Tag Archives: Helen Grant

Book Week Scotland Launch

Or Bookwitch Scotland, as I prefer to think of it. I mean, what’s the difference? Just a couple of letters and Book Week Scotland could be all mine. I’m sure the nice people at Scottish Book Trust wouldn’t mind [too much].

Could have sworn I saw poet Simon Armitage at Waverley station as I arrived, although if it’s a case of providing an alibi, then I will not swear at all. Book Week Scotland was launched so conveniently close to Waverley, that in order to get my daily walk I actually had to walk to the station at the home end.

Book Week Scotland starts on the 23rd of November, and I’d say it will be well worth the wait. The list of who’s on offer made even this tired and slightly jaded witch feel much less tired, setting her thinking of all the nice events that she could go to.

Where, it has to be said, she’d have to do a better job than at Tuesday’s launch, standing at the back, not quite managing to photograph the speakers, and then not quite managing to jot down the names of everyone or remembering to take the sheets provided home. That sort of thing.

Book Week Scotland programme launch

I recognised a number of people, chatted to Helen Grant, and photographer Chris Scott of multicoloured hair fame. Keith Gray was there to speak, which he did with his normal flair. Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, was also there, also doing a nice speech, proving that some politicians do read. She loves Narnia, but didn’t get that encyclopedia at the age of five that she asked for.

Book Week Scotland programme launch

There were partybags and there was bunting. There was food, including some very tasty ‘green goo on toast.’ It wasn’t me who dropped it, but I could almost have licked it off the floor…

Author Anne Donovan spoke about her very normal request for Wilfred Owen’s poetry at the age of 15, Alice in Wonderland, and her early fascination with Wuthering Heights.

Keith Gray

Former reluctant reader Keith Gray mentioned H P Lovecraft and how school can make you think books are to be studied, not enjoyed. He thanked his school librarian, who changed his life, and pointed out that a teacher only knows a child for a year or two, but the librarian is there for the duration of school. And ‘books are for life, not just for homework.’

Nordic grey – The Origin Story of Nordic Noir

I have a certain bias, but I felt that the Translation studies research seminar at the University of Edinburgh yesterday afternoon was pretty good, and really interesting. Even for me, with some prior knowledge as well as interest in the subject of Nordic Noir.

Nordic Grey with Ian Giles

The talk by Ian Giles, aka as Son, was part of a series of seminars in the next few months, and it was merely a happy coincidence that they kicked off on what was International Translation Day.

The Resident IT Consultant and I both went. We were pleasantly surprised to find Helen Grant there too, but shouldn’t have been, as she’s both a linguist and proficient translator, when she’s not simply killing people. I introduced her to Peter Graves, making rather a hash of it. Translator Kari Dickson was also in the audience, as were other Scandinavian studies people and aspiring translators. And I was surrounded by a whole lot of Chinese whispers. Literally.

Nordic Noir didn’t begin with something on television five years ago. It’s been coming a long time, and Ian is on its trail, trying to determine where and when we first met ‘dark storylines and bleak urban settings.’ It’s more than Sarah Lund’s jumpers or Lisbeth Salander’s hacking skills.

The trail might begin (or do I mean end?) with Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell, via Peter Høeg to Sjöwall and Wahlöö. But that list is not complete without mentioning the murder of Olof Palme or Kerstin Ekman’s Blackwater. And apparently some critic recently accused the new Martin Beck on television of imitating itself.

Here there was a slight sidetrack to a Turkish writer, translated twice in the last twelve years, long after his death, and only because his compatriot, Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk said he liked him. Knut Hamsun had something similar happen to him.

Because yes, the trail goes a long way back. Before Sjöwall and Wahlöö we had Maria Lang and Stieg Trenter, for instance. Earlier still, Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doktor Glas would have qualified, as would Norwegian Mauritz Hansen. And maybe even Carl Jonas Love Almqvist and Zacharias Topelius.

And when it comes to the crunch, Peter Høeg’s Miss Milla’s Feeling For Snow is not a true progenitor of Nordic Noir. It seems to be, but isn’t. People would have read the book no matter what. Hindsight tells us Peter Høeg doesn’t belong to the origin story.

Anyway, there are many more books translated into English than there used to be. The 3% of translated books has recently become more like 4 or even 5%. Swedish books come sixth if you look at language of origin, but make that Scandinavian books and they end up in third place, and if you count all the Nordic languages, they are the second most translated.

Nordic Grey with Ian Giles

So, it’s not all jumpers, and Scotland has just claimed to have more words for snow than the cold Nordic countries. The latest idea for selling books on the international market is to translate the whole book into English, rather than a few sample chapters, making it possible to offer an almost finished product, as well as facilitating sales to countries where they don’t have a steady supply of translators from Scandinavian languages.

As I said, I found this interesting. And Ian’s a tolerable speaker, too. The right amount of jokes, and a good selection of slides and videos to show what he’s on about. The beard, however, was rather a surprise.

Putting the Edinburgh 2015 bookfest to bed

Charlotte Square

It’s time to put the finishing touches to my book festival bits and pieces report. If I can even remember what I did and who I saw. If I can even find my notes (Although, I can always make things up.)

The first few days I had my photographer, until she went and left the country. It’s understandable. I’m a hard witch to go gallivanting with.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Then I was on my own, holding pen in one hand (except for when the ink ran dry) and pad in the other, and my camera in my third hand. But it worked, more or less. My first photocall I couldn’t remember who I’d come for, although I recognised Yrsa Sigurðardóttir when I saw her.

Chris Close

And I was pleased to ‘meet’ Nicola Sturgeon and see her selfie skills at first hand. I came to the conclusion that to make your event sell out like Roy Gill’s, you create a Facebook event and invite everyone, even your second cousin in New Zealand.

Nicola Sturgeon and Val McDermid

One day I travelled into Edinburgh in the company of Helen Grant, who was going to the Teen Titles event at the library. In actual fact, an awful lot of authors were going to that, and more still would have gone had they not had book festival events. Crazy Kirkland Ciccone went as some kind of Andy Warhol meets Boris Johnson in a beret. I had the opportunity of admiring Nicola Morgan’s shoes, which is a not inconsiderable experience.


Saturday gave me Eoin Colfer and the ducks.

EIBF ducks

For my last day I made a list of events to go to, official photocalls I was interested in and the unofficial opportunities of catching authors signing after events I’d been to and events I’d been unable to go to. I colour coded them, and had three columns, in strict chronological order, and I still had to refer back to it again and again because I got muddled up. I needed to identify breaks long enough to eat in, and got confused because it looked like the hour I was in an event, I’d be free to have lunch, and then worked out that wasn’t the case at all.

How nice it would be to be less old.

Which brings me neatly to my discovery when I got home and checked Google images to see what Sarah Ardizzone looks like, as I saw several people at her translation event and didn’t know which one was her. She turned out to be the one I’d taken a photo of in the signing tent that day, just because she happened to be sitting there with author Marjolaine Leray, next to Liz Kessler.

Sarah Ardizzone

Marjolaine Leray

Liz Kessler

Luckily some authors spend forever signing books. This helps people like me catch up with them, when I would otherwise have missed them, in the midst of that colour coded list with not enough food breaks. Francesca Simon is one, and she was there with Steven Butler.

Francesca Simon

Steven Butler

Lauren St John

Lauren St John is another long signer, very popular with her fans, as is Tom Palmer who is clearly doing something right with his sports novels.

Tom Palmer

I had ignored the name Gordon Brown on the photocall list, assuming that since I’d seen the politician last summer, it was bound to be the crime novelist this time. But it was the former PM, and I even caught him signing after his popular event, shaking the hands of everyone in the queue.

Gordon Brown

Chris Riddell made a second appearance that day, this time with his long time writing partner Paul Stewart.

Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart

Before I ran for (OK, hobbled towards) my train home, I photographed the still very cute Christophe Galfard, physicist and former PhD student of Stephen Hawking.

Christophe Galfard

In the dark

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. Well here you have four pictures. The first one shows you the lovely Helen Grant somewhere in some pleasant countryside, sunshine and all. What could possibly go wrong?

Helen Grant

The second picture is a bit darker, although you could be fooled by the light at the end of the tunnel. I believe this is the tunnel Helen has invited me to come and walk with her. Hah! As if I would, after all she’s put me through in Urban Legends. Could, even. She’d sit me down and tell me one of those legends, and then where would I be?

Helen Grant

You can see the other two, fleeing while Helen’s attention is on me. (If I was in there, in the first place. I’m not an idiot.)


Finally, we have the storyteller looking all atmospheric, getting ready to start on one of her legends. And it’s too late for me to leave. She’s looking right at me…

Helen Grant


I’ll send the rest of the family in my place.

An ‘attention seeking little brat’

is how Helen Grant describes her younger self, in the days when her pudding basin hairstyle made people think she was a boy. Well, I don’t think they’ll make that mistake any more. Helen is a beautiful woman, who feels that Hannibal Lecter got a bit tame in the end, and that’s not how she wants to write her books.

Susy McPhee and Helen Grant

Helen Grant

The Bookwitch family were part of the discerning, quality audience at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh on Tuesday evening, there to launch Urban Legends. Admittedly, Son only popped in to say he couldn’t stay, but it was still somewhat of a witchy family gathering. The way I like it when an author reads from her book and chooses the bit where the killer eases off the strangling of his victim, because he has to have a hand free to grab his axe.

Even the lovely Susy McPhee, whose task it was to chat to Helen and ask her difficult questions, admitted she had been rather terrified of Urban Legends. Whereas Helen actually reads her own book in the bath (one assumes to relax…), which is why her copy looks decidedly dogeared.

Helen Grant, Urban Legends

Susy started off by asking what the difference is between entertaining books and literature. Helen reckons she is neither a Dan Brown nor a Nobel prize hopeful, but somewhere in-between. She doesn’t want to be more literary than she is. With her earlier books Helen pussy-footed around, while now she’s ready to ‘go for it, gloves off.’


Helen Grant

If Urban Legends was a television programme, Susy said she would have switched off when they got to page 38. Helen admits Urban Legends is not for younger readers. She likes creepy, not bloody, and doesn’t set out to be deliberately gross. Here she used the word eviscerated, which Susy said she’d have to look up. And to make her pay, Susy had prepared some tricky words for the audience to test Helen on. Mine was vivandiere. Helen ‘cheated’ by knowing Latin too well.

The weirdest thing Helen has eaten is probably not crocodile (which Susy agreed is delicious), but the fried ants as served in Jericho in Oxford. (At this point I could see Daughter silently removing Jericho as somewhere she would ever return to. She had already decided she’s not up to reading Urban Legends.)

This might be a trilogy, but Helen won’t rule out more books. She likes Veerle’s world, and would love to write more. She herself has tried a lot of what’s in the books, visiting sewers and getting herself inside a forbidden church, for example. Her favourite is the definitely-not-allowed visit to a former factory, which she put most of into her book, in a most charming way… She likes a high body count.

Susy McPhee and Helen Grant

On that note Susy brought the conversation and the questions to an end, and we mingled over the wine and the literary discussions. I introduced the Resident IT Consultant to the man [Roy Gill] who did interesting things to Jenners department store in one of his books.

Once I’d secured a signature in my copy of Helen’s book, we left in search of a bus to take us to the tram, which took us to the car and home.

Urban Legends

It’s not so much the ease with which Helen Grant kills in Urban Legends that scares me. It’s more how she scares me while she scares me. As it says on the cover of the book, ‘no one is safe.’ You’d better believe it.

Helen Grant, Urban Legends

I read slowly to begin with, because I was that scared. Really. What’s worst with this kind of plot* is when no one knows anything, when no one suspects or realises they need to look out. So, once Kris and Veerle are aware that De Jager – The Hunter – is once again after them and that he’d quite like to kill them, and probably slowly and painfully, you can half relax as they at least know what they are up against.

I say relax, but I don’t mean that. Readers have been forced to sleep with the lights on. Because Veerle and Kris understand De Jager, and will recognise him if they see him (apart from the fact they thought he’d died, twice). But all those others, who walk like lambs to slaughter, or who maybe suspect they’ve made a mistake but can’t do anything to escape? Yes, them.

The first two brilliant books in the trilogy were ‘merely’ about setting up this final (?) one. You see the point of every detail from those books when you get to Urban Legends. And you rather wish you didn’t. The urban legends; they are the tales told by one of the group of people who regularly meet in out-of-the-way places to explore and listen to stories, before someone departs for the afterlife in ways recently described in these ‘legends.’

It would be easy to ask why I read Urban Legends all the way to the end if I was that frightened. The answer is that Helen writes so perfectly, that you just can’t not read. She knows precisely how to play on all your inner fears, and then some. (You do need to get past p 38, however.)

*As if there could be an archetypal plot where Helen is concerned. Read, and shiver. But first close the blinds.

A reading update

Let me see.., so after my lovely glow from reading about the horrors of war in Abyssinia, I moved swiftly on to Helen Grant’s Urban Legends, her third book about teenagers in Belgium who break into people’s homes, or climb up onto the rooftops of Ghent, encountering murderers and dead bodies galore.

I thought the first one – Silent Saturday – was quite cosy, for a thrillery, horror novel.

Let me tell you how I am doing so far. I have read 24 pages. Seven of those I’d already read (I don’t think it’s déjà vu, but more that the first chapter was printed at the end of book two) and it came back to me quite how scary I felt they seemed last year.

Well this year, my dears, I am scared witless, and I’m only on p 24. As I said.

I hope things will turn rosier as I go along. Because I’m never going to get braver or more fond of horror. I mean, how could those characters just walk with you-know-who, or let someone into their home like that, or go and live all alone, or anything else which Helen no doubt will have written, but which I have not as yet encountered?

I’ll be fine. Really.

But please leave the lights on.

And please tell me he’s not behind me.