Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Urban Legends

Urban legends. Modern fairy tales. Whatever you like to call them, I love them. The Hook. The Hippy Babysitter. The Spider in the Beehive Hairdo. Shudder. Frisson!
Over the past few days I have been investigating Belgian urban legends for the third book in my upcoming Forbidden Spaces trilogy, set in Flanders. I finished the first draft of the second book, The Demons of Ghent, earlier this month, and it was my intention to plunge straight into book three whilst the writing engine was nicely warmed up, so to speak. The third book, appropriately enough entitled Urban Legends, is partly inspired by those gruesome modern myths, hence the research. However, as David Byrne wisely observed of Washington D.C. in Twisting in the Wind, "the further you look into it, the further things stick out";  the more research I do, the more I decide I need to do. The material is too fascinating. Let's find another online article. Let's order a book. No, let's go one better: let's decide on an out-of-print book by a Flemish academic that will require days of searching on second hand book sites and an extortionate bank transfer charge.
Well, I've ordered the book - at least I think I have. Waiting to see whether the bank transfer has worked properly and hasn't sent Thai baht by accident or something. (Drop-down boxes in online banking: asking for trouble.)
Meanwhile, if you are interested in Belgian urban legends, there is a great article about them here, by Aurore Van De Winkel, and translated by Jane Corrigan:
My great favourite is the one about coin-operated toilets in the Brussels Metro. Supposedly women were vanishing inside them, sucked into a huge pipe and down into the sewers to meet some appalling unspecified fate. Investigation showed that the pipes in the toilets were too small for a human body to fit down them. It was then concluded that maybe the kidnappers had replaced the big pipes with small ones, because they had enough women...

Above: the Brussels sewers. Is something unspeakable going on down here? 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Why ghost stories?"

I'm delighted to say that my ghost story collection, which has been available for pre-order since before Christmas, will be out shortly! The collection comprises seven supernatural tales.

Here's what publisher Swan River Press has to say about it: "In her first collection, award-winning author Helen Grant plumbs the depths of the uncanny: Ten fathoms down, where the light filtering through the salt water turns everything grey-green, something awaits unwary divers. A self-aggrandising art critic travelling in rural Slovakia finds love with a beauty half his age — and pays the price. In a small German town, a nocturnal visitor preys upon children; there is a way to keep it off — but the ritual must be perfect. A rock climber dares to scale a local crag with a diabolical reputation, and makes a shocking discovery at the top. In each of these seven tales, unpleasantries and grotesqueries abound — and Grant reminds us with each one that there can be fates even worse than death." 

(On that last point, my daughter says that one of them is "running out of chocolate"...)

I'm also pleased to say that Jason E. Rolfe has interviewed me about the new collection and asked lots of interesting questions such as "Why ghost stories?" which is a good question because my novels are not ghostly, although they often include apparently supernatural elements. You can read the interview on Swan River's website here: http://www.brianjshowers.com/interview_seachange.html 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gravestones in the snow

I haven't blogged recently because I have been frantically trying to complete the first draft of The Demons of Ghent. In early November it was going so well, and I was convinced that I would have the book finished by early December, leaving me ample time to do a few edits of my own before sending it off to my editor in time for Christmas. It didn't really work out like that! Just before Christmas there are always a lot of things that eat into working time (like buying presents, bah humbug), and even worse, I realised towards the end of November that the ending of the book wasn't working. I deleted 9,600 words and wrote it all again, and I hope that the new version is much better, but better or not, it was certainly later.

I am pleased to say however that last Thursday I sent off the MS to my editor. Whilst she is reading it I am catching up on everything else. There is always the spectre of the horrible possibility that she may hate some aspect of it and I may need to do high-speed extensive rewrites, so I thought as well as catching up on admin etc this week I would also do a few things for myself whilst I have the free time. Which is a very long winded excuse for taking a morning off and visiting a cemetery (yes, I know how to have a good time...).

It is probably an appalling admission, but up until yesterday I had no idea that there was a very large cemetery in Crieff. It's on Ford Road, which is a dead end road on the other side of town, and I have never had any reason to go down there, which is why I had never stumbled on it. However, this week there was an article about it in the Strathearn Herald. I don't normally read the Herald either, but as it happens there was a photo in it this week of my recent visit to Morrison's Academy to run story writing workshops, so I bought it for that. I was intrigued to see a front page headline reading "The strangeness that is Crieff." Who could resist that?!

The article is all about local man David Cowan's research into ley lines, which the Herald is publishing in that issue (18th January) and the next one. Whether you are into ley lines and Masonic symbolism or not, it makes interesting and entertaining reading. My main reaction was, wow, there is a huge cemetery and I haven't seen it! I couldn't resist going down to visit it as soon as possible.

As you can see, it looks splendidly sombre, especially in the current deep snow. This more than made up for the fact that many of inscriptions on the gravestones were obscured with snow and ice. I shall have to make a visit in warmer dryer weather to take a proper look at them. I did see one belonging to a lady whose first name was Hughina! I've never come across that before.

I don't know whether the cemetery will ever feature in any of my future writings, but as I may have mentioned before, I love to visit atmospheric places - old castles, churches, graveyards - as often they do provide inspiration. I still have another book set in Flanders to write (Urban Legends, the final book in my upcoming trilogy set in Belgium), but after that I shall be looking for new locations, so you never know...!

If you are interested in reading the story from the Herald but are not in the Strathearn area, you can read it on their website here:
David Cowan article in the Strathearn Herald