Friday, August 30, 2013

Listen with Helen...and Susy

Above: "An Audience with Helen Grant & Susy McPhee"

I haven't found much time for blogging recently because I have been frantically trying to finish the revisions to The Demons of Ghent, which is the sequel to Silent Saturday and the second book in the Forbidden Spaces trilogy set in Flanders. I've also been very busy preparing for and participating in the Crieff High Street Arts Festival, about which I blogged recently.

I'm glad to report some success on both fronts - The Demons of Ghent has now gone to the copyediting stage, and the High Street Arts Festival went off very well, with lots of exciting creative exhibitions and performances at nearly 50 locations in Crieff.

I participated in two events at the festival - the first was "Meet the Author" at S.Campbell's newsagent and bookshop on the High Street. I was one of a line-up of authors that included local poet Patricia Ace. This cutting (left)  from the Strathearn Herald includes a pic of me at this event together with Trudyann Gauld from the shop, and book fan Kate Walsh, who had heroically come all the way from Dunblane to attend!

On Saturday evening I took part in "An Audience with Helen Grant & Susy McPhee" at the Drill Hall in Crieff. This venue was very kindly loaned by local business Vivace Lichtman and wine for the evening was sponsored by Harrison's Fine Wines of Crieff. Helen Lewis-McPhee kindly volunteered (well, okay, she was press-ganged) to interview us, and we also read from our books and answered questions. 

If you'd like to listen to a podcast of the event you can find it here: Audience with Helen Grant & Susy McPhee. It includes a reading from Silent Saturday by me, and - excitingly - an excerpt from Susy's brand-new book Back to you, which is so very brand-new that the reading was done from a print-out of the manuscript! Susy and I also talk about location, whether we ever base our characters on real people, and whether writers are constitutionally morbid! 

The sound recording was made by Kona MacPhee, local poet and techie. The editing and uploading to Soundcloud was done by me, a feat which took many hours and a lot of swearing yesterday. I probably should use video tutorials before I throw myself into new software (in this case Garageband) but I prefer the time-honoured method of bumbling through it and occasionally screeching for one of the teens who inhabit the house to come and tell me what to do next. 

Whilst I was struggling with MP3, my daughter meanwhile took delivery of a second-hand sound system she has wanted for ages. There seems to be some reverse audio evolution going on in the Grant household, because whilst I have been doing my best to do everything digitally, she was desperate to get a turntable so she can play vinyl records. As we have moved about a lot in the last 15 years (Spain, Germany, Belgium...) we have had to have regular turn-outs of old stuff, so our old turntable and nearly all our old vinyl records had been donated to charity shops. I had however hung onto a single LP: the soundtrack to The Singing Detective. Whilst my daughter was just getting to grips with the new turntable ("It goes round!!! How do you make it move to the next track?" etc) I refused to let her play my LP in case it ended up scratched. Instead she had to make do with some dodgy K-Tel records from the charity shop. I'm quite glad I insisted on this, after hearing her accidentally playing I don't want to dance by Eddy Grant (1st track on an LP) at 45rpm... Eventually, however, we put my precious LP on and spent the rest of the evening listening to Ella Fitzgerald and the Inkspots, Sam Browne with the Lew Stone Band, etc. The very last song on the B side was Vera Lynn singing We'll meet again. Listening to that wartime favourite with the familiar but long-forgotten hiss and crackle of vinyl sent shivers down my spine. Some things still sound better on vinyl. 

Anyway, as a result of sitting up until midnight listening to stuff that was cutting edge in 1940, all of us woke up feeling the worse for wear this morning. Having packed everyone else off to school/work I am supposed to be getting on with book three in my trilogy: Urban Legends, but it's hard going on five and a half hours sleep. I think I'd better have more tea first...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Welcome to Crieff High Street Arts Festival!

As I mentioned in my last post, I am going to be taking part in the upcoming and first ever Crieff High Street Arts Festival, taking place on 24th and 25th August. The Festival is the brainchild of local artist June McEwan and it is largely thanks to her energy and enthusiasm that it is taking place (June is an energy bomb - as I remarked once, we should forget fracking and just connect June to the power grid).

The Festival is going to help put Crieff on the artistic map - but if you don't know where it is on the ordinary map, it's a town in Perthshire, Scotland, set in gorgeous countryside and home to such interesting things as the Famous Grouse distillery and Crieff Hydro. Well worth a visit if you're within travelling distance, and the Festival could be the very excuse you need to make the trip!

All sorts of events and exhibitions will be taking place over the weekend of the Festival, including an acoustic music workshop, taster sessions in spinning, ceramics and felting, an exhibition by the Strathearn Arts Society and a mandolin and guitar concert. More details about the Festival are available here: Crieff High Street Arts Festival

Of course, locally-based writers (of which Crieff has a surprising number) are getting involved too. On Saturday 24th August I am appearing alongside Susy McPhee (author of The Runaway Wife and Husbands and Lies) at the Drill Hall on Meadow Place, for "An audience with Helen Grant and Susy McPhee."

Above: Susy McPhee

The event starts at 7.15pm and entrance is free! This is largely due to the generosity of local businesses who are sponsoring the event. The venue itself (below) is being offered by Vivace Lichtman. Wine for the evening is being sponsored by Harrison's Fine Wines and nibbles by McNee's of Crieff. A very big THANK YOU to these brilliant sponsors! 

The evening will involve not only the "audience" itself - a chance to hear me and Susy talk about our inspirations and, as Susy puts it, "what it's like living for so much of the time in a world we've created inside our own heads" - but also an opportunity to ask questions and buy signed copies of our books. It will be fun and glam and we'd love to see you there if you are within travelling distance! 


If you are attending, please confirm this on Facebook, here: It is a big help with planning for the evening if we know roughly how many people are coming! 


Above: sponsors McNee's of Crieff and Harrison's Fine Wines!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

In which I do some "real" work...

I haven't blogged recently because I've been frantically trying to finish the edits on my next book, The Demons of Ghent, to be published in 2014. Writing, sadly, is not all lying on chaises  longues sipping absinthe and idly noting down the occasional stroke of creative genius in a moleskine notebook..! I've been very busy trying to get some major changes made without too much slippage in the deadline.

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by," said the late great Douglas Adams. Well, that noise makes me feel very twitchy (control freak, moi?). Anyway, I more or less met the deadline, but now I am having to wade through a massive pile of tasks that were neglected whilst I was working on the edits. One of the big things is the preparation for the upcoming Crieff High Street Arts Festival on 24th and 25th August. I'm doing an event at that, about which I will blog separately later.

Anyway, I also found a bit of free time today to help my daughter with a temporary job she has, delivering leaflets door to door in the town. There is a certain sort of fascination in jobs like that, I think.  When I was a student I did the Christmas post a couple of times to earn a bit of extra money, and this reminded me of that. The actual "work" is pretty mundane - you just carry a bag of leaflets around and stuff them through each letterbox. However, that's not all there is to it.

For starters, there is a certain kind of door to door etiquette. When I approached most of the houses I didn't see a soul. When I did see someone working in their front garden, I made of point of saying hello to them so that they didn't jump out of their skin when I passed by. But in some houses there were clearly people on the other side of the windows. I pretended not to see them and they (I suppose, because I wasn't looking) pretended not to see me. The only exception I can recall to this was when I was doing the Christmas post on one particularly nasty snowy day, with no gloves on because you can't sort letters whilst wearing mitts. I walked up the drive of one cosy-looking house with all the Christmas lights on, whilst snow drove into my face and melted down the back of my neck, and the occupants sat snugly in the front room laughing and pointing. Grrr. But yes, you are probably right; I should have forgotten that by now...

Then there is Man's Best Friend, of course. We didn't see much of him today, though we did hear a bit from him. At one house we put the leaflet through the letter slot and it was instantly greeted with what sounded like an entire pack of very small dogs yapping their heads off. I am not sure there will be much left of the leaflet by the time the owner sees it! There was nothing however to rival the Hound that used to lurk on the post round I did all those years ago. The old postie who trained me warned me about that particular dog. I never actually saw it (well, not the whole of it) but whatever it was, it sounded like MacReady's description of the alien in The Thing: "weird and pissed off." Also enormous. A mastiff perhaps, or some kind of tyrannosaurus. Whenever it heard me approaching the door it would hurl itself against the other side, growling and snapping, and the minute I put anything through the letter slot, it would seize it savagely. I find it hard to imagine that the owner ever got a single piece of post that hadn't been shredded by its enormous teeth. Once I opened the letter slot and looked through it instead of putting a letter through, and I could see right down its throat.

The other endlessly, er, fascinating aspect of door to door deliveries is the varying accessibility of people's letter boxes. I probably make life more difficult for myself by refusing to walk across people's lawns in case they come out and shout at me. But I am amazed at the convoluted routes some people's paths take from the street to the front door: up the drive, turn right, cross the entire front of the house, turn left around the side, then left again up the steps... They remind me of those penitential mazes that mediaeval monks used to trudge around. My daughter and I whiled away the walk between houses by debating which was the most difficult to get at. I think the prize went to the one which had a drive, followed by a gate with a latch, followed by a garden and then one of those letter slots about three inches off the ground, so that you have to grovel on your knees to put the leaflet through. And it also had those brush thingies inside the letter box, which make it very difficult to poke a flexible item through, especially if the hinge of the cover is a snappy one. It was rather like that monstrous dog again, only with the teeth on the outside and the fur on the inside.

Anyway, it was fun. Sort of. And I got some fresh air after being cooped up with a hot laptop for weeks. My daughter will also be fantastically fit by the time she has covered the entire town. So that is also good. There is just one final thing to add. To the people of Crieff, those of you who have those letterboxes attached to the wall at the end of the drive, right next to the street: we love you. x