Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cover Art - chance to vote!

I'm very pleased to say that the cover art for the US hardbacked edition of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden has also been nominated for The Rap Sheet's finest crime novel covers of the year. You can see all the nominees here, and vote too if you like:

I quite like this website because once you voted you can see who has had how many votes! OK, The Vanishing isn't in the lead (maybe if you vote...?) but it's doing pretty well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas crime, anyone?

People quite often ask me at readings and signings whether The Glass Demon is a sequel to The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, and which one they should buy(!). The Glass Demon isn't in fact a sequel, although a minor character from The Vanishing does make an appearance. You can read The Glass Demon without having read The Vanishing.
It's a little more difficult to suggest which book someone should buy - especially if the person is buying it as a gift for someone else. It did occur to me, though, that The Vanishing of Katharina Linden might make quite an appropriate Christmas present, as the action of the book begins and ends in Advent. In fact, the freak accident with which the book opens occurs at an Advent dinner. There's even snow in the final scenes - you can't get much more seasonal than that! So if you know someone who fancies a bit of murder and mayhem with their Christmas lunch, maybe they'd like the book...

Goodreads Choice Awards 2010

I'm delighted to say that the cover design for The Vanishing of Katharina Linden (US edition, Delacorte) has been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards, Cover Art category.

If you like the cover design, with its elegant cat, please do vote for it on the Goodreads site here:

There are also lots of other categories in which you can vote for your favourite books of the year, so if you're passionate about books, take a look!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Glass Demon - definitely "PG"

I'm very pleased to say that the book trailer for The Glass Demon is now ready and you can see it at the link below!
The film has actually been finished for a couple of weeks but we decided to produce the Norwegian version first in honour of the recent publication of the book in Norway by Vendetta Forlag. Here, finally, is the English version!
A word of warning: the trailer contains some gruesome shots and is not suitable for younger children (or possibly people of a sensitive disposition...).

The trailer was made by Lumiere Productions, who once again did a fabulous job on the minimalistic budget that the author (blush) could afford. I'll be blogging again soon with some more details about the making of the film - I'd love to know how Lalla Merlin, the director, managed to get that shot of Herr Mahlberg, for example! Meanwhile, I hope you will enjoy the video.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Let's build an igloo, says Sporty Outdoor Hubs

A couple of years ago, when we still lived in Germany, we visited the Königsmuseum in Bonn and saw a film about Inuit constructing an igloo. The museum also had a set of large white blocks so that you could have a go at making your own (perhaps they still have them - I hope so, because my kids thought they were fab). I'm not sure whether it was that museum visit that sowed the seeds of the idea, but this week, when the snow lay thick upon the ground here in Flanders, Sporty Outdoor Hubs suddenly decided to build his own igloo. The kids joined in, too.
I stayed indoors and made cups of tea and warming stews. Someone has to do that; I saw myself rather in the role of the person who stays at Base Camp whilst the others try to do Mount Everest. (I managed to do a jigsaw and watch Pan's Labyrinth too in the unaccustomed peace indoors, but that's another story and quite an incidental benefit. Honest.)
It's amazing how much snow you need to build an igloo; they used up nearly all the snow in the front AND back gardens. Hubs found a plastic storage box which they used as a mould for making each snow brick. The kids helped transport the full mould across the garden on a sledge, and then turned it out on the igloo wall. It took them most of two afternoons to complete the igloo, which was good, actually, because a bit of snow fell in between and plastered over the joins in the bricks very nicely.
They decided to build the igloo as a complete hemisphere first and then cut in the doorway afterwards, which was sensible because it meant there was no subsidence as the top layers of bricks went on. Once the hemisphere was built, my son cut the doorway with a saw. We all stood back to admire the effect for a bit, and then hubs went off to find some candles. Apparently the correct thing to do is light a few candles and put them inside the completed igloo for a bit, so that the indoor surface will melt very slightly. When it freezes again, you have a smooth and hopefully draught-free wall.
They all crawled inside to see what it was like. "Warmer than you'd think," was the verdict. We left the candles burning for a bit; it looked so cosy that even the cat went out to investigate. Sporty Outdoor Hubs thinks it might even be possible to sleep out in it! Think I'll stay at Base Camp again, thanks...

NOTE: The kids had brilliant fun doing this, but if you decide to try it with yours, make sure they're not left to play inside unattended. That's quite a lot of snow, and if it collapsed, it could be dangerous.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What's that you say? Don't judge a book by its cover..?

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden has now been published in Great Britain, the USA, Holland, Germany and Spain (still to come: Norway, who have already published The Glass Demon, Brazil, Italy and Romania). I'm fascinated to see the different ways in which the book has been interpreted in the cover art.
People sometimes ask me whether I decide what goes on the cover of my books. On the whole, no! Most of my publishers show me the proposed designs, some ask for feedback, but I'm not the person who creates the cover - which means it's always a thrill for me to see what the cover artist has come up with.
The latest launch was by Planeta in Spain, and I absolutely LOVE the brilliant, quirky Tim Burton-esque cover (left). I've shown it to groups of high school students at a recent school visit, and judging by the smiles, they loved it too. It has a great combination of creepiness and humour. The muted colours and the big scared-looking eyes of the two children suggest the dark content of the book, but I can't help laughing at Stefan's funny little face peeping out from behind Pia! The cover design was created by artist Gabriel Salvado; you can see more of his work here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eldibuixant/
Take a look too at some of the other cover designs, from the US, Holland, the UK and Germany. They all interpret the book in different ways, and all beautifully in my opinion. The US design focuses on the black cat Pluto, who plays a small but significant role in the book. The Dutch and British designs focus on Katharina Linden herself, the vanishing girl. The German design uses a photograph but with strong red tones creating a threatening effect.
Which one do you like best? Which best expresses the essence of the book? I'd love some feedback!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

SINT - my fave Christmas movie!

I have absolutely no pretensions to being a film critic - in cinematic terms I am like those people who say "I don't know anything about wine but I like what I like". I have never seen Gone with the wind and I didn't manage to watch the whole of Citizen Kane. I've even committed the heresy of preferring the American film The Ring to the Japanese original, Ringu. So I don't have the slightest critical credentials to boast of. I just....like what I like.
Now that's out of the way, I just have to mention a film I saw yesterday, which I absolutely LOVED. It's SINT (Saint), by Dutch director Dick Maas. A Flemish friend of mine who knows a bit about my erratic taste in films told me about it, and from the moment I saw the trailer ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBqqp_j8r1A ) I was desperate to see it. Nor was I disappointed.
SINT is about Sinterklaas, better known to you and me as Santa Claus, or possibly Saint Nicholas. The story begins in 1492, with the original Bishop Nicholas revealed to be the evil head of a gang of plundering, murdering thugs. After he and his men visit a small village in the dead of winter and steal several children, the inhabitants take their revenge, setting fire to his ship and watching as Nicholas perishes in the flames. This is not the end of him, though; Sint has more lives than Freddy Krueger. Every 36 years, when the full moon falls on St.Nicholas' Eve (5th December) he returns to carry out a killing spree, murdering children and adults alike.
Fast forward to present-day Amsterdam, where the full moon is due to fall upon 5th December. Cute hero Frank and disgraced detective Goert battle to stop the latest wave of grisly murders, hampered by the fact that their appearance at many of the crime scenes puts them under suspicion.
I marvelled at the sheer outrageousness of this film. It was worth seeing it just to watch the scene in which Sinterklaas astride his traditional white horse gallops along the rooftops of Amsterdam, whilst the police give chase firing at him from the window of their police car. It's also certainly a new twist to the St.Nicholas legend to have him decapitating people with his crozier. Dick Maas, I salute you: you have one hell of an imagination!
SINT is currently in cinemas in Belgium; I hope there will be a dubbed English version in due course as it would be truly tragic to miss this film. Hell, watch it in Dutch if you have to! One word of warning: take the 12+ rating seriously. This isn't for younger kids!

Update: there is now a DVD version with English subtitles. 

Muy misterioso...

When I was in Spain this week, an interviewer asked me, "What is the real Helen Grant like?" This was a bit of a fast ball since nearly everyone asks me how long it takes to write a book, where I get my ideas, etc. However, having reviewed all my inner characteristics in a nanosecond and rejected the bits about Never Saying No To Chocolate, having dubious daydreams about Johnny Depp and Preferring Mess To Housework, I replied (truthfully) that I am a person with a very active imagination, and it colours the way I see the world. Well, "colours" is a nice way of saying "completely and utterly falsifies."
Take for example my Dutch class, which I have been attending for two and half years now. Nederlands 1 and 2 introduced us to Hagob (Armenian) and Dorjee (Tibetan) as well as Dalia (Syrian) and Monserrat (Phillipina). (There was nothing so pedestrian as a European amongst this cast of characters.) They were forever ringing each other up or "accidentally" meeting in the street and having seemingly innocuous conversations about the weather or proposed cinema trips. If I had taken all this at face value I would have died of boredom long before we got onto irregular Dutch past participles, so I used to create extravagant supplementary histories for the characters. Hagob and Dorjee were clearly desperate to find women, but hampered by their lack of Dutch fluency, hence the inane remarks about the weather; Dalia and Monserrat had rumbled their little game long ago and kept trying to pass them onto each other, hence the rash of introductions in the first chapter - it was nothing to do with learning Dutch social conventions and everything to do with offloading an unwanted suitor. And don't get me onto Geert in the pink polo shirt in the chapter about family trees - no need to ask why he's still single at 30...
Given this predilection for "enhancing reality", you can imagine how my imagination ran riot when I turned up at my hotel in Madrid to find it crawling with security. At least, I think that's what they were. I took the lift to the second floor to find two men in suits wearing earpieces sitting on chairs one either side of one of the doors. They didn't have any luggage with them so I don't think they were waiting to get into their room, and they didn't look friendly. No nodding, no Buenas dias, just a flat stare. I went to my room and let myself in, feeling slightly uncomfortable; looked back after unlocking the door and saw one of them staring back at me. Bodyguards, I decided. But whose? The hotel was very comfortable and modern, but it wasn't the sort of marble-and-crystal-chandeliers type of place that film stars hang out in. Or was someone slumming it, in the hopes of going unnoticed?
I went out for a couple of hours to look around Madrid and when I got back to the hotel, the men were still there on the landing, still staring and still not saying anything. In fact, when I looked, the whole hotel seemed to be crawling with men in suits wearing earpieces. There was one with a Mephistophelean beard; he was definitely up to no good. He was probably one of those people you get in films, who can kill you in two seconds with his bare hands.
I began to wish I was someone with no imagination at all; nasty thoughts kept occurring to me, eg. if someone on my corridor needed bodyguards, were they expecting an imminent attack? Wasn't it a bit dangerous being on the same floor? Was I going to end up as "collateral damage"? Feeling rather silly but distinctly unnerved, I put a chair up against the door before I went to bed. There; that should stop contract killers sneaking in, killing me silently and using my room as a base.
The next morning I opened the curtains to discover a police van parked opposite the hotel. Out on the landing, the two men were still at their posts - or was it another two men? Hard to tell. Downstairs in the lobby was another little huddle of men in suits; whilst I sat there waiting for my interpreter to turn up, a policeman came in and starting speaking to them. How I wished I had got past Lesson 1: El Campesino in Living Spanish. Then I might have been able to work out whether they were saying, "The target has been eliminated; the jump jet is waiting" or "Can you move your car, please, sir; it's obstructing a delivery entrance."
I didn't dare ask the hotel staff what it was all about, in case I either made myself look terminally stupid or very suspicious. I did find myself wondering afterwards however whether the two men on my hotel corridor had imaginations as active as mine. Did they watch me unlocking my door and wonder whether that wheeled bag concealed a balaclava, an abseil rope and an Uzi? Did they see me open the door to the room service guy and wonder whether I was really giving him a two euro tip or passing a microdot? Let's hope so, because otherwise they must have had a terribly boring night, poor things, with nothing to do expect watch the digital numbers on the lift door going up and down.

PS Later in the day, comfortably removed from the hotel, I asked my contacts at the publisher's if they had any idea what had been going on. They were as puzzled as I was - but someone suggested it may have been a diplomat or other bigwig since there was some sort of big event related to the Spanish royal family going on. So whoever was in the room with the men outside, it probably wasn't a film star. Shame; I was hoping for Johnny Depp.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bon dia Barcelona!

"Well," said my husband when I called him from Barcelona, "How are they treating you?"
"Truthfully?" I said. "It's how I'd always hoped to be treated!" I couldn't tell him anything else for a minute though, because he was too busy laughing at me...
Delusions of grandeur aside(!), I think any author who has slaved away for a year or more on a manuscript, not knowing whether anyone else will ever read it, would be thrilled with the promotional programme Planeta (my Spanish publisher) had organised. Fourteen interviews at last count (well, that's what someone told me, since I actually had lost count), lots of exciting dashes about Madrid and Barcelona in taxis, and some very tasty tapas (thanks, Maria!). I've been on the radio (second time ever) and TV (first time ever) as well as chatting to lots of journalists. The Planeta team asked me if I was getting tired of talking to people; I said (quite truthfully) that coming from a large and vociferous family I am very grateful if anyone listens to me at all!
I came away with a very positive impression of the Spanish media - it was wonderful to be asked so many interesting and intelligent questions - as well as some very original ones. "Do you believe in reincarnation?" and "Do you have a great soul?" asked one TV interviewer. (One of my friends asked me how on earth you reply to a question like that; I replied that you say, "That is a very interesting question indeed," and whilst you are saying that, you think frantically!)
One of the things which interested many interviewers was the book's title, El Imperturbable Hans ("Unshockable Hans"), which is of course very different to the British title, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. Why was this? they wanted to know. If you are interested, this is the reason: Unshockable Hans was my original working title of the book. I called it that because in many ways I see the legendary figure of Hans as the hero of the story. For various reasons the eventual English-language title was changed - it was much less obvious from the working title what the book was about, for example, whereas The Vanishing... is a pretty good signpost! However, the Spanish team liked the working title and decided to go with it. I'm thrilled that they did, because it fits very well with the spooky, quirky cover art of the Spanish edition.
Finally, I managed a very, very quick visit to La Pedrera and La Sagrada Familia, two of Barcelona's most famous landmarks, both designed by the artistic genius Antoni Gaudi. We lived in Barcelona for a few months in 1999 when my daughter was a baby, and whilst my husband was out working, I made it a project of mine to visit every single Gaudi building, park, gate, etc in Barcelona and photograph the baby in front of them. So it was wonderful to relive those memories, even if briefly.
Now I'm back in Brussels, looking out of the window at grey skies and what appears to be (eek!) snow falling...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hola Madrid!

It's been a bizarre day. I'm here in Spain to help publicise the launch of El Imperturbable Hans, the Spanish translation of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, having missed (by a whisker) the email that arrived telling me the plans.
At Madrid airport there was a taxi driver waiting with a placard with my name on it. I had spent the two hour flight from Brussels frantically reading Living Spanish and trying to remember irregular verbs, however, my Spanish vocabulary has more holes in it than a lace mantilla, and if the taxi driver spoke any English he wasn't telling. I managed to ask him whether we were going to the publisher's or the hotel and established that it was the hotel, but that was about it.
Arrived at the hotel, went up to the desk and said "Tengo una reserva", after which the staff took pity on me and switched to English. They had my reservation all right; so far so good. I left my mobile phone number with Reception in case anyone called wanting me for anything, and then went out on foot to look at Madrid.
There wasn't time to take in a museum etc so instead I just wandered about for a bit soaking up the atmosphere as dusk fell. I've only ever been in Madrid once before, for a single day, and didn't manage to see anything then either. My main impression is of staggering buildings. Quite a lot of them have turrets and statues on top. I particularly liked a statue of someone driving a chariot, outlined against the evening sky.
Browsed in a fabulous shop called Lala; done out all in white and mirrors, it was a paradise of Gothic jewellery - purple or black diamante spiders on chains, huge dangly earrings and gorgeous scarlet and black pendants. Restrained myself with difficulty - I really don't have any occasion on which I could wear a tarantula on a string - but bought some black and turquoise glass and foil earrings in another boutique.
When I got back to the hotel, there was an envelope waiting for me. It contained the schedule for tomorrow, and a train ticket to Barcelona for tomorrow night. I am starting to feel like the girl in Beauty and the Beast, who kept waking up to find stuff had been done in the night by invisible servants. Will an actual person appear at some point, or shall I follow a trail of clues and notes...?
No idea whether I will be able to get at a Wifi connection in Barcelona; the train doesn't even arrive there until 21.43 so I may be too tired even if there is Wifi on every street corner. If I can get online, I'll be back to relate how I got on.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Greenlight for Girls 2

Just picked my daughter up - she was utterly thrilled with the whole day. She has her own personalised lab coat and some of her own DNA in a test tube!!! (She says she was glad they let her bring that home because she didn't want anyone cloning her on the sly.) She says the best workshop of all was making a comet out of dry ice, water, baking powder, cornflower and kitchen spray - she's dying to try it out at home.
Judging by the excited faces coming out of the last session, everyone had a fabulous and inspiring time. Let's hope they run something like this again!

Greenlight for girls

There are not many things which make me want to get up at 06.00 on a Saturday morning, but today I added one to the list (the others include climbing Ben Lomond, scuba diving off Weymouth and nabbing a turn at the only tap on an Indian campsite before anyone else got up, if you must know). I have just taken my daughter to a science day for girls being held at the International School of Brussels, which opened at 08.00, hence the horrendously early start, since we live half an hour's drive away.

The day is being run by Greenlight for Girls, an International NGO with the mission to encourage girls to consider a future in maths, science, engineering and technology by introducing them to the world of science in fun and exciting ways. It's a fabulous opportunity for girls to meet high-achieving women (and men) working in science, and to try out a variety of workshops and experiments. It's a whole-day event including lunch and amazingly, thanks to the organisation's sponsors, it's entirely free.

I dropped my daughter off at the registration desk, where she received her programme for the day and disappeared off to get herself a lab coat. Since my sole scientific qualifications are two ancient 'O'levels in Maths and Biology, I'm rather an outsider to the world of science. The only time I see a lab coat is at the doctor's or the pharmacy, so it made a very strong visual impression on me, seeing so many women and girls wearing them. Let's hope it's a uniform many of today's participants will continue to wear in the future.
I'll post again later when I've heard how my daughter got on!
You can read about the event and about Greenlight for Girls on their website, here:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Glass Demon rights sold in Turkey!

I'm delighted to report that the Turkish rights to The Glass Demon have been sold to Derin Kitap! Details in due course.

Book signing, 6th November 2010

A big thank you to Octavia and Jo and everyone at Waterstone's in Cirencester for organising my book signing event last Saturday. Thanks also to William Bond for producing the super publicity material. A special mention too for Ben, one of my oldest friends, who travelled from London specially!
To everyone who attended and bought signed books - or just stopped to chat - it was great to see you.

Visit to St. Mary's Church, Fairford.

As my long-suffering family and friends will testify, I have a bit of a "thing" about Renaissance stained glass. Whenever we are travelling about and I spot an interesting-looking church, I am prone to stopping the car and begging everyone else for "just five minutes" whilst I look to see whether there is any original glass left. Nine times out of ten I come out again looking disgusted (plain glass or some horrible later replacement) but now and again there is something really beautiful to see.
I became interested in the subject after researching the stained glass of Steinfeld Abbey (featured in the English ghost story "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" by M.R.James). Up until that point I had no idea how little glass of that period (1500s) survives. It is also very rare to see it in its original setting. The Steinfeld glass, and the equally gorgeous Mariawald glass, are now mostly the inmates of museums.
It was therefore a rare and fabulous treat for me to visit St. Mary's Church in Fairford, Gloucestershire, last week whilst I was in England. The Fairford glass is of the same period as the Steinfeld glass but amazingly, it is still in its original setting and virtually undamaged (a few windows were damaged by a storm in the early 1700s but most of the windows are perfect). The great west window includes one of the most stunning Last Judgement scenes I have ever seen, complete with demons.
A big vote of thanks to William Bond for taking me to Fairford, and also for taking a brilliant set of photographs of the glass for use in the upcoming book trailer for The Glass Demon. As the Fairford glass is of exactly the same period as the fictional Allerheiligen glass in my book, it was ideal - there is even a fire-belching "Bonschariant". If you are ever in the area, take a look - a unique chance to see real glass demons!

Friday, November 5, 2010

CILIP Carnegie Medal 2011

I'm very pleased to say that The Glass Demon has been nominated for the 2011 CILIP Carnegie Medal. Here's the longlist:

Congratulations to everyone including FB friends Meg Rosoff and Keren David, and fellow Penguin YA writer Alex Scarrow!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wish Me Dead

I'm delighted to report that I finished revisions on my third novel, Wish Me Dead, this week. In fact I sent it to Penguin Books on Sunday evening. There may be some further (hopefully small) revisions plus there's all the normal copyediting stuff, but basically the book is finished. I've also seen some fabulous cover artwork which I hope to be able to post here soon.

Wish Me Dead is my third book set in the Eifel region of Germany, and it's a return to Bad Münstereifel, the setting of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. The story is about a group of friends, who decide to have a bit of slightly drunken fun one evening by going to the ruins of a witch's house in the woods near the town. They attempt to ask the long-dead witch to do their bidding. They wish someone dead - and the person really dies. That's just the beginning...

Anyone who has a particularly good memory for detail might remember that the Nett family have a VERY fleeting reference made to them in The Vanishing. It was that detail that inspired Wish Me Dead - that, plus the real-life history of witch-finding in the Eifel. A few other familiar Bad Münstereifel characters from my first two novels also make a reappearance in this book. It's not a "sequel" to either of the previous books but it still ties up a few loose ends!

Publication of Wish Me Dead is currently planned for June 2011 in the UK.

Signing event in Cirencester this week

On Saturday 6th November I'll be at Waterstone's in Cirencester (Gloucestershire) signing copies of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden and The Glass Demon, from 11am to 1pm and 2-4pm. All welcome - I'd love to see you.
This is not part of a tour or anything - I simply happen to be in the UK anyway because it's my mum's birthday this week, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to do a signing in the area. Any excuse to spend hours and hours in a bookshop!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Scary stuff: ghosts, zombies, and rogue citrus fruit.

Finally, 10 minutes spare for blogging. It's been another action-packed week in the Grant household. (For action-packed, read chaotic; bite-off-more-than-you-chew should be our family motto.) I spent last weekend camping with the girl guides again. When we camped at Grobbendonk in May, we had two days of solid rain, so I did wonder whether I needed my head examined for signing up again. "Are you mad?" asked one of my FB friends. In the event, I had the last laugh; we had gorgeous warm sunshine and we adults spent the evenings around the campfire drinking red wine and eating tortilla chips, basking in the satisfaction of having got 36 children to bed on time. I bet my doubting friends were horribly envious. Well, actually, they weren't...but they OUGHT to have been.
They might have been a bit more envious had I not told them about the Orange Incident. I went to the loo block on clean-up morning and found half an orange floating in the toilet; worse, someone - or possibly several someones, judging by the colour of the water - had pee'd on it. Flushing would probably have resulted in a blockage, so there was only one thing to do. I sighed and rolled my sleeves up, thanking Providence that I had put some disinfectant hand gel in my luggage. I disinfected my hands up to the elbows afterwards but I'll still be off finger food for a while.
This week was Book Week at the local British school, the BSB, so I went along to talk about The Glass Demon and run some workshops about writing ghost stories. I was nervous about running the workshops since I'd never done one before, but actually it was much more fun than talking about my own books! We had a great session at which I produced a carved wooden cat and asked the group to brainstorm possible ghost stories featuring it. I was thinking of M.R.James' "Stalls of Barchester Cathedral" and amazingly, a lot of the ideas which came up could have come directly from that story, even though none of the students had read it....full marks to the boy who suggested the wood from which the cat was carved might have an influence on the story.
I've also left Year 10 with a writing task inspired by a brilliant ghost story called "The Accident", by Ann Bridge; it appeared in the 4th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories back in 1967. In the story, someone receives a postcard postmarked Stresa, and is almost sent mad with terror. Why? I'm not telling... I mocked-up the postcard as exactly as I could (Swiss stamp from 1949 etc etc), gave out copies and asked the students to write a ghost story about the card. I'm planning to publish the best ones on my blog in due course.
Finally, the biggest thrill of the week for me was finally being able to see Lalla Merlin's short zombie film Virus for the first time! Lalla (who runs Lumiere Productions UK) made the book trailer for The Vanishing of Katharina Linden for me, and is currently working on a trailer for The Glass Demon. Lalla says "don't expect Shaun of the Dead" but I think she's selling herself short! The film is the result of a three day film making workshop for kids. None of the cast are professional actors and most of them didn't know each other beforehand, but the end result is great fun and there are some very funny moments as well as some very gruesome ones! You can see part one of the film here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdDwYjwp-Ic
"Play with us, Fred...for ever...and ever..." Classic.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Introducing my gorgeous Norwegian....

I'm absolutely thrilled to be able to share the fabulous cover of the Norwegian version of The Glass Demon, coming out any minute now in Norway (of course). It's being published by Vendetta Forlag, who have put a huge amount of energy into getting the cover design exactly right. I've seen three other, earlier concepts and this one is simply the best...it really sums up how I see the book myself. Maybe they picked my brains whilst I was asleep....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Canine the Barbarian - a cautionary tale.

So, farewell summer. Here in Belgium the leaves are starting to turn orange, there are conkers all over the ground, and the rain has set in for the next ten months. The summer holidays this year were slightly frantic, as I attempted to finish my third novel in spite of the family trip to France, a visit from my brother, my son’s birthday, and my two children hanging around saying “Are we going to do something today, then?” I always have a mammoth “essay crisis” over the summer but this year I was even more behind than usual. I suppose therefore that it must have been a fit of temporary insanity which led me to offer to have a friend’s puppy for two weeks whilst she was away….yes, I offered, in spite of the fact that the last time I had a family dog was when I was 18 months old, and my parents had to find a new home for the family Basset hound after it kept knocking me over and trashing the house. I’m very fond of animals (except ones with more than six legs) and I adore our two cats, but when it comes to dogs I am a complete novice…and it shows.

During the two weeks of dogsitting, I posted regular updates on my Facebook wall. The “temporary dog” gained a minor following and I even had a request for further details of his exploits after he had left (perhaps I should be gratified that my travails provided such amusement; thanks sis). So here is my diary of our “dog days”, and if any of you are thinking of caving in to your kids’ demands for a puppy, let this be a warning to you…

8th August Off to feed a friend's guinea pig and rabbits first thing in the morning. Dog sitting from Wednesday. Babysitting someone's kids on 19th. Hope I don't mess up at some point and feed the guinea pig to the dog or something.

11th August The dog we are dogsitting for the next two weeks has arrived. We now have 2 kids and 1 mutt running like mad things up and down the garden. :-S

The temporary dog was caught chewing the phone charger cable. This does not bode well. I am keeping my MacBook Pro and its pristine white cables well out of his way!!!

12th August Yapping frenzy from the temporary dog today when I got out the hoover. Ginger the cat meanwhile is red nosed and sneezing and has a vet's appointment this evening. Thus far the rabbits, guinea pig, terrapins and gerbils are all surviving.

(later) Oh noes. The vet says Ginger has an infection caused by stress.

13th August Gordon goes out and the temporary dog sits at the door whining and scratching. I go out, and the temporary dog shrugs his shoulders and goes back to foraging in the compost bin.

Watched the temporary dog frolicking on the sofa with a plastic bottle he has been chewing. Asked small son, "Do you want a dog then?" He looked at the temporary dog dubiously and said, "Not one like that."

The owners of the guinea pig and the two rabbits comes home tomorrow so then it will just be one temporary dog, one invalid cat, two gerbils and two terrapins.

15th August The temporary dog eats cat food. And clothes pegs. :-S

16th August The temporary dog is in deep, deep disgrace for shooting out of the front door between Gordon's feet and running across the road. Luckily for him, there was nothing coming. He knows he's been bad; he's curled up in a very small ball looking extremely sorry for himself.

(later) I think something interesting ought to happen all of a sudden.

Oh bugger. It has. The temporary dog has piddled all over the floor.

17th August I would still like something sudden and interesting to happen as long as it doesn't need cleaning up afterwards.

Oh noes. Just when you think life can't crank up the "ew" factor any higher....you discover that the temporary dog has worms. :-S

Hahahahahaha! The temporary dog is all wet. He couldn't resist the lake in the park. And now we know he is not actually a temporary dog at all but a temporary rat!!!

18th August I have 4 kids running around here, plus 1 temporary dog, 1 permanent cat and 2 gerbils. I feel like Noah, esp. with all this bloody rain.

Now past caring whether kids spending 8 hours straight playing Nintendo rots their brains. Anything is better than this mayhem. Please kids, teach the bloody dog to play Super Mario too, will you?

Things are getting a bit intense here. Now even the temporary dog is hiding from the children.

19th August Listening to Clouseau singing "laat me nu toch niet alleen" and wondering why anyone would say "don't leave me alone" - I DREAM of being left alone for 5 minutes.

(later) I grudgingly admit that the temporary dog is not that bad after all. He's kind of growing on me, in a slobbery hairy chewy sort of way.

NB This last post provoked the following reply from my friend Todd:

Todd Treichel 'Really? You probably haven't seen these all in one place, but because of a temporary dog we once had with similarly beguiling traits, I sent the following list of phrases from your FB posts to my wife:

"Temporary dog eats cat food. And clothes pegs."

"The temporary dog is in deep, deep disgrace for shooting out the door between Gordon's legs and into the street..."

"puddle of piddle"

"chewing up my house"

"digging in the compost bucket, and in the garden where our dear departed cat lies"

"slobbery licks"

"toxic farting"

"the whole family are now upstairs hiding" (from the previous two items)

"Just when you think that life can't crank up the "eww" factor any higher..."

"temporary dog has worms"

"Possibly the whole house may need to be sealed off and covered with black and yellow signs reading LEVEL 3 BIOHAZARD"

Perhaps he's not mean or violent, but he has completed most of the rest of the checklist. If he throws up a dead rat in your bedroom, then he will have it all covered.'

(later) Temporary dog is begging Gordon Grant to take him out for walkies. So, having stolen the cat's dinner, my son's Dr.Who pencil, my peace of mind and my clothes pegs, he now wants to take hubby away.

Gordon Grant, stop telling the dog I am his "temporary mum"!!! I said he wasn't quite as bad as I thought, not that I wished I had given birth to him.

20th August NB David Longhorn is the - ahem - highly respected editor of Supernatural Tales.

Helen Grant Temporary dog, do not imagine for ONE minute that you are going to be allowed in that swimming pool. It takes 4 people about 78 years to set it up, costs about a trillion euros in water to fill, and is NOT going to be full of dog hairs and canine bodily fluids. OK?

David Longhorn My client insists that he has no intention of venturing into the swimming pool. However, my client gives fair warning that children shouting 'Come on in doggie!' might be construed as a verbal contract to get all wet.

Helen Grant I put it to you that your client has every intention of venturing into the swimming pool, and that he has in fact already entered said pool on one occasion and when challenged said "Woof."

David Longhorn My client may have unwittingly trespassed on the poolular zone while attempting to rescue a drowning beetle, as any good citizen would.

Helen Grant I have here in my hand a signed statement from the beetle in question, admitting that he was not in fact drowning and that he had been in receipt of several grammes of dog dung prior to the supposed "rescue" incident.

David Longhorn Would you consider a plea bargain involving a squeaky toy and half a box of Winalot, or equivalent comestible?

Helen Grant My learned friend displays a deplorable indifference to the principle involved. In the event of further pool incursions we shall be pressing for the severest possible penalties, including confiscation of toys both squeaky and non-squeaky, confinement to kennels and the awarding of six boxes of Winalot to the cat.

The prosecution calls upon Ginger Grant (cat).

Ginger Grant I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. The dog done it, M'Lord. I seen im.

David Longhorn This witness has been coached, and about as convincingly as the English soccer team.

Helen Grant We concede that the witness requires some assistance with translation from Cat to English, and request that he should not be subjected to felinist innuendo. However the fact remains that the defendant was apprehended with wet paws.

David Longhorn After conferring, we're prepared to plead to the lesser charge of trespass on a temporary pond while the balance of our tail was disturbed.

Helen Grant And upon the charge of felinist abuse, how does your client plead?

David Longhorn He intends to appeal to the International Canine Court, in Dalmatia.

Ginger Grant Send im down M'Lord. Me feelings is urt something terrible.

Helen Grant We wish to present damning new evidence. The dog has just been observed not only with all four paws in the pool but actually SWIMMING in it. Four witnesses were present, not including the cat and the beetle.

David Longhorn My client is but an innocent young dog, easily led astray by the worldly and cynical 'Jet Set' household into whose care he was entrusted. Have mercy, your honour, on a dog more sinned against than sinning. It may be a fair cop, but society is to blame. And so on and so forth. And that is some of the worst Cockney cat acting seen in a court since the Lady Chatterly trial.

Ginger Grant Felinist! I appeal to the court.

David Longhorn But not to me.

Ginger Grant M'Lord! I'm being oppressed by canine fundamentalists!

David Longhorn Send him off, ref, where are your specs?

Helen Grant We request a short recession in order that my witness the cat can compose himself after this tirade of felinist abuse.

Furthermore we call upon the court to observe the photographic evidence displayed above, which clearly shows the dog not only attempting to gain access to the pool but actually immersed in said pool. I rest my case.

David Longhorn It's the Apollo hoax all over again. The shadows are all wrong, the grass is fake, and if you follow the girl's line of sight she's actually looking at a distant greenfinch.

Helen Grant My learned colleague is surely attempting a pleasantry and will no doubt shortly announce that the photograph was taken by Shergar on the grassy knoll.

David Longhorn All right, I call upon Charles Darwin and Sons to explain that dogs like water due to several million years of evolution and there's no point in legislating against FACT! The rational defence - never actually tried in a court of law before today.

Helen Grant May I counter this proposterous line of argument by pointing out that human beings are carnivores but that does not justify leaping a five barred gate into a field and biting a cow.

David Longhorn It does where I live.

Helen Grant I suggest that the jury retire and consider the verdict.

David Longhorn Erm, there's a jury? Wow.

Helen Grant Of course there is a jury. What did you think this was, a kangaroo court?

David Longhorn If a kangaroo were on trial I'd have noticed.

Todd Treichel We're calling the jury back in from the pasture where they lunched, ma'am. Just be a minute cleaning up.

Helen Grant I think we can rely on the witness the beetle to do that.

(Solemn voice-over) The dog, anticipating a custodial sentence, made an unwarranted break for freedom and was apprehended in the street. He has been sentenced to an unlimited period in solitary confinement. Thus ends another career in crime.

The cat was awarded substantial damages and retired to Catalonia where he lives to this day, amusing himself with catnip and much younger kittens. The beetle, having cried "wolf" once too often, drowned in a latte macchiato in the middle of a crowded Starbucks, surrounded by people who thought that he was once again "putting it on". David Longhorn is still at large.

21st August Not a good day so far. Exhausted after dog howled until 3 am. Already shouted at kids. Will go offline until feeling a bit more human....see you all around 2012 AD.

(later) The temporary dog has reached a new nadir of nastiness. Whilst we were all in the pool he was apprehended licking a pair of knickers.

Hmmmm. The temporary dog is chewing a mouthful of spaghetti. Unless he has grown wings and flown onto the work surface, he's had his nose in the compost bin again. :-S

(later) Sleep. I'm so tired I keep hallucinating. I think there are gerbils and cats and dogs all trying to eat each other.

22nd August Another gruesome night. I suspect the animals in this house of living off Red Bull and Pepsi Max. Otherwise how can they stay up all night howling/meowing/scratching/trying to eat each other? :-(

The temporary dog saw the sun coming up over the fields at the back of the garden, heard the cock crowing a couple of doors down, and thought "My work here is done." He has stopped howling and is absolutely silent.

Now I know why the bible says Noah lived to be 950 years old. This morning I bloody well feel 950 years old too.

23rd August Stuff the temporary dog has chewed today: a piece of paper, a bottle top, a pencil, a glove, a chip from the compost bucket, me.

Somewhere, at this very moment in a little Flemish village, is a woman whose heroism, whose tale of selfless sacrifice, may never be fully told. This is the woman about to become the temporary dog's new Mummy. Bless you, unnamed woman, for your services to my sleep patterns.

24th August Gosh. The temporary dog has found a patch of sunlight 12 inches square and gone to sleep in it. The Angel of the Lord must have descended and spread peace everywhere or something.

‎"Dog, what have you been eating? Your breath stinks!" says horrified hubs, trying to fight the dog off. "Urgh....I think it's the compost heap."

Tee hee. Ginger the cat has taken to sitting halfway up the stairs and meowing loudly for someone to come and carry him past the temporary dog to the door so he can go out. Then he sits in my arms telegraphing his disdain at the dog as he passes it.

(later) From 11am tomorrow I am no longer the temporary dog's temporary mum.

25th August The temporary dog has finally made it upstairs into Ginger the cat's sacred domain. Gordon was sitting at his desk when he heard SNUFFLE SNUFFLE SNUFFLE SNUFFLE YELP YELP YELP WHIIIIIINE! He came out to find the dog at the bottom of the stairs quivering in abject terror and Ginger on the top step looking smug.

Temporary dog gone in 3...2...1

Helen Grant hears the patter of tiny feet. Ginger is patrolling the house, checking that the temporary dog is really an ex temporary dog…