Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Dream antho launches in London

Honestly, I don't get out much; I sometimes tell people I'm "a bit of hermit" and that's probably true. My old agent used to suggest that I could drop in at the agency when I was "next in London" - and I never was in London! It's not that I don't like London - I was born there, after all - but it's over 400 miles away so you can't really "nip" there from Perthshire. Anyway, this month I did actually make one of my rare visits to the capital, for a multi-author signing event at the Forbidden Planet Megastore on Shaftesbury Avenue. The book in question was Dark Academia anthology In These Hallowed Halls, published on 12th September by Titan Books; my particular story was called "The Professor of Ontography". I was signing alongside Kate Weinberg, Tori Bovalino and editors Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane: illustrious company, so I dressed up a bit with my favourite Gothic blouse and an antique brooch which seemed to fit the mood. 

Fans of classic ghost story writer M.R.James will recognise the title "Professor of Ontography" from "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad". The story opens with, "'I suppose you will be getting away pretty soon, now Full term is over, Professor,' said a person not in the story to the Professor of Ontography, soon after they had sat down next to each other at a feast in the hospitable hall of St. James's College." Although the Professor is the protagonist of the story, his subject is not key to the tale nor is it ever explained. If you Google it, you will find varying definitions, and I am doubtful that it is sufficiently established for there to be a Professor of it!! Anyway, that was the starting point for my story - the existence of one such a person, and the unfortunate curiosity this obscure discipline arouses in a pair of students. 

Aside from the Ontography angle, the story also references another classic tale: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Gothic horror "Lot 249", which is a great favourite of mine. Although Dark Academia in the modern sense of an internet subculture and attendant aesthetic was not around when Conan Doyle penned that story, "Lot 249" prefigures Dark Academia very strongly (as well as being very scary). Anyway, the institution featured in "Lot 249" is, like the college in my story, called "Old College". There is no Old College, Oxford, but I have always supposed that it was based on New College (which was founded in 1379 and is not therefore all that new anymore...). The one in my story is named after its founder, whose surname was Oldys, but it is popularly known as "Old's". 

I'm pleased to say that "The Professor of Ontography" has had some great Netgalley reviews:

"I want to give a shout out to The Professor of Ontography by Helen Grant which was one of the more page-turning-ly horrifying stories I have ever read… Legitimately scary in sort of a fun way" (Jessica L.)

"This story will live in my mind for years to come. It is one of the best short stories I have ever read in my life. It has such a strong atmosphere, so unique and eerie" (Ketelen L.)

"Easily the creepiest story out of the bunch!  This started off as a love story and devolved steadily into horror" (Kayleigh W.)

Reviewer Samantha T also commented "The ending of this story was actually nauseating" which amused me very much! "Nauseating" wouldn't be great feedback for a romance story but for horror it's sort of an accolade...

Other tales in the volume include Tori Bovalino's "Phobos", about a sinister secret society, and Kate Weinberg's "1000 Ships" in which a student takes revenge on a Lothario professor, as well as stories by Olivie Blake, M.L.Rio and a host of others. As well as some fabulous stories, this book also has the most gorgeous cover. I'd get one, if I were you...  


Book launch in Perth!

Tomorrow is book launch day! Jump Cut will be hitting the shelves at last. I'll be at Waterstone's in Perth (St.John's Shopping Centre, King Edward St, Perth PH1 5UX) at 7pm tomorrow evening (28th September 2023) if you are nearby and would like to hear all about the book film maker Jack Jewers described as "phenomenally creepy"! 

If you're wondering whether this is your cup of tea, here's the cover info:

"The Simulacrum is the most famous lost movie in film history – would you tell someone your darkest secrets, just to lay hands on a copy? 104-year-old Mary Arden is the last surviving cast member of a notorious lost film. Holed up in Garthside, an Art Deco mansion reputed to be haunted, she has always refused interviews. Now Mary has agreed to talk to film enthusiast Theda Garrick. In return she demands all the salacious details of Theda’s tragic past. Only the hint of a truly stupendous discovery stops Theda walking out. But Mary’s prying questions are not the only thing Theda has to fear. The spirit of The Simulacrum walks Garthside by night, and it will turn an old tragedy into a new nightmare..."

The first review has also come in, and this is what the reviewer, The Coy Caterpillar, has to say:

"Jump Cut is Helen Grant’s next novel and lord is it a throat punch. I absolutely adored her last novel, Too Near the Dead and this one emitted similar feelings. The impending sense of dread, brilliant character development, a sense of place. I love the gothic nature of her tales; you really appreciate the blend of history and the present time coming together to create a hugely compulsive read.

Even if you’ve never read a Helen Grant book before, I 100% know that you’re going to love Jump Cut."

I hope she's right! Anyway, the launch event is open to all and entry is free, so if you're close by, please do come! 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

A Neighbour's Landmark - a brief note

Following some melancholy family events which I won't go into here, I recently acquired a small selection of vintage books. These included a 1969 edition of The Professor Challenger Stories, a second copy of M.R.James's Abbeys and a volume of essays by A.A.Milne, entitled Not That It Matters (did you know he wrote anything other than Winnie the Pooh? I didn't). There was also a book which struck me as very similar to one I had read about in my very favourite M.R.James ghost story - "A Neighbour's Landmark." Here it is:

The book in the story is described as follows:
"I think we must all know the landscapes—are they by Birket Foster, or somewhat earlier?—which, in the form of wood-cuts, decorate the volumes of poetry that lay on the drawing-room tables of our fathers and grandfathers—volumes in ‘Art Cloth, embossed bindings’; that strikes me as being the right phrase. I confess myself an admirer of them, and especially of those which show the peasant leaning over a gate in a hedge and surveying, at the bottom of a downward slope, the village church spire—embosomed amid venerable trees, and a fertile plain intersected by hedgerows, and bounded by distant hills, behind which the orb of day is sinking (or it may be rising) amid level clouds illumined by his dying (or nascent) ray. The expressions employed here are those which seem appropriate to the pictures I have in mind; and were there opportunity, I would try to work in the Vale, the Grove, the Cot, and the Flood. Anyhow, they are beautiful to me, these landscapes, and it was just such a one that I was now surveying. It might have come straight out of Gems of Sacred Song, selected by a Lady and given as a birthday present to Eleanor Philipson in 1852 by her attached friend Millicent Graves."

My "new old" book is not actually "Gems of Sacred Song" but something very similar: "The Sabbath: Sabbath Walks and Other Poems", and as you can see from the frontispiece, it is indeed illustrated by Birket Foster. 

I was really rather charmed to find that my new acquisition was so very Jamesian. I had a leaf through it and discovered that there were even a couple of illustrations very reminiscent of the one in the story (particularly this first one):

The protagonist of the story, of course, is interrupted in his contemplation of a Birket-Foster-style view over the countryside by a horrific and piercing shriek in one ear, which is repeated a few minutes later. I've always found the story particularly chilling, especially the horrid thought that if you were to linger about the site of Betton Wood too long, you might hear the scream a third time. Brrrr. 

Anyway, I thought I'd share! As for me, I love the book and am going to treasure it. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Do you dare visit Nightmare Abbey?


I'd like to give a shout out to amazing new publication Nightmare Abbey, whose third issue is currently being planned! The first one appeared on the horror scene last year and featured such names as Ramsey Campbell and Robert Bloch (so it's not messing about here...) as well as many others including Steve Duffy and Lynda E. Rucker, either of whose stories are always a spine-tingling treat. Oh, and a tale by me, about a mountaineer whose near-death experience in the snowy Scottish hills is just the first of his woes. Nightmare Abbey is richly illustrated, including brilliant pulp fiction style covers, as you can see (left). Altogether a welcome addition to the bookshelf.

Issue two came out in November 2022 and again featured one of my stories - "The Wynd", about a curious type of city alleyway, and what lies at the end of it. It was inspired by the many wynds and vennels I have seen whilst wandering around Scottish cities. I think a "wynd" sounds so much more sinister than a "lane", don't you? If you fancy experiencing this tale to see whether you think the type of thing appearing in Nightmare Abbey might be up your street (groan), there is now an audio version of it on YouTube, superbly read by David Longhorn.

As mentioned, issue 3 is currently in the works but if you fancy reading either of the first two issues, they are available via Amazon as well as some other bookstores (eg. Barnes and Noble in the States). Rumour has it that there will be a new Steve Duffy story in issue 3 so I'm very much looking forward to that!

You can also read an interview with Tom English, who created Nightmare Abbey, here:

Sweet dreams...

Sunday, March 5, 2023

2023 Book News!


2023 is shaping up to be an exciting year for me as I finally have a new book out this autumn! It's called Jump Cut and here's what it's about:

104-year-old Mary Arden is the last surviving cast member of a notorious lost film, The Simulacrum. Holed up in Garthside, an Art Deco mansion reputed to be haunted, she has always refused interviews. Now Mary has agreed to talk to film enthusiast Theda Garrick. In return she demands all the salacious details of Theda's tragic past. Only the hint of a truly stupendous discovery stops Theda walking out. But Mary's prying questions are not the only thing Theda has to fear. The spirit of The Simulacrum walks Garthside by night, and it will turn an old tragedy into a new nightmare…

I love cinema and I have long been fascinated by lost movies and the tantalising thought that there might be a copy out there, somewhere. So that's where the premise comes from. I also find the whole idea of haunted technology very interesting. Some years ago I was at an M.R.James conference in Leeds and there was a brilliant short talk about technology in his work (there's more than you'd think, considering he's all about ghosts and academia), which I think was by Ralph Harrington. There is, I think, something peculiarly ominous about grainy old films where things are seen indistinctly, or crackling audio recordings. I've long thought that the antique nature of Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) makes it particularly creepy. Jump Cut is my contribution to this tradition.

Like my previous novels Ghost and Too Near The Dead, the book will be published by the fabulous Fledgling Press in Edinburgh. The exact launch date and cover art will be revealed as soon as possible. I might do an online launch event as well as an in-person one again - one of the few positive things to come out of the pandemic was events like these, which everyone can attend, even if they're on the other side of the world. So if you're interested in that, let me know in the comments! 

Meantime, I have new stories coming out in a couple of really exciting anthologies. The first, in April, is Twice Cursed, edited by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane. The theme of the book is dark fairytales with curses in them, and my contribution, "A Curse is a Curse", is rubbing shoulders with various illustrious names including Joe Hill and Sarah Pinborough. I write a lot of short stories but this was one I particularly enjoyed working on. It's a bit of a change of genre for me, but it made me think I'd like to do more along these lines. I'm not saying any more than that...

Later in the year, I also have a story in dark academia themed anthology In These Hallowed Halls, again edited by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane. This tale is called "The Professor of Ontography", and anyone who is as nerdy about M.R.James as I am will recognise that as a Jamesian reference. The story itself does have some Jamesian aspects - how could it not, being set in academia? - but also some rather non-Jamesian nastiness. So that is one to look out for too.

I'll post more news as I have it! And I hope very much that this autumn you'll join my heroine Theda Garrick, as she travels north for her encounter with the ghosts of the The Simulacrum.

Hollywood star by RedKid sign generator.