s a reason the old man had put shutters over anything that opened into the house. And the stinky pond that Zach’s dad asks him to deal with? Well, there’s a reason that was left as it was, too.

I would suggest that next time you find a green, glowing stone underground, you leave it there. Your wardrobe is not the place for it.

Although, it appears as if their luck has changed. Zach wins a lot of money, and gets himself a girlfriend, and his dad gets a really good job. But then, the signs are that his grandparents had a stroke of luck, too, just before they didn’t.

I am grateful that the ‘thing’ gracing my book cover is only paper, or it would not be so easily contained by a paper pear. Zach had it a lot worse.

This is a great new adventure from Philip, and my sincere apologies for not offering you a cover image.

Bloody Scotland – the anthology

Bloody Scotland. What a – bloody – fantastic collection of crime stories! And what a gorgeous cover! It’s like blood dripping…

Bloody Scotland - the book

Although I have to admit to doubting the wisdom of going to bed so soon after finishing the last stories. How was I going to sleep after what Denise Mina put me through? Or Louise Welsh? She’d seemed like such a pleasant person when I got my book signed at the weekend. How could she?

Whereas Stuart MacBride, who usually is too dark for my general wellbeing, just entertained me, and almost made me laugh. Almost. I would like to see his crazy romp at Kinnaird Head Lighthouse with his insane characters made into a short film. I think. I might not be able to watch it, though. Crying out to be filmed, whether or not I am witch enough to view it.

This crime story collection with stories by twelve of Scotland’s best, was the brainchild of Historic Environment Scotland, or HES for short, in collaboration with Bloody Scotland. Why not have our professional killers write a story each, set in one or other of the many HES buildings or sites? Why not? Well, maybe in order not to scare people.

For those less feeble-minded than your witch, this is a marvellous memento of your visit to a HES site. It’s marvellous even if you never go, and after you’ve waded through some bloodbaths you might have second thoughts. So visit first, then buy, and read last. After which you either go back to look at the place again (I know your type..!), or your next visit will be to a place where Bloody Scotland has not murdered anyone.

Yet. I feel there should be more of these. Obviously not to be read at bedtime.

It’s not all blood and gore and devastation however. Chris Brookmyre is suitably fun and lighthearted, and Gordon Brown’s character has a lesson to learn. A couple of authors have gone for revenge, which was most satisfying. Or history, such as Lin Anderson’s visit to the distant past, or E S Thomson’s industrial history drama.

I’ve already mentioned how pleased Doug Johnstone was about my reaction to his tale about the Forth Bridge. And if I don’t mention Val McDermid, Sara Sheridan, Craig Robertson or Ann Cleeves next to their stories, it’s to avoid spoilers.

You don’t want to know when to beware the narrator/main character, or when they are as innocent as you want/expect them to be. Or people close to them. There’s a lot of bad people out there.

But as I said, once the sleep problems have been dealt with, I can’t but want more of this. I can think of authors not yet asked to kill for HES, or places to visit that have not yet been, well, ‘visited.’

Let the blood flow and your nerves take a beating. Won’t be the only thing to take a beating, I can promise you.

Bloody Scotland blog tour

Thrilling Fiction

They fought about who would sit on the middle chair, Michelle Paver or Peter Høeg, and while they did, their chair Daniel Hahn quickly sat down on the shiny red chair on the far side. In the end Michelle won, and Peter’s fame got him the chair between her and Danny.

I’d never thought about this before, but when Son pointed out earlier this summer that Peter Høeg hardly ever does events, it sort of made sense. So we made sure we were there to hear him speak, sparingly, about his new book The Susan Effect. (Everyone knows him for Miss Smilla.) And as I said last week in my review, I loved Michelle’s Thin Air.

Daniel began by saying they’d discovered they had one scientist and one mountaineer between them, and one book about science and one on climbing. But the trouble was that the ‘wrong’ person wrote the books; with Michelle covering the climbing and Peter the physics.

Describing Thin Air as a ‘thrilling, intense, really scary book’ that he shouldn’t have read alone late at night, Daniel asked Michelle how it came about. This story about the frozen world of Kangchenjunga began with her suffering from a frozen shoulder and when she couldn’t sleep, she got up and read something from her shelf of mountaineering books. Originally it was to be set in South America (she fancied making a research trip there), but in the end it had to be Kangchenjunga, with God at the top and the abominable snowman further down. And ghosts.

Peter Høeg and Michelle Paver

Peter usually gets his ideas during a ‘fleeting short moment’ in the middle of another book; this time about a woman who makes people speak the truth. He’s got a couple of such people in his own family, so knows what it’s like. It’s important how the character speaks. It has to be someone the reader can spend a week with, and the author maybe two years.

Like many Scandinavians, Peter speaks English well, slowly and with a marked Danish accent, but quite competently. He said Michelle ruined his reading of Thin Air, but Danny pointed out that this is what book festivals are for; having your illusions destroyed.

For her children’s series Wolf Brother she felt it important that children could like the characters, but for her adult books she’s quite happy to ‘be’ her new character, however unpleasant, or racist, they might be.

Peter tries to create something new each time, feeling it’s dangerous to repeat yourself. He was surprised by the humour in this new book. It’s warmer and more fun, and that makes him happy. Michelle mentioned that his line about a raisin made her laugh out loud when reading.

Peter Høeg

They both read from their books, with Peter apologising for his bad English as he read a short piece from the beginning of The Susan Effect. Michelle read the bit where her character wakes up in the tent, and how there might be someone out there…

As the middle of three sisters, she felt she had the necessary experience to write about sibling rivalry, and she mentioned the background of ‘beating the Hun’ and the public school ethos, and how men couldn’t admit to things like altitude sickness, which might affect a whole group.

Both authors admired each other’s books, and spoke about different – non-literary – genres, and how you need all kinds of books. The Danes, like other Nordics, read crime in the summer, a bit like porn. Michelle said that YA is good, because it tends to have a plot, and it doesn’t need to be literary.

Peter writes his first draft by hand, from beginning to end, and then he types it up, editing as he goes along. And if a day feels as if it won’t be a writing day, then he doesn’t force it. According to him, there are no books, only reading. We all read differently and there are as many versions of a book as there are readers.

Question time made a slow start, with Danny saying that if this had been a children’s event, all hands would be in the air. He mentioned one very important aspect about Peter’s book, which is that none of the words are his, but those chosen by his English translator (Martin Aitken). Peter said how grateful he is to him, and how all of Denmark relies on people to translate their small language. Daniel described the translating process as the translator first reads the book, then has to become arrogant – in a positive way – in order to rewrite the words so the book reads as though it is English. ‘Little Denmark’ likes this.

Michelle likes MR James, likes ghost stories, and she recognises that it’s unusual with ghosts somewhere empty like Svalbard (Dark Matter). Daniel said first you are scared because you are on your own, and then a stone moves, and you think ‘oh my god, I’m not on my own!’ And that is worse.

She does a fair bit of research, travelling to the places she sets her stories, and looking into things like illnesses and reading up on what others have already written, like the early climbers on Kangchenjunga.

Peter did research the first twenty years. And then the internet happened and he lost interest in old style research. He has a love for both science and music, but neither loves him back.

Peter Høeg and Michelle Paver

At the signing afterwards, I was delighted to discover that Michelle never travels without her paw print stamp for when fans bring copies of Wolf Brother. And she let me have a paw print in Thin Air. After all, we don’t know what’s out there on that mountain. Could be anything.

Thin Air

Michelle Paver has done it again. She’s managed to persuade me that she’s really John Buchan and Erskine Childers in one, blended with a bit of Kipling. In Thin Air the reader is – once more – transported to the 1930s, and this time it’s to climb Kangchenjunga. And as if that’s not enough of an ordeal, the mountain is haunted.

Thin Air is an adult novel, but only just. There is nothing unsuitable for younger readers keen on climbing and adventure, and who don’t mind being scared by the ghost of Kangchenjunga.

Michelle Paver, Thin Air

Dr Stephen Pearce is a last-minute replacement as the medic in the climbing team which consists of his older brother Kits, his brother’s best friend and two military climbers; one of whom is described as ‘a shade off in the vowels’ compared with these rather snobbish sahibs.

They are to follow the same route as a famous – but disastrous – climb almost thirty years earlier.

And, well, maybe they shouldn’t have.

This is such a marvellous tale of adventure, and you feel alternately exhausted by the climb and scared of whatever, whoever, is lurking out there in the snow. You admire the sherpas for their skills and patience with these strangers who call them coolies and yak-wallahs, and look down on the very men there to help them potentially become famous. If they succeed. Maybe even if they don’t.

If they survive.

The period feel is superb. As is the rising tension in the sahib camp.

You’ll not get me up there.