Tag Archives: Helen Grant

Thirteen at the tables

It couldn’t be helped. There were 13 for lunch. At times we stood up together, as though that would somehow safeguard our future. If we have one. I blame Helen Grant, with her sense of doom. I mean, you can’t completely control how many invitees will come, no matter how many, or few, you invite. (Hmm, I suppose inviting fewer than twelve would work…)

I’ve had these cinnamon buns hanging over me for a couple of years. Figuratively. It’d be silly to have real cinnamon buns. And then I had this bright idea; why not invite every* single person in the Scottish children’s books world all at once? And never mind the cinnamon buns.

Some people suddenly had to go to Norway or Norwich, which is more than understandable, but a surprising number said yes. I had tears in my eyes when someone I’d never met and who didn’t know me said she’d travel several hours on the train in order to come. One author required the Resident IT Consultant to guide her over the phone, just so she could escape the clutches of Denny.** Some people have day jobs. Others said they hope to come ‘next time.’ Right.

Helen Grant had been summoned to hold my hand, and also ended up making salmon lilies and bartending.

Seen from my point of view, it was a lovely lunch. The event, not necessarily the food. Much stuff was discussed, and I’m not telling you anything at all about that. Or who was here. I’m just amazed that they were so kind to a mere witch. One of them even left a tip. (Will be returned to its rightful owner if you can describe it satisfactorily.)

The tip

I have so many flowers I could start a flower stall (didn’t know the Resident IT Consultant had it in him, all this flower arranging), and mountains of chocolates and other nice edibles.

It seems if ‘you make the smörgåstårta, they will come.’

Thank you.

*To clarify, by this I mean ladies, as it’s far better to gossip single-sex.

**That’s a place. The wrong place.

The bottles

(I quite like the Spencer Tracy film Father of the Bride, where he sits among the debris of the party. The above is fairly tame in comparison.)

Ode to the Bookwitch

If I’m not careful I’ll sprout poetry or something. I feel as if I could do anything. Almost. Were it not for the knees.

Yesterday the Resident IT Consultant and I celebrated something which has not happened yet. Family and friends turned out to be quite skilled at cheating at giving no presents [by strict order], and it’s really interesting to see what lengths people will go to. Flowers are ‘not really gifts.’ Cardamom pods don’t count. A bag if not wrapped, likewise. Nice try my friends, and so kind of you.

And then there was Helen Grant who felt that writing an ode was no present either, having slaved away over her Keatsian style poetry for hours. Weeks? Maybe months? She has generously agreed to my sharing it with you.

Ode to the Bookwitch on her 60th Birthday

If Sweden’s ever mentioned, you will find

(Though less well known than Germany or France)

That certain things will quickly come to mind

Like Stockholm Syndrome, ABBA, or perchance

Surströmming with its most distinctive whiff.

The Billy bookcase from IKEA – yes! –

Has fixed the Swedish nation in our hearts

Though we’d be joyful if

We didn’t have to scratch our heads and guess

The way to make the bookcase from the parts.


This smörgåsbord of Swedish joys bestowed

Upon the grateful world is not complete

Unless we list the Swedish folk who’ve showed

How ripe with talent is their land, replete

With expertise and triumph – only look

At Greta Garbo, Björn Borg and poor

Stieg Larsson, sadly cut off in his prime,

The Muppets’ Swedish cook

And PewDiePie and many, many more

That I could name if only I’d the time.


And now I feel the time has come to name

Another Swede we ought to celebrate,

Who also has achieved a certain fame

By telling us which books are crap or great.

The Bookwitch works her magic all the year;

She lovingly composes each review

With honesty – no flattery or spite;

She bravely does not fear

To give her praise where praise is clearly due

But warn us if the book is rather shite.


But why, you ask, would anybody swap

The wondrous land of Sweden for these shores?

Precipitation never seems to stop

And only ducks can stand it out of doors.

Yet even witches have a tender heart,

In spite of how formidable they look,

And love can cast a spell they can’t withstand.

So, as to live apart

Would be a tragic ending to life’s book,

She made her future in this barb’rous land.


Two masterpieces of her own she’s done:

A debut work and then a sequel too!

The first a rather literary one,

The other, scientific through and through.

Her sixty years she bears with girlish ease

As magic through the ages shall prevail

And witches never really show their age

(Except perhaps their knees);

So may her story be a merry tale

With happiness until the final page.

[Helen Grant 15/5/2016]

Isn’t that great? And kind? I should really wait until the right day, but my heart is full now, so I won’t delay.

(But I got my ‘revenge.’ One guest rather carelessly suggested that if we wanted nothing because we already have too much, perhaps they could assist by taking stuff home with them. So I forced partybags on them as they left… That’ll teach him.)

The killing commute

The water was cold and rather sudden. One minute my boot wasn’t in it, and the next it was. It was winter and it was cold and I was on my way to school and had to remain waterlogged (one foot only) the rest of the day.

I was 16 and sometimes had to get the bus to school. Most of the time Mother-of-witch drove me the ten miles, because she taught at the same school. But occasionally our one early morning bus was necessary. (At the time we had four buses a day.) Hence my encounter with the ditch. It was dark at that time, with no streetlights and I sort of veered sideways the wrong way by the field by the bus stop. Splosh.

These days I’d do more things if it wasn’t for the poor public transport in places. Not necessarily kill, but go in directions I now can’t, and/or at times that are now impossible. Or just uncomfortable.

I’ve swapped a big city for a small town. I’m not saying big city was better, but there was more accessible travel, by [local] train, bus and tram. Expensive, with a bad ticket system. And you had to hurry if you wanted to get home by train after a show, for instance. Last train wasn’t all that late. Full though, so clearly there was a market for it.

Now I have good(-ish) trains to Edinburgh and Glasgow. What I don’t have is a sensible bus to take me to the station. I abuse the Resident IT Consultant’s kindness and ask for lifts. I could walk, but like to save myself for when I get there.

But it could be worse. I could live where Helen Grant lives. Here she blogs about life on public transport, and how much more convenient it is to commute to kill if you live in Belgium, as her characters did. Do.

Well, I’m not saying they actually killed. They misbehaved a bit, and they did it all with the help of trams and buses, and late at night too. In some places you come to take this kind of thing for granted.

My former – Swedish – four buses a day are now more like every hour, which for a countryside bus is pretty OK. You can even go out late at night and expect to get home again. There could be time to kill – not people – as you wait, just as when Daughter missed the midnight train out of Geneva recently. There were two more. After she’d killed time.

Good, better, best

2015 is a rare year. Its best book happens to be my third best book ever. So no contest as to who sits at the top of the Bookwitch Best of 2015 Books list. It’s

Sally Gardner with her The Door That Led to Where. Among many stunning books, this is the stunningest of them all. The Door That Led to Where is a novel that has it all, to my mind. Just getting it out to look at again as I write this, I feel all twitchy.

It is red. Perhaps that is a sign I can re-read it over Christmas? It’s been almost a year. (And on a different note, I was pleased to see Sally’s book finally reviewed in the Guardian this weekend. High time indeed. And I’m not the only one to think so.)

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

So, now that this obvious choice has been announced, I come to the rest. Eight books stand out as having been that little bit more ‘stand-outy’ than others. They are books that made me feel all warm inside as I read them. (Apart from Helen Grant’s book which made my blood go cold. In a good way.)

These warm ones are, in alphabetical order:

Stephen Davies, Blood & Ink

Helen Grant, Urban Legends

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

Andrew Norriss, Jessica’s Ghost

Ellen Renner, Outcaste

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One

Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove White Raven

On the longlist were another 25 books, so the tip of the iceberg was pretty big. But the point of a best of list is that it is a litte bit short.

Thank you to all who wrote these, my bestest books of the year. You make a difference.

Bookwitch bites #131

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

David Almond scooped the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize on Thursday. Congratulations to him, and commiserations to young ‘Master Sally Nicholls,’ who at his very young age let his disappointment that Mummy didn’t win be known. I like a baby who can cry when the time is right. And apparently he was passed round like a – very valuable – parcel, so I’m quite jealous I wasn’t there.

Sally is also on the shortlist for the Costa, so perhaps the young Master will appear at another awards event soon. Because as he well knows, Mummy’s is one seriously good book, and he will read it as soon as he can.

Someone (Muckle Media. And you know, I blogged about muckle only the other day) has been looking into who is most popular on Twitter in Scotland. It seems J K Rowling does quite well with followers and such. And what’s fascinating is that I’ve never heard of some of the top names, although Ian Rankin and Val McDermid ring a bell. As do Bookwitch favourites like Gillian Philip, Nicola Morgan, Julie Bertagna and Helen Grant. Long may they tweet.

On Twitter (where else?) I learned that Teri Terry was interviewed when she was in Denmark recently. Her answers are perfectly easy to understand. For those of you who still don’t read Danish after all those Killings and Bridges, I can only suggest you guess what Teri is replying to, as the questions are in Danish.

Anne Rooney has been interviewed by the Society of Authors about non-fiction (I thought of it first!), and it makes for very interesting reading. Times are hard. Being interested in everything is good. Anne is good.

If all this feels like it’s getting on top of you, counselling is at hand. Nicola Morgan is now the proud owner of a Certificate of Counselling, part of her Diploma in Youth Counselling. She is so good at so many things. And I’d have happily unburdened myself to Nicola even before she was certified.

Shetland Noir – the stories

They really went to town with their misused kitchen utensils. I’d say, never encourage a professional killer. They have enough horror to offer as it is.

I would like to say I enjoyed the little leaflet with the top three stories from the Shetland Noir writing competition. But enjoy isn’t quite the word I’d use.

Runners-up Matthew Wright and Marina Marinopoulos went for very bloody scenarios indeed. Kitchen utensils make you think kitchens, and from there it’s not far to food, and… Well, you get the picture.

Whereas winner Helen Grant was more restrained, if only by comparison. She has a gory corpse. She has made ‘good’ use of her kitchen utensil. I’ll say that for her. And I could sort of see where this story must go, which isn’t a bad thing. It built up the suspense quite nicely.

The Beach House, as her story is called, is all about death in a beautiful place. That makes it worse. I can visualise where the house is, and I can see the corpse, even though I’m trying not to. I’ll have to work on unseeing this at some point.


If Helen were to change paths and kill in the adult world from now on, I reckon she’d do it well.

Shetland Noir, only once removed

I’m the kind of witch who can recognise Denise Mina from behind, out of context (i.e. not at some book festival). On the other hand, my Shetland Noir representative, Helen Grant, had no idea who this ‘tremendously likeable’ woman was, gorgeous black furry boots and all. They travelled on the same plane, which despite it being Friday the 13th suffered no mishap, which is lucky for Scottish crime and its future. Helen did know the other crime writer at the airport, though, as she had been at Oxford with MJ McGrath.

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Helen was on her way to Shetland to receive the Jimmy Perez Trophy for writing the winning short story – The Beach House – from, as it turned out, the very hands of Jimmy Perez, aka actor Doug Henshall. Not bad for a simple misuse of a kitchen utensil. (I can just see how he stands there muttering, ‘not the cheese grater. Please not the cheese grater!’)

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Strangely (!) Helen was quite keen to see a bit of beautiful Shetland while she was there, so apart from the grand reception and award thing on the Friday night, she ‘only’ went to two events, but they both sound really good. Also very female, because as we know, women scare and kill best. Just look at Helen herself.

Donald Anderson, Jacky Collins, Mari Hannah, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves and Alexandra Sokoloff

There was a panel on the benefits and pitfalls of screen adaptations, with Alexandra Sokoloff, Ann Cleeves, Denise Mina and Mari Hannah, chaired by Jacky Collins. It’s apparently a bit like adopting a baby, and learning to step away. Ann Cleeves had Vera Stanhope adapted after the producer picked up a copy of her book in Oxfam.

According to Alexandra, who has a past as a screenwriter, in America television does sell books, whereas Ann recognises that viewers might not be readers. Denise has had a very successful adaptation made from her book, totally authentic down to the 1980s Irn Bru sign on Central Station.  And on the benefits of adapting a book, Denise said that we love books – ‘That’s why we’re all dweebing out when there’s a perfectly good craft fair on.’ The book is the real connection with another human being.

Jake Kerridge, Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar

The cheerfully named Killer Women is a London-based group of female (obviously) crime writers, which started as a social group, but now meet to discuss murder as well. In Lerwick Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar spoke to Jake Kerridge about women in crime, both as writers, detectives and victims. Apparently if the victim is male he must suffer as a spy or at war, and not in a domestic setting.

MJ McGrath enjoys turning things round, like having a female detective instead of just as the sidekick. Her male detective breeds lemmings, in order to replace those who jump off cliffs… Louise Millar has interviewed people affected by crime, several years afterwards, to learn of the long term effects. And MJ interviewed some Hell’s Angels after a murder. She felt that being a woman was an advantage in that situation: ‘Either they want to impress you or they don’t take you seriously.’

Women are ‘equal opportunities readers’ and will read books by both women and men, but men are more likely to read men. Helen Giltrow, who works in a male dominated sector, espionage, has been told ‘you write like a man.’ MJ commented that ‘I have been told with great sincerity and as a compliment, I write like a brunette!’

On sex and violence Laura said that she has heard male writers say that women can go further because if a man writes about sexual violence people will think that he is a pervert who really wants to do it! Louise added that there is also the issue of having to write ‘likeable’ women, which is very constraining.

(I’ve never noticed any ‘constraining’…)

On the gossip front the latest news from Ann Cleeves seems to be a non-crime (I’m guessing non-fiction) book about Shetland. Because she loves it. Alex Gray is incredibly nice, and she and Helen talked about Bloody Scotland. Valerie Laws’ sleep was not helped by waves breaking against the hotel wall right beneath her window. (At least the sea stayed on the outside.) Marsali Taylor wins [Helen’s] prize for best dressed crime writer, with a stunning fuchsia silk fitted dress with gold embroidery and matching trousers.

After a weekend like this, Helen can almost see herself having more of a go at adult crime. It was ‘inspiring.’ And next time she flies to Shetland, her woolly hat will be in her hand luggage.

Doug Henshall and Helen Grant, by Dale Smith