Thursday, February 27, 2014

Spotlight on...The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

What's this all about? Well, I thought I'd start a little series of posts about each of my published books. I am often asked questions like "If I were going to read one of your books, which one should I start with?" or "Do I have to read them in order?" or indeed, "Who are they for?" So I thought I'd answer some of those questions here. If anyone wants to ask me another question about an individual book, feel free! (Only don't ask me to do your homework for you, please...)

Anyway, I thought I'd kick off with my first published book, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, which was published in the UK by Penguin in 2009. It was subsequently published in the US, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Brazil.

So, what's it about?

The book is set in a little German town called Bad Münstereifel. The heroine of the story is a 10-year-old girl called Pia Kolvenbach, who has a German father and an English mother. At the beginning of the book, Pia's grandmother dies in a freak accident, and as a result Pia is ostracised at school. She is thrown back on the company of fellow outsider "StinkStefan" and her grandmother's old friend Herr Schiller, who fills the pair's heads with gruesome folk legends. Then a girl from Pia's school - Katharina Linden - vanishes during the town's annual Karneval parade. Whilst the town is still in uproar, another child disappears...and later, another. Pia and Stefan, inspired by the stories Herr Schiller tells them, conclude that there is a supernatural explanation for the disappearances, and decide to investigate. They do not realise that every step they take brings them closer to a very real danger...

NB If you'd like to see the book trailer, it's here: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

Ten-year-old? So it's a kids' book, then?

Erm, not really. It's actually told from the viewpoint of an older Pia, years later. The reason for having a young heroine was nothing to do with the target audience - in fact I didn't consciously have a target audience at all. I wrote the book because we lived in the real town of Bad Münstereifel for 7 years and I fell in love with it so utterly that I wanted to immortalise it in a novel. I found the legends of Bad Münstereifel absolutely fascinating (the ones related in the book are all genuine) and I wanted my heroine to be young enough to believe in them. The book is read by teens and adults alike (see previous post about YA literature).

If this is your first book, should I read this one first?

You don't have to. My second novel, The Glass Demon, is set in a small town close to Bad Münstereifel, and one or two minor characters from The Vanishing of Katharina Linden make an appearance - basically it is set in the same "universe" (bookiverse?) as The Vanishing, although it is set a few years later. However, the stories are separate and self contained; you can read The Glass Demon quite happily without reading The Vanishing first.

My third book, Wish Me Dead, is set right in Bad Münstereifel itself again, 10 years after the events of The Vanishing. Wish Me Dead does refer back to those events, so in some ways it would be logical to read The Vanishing before Wish Me Dead, but again, you don't absolutely have to. Wish Me Dead has its own self contained plot and the background bits are explained as you go along.

After Wish Me Dead I stopped writing books set in Germany (though someone did ask me recently whether I would ever do a sequel to The Glass Demon and I truthfully replied that I would never say never; I loved writing that book and still love the characters).

Is it scary?

Well, a relative of mine said a scene towards the end reminded him of The Silence of the Lambs! But actually, the book is not so gruesome that you can't give it to younger teens. The grisly bits are mostly horrible discoveries - the heroine is ten years old, after all, so she is not going to be engaging in hand to hand combat with a killer. Having said that, there are some pretty nasty revelations...

Did it win anything?

Yes, it won an ALA Alex Award in the USA. In the UK it was shortlisted for both the CILP Carnegie Medal and the Booktrust Teenage Award.

What did the critics think?

"Grant's splendid debut, set in a claustrophobic German town, combines the grisly folk-tales of the Brothers Grimm with the insidious rumour-mill of a small community where ancient wounds fester and scores remain unsettled, seen through the eyes of an intelligent, imaginative 10-year-old. Young Pia is the last person to see eponymous class-mate Katharina alive, and she is determined to find out what became of her. From a festive family dinner that goes bizarrely and horribly wrong via the spiteful minutiae of changing playground alliances, to the full-on bravura of the fist-in-mouth climax, this is a feast of treats and creeps. The excellent writing, and the eschewing of anything remotely winsome or mawkish, make this an eerily subtle literary page-turner. Wonderful." - The Guardian.

"This fascinating debut novel veers off in an unexpected direction and Grant steers it with impressive skill...a richly textured, effortlessly written novel with an impeccable sense of place and characterisation." - The Sunday Telegraph.

"Lightness of touch, neatness of phrase and talent for observation enliven the darkness of the material...For something so chilling, it is terrific entertainment." - The Sunday Times.

and, er, there was this one, from the Carnegie Shadowing Scheme:

"you're all wrong. wrong wrong wrong. its the lamest peice of drivvel i have ever had the missfortune to pick up. the charecter was an annoying girl that would be knocked over in a moderatly strong draft! the setting was weak and a bit cliche, the thing with the granny was funny but unnessercery. ect. ect. ect." - 'Slattybatfast'.

Ah well, you have to take the rough with the smooth!

Above: Spanish cover for The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. The Spanish title is 
Unshockable Hans, which was my original working title for the book. Unshockable Hans 
is a genuine Bad Münstereifel folk legend and in some ways the real hero of the book! 


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