Tag Archives: Helen Grant

Grant’s Ghost

You might be able to lay your hands on the book below some time around February 19th. Although, you never quite know with ghosts, do you?

While we wait, let me introduce you to the cover of Helen Grant’s new novel. The Scottish novel. Which kind of makes it sound like Macbeth. (I hope it’s got witches in it!)

Helen Grant, Ghost

It’s gorgeous in its simplicity.

And while it’s a little tricky stroking a jpeg, I find I want to.

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Scheisse

It’s funny how, looking back, you don’t know what is to come. Spring 2009 I didn’t know the Grants; Helen and Michael. And no, they are not a couple. Helen has her Mr Grant, and Michael isn’t actually a Grant.

I connect both of them with Germany. Helen had lived in Germany for many years, and her first book – The Vanishing of Katharina Linden – was set there, in Bad Münstereifel; not too far from Köln and Bonn.

Because that’s where Daughter and I were heading, that weekend in March 2009, and I was reading Helen’s book on the plane, and I’d just got to the bit where one of the ‘innocent’ characters says ‘Scheisse.’ It made me giggle. Childish, I know. Anyway, it was good reading a book set in Germany when I was actually in Germany. I mean, above Germany.

Köln

When Daughter and I had done what we came for, which was to attend a Roger Whittaker concert in Köln, which was great, and made greater still by being preceeded by an interview with Roger, we went to visit an online friend near Bonn. I had a suitcase full of books for her, because you have to get rid of books somehow.

One of those books was Michael Grant’s Gone, the first in the Gone series. And I only gave it away, because I had been sent two copies. My friend liked the look of it so much that she read it almost there and then. Although, being a writer herself she went on to pick the plot to pieces and had opinons on almost every aspect. But that’s fine.

So, The Vanishing and Gone – both books about disappearing – were my first meetings with Helen and Michael.

And now, I’ve read so much more by them, and seen so much more of them, that they feel like old established friends. Helen lives relatively near me, and Michael is so successful that he’s over in Britain most years, and sometimes more than once.

But it began in that plane, with a Scheisse, and a spare book.


(The witchiness does not end there. The second, literally, that I typed Roger’s name, my Messenger pinged, with a question about him from a relative.)

Brunch

Helen Grant and I have probably convinced Lee Weatherly – who is a recent convert to living in Scotland – that we can’t get babysitters. We have brought our sons to meals out with Lee, which is a weird thing to do, considering everyone’s ages. Ours and theirs. But still; they are charming boys and surely anyone would love hanging out with them? (One at a time, obviously.)

Yesterday it was Son’s turn to have brunch with three older ladies. Trains were cancelled or people missed their train. Luckily I had brought a book. Son and I kept the table warm, so to speak, and sneaked in some extra chai while we waited. Luckily Dishoom gives you as much of the stuff as you want, and then some.

We ate our spicy breakfasts and gossiped books and translations and looked out onto St Andrew’s Square in the sunshine. It was very civilised.

When we were almost too full to move, we permitted Son to foot the bill and then sent him back to ‘school.’ The rest of us had shopping to do, ribbons to cut in libraries and plastic screw caps to paint. (I’ll leave you to decide who did what.)

I suspect I might have worn the wrong colour shoes.

But that’s OK.

Tulips

March isn’t over just yet, but I feel confident enough to state that two authors made it through the Bookwitch Towers doors (and safely out again) during this month. Both got the Lent bun treatment.

As you know, I try to operate a ‘come empty-handed’ policy, but people find this hard to do. Both my visitors brought tulips, which is probably the nicest thing anyone can do, and get away with it.

Tulips

Debi Gliori had talked about my tulips before she even came. It all sounded rather confusing to me, because she wanted to compare hers to Mother-of-witch’s tulips, that she’d noticed the last time she came. We have a large sketch of a vase of tulips on one wall. And it turned out Debi had sketched very nearly the exact same vase of tulips. She brought three of them for me to see, and then she said I could keep them!

One can never have too many tulips.

Which is lucky, as Helen Grant turned up with a bunch of tulips [real ones], looked at them doubtfully and said she thought they were tulips…

Good thing I’m an expert.

Tulips

And you know, I’d sort of overlooked the fact that the new room – still not quite finished, but in use – needed tulips. Any flower would have looked nice, obviously, but those tulips really made the room. And my week.

Yesterday was Waffle Day, so if any of you wanted to come over for waffles, you’re too late. We had one guest round for these lovely things, and then we sort of happened to eat the leftovers ourselves. (Although, if tulips were involved, I might rethink the waffle situation.)

What was I thinking???

Have you any idea how often I ask myself this? On Tuesday I asked the question so often and so loudly that you could be forgiven for thinking it had been a while, whereas the question had popped up only last Friday.

Do you remember SELTA? I blogged about them last year. They are the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association, and they do things I’m sort of interested in. And on Tuesday it was time for their AGM in London, and they thought it’d be good to ask a few ‘translated literature’ bloggers over for some light entertainment at the end. I was one of them, and why anyone would think I can speak in the first place, and why I might measure up next to two people who read almost exclusively translated, and literary, books, is beyond me.

But there I was, pretending to speak about translation and other linguistic stuff. This is when I wasn’t feeling petrified at the mere idea. I garbled a few things at them, and I distinctly recall them laughing at one point, so I must have said something amusing. Shame I can’t remember what. I could use it again, if I did.

Wait a minute! No, that would suggest I’d ever do this again. No need to know what was funny.

They encouraged the asking of questions, so I asked whether they read the book before they translate it. Interesting reaction. Some do, some don’t. Those who do were shocked to find others don’t.

My co-speakers were Stu Allen of Winstonsdad’s Blog, and Ann Morgan from A Year of Reading the World. As you will find if you look them up, they read adult books in translation. Ann spent a year reading a book from every country in the world, a while back. And Stu reads books from all over the world, as long as they have been translated.

And then there was me. Let’s just say I wasn’t the most accomplished speaker in the room.

But it was fun. Afterwards, I mean. Never again, though. Most likely.

I threw them a challenge. I spoke to Fiona Graham who was the one who did the sample translation of My Mum’s a Gorilla – So What? that I so enjoyed last year. Dr Death was there. So was Deborah Bragan-Turner who did me the honour of interviewing me a year ago. She did it so well that when the Resident IT Consultant re-read the Swedish Book Review, he felt I’d get on well with ‘that person.’ Until he discovered that was me. Ruth Urbom, who was the one who invited me, and many others. They could all tell what was wrong with ‘sugar cake’ but hamburgerkött was less obvious. (Horse meat…)

Afterwards we went to the pub. And after that Son and I went to Diwana Bhel Poori, before we slept our way north (where I was – accidentally – greeted on the platform by Helen Grant). And that’s where I am now.

(Home, not on the platform. Obviously.)

Best Scottish?

It came back to me, out of the blue, a few days ago. I had a Scottish Reading tag on Bookwitch. First, I had my one year Foreign Reading Challenge, which was tough enough. Not the doing, so much as the finding a new foreign published book every month for twelve months. And a different foreign every time.

Seemingly I wasn’t challenged enough, as I veered off onto a new tag, Scottish Reading. I believe I felt I should concentrate a bit more on a slightly ignored section of British books for children. But I just cannot remember what happened to it! The foreign challenge had rules; the Scottish was just supposed to happen.

Recently I have, for obvious reasons, read more Scottish again, but without tagging it or anything. My memory isn’t what it was.

The Resident IT Consultant pointed me in the direction of the the BBC’s 30 top Scottish books list the other day. It even made us argue a bit, en famille. What counts as a Scottish book? Who counts as having written one?

I had my opinion, he had his and Son turned up and said his bit. Can Harry Potter be Scottish? I think so, others are less sure. Does the author have to be Scottish, merely live in Scotland, write about Scottish topics or set their novel in Scotland?

England is full of wonderful authors who are American. But I think we tend to happily adopt these foreigners as homemade successes if they are successful. On that basis, English or American writers living in Scotland ought to qualify, whether or not they write about a wizard school that may or may not be in Scotland (never mind that the train there leaves from King’s Cross).

If a novel is set in outer space, what does that make it? If a Scottish born and bred author sets their novel in London or Cornwall, what then? In fact, it’s getting a bit Brexit. If anyone is supposed to go back to where they came from, the only true Scottish novel must be by a Scottish author, set in Scotland, featuring Scottish characters, who wouldn’t dream of stepping south of the border.

And that’s not right. Elizabeth Wein lives and writes in Scotland. Alex Nye likewise, entertaining us with what Sheriffmuir covered in snow is like. Helen Grant has so far killed the good people of Belgium from the comfort of her Scottish home. Philip Caveney has just joined the ladies here, after some frantic years commuting between Stockport and Scotland. The Scottish Book Trust have all four of these writers on their list of authors.

I have read three of the books on the BBC’s list, and watched another four on film. That’s not much at all, and the fault is all mine. I am overdue another Scottish Reading Challenge. Although it shouldn’t be a challenge at all.

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.)