Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Dead of Winter: Christmas video anthology

 

I'm absolutely thrilled to announce a new video anthology of Christmas ghost stories: The Dead of Winter. It features four ghost story writers: myself, Sean Hogan, David Longhorn and Lynda E. Rucker, and you can find it on YouTube:


The Dead of Winter came about as a result of a Hallowe'en event at Strathearn Arts in Crieff. I was involved in organising authors to read that evening: we had myself, Lisa Tuttle, David Longhorn (remotely) and Alex Nye, as well as music from folk duo Plaidsong. It was a fabulous evening, and there have even been some hints that we might do that again! 

Time did not permit for more than four readers, but there were other writers I would like to have asked. Additionally, as the event was in person it was naturally limited to whoever could get to Crieff. So I started to think about organising a Christmas event but doing it online. The Dead of Winter is the result. 

It's actually been a bigger labour of love than I expected (ain't that always the way?!), partly because a video file of four different readings is so big that my poor daughter, who did the editing, had to acquire an external hard drive for the extra memory. It took an hour to render, and over three hours to load to YouTube! I should imagine that put a bit of strain on our rural broadband. At any rate, I forbade anyone to do online gaming etc while it was uploading...

Here's a bit about the four featured authors. 

David Longhorn is the editor of long-running scary mag Supernatural Tales. He also writes horror for Scare Street publishing. David has acquired a considerable amount of experience in producing audio material for his day job, and I think you can tell this from his very accomplished reading of Midnight Movie.

Lynda E.Rucker is the writer of many ghostly short stories, essays and even a play. She also edited one of Swan River Press's Uncertainties anthologies. Her ghostly tale This Hollow Thing begins quietly and leads with gathering ominousness to a truly chilling ending. 

Sean Hogan is a writer and director - amongst other things, the creator of the superb The Devil's Business, one of my favourite horror films. I was absolutely thrilled to get him on board with this project. His story My True Love Gave To Me made me laugh out loud in places, as well as shudder. 

Me, you know about, right?

The video editing and creation of the hideous ghostly face were by Iona Grant, who has been incredibly long suffering throughout the process! Without her, this would never have got off the ground. 

The title The Dead of Winter was suggested by Steve Duffy, himself the writer of many spine-chilling short stories. 

The music at the end is by Dar Golan, and was obtained from a royalty free site, for which we were very grateful. 

I hope you will enjoy The Dead of Winter!





 



Thursday, September 23, 2021

Bookwitchery

 

I returned from a trip to North Uist this Monday to discover a new blog post from my friend the Bookwitch, announcing that she was taking a break, perhaps for good or perhaps just for now. I absolutely respect her decision to do this, because so many of us have changing priorities as a result of the recent pandemic - which has also changed the publishing landscape somewhat, with fewer or different book events. Still, I'm very sorry to see her stopping, and I shall miss the daily reflections landing in my in box. 

Now, in 2021, it feels as though I have known her forever, but when I look back, the very first time we met was in 2009. My debut novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden had just come out, and the Bookwitch blogged about it. I think I can also remember our first meeting, at which we were both a bit nervous, with me thinking "OMG! A real live book blogger!" and her thinking - well, I don't know what she thought. "Is this woman a secret murderer?" perhaps, since my husband, who doesn't like scary books, often wonders about the person he lies down next to at night. Since then, she has been good enough to review most of my work, including my latest, Too Near The Dead, which must have been a bit of a labour of love for her - she was afraid to read it at night! She was very kind about it, all the same. 

Although the Bookwitch is a blogger, she hasn't just blogged. Over the years she has also organised events at her house, at which authors and publishing people have happily mingled, and she has introduced people she thought might like each other. I hope she won't stop doing that! She has also become a personal friend to me - one of the best, actually - and has supplied a lot of tea, cake and other yummies. I have met Mr. Bookwitch and the two younger Witchlets on many occasions, and even attended the PhD defence of one of them, in Geneva. They are a wonderful family, and I hope the suspension of blogging activities will lead to new and equally interesting avenues for them. 

The Bookwitch has surfaced in my work in small ways. A few years ago, I wrote a folk horror story called The Valley of Achor, and was casting around for a name for my heroine. The Bookwitch nobly volunteered hers, and so "she" came to a very sticky end in a Perthshire glen. And one of my recent novels, Ghost, is dedicated to her - rightfully, because she has done so much for books, writing, authors, and for me personally. Thank you, Bookwitch! 




Sunday, July 18, 2021

Folk songs and sinister history

Some time ago, I blogged about a "Jamesian adventure" I had had, researching the history of a rather sinister-sound local folksong centred on the ruined church shown to the left. I'm an absolute sucker for anything like that - I love spooky snippets of local culture!

When I was writing my most recent novel, Too Near The Dead, I couldn't resist putting a local folk song in. My hero and heroine, James and Fen, go to the local pub for an evening of live music. Everything is very jolly until the folk band, who aren't from the town, start playing a song called Lavender Lady. This is what happens:

"People are clapping and singing along, James included. So it’s a surprise when the next song strikes up and there’s a noticeable drop in the sound levels. At first I think they’re all just trying to listen, because this one is a ballad – it’s slower and softer, almost melancholy. I pick out fragments of the words: dark, dark the night... she will come back to you... and something that sounds like she’ll put ye on like a suit of clothes, though perhaps I have misheard that because it doesn’t make any sense. I look from face to face and see that the grins have been wiped right off them. Some look neutral, some downright stony. Nobody likes this song, for some reason. A few heads shake. And Seonaid gives me a sidelong glance. 

It’s a wary glance, the sort of glance you give someone if you know someone else has said something potentially offensive in front of them. In spite of all the empty glasses crowded onto the table top, she’s not so drunk that she doesn’t notice me react. She looks down, quickly, and then away." 

Uh-oh. 

I've been asked a few times by readers whether Lavender Lady is a real song. It isn't - I made it up to suit the story, although I tried to make it sound in keeping with other folk songs. If there is ever a film adaptation of the book (wouldn't that be nice?!), someone might make one up. But as it stands, no, the lavender lady is entirely inside my head. 


Anyway, yesterday evening life imitated art, as my husband and I went to see a real life folk music performance - carefully socially distanced in our local park. (Hat tip Strathearn Arts, who managed to bag us some last minute tickets.) The duo we went to see are called Plaidsong and I know Nicky, the singer, from Culture Perth and Kinross events. 



The second song they performed was actually the song about the "Terrible Parish" of Kinkell, and before they did it, Nicky was kind enough to mention me, as I had told her about its origins (some people think it is about Dunkeld, but it isn't). So that was very nice! And it was absolutely amazing to hear the song performed live. Genuine goosebumps for me! 

NB If you haven't read my previous post about it, the parish of Kinkell actually suffered the disasters mentioned in the song - the minister, Richard Duncan, was hanged in 1682 for infanticide, the precentor drowned in the river, the steeple fell down and the bell was lost. These awful events were memorialised in the song, much as the horrors of the Lavender Lady are remembered in my fictional song. 


Friday, July 2, 2021

Launching Too Near The Dead!

Last night saw the online launch event for Too Near The Dead, which appeared on Facebook Live. I was interviewed by the inimitable Lalla Merlin, and also read from chapter one. I've been quite surprised at the reactions to the reading - eg. my oldest friend messaged me afterwards with "omg how horrible!" 😁 I guess because I have written the story, I forget how other people will experience it! 

Anyway, for anyone who wasn't able to attend or who couldn't access the launch for technical reasons, you can watch a recording of it on YouTube, here: book launch on YouTube

The very first review of the book was by the Bookwitch and you can read it on her blog here: https://bookwitch.wordpress.com/2021/06/30/too-near-the-dead/

This morning Scot Lit Daily also posted a review on Instagram:

"It’s absolutely no secret that I’m a massive fan of ghost stories (handle gives it away if nothing else) but take a ghost story and make it Scottish and that’s *chef’s kiss* - especially when it’s as gorgeously written and evocative as Too Near The Dead by Helen Grant.

BLURB || For Fen Munro and her fiance James, it is a dream come true: an escape from London to a beautiful house in the stunning Perthshire countryside.

Barr Dubh house is modern, a building with no past at all. But someone walks the grounds, always dressed in lavender. Under a lichenous stone in an abandoned graveyard, a hideous secret lies buried. And at night, Fen is tormented by horrifying dreams. Someone wants Fen's happiness, and nothing is going to stop them - not even death...

REVIEW || Now, I don’t know what the inspiration was behind the book but it immediately brought to mind one of my favourite Scottish hauntings: Ballechin House. Because it has that same haunting on the site of a former already haunted house kind of vibe, which is very much My Thing. I was on board immediately.

What kept me on board was characters that felt so real. I grew to really care what happened to them. I loved the sense of isolation and at times this book truly creeped me out. It’s very Scottish and very gothic and that’s a gorgeous combination for a ghost story if ever there was one.

It had all the tropes I love - small town with a secret, secrets between the main characters, and best of all - THE LIBRARY SCENE - where the main character finds out the story behind their haunt. But it all felt fresh with little expert touches here and there to make it feel brand new.

I loved it. This is a fast paced, easy to sink into book that will be perfect for a rainy Saturday or October evening. I tend to reread my favourite ghost stories over and over again - this one will definitely be getting added to the rota."

It's lovely to get reviews like these. I'm not going to post every single one that comes in, but I wanted to share a little bit of book love today. 💖





Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Who walks the grounds of Barr Dubh House?

I'm looking forward to the launch of Too Near The Dead on Thursday. I'll also be unveiling the full book trailer, created for me by Lalla Merlin of Lumiere and Sculpting Light. Here's a tiny preview of part of it!