Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Signed copies available locally

I had a great time yesterday evening at AK Bell Library in Perth, talking about "Writing thrillers" - a big thank you to Elaine from Waterstone's in Perth who initiated the event and came along to sell books, to Sara Ann, Jimmy and colleagues at the library for setting it up and to everyone who attended. There were lots of interesting questions!

If you are local to Perth, weren't able to attend but would still like to buy a signed copy of one of my books, they are available from Waterstone's at St John's Centre Perth, PH1 5UX, Phone 01738 643478.

I'm also going to be signing books at a forthcoming event in Crieff on 1st and 2nd December. There will be a Book Fair at Strathearn Community Campus (Thurs 9am - 6pm, Fri 9am -12 noon) in aid of Innerpeffray Library, Scotland's oldest lending library. If you are in the area do drop in - part of the proceeds from each signed book will be going to Innerpeffray.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I'm currently working very intensively on a new novel (my fourth); I reached 77,000 words yesterday and then decided to take a break because I wanted to think very carefully about what happens next. There were one or two plot details that needed thinking through before I plunged in and wrote myself into a corner. I think best when I'm out and about, either driving or walking, so I decided to go along Lady Mary's Walk, a very picturesque route which follows the River Earn. Finding a nice quiet place to go was important for one very good reason: I like to think aloud when I'm working an idea through, and if you do that in the Co-op people are likely to give you some very funny looks indeed. I hardly met a soul on the first part of the walk, although I did look behind me now and again to make sure nobody was around. Nope, completely alone. So on I wandered, rambling away to myself. On the way down Laggan Hill I was deep in discussion with myself when a small black dog ran past me, hotly pursued by a female runner. How she managed to sneak up on me so silently when the ground was covered with crunchy brown leaves, I shall never know, but she almost certainly heard me remark, "Well, maybe Egbert could be responsible for the maintenance."
Dog-walking running lady, whoever you are, I am not mad - just writing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

CILIP Carnegie Medal 2012 - WISH ME DEAD nominated!

I am delighted to say that my third novel, Wish me dead, has been nominated for the 2012 CILIP Carnegie Medal. You can see the full longlist here:
Congratulations to everyone - it's a really strong list with lots of fantastic books!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Forthcoming event in Perth, Scotland

I am delighted to say that I shall be doing a talk entitled "Writing thrillers" at the AK Bell Library in Perth (York Place, Perth PH2 8EP) on Tuesday 25th October starting at 7pm. All very welcome!

I'm planning to talk about the spooky and gruesome inspirations for my novels, and also about getting published - with plenty of opportunity for questions, so budding authors are very welcome. The talk will be accompanied with slides and Waterstone's Perth are very kindly supporting the event by selling books, if anyone would like a signed copy.

If you're in the area, I'd love to see you - come and ask me an interesting question!

IMPORTANT UPDATE: owing to a booking problem, this talk is now taking place on MONDAY 21st NOVEMBER at 7pm, venue and content as before. Apologies for any inconvenience - hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ghost story competition

As I've mentioned before, I'm a great fan of the classic English ghost story writer Montague Rhodes James, and a contributor to the Ghosts & Scholars M.R.James Newsletter, which is all about MRJ and his contemporaries. I recently received issue 20 of the Newsletter and I was very excited to see that it includes details of a new competition, so I thought I'd post them here too!

Editor Rosemary Pardoe writes:
"Following the very satisfying level of interest in the 'Merfield Hall' and 'Game of Bear' story competitions, I'd been considering the possibility of a third competition when Dan McGachey came up with the suggestion that writers might like to produce sequels to MRJ's completed tales. All the people I've sounded out about this agree with me that it's a fine idea, but I want to extend it to include prequels too. Of course there have already been examples of sequels - David Sutton's 'Return to the Runes' in the second issue of G&S for instance - but there are still plenty of possibilities. What happened to the 'satyr' (or 'satyrs') after the end of 'An episode of Cathedral History'? Are the lanes of Islington still frequented by whatever it was that Dr. Abell encountered in 'Two Doctors'? What is left of the residue of the atrocities in 'An Evening's Entertainment'; and do Count Magnus and his little friend still lurk at a certain crossroads in Essex? As for prequels, I for one would like to know what sort of treasure Canon Alberic found, how it was guarded, and the details of his death in bed of a sudden seizure. And what exactly was James Wilson's belief system, which prompted him to have his ashes placed in the globe in the centre of Mr. Humphrey's maze: what is the significance of the figures on the globe - was Wilson a member of a Gnostic sect? Need I go on? I'm sure you can think of many more mysteries and questions that demand to be solved and answered.
I must emphasise that any competition entry which is just a revamp or parody of the plot of the chosen story is unlikely to be placed very highly. I'm looking for something more original than that. There is no necessity to confine yourself to Jamesian pastiche or to attempt to write in the James style. But there are no other rules aside from the usual ones: I will not look kindly on entries which have been simultaneously submitted elsewhere; the word count is entirely up to you (within reason!); and you can send your manuscript either in hard-copy or preferably as a Word (pre-Vista) or Rich Text file on e-mail attachment or CD-Rom*. The competition is open to everyone, not just Newsletter readers.
The winning story will be published in the first Newsletter of 2012, and there will be a £40 prize for the author, along with a one-year subscription or extension. If I receive enough good, publishable entries, Robert Morgan of Sarob Press has expressed considerable interest in producing a hardback book containing all the best ones (to be edited and introduced by me). This is exciting news, but it's up to you to make it happen. If there are not enough quality stories to fill a book, then the best runners-up will appear in the Newsletter (and receive a one-year sub extension) as with previous competitions.
The competition deadline is December 31st, 2011."

*Mailed entries to: Rosemary Pardoe, Flat One, 36 Hamilton Street, Hoole, Chester CH2 3JQ, UK.
e-mailed entries to: pardos@globalnet.co.uk

If you are already familiar with the stories of M.R.James then hopefully by now you are rubbing your hands! If not, and you'd like to enter the competition, you need to lay hands on a copy of his Collected Ghost Stories. Many of them are available online too but personally I'd buy a copy to read and re-read (I'm on my third copy, the other two having fallen to pieces).

Do consider subscribing to the Newsletter too if you are interested in classic ghost stories - it's not expensive. It contains all sorts of interesting bits and pieces including previously unpublished work by the great M.R.James himself, news of related books, film adaptations etc and sometimes descriptions of visits to the scenes of his stories (I have contributed a number of those myself).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In which I discover a literary paradise in Perth & Kinross...

I haven't blogged for a while as I've been busy settling into my new home and adjusting to life back in the UK after an absence of 10 years, which takes more time than you would imagine. ("Why are we queuing?" asked the resident techie as we waited for the Perth bus. "We're waiting for the bus," I said. "No," she said, looking perplexed, "Why are we QUEUING?" "Er...that's what they do in Britain. You're not allowed to just trample the weak and defenceless...")
Up until now I have been so busy with move-related bureaucracy, school uniform lists, etc that I have not really felt moved to blog. Today, however, I visited a place so fabulously wonderful that I just have to mention it: the Innerpeffray Library.
There's a super tourist information office in my new home town, and I had noticed leaflets about the library. It's the oldest lending library in Britain (the world, for all I know), having been founded in 1680. I had glanced at the leaflet a few times and seen a photo of the building, and I suppose I had idly assumed that it would be situated on a high street and with a modern library tacked onto it. Ah no, dear reader. It is much more interesting than that!
I decided to go and see it today for the simple reason that everyone else had gone out. My husband was helping with a bush craft course and had taken the children with him. For the first time since arriving in Scotland I had a day home alone, so I thought I would drive over to Innerpeffray and take a peek at the library.
The first surprise was that the turning to the library (though well sign-posted) is single-tracked and somewhat desolate-looking, running past some delapidated buildings on one side and fields on the other. It eventually comes out at a small car-park next to a stone-built house. The path to the library and also to the adjoining Innerpeffray chapel is grassed-over and little of those buildings can be seen from the car-park. When I turned off the engine there was no sound other than the bleating of sheep in the next field. The location felt very remote; certainly there was no high street, no modern buildings.
I followed the signs to the library, leaving the chapel for later. The library is reached through a nondescript doorway behind the chapel. There is a flight of stairs and then you pass through a doorway into the first and biggest of two rooms, lined with glass-fronted wooden cabinets full of antiquarian books, some of them dating back to the 1600s. Now, here is the thing which amazed me: you are allowed to read all the books. Even the ones which are four hundred years old. Generally I am used to yearning hopelessly after antiquarian books which have been laid out under glass, so that you can (infuriatingly) only peruse the pages that the exhibitor has chosen to show. You can imagine therefore how thrilled I was when admiring a copy of King James' Daemonologie (1616), to have the librarian ask me whether I would like her to take it out of the case so that I could look at it!
I also looked at a seventeenth century atlas and picked out my former German home town "Münster Eiffel" (now Bad Münstereifel), and browsed a German encyclopaedia which included an interesting entry on the interpretation of dreams. (Apparently if you dream that your house has fallen down, your wife will die; and if you have no wife, a member of your household will die....)
The second and smaller room houses newer books, though since the library ceased lending in the 1960s even the "newer" ones are now pretty old. There are treasures here too: Kate Douglas Wiggin's entertaining Penelope's Experiences in Scotland, and H.Rider Haggard's Cleopatra, which opens with a peculiarly grisly discovery.
I could easily have spent the entire day in the library! As it was, I stayed until it closed for lunch and have promised myself that I will go back with a notebook so that I can jot down excerpts from some of the most interesting volumes. It's a fascinating place and most definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Perthshire and love old books as much as I do.

You can visit the library's website here: http://www.innerpeffraylibrary.co.uk/ and follow the library on Twitter at @Innerpeffray.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Upcoming signing event

On Saturday 6th August I shall be signing copies of my latest book Wish Me Dead at Waterstone's in Perth (that's Perth in Scotland, not Perth in Australia...much to my daughter's disappointment, as she's mad about platypuses and there aren't any in Perth and Kinross). I'll be there from 12 until 2pm and I'd love to see you if you're in the area. Come and buy your signed copy, or come and chat, or simply come and tell me you guessed who the murderer was in the first chapter of the last book if you like...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ship of Fools

Here I am again, sitting with my trusty MacBook at our scarred and battered dining table, looking out at a wind-tossed garden. Only this time the garden is in Perthshire and not in Flanders. Yes, gentle reader*, we have survived our international move and are now established in Scotland, land of my husband's fathers even if not mine.
The actual move can best be described with the word "appalling". This time last week I was scheduling meetings with the Flemish tax office to finalise our tax affairs before we left Belgium, and trying to prepare for a year three Dutch exam. I had the exam on Wednesday night and on Thursday the removers arrived. It took a day and a half to pack all our stuff, during which time the cats hid shivering from all the clumping about and the children - well, I'm not sure what they were doing; I was too busy to notice. On the Friday the removers departed and so did hubs; he had to attend a family wedding in Scotland on the Saturday on behalf of us all. For the next three days I camped out in the empty house with two kids, two very stressed-out cats and two hyperactive gerbils (these last two being confined to a travel cage). It would have been a very comfortless experience indeed were it not for the kindness and hospitality of friends who invited us to dinner and let us use their wifi so that we did not feel entirely cut off from civilisation.
On Monday we all got up early to get the cats to the local vet for their tick and worm treatment; this has to be done between 24 and 48 hours before travelling to the UK. If the cats were already in a filthy mood, this experience did not help... Hubs arrived from Scotland during the morning, exhausted after a 4.30am start and brewing a nasty virus of some sort.
At 4.40am on Tuesday morning I got up and went downstairs to check on the animals. We had decided to let the cats spend the night outdoors as they prefer to do in the warmer months. The poor things are supposed to be confined to barracks for three weeks after the move, to ensure that they don't run away in a vain attempt to go "home", so we thought they might as well enjoy one more night on the tiles. Thankfully they turned up on time in the morning. As so often seems to happen, it is the mess-up you don't expect that actually gets you. I opened the door to the spare room, where the gerbils were, and saw something scuttle with lightning speed across the floor tiles. On closer inspection it turned out that the gerbils, who had apparently been quite happy in their travel tank for the previous five days, had chosen the night before we travelled to chew a hole in the side and escape. I captured them both, returned them to the tank and plugged the hole with their water bottle as a temporary measure, but it was clear that they would soon work it free and make their escape again. This was something of a facer since the house was almost empty, leaving little with which to improvise a new carrier, and it was much too early in the day to find an open pet shop. We were due to check in at Dunkirk at 9am. Carrying the gerbils loose or in an insecure carrier was not an option - if they got into the cats' carriers they would be eaten, and worse, if they were loose in the car there was always the chance they might take it into their furry little heads to chew through the brake cables or something. Gerbils are Olympic standard chewers. Eventually I put them both into a bucket full of gerbil bedding and put the cage lid on top. It didn't fit so it had to be weighted down with a book. They travelled all the way from Tervuren to Perthshire in it. I am still amazed it worked and that they didn't manage to get out. Given a little longer I am sure they would have found a way...
Meanwhile hubs was doing a good impression of Death Warmed Up; he slept through the sections which I drove, and whilst he was driving I dared not sleep in case he suddenly keeled over at the wheel or something. This was slightly unnerving since I had only driven once in the UK since 2001, and that was a short distance between two villages in Devon last November. Thankfully most of it was motorway so I didn't have to remind myself which way the Brits go round roundabouts.
The entire trip from door to door took 17 hours. When we were planning the move, the time of year was not a consideration which entered my head, but I am grateful we did it in June because it was light the entire way. I should not have cared to weave my way along the last of those endless roads in darkness.
The children coped with the journey fairly well thanks to the Miracle of iPod Touch. We blew all our birthday iPod vouchers downloading films and TV shows; when the iPods ran out of charge I recharged them from my MacBook, and thus we managed to limp through the entire 17 hours without ever running out of media.
Needless to say, the two cats utterly hated the journey. They refused food and spent most of the time yowling dismally. I wish I could have explained to them that we had chosen the route that we thought would be least awful for them; if we had taken the overnight ferry from Belgium or Holland they would have had many more hours of confinement, and if we had flown with them - well, shudder, considering how many bags get lost in a year, I didn't want to risk it. We chose a route that meant a lot of hard driving for us but less hours on the road for them. Unfortunately, they had no way of knowing this and were not at all grateful; they howled, tried to claw their way out, and eventually settled down into a plaintive lamenting. The one thing that was a great relief was that the control procedure at Dunkirk was swiftly and sympathetically done, and the lady on duty let us bring the cages inside in case the cats made a break for freedom when the doors were opened.
The gerbils, meanwhile, simply trolled around their bucket, ate grapes (for fluid; you can't attach a water bottle to the inside of a bucket) and slept. They were probably the least affected by the trip of any of us; in fact they probably think they are still in Flanders.
We arrived at the new house late in the evening with no means even to make a cup of tea (no kettle), let the cats out of their cages, switched on the hot water and unrolled our sleeping bags on the floor of one of the bedrooms.
At 9am the following morning the removal men arrived with our furniture and we had another day of heaving boxes around and unpacking, whilst desperately moving the cats from one closed room to another to prevent them escaping through the open front door. That was Wednesday.
I spent Thursday in bed asleep. In the evening my father-in-law turned up with our BT hub. He looked at the chaos in the house and said, "It looked nice when we visited it before."
Friday and Saturday are a bit of a blur. We went to Perth, which is our nearest big town, and had lunch in Pizza Hut. I was surprised to find no beer or wine on the menu. "Aha," I thought, "We have picked up fancy continental ways." In Flanders even McDonald's serves beer. After that we went to Waterstone's where I looked at e-readers for a bit and thought "Nah."
On Sunday the Grant clan (well, part of it) descended bearing spaghetti bolognese in a Tupperware, wine and chocolates. They mowed our lawn, moved all our heavy furniture about, made dinner and took the kids out geocaching. Having lived abroad for 10 years I am not used to having family support...it was lovely. Come again, please.
Today I almost feel human again. I still feel like an expat - I'm English, after all (people keep telling me it must be lovely to be "back" but I have never actually lived in Scotland before!). I don't know anyone apart from my family and a few nice people at the new school - but the local library already feels familiar and welcoming. There is a lot of work to be done on the house but it is starting to look a little bit like home...

* Not sure where that came from. Too many Victorian novels perhaps...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

You take the high road...

In nine days we are moving to Scotland.
I am sitting here at my desk in our house in Flanders, looking out at cloudy Flemish skies and next door's fruit tree swaying in the wind and the patio covered in the kids' chalk drawings, and finding the idea almost impossible to believe. I think part of the problem is that we have a very full and varied (not to say complicated) life here: the Scouts, the Guides, the swimming club, Dutch lessons. In Scotland we have a house that I have seen twice and hubs has only seen once from the outside, we have school places and a car, but it doesn't feel as though we have a life there yet.
The other thing is, we're not ready. Hubs has spent days, weeks, tidying up the garden and renovating our rental house here in the hopes of avoiding punitive charges when we leave. I've thrown out what seems like a hundred brown big bags full of things we no longer need, or don't need enough to make it worthwhile taking them to another country. I've given things away, sold things. Still the house is a mess although I know that by Thursday morning it has to be clean and tidy, everything ordered and ready to be boxed away and loaded into the removal van. Vast amounts of work lie between now (Sunday) and then (Thursday) and although I would rather crawl back under the duvet with a good book, there is no time left for procrastination. I shouldn't even be blogging; I should be stacking the school books we have agreed to donate to a friend, and cooking some of the stuff left in the freezer so it doesn't have to be thrown out on Wednesday night.
Although we are not travelling to Scotland ourselves for another nine days, we have already said many of our goodbyes. The coming week is half term, so this week we had the last ever Scout meeting, the last ever Guide meeting, the last riding lesson, the last day at school. (The last Dutch lesson, alas, is the night before the removal men come, and I am sitting the 3rd year exam that night whilst trying not to worry about the work that still needs to be done at home.)
Driving home from the school on Friday with the boot stuffed with text books, art projects, lunchbags, etc. I imagined the first day back at school after the holidays. My daughter's class will all be there at their desks, everything will go along as normal, except that she won't be there. Ditto my son. Guides will restart and my daughter won't be there. The swimming club will meet and all the "white caps" will be there ploughing up and down the lanes but my son won't be among them. It all feels rather scary, as though we are dying. We're closing down our life here and the new one is unknown country.
I think a lot about the day we left the UK, back in 2001. We have a photograph of the four of us which my father took just as we were about to get into the car to go to the airport, to fly to Germany. Hubs looks younger, I look scruffier (the kids were tiny then and personal presentation was not top of my to-do list). Our daughter is a toddler clutching a stuffed animal, our son is a placid-looking baby waving plump fists in the air. We had one-way tickets to Köln. Now, ten years later, we have the return tickets. It is a very strange feeling.

Friday, May 27, 2011

How I nearly missed my own launch party...

Here are some great pics from the launch party for Wish me dead at Treasure Trove Books in Tervuren (Belgium) - thanks to Treasure Trove for taking them. I was thrilled to celebrate at Treasure Trove Books - and also a little relieved to have made it to the bookshop on time. Earlier in the week things were looking a little dubious as ash from the new volcanic eruption started to affect flights in the north of Britain - first I was worried that I wouldn't make it to the Leeds Book Awards, and then I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get home again! At one point not only had Edinburgh airport closed but Carlisle was apparently also closing - it felt as though the ashes were closing in and I was starting to wonder how I was going to get back to Brussels in time. Perhaps I have an overactive imagination (OK, forget the "perhaps") but I was envisioning some sort of Planes, Trains and Automobiles scenario in which I would have to make my way to Dover and blag my way onto a ferry... Luckily by Wednesday evening all flights were running normally and there was no delay at all.
On Thursday however, I ran into a slight logistical problem. Small son had a swimming gala 8km in the other direction from the bookshop and at the same time as the launch party. For the last few weeks we have had two cars, one Belgian one which we have been using for the last two years, and one British one which we bought recently for our move to Scotland. In a fit of efficiency, hubs chose Thursday morning to take the Belgian car to the local dealer to see if he could sell it on for us when we leave. Yes, came the reply, so hubs left the car there. This meant that we only had one car but half of us needed to be in Overijse and the other half in Tervuren at the same time. No problem, I thought, I'll take the 18.38 bus.
I had not reckoned with being utterly unable to find my reading glasses. 18.38 came and went, and I was still turning the house upside down and howling curses. I was beginning to wonder whether in my tired and weary state the night before I had left the glasses on the plane. Finally I found them on the bookcase behind hubs' desk. I have no idea what they were doing there, nor any memory of putting them there. Daughter and I sprinted for the bus stop, but the next bus was at 19.08 and it was late.
We finally arrived in Tervuren at 19.22 and ran for the bookshop, arriving pretty much simultaneously with the first guests. Phew! It is not ideal turning up for your own book event red-faced and looking as though you have been dragged through a hedge backwards. Luckily Jane and the team at Treasure Trove were reassuringly calm (as ever) and by the time things really got underway I probably looked as though I had sauntered in at 19.00 and put my feet up.
The turn-out for the party was excellent - all but two copies of Wish me dead were sold and some of my other books too. It was fabulous to see so many friends there - we aren't having an official leaving bash because if we try and organise one more thing one of us will probably have some sort of nervous breakdown , so it was a chance to say goodbye to some good friends, including Martina and Sabine, Bettina, Emma and Catherine, Val... Thanks, everyone, for coming! I was also very touched that two Flemish speaking ladies attended (dank u Birgit!) - it's a testament to the fabulous language skills of so many Flemish people that they are happy to attend an English language book event and take the books home to read too!
I talked a bit about Wish me dead and my other books, and read three chapters, and after some questions I was able to let my own hair down a bit and enjoy some of the sparkling wine. The Treasure Trove team very kindly presented me with some gorgeous chocolates and a beautiful album to put my photos in. It was altogether a wonderful evening.
This morning, however, it was back down to earth with a bump: the school had organised an eco-transport day so we were all supposed to cycle to school. If you ever think of cycling 8km at 7.15am in the morning after a launch party, my advice to you is: don't...

In which I haunt two schools in Leeds....

This week two schools in the Leeds area were haunted by a strange apparition....the figure of an author carrying a stack of out-of-print books, a carved wooden cat, a pair of binoculars and a piece of paper with the words "Remember the well between four yew trees" written on it in red ink. Actually by the end of the week I probably will be half-dead, on account of rushing about all over the place as well as trying to plan for an international move - but that's another story.
Following the fabulous Leeds Book Awards (see previous post) I went to Morley Academy and Benton Park School to run workshops in ghost story writing.
Ghost stories lie very close to my heart. Long before I had my first novel published in 2009, I was penning supernatural tales, nearly all of which were published by small press magazines and anthologies (you can read one of them, The Sea Change, elsewhere on my website). Nowadays I write novels which are often categorised as "crime" or "thrillers", but I feel I learnt a huge amount from both reading and writing spooky stories. Ghost stories, as I was telling the pupils at the two schools, are (obviously) about ghosts, and not about serial killers, sparkly vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. As such they represent a challenge to the writer, since you are trying to make the reader's flesh creep rather than make them want to throw up in a bucket. It's fairly easy to gross someone out by filling a story with graphic dismemberment and gallons of blood; it's harder to make them so uneasy that they are afraid to put the light out at bedtime. So ghost story writing is a great way to hone your literary skills.
We spent some of the workshop talking about the structure of ghost stories and then did some group exercises about style; the final exercise was for the students to split up into small groups and produce their own outline for a ghost story plus, time permitting, the first sentence or two. I'd like to showcase some of the results at the end of this blog post. These are the story openings created by the pupils at Morley Academy. (Hopefully I will be able to post some of the work by Benton Park later.) I was amazed at what they achieved in a relatively short time (only about fifteen minutes) - especially the group who spent the first five talking about the Apprentice (you know who you are, boys! ;-) ). Each of the groups was given a "prop" from a classic ghost story - the aim was not for the group to recreate the original story, but to use the prop to inspire their own story. As well as the carved wooden cat, the binoculars and the note about the yew trees, I also gave out an opened padlock, a postcard from Stresa addressed to Miss J.Strangeways and a wooden doll's house doll. Can anyone correctly identify all the stories? If you can, I'll gladly send you a signed copy of my story The Red House at Münstereifel, presented in chapbook form by Swan River Press. In the event of a rush of correct replies, the first correct answer gets the booklet! (NB A clue: don't forget I am an absolute fiend for the stories of M.R.James....)
Anyway, here are the opening lines produced by Morley Academy.

The binoculars (by Chris and Ryan)
A mere boy sat atop a hill, his eyes sore and his mouth dry, his binoculars pressed hard against his eye sockets. In the distance, there came an army of something not of this world, as though death had sent his pawns out to capture the lives of all which is good, and as they marched in perfect lines, they vanished...

The carved cat (by Sophie and Chloe)
I thought he loved me. I told him, I told him on the night that he left me that I would die without him. He was my life.
After one year of being with me, I thought I meant something to him. On the worst night of my life - when he left - I told him that I would die without. He was my life.

The postcard from Stresa (by Charlie and Charlotte)
It was the first and the last time I had ever been climbing with the Strangeways. Regret consumed me the moment I left him...

The well between four yew trees (by Tonicha and Tom)
In the woods on the outskirts of the village, local legend told that a well would provide salvation for lost travellers. This well was positioned among four yew trees, and the lost traveller would find it when they needed it most.

The wooden doll (by Tom B, Tom S, Ben and Jack)
Every day I come home and find more is written upon the wall. One day I came home not to find it on the doll's house wall but my bedroom wall. The feeling of being watched disturbs me. I see the doll and it looks at me, a sign of menace in its eyes. In the dead of night it will come for me...

I was thrilled by these opening sentences. Great work - I'd love to see a finished story if anyone has time!

Leeds Book Awards 2011

I'm finally back at my desk after a very hectic few days! On Tuesday I flew over to the UK for the Leeds Book Awards ceremony - The Glass Demon was shortlisted. The 14-16 age group prize was carried off by L.Weatherly's Angel but it was still a great thrill to be at the ceremony and to meet so many young readers as well as friendly librarians and wonderful authors. All the shortlisters received a beautiful memento (pictured). I thought this was a lovely gesture - much nicer than going home empty-handed! Truth to tell (lowers voice to whisper) I like this etched crystal better than the actual award trophy!! I shall treasure it (and attempt to keep it out of my kids' hands....).
You can see some super photographs of the day on Candy Gourlay's blog here:
The ceremony was compered by Paul Sleem, whose energy and good humour soon had the audience whipped into a frenzy! As we authors were standing outside waiting to be introduced we could hear yells and cheers from inside - it was so loud that I commented to one of the others that I felt a bit like a Christian about to be fed to the lions! It's a great tribute to "MC Paul" that he roused so much enthusiasm for books and reading. It was a really brilliant event.
After the awards ceremony I stayed the night in Leeds and on Wednesday I visited Morley Academy and Benton Park School, before flying home to Brussels to get myself organised for the launch party for Wish me dead on Thursday night.
It seemed slightly insane to take on so many events this week when the removal men are coming next Thursday to pack up our things and move us to Scotland! Still, it was nice to have a couple of days away from the endless packing, planning and bureaucracy. And whilst I was in Leeds I managed to have black pudding salad for lunch, which was a first...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wish Me Dead lands in store!

I was thrilled to log into Facebook today and find this lovely photo on Treasure Trove Books' wall. It's a pic of my new book Wish me dead, out in the UK at the beginning of June. Treasure Trove are hosting a launch event for the book on Thursday 26th May, a few days ahead of the launch, so their local friendly Penguin rep kindly ensured that stock was available in time. The party couldn't be any later because on 2nd June the removers arrive to pack up our things and move us to Scotland! My head is rather full of registering and de-registering utilities, getting the cats' paperwork in order, packing things etc so it will be great to have an evening talking and thinking about books instead. Everyone is welcome, so if you are based in Belgium do come along to Treasure Trove (Brusselsesteenweg, Tervuren, near the no. 44 tram stop) at 7.30pm for a glass of wine and a chat!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

NEW! Book trailer for WISH ME DEAD!

I'm thrilled to unveil the book trailer for my third novel Wish me dead, which is being published next month by Penguin Books UK.

You can see it here:

I'll also be posting some behind-the-scenes photos on this blog very soon - hopefully some comments from the cast too! Big thanks to Lumiere Productions for making this the best trailer yet!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Launch event!

I'm delighted to announce that I will be having a launch event for my 3rd novel "Wish me dead" on Thursday May 26th at 7.30pm, at Treasure Trove Books in Tervuren (near Brussels)! If you're based in Belgium, come and have a glass of wine, listen to me reading excerpts from the book and buy a signed copy.

This is probably going to be my last event in Belgium for a while as I and my family are moving to Scotland in early June - so please do come!

If you live in Belgium but haven't visited Treasure Trove before, you can find the address, phone number and a map on their shop website, here:

Everyone is welcome!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

De Groene Waterman 23/4/11

Vandaag had ik een geweldige tijd bij de Groene Waterman boekhandel in Antwerpen. Rebecca Benoot stelde me voor en interviewde me over mijn romans. Ik lees ook het eerste kapittel van mijn nieuwe roman De Glasduivel.
Een grote dank aan iedereen die aanwezig was, en Rebecca voor het organiseren van het evenement!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Memento mori

I just spent two days in Paris with my friend the Professor, visiting the catacombs and the sewers as part of the research for my next novels. If you'd like to see a short video of my visit to the catacombs, you can see it on my YouTube channel, here: http://www.youtube.com/user/helengrantsays
I decided to go around the catacombs because I was going to Paris anyway to tour the sewers, and thought this would be an interesting additional visit. My children begged to be allowed to come too, but on the whole I am glad they didn't. I didn't find the ossuary, with its (literally) millions of bones, particularly frightening - although I wouldn't fancy being down there all alone - but it was very affecting. The sheer quantity of Death is overwhelming. I read that six million Parisians are buried there.
The Paris catacombs are very deep underground. In Brussels, the sewers are usually the deepest underground tunnels, running underneath and alongside the Metro. In Paris, the sewers are at a relatively shallow depth, with the Metro below and the catacombs far below that, approximately 20 metres down. The tunnels and chambers which now comprise the catacombs were mostly the result of mining for gypsum and limestone. Around the end of the 18th Century, many of the cemeteries in Paris had to be emptied on health grounds, as they were full to saturation point. The bones were stacked in the catacombs, in neat piles often incorporating patterns using skulls and leg bones. There are stone plaques explaining which stacks of bones came from which cemeteries.
To reach the catacombs, you have to descend a circular stone staircase. There are 130 steps; it takes a while to get to the bottom. You then follow a series of tunnels which lead you to two chambers containing elaborate architectural carvings. There is also a circular staircase (visible but not accessible) leading to an underlit well. Shortly after that you reach an antechamber containing the entrance to the ossuary. Over the door is carved the splendidly morbid legend: Arretez! C'est ici l'empire de la mort. (Stop! This is the Empire of Death.)
Pass through this entrance and you find yourself in the first of a series of rooms piled high with bones. The bones on view are mostly femurs, end on, and skulls; I suppose the smaller bones are stacked somewhere behind these, out of view.
I have seen skeletons, and indeed mummies, many times before in museums, but there is something uniquely and gloomily impressive about the bones in the Paris catacombs. The sheer quantity of them somehow shocked me. This was entirely illogical considering that we all know that millions have gone before us and are now mouldering quietly in the earth. Still, there is a difference between knowing that and actually seeing it. We are all aware of death, and yet in a year we might hear of the deaths of one or two people we know. Considering how many people must die every day, I don't even see hearses particularly often. All of this seems to give Death a comfortable sense of distance. It is a shock, therefore, to walk into the catacombs and be confronted with the sheer scale of our mortality. And these were just the bones of the inhabitants of one city, for a period of a few hundred years! Every one of those skulls had a story of his or her own; every one of those leg bones was once helping to carry its owner about. I am sorry if this sounds unnecessarily morbid, but the fact of the matter is, I went to the catacombs expecting a slightly gruesome thrill, and instead found myself saddened and moved by it.
I think the Professor and I spent longer than the expected 45 minutes underground, deciphering the melancholy inscriptions in French and Latin. We didn't touch any of the bones; people evidently had, as some of the skulls are smooth and shiny, but I didn't like to. I was glad to have visited the catacombs, but all the same it was a relief when we had climbed the stairs back up to the street level and found ourselves outside in the spring sunshine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Glass Demon, US book trailer

The US version of The Glass Demon is being published in June by Delacorte Press - here's the book trailer!
You can see more videos on my YouTube channel, here:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interview in Antwerpen

Ik zal geïnterviewd worden!
Op zaterdag 23 april zal ik bij De Groene Waterman
boekhandel in Antwerpen (Wolstraat 7) zijn. Ik zal geïnterviewd worden en zal ook uit mijn boeken lezen.
Het interview en lezing zullen in het Engels, maar het is ook mogelijk een Nederlandse vertaling van mijn boeken te kopen.

Lesung in Bad Münstereifel

Die Lesung am Freitag 15.4 im Erft Cafe Bad Münstereifel wird verschoben. Jetzt findet sie am Freitag 29.4 um 18.00 statt.

Ich lese aus meinem neuen Buch Blutige Scherben (The Glass Demon).

Sporrans and sewers

I realised with a guilty start that it has been ages since I last blogged...February, I think. Things have been somewhat hectic around here recently, as this summer we are moving from our current home in Flanders to Scotland. By the time we actually move, we will have been living outside the UK for exactly 10 years, so I am viewing the move with a mixture of interest and trepidation. At the moment, trepidation is winning, as there seems to be an interminable list of things we have to do, such as working out how to transport our cats (and gerbils) to Scotland, selling our car, renovating our rental house in Belgium, etc. As a result, not very much actual WRITING is happening at the moment.
I have however been doing some research for my next couple of books. I'd like to set the next couple of books in Flanders, so I need to do all my local investigations whilst we are still here; there is a lot you can do on the internet but nothing beats seeing stuff with your own eyes. Also, since most of the research involves poking around creepy locations, it's fun and takes my mind off the move for a bit. People often ask authors where they get their ideas. I get a lot of mine from visiting atmospheric places; I like to prowl around a cemetery or a ruined castle or an ancient church and see what suggests itself.
Just recently I decided to spend a morning visiting exactly the sort of place I find most inspirational: somewhere dark, dank and creepy. (It was also a bit smelly, but I didn't find that particularly inspirational...) I took the tram to Anderlecht and went down the Brussels sewers. Anderlecht is one of those areas that looks as though it was probably very affluent about a century ago. There are lots of grand old buildings that now look extremely tatty.
When I got to the tram stop for the sewers museum, I had some difficult in finding it. The intersection where it was supposedly located was not the sort of place where you want to stand about looking lost, so I decided to make a quick circuit of it and hope to stumble on the museum. It turned out to be one of two classical-looking buildings which faced each other across the busy road. When I went inside, the man who sold tickets told me in French that you go into one building, along the sewers and up into the other building. "At least," he added, "I hope so."
There were no other visitors at all, although apparently they do guided tours some days of the week. I had a look at the exhibition, which was quite interesting in a chilling sort of way. Apparently the section of metro which runs through the area around the Bourse in Brussels has a big sewer underneath it, but there are also overflow chambers at the sides which allow flood water to go into another sewer above the metro tunnel. So in theory you can be zooming along in your tube train completely surrounded by water. Somehow, I did not find this thought comforting.
After looking at the exhibition you can go down into the actual sewers. I made a short video of this. If you are interested in - er - sewerage - you can see it here:
The thing I particularly noticed was the noise. You can hear all sorts of strange booms and rumbles (probably trams and traffic overhead) and trickling noises. On the whole I was quite glad to get out again at the other end!
Next week I am planning to go to Paris with a friend to visit the Paris sewers and the catacombs. I'm not thinking of setting a book there, but I feel that the more I see of sewers the better; you can only visit about 100m of the Brussels ones. The catacombs are just for fun - but you never know, something may suggest itself!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bad Münstereifel - new video

I've just uploaded a new video about Bad Münstereifel to my YouTube channel. You can see it here:

People sometimes seem surprised to learn that Bad Münstereifel is a real town. In fact, all the locations in The Vanishing of Katharina Linden are real ones - the primary school, the red town hall, the ruined castle on the Quecken hill, etc. I visit Bad Münstereifel fairly often so I thought it would be fun to film a walking tour of some of these locations.

My second book, The Glass Demon, is also set in the Eifel, but I deliberately created fictional place names for the castle and the local towns. This is because many castles in the Eifel are still in private hands, and I didn't want the castle to be identified with anyone's real-life home. The castle in the book is an amalgam of several different castles and locations.

However, my third book, Wish me dead, which is being published in the UK by Penguin Books in June 2011, is once again set in Bad Münstereifel itself. The heroine of the story - Steffi Nett - is the daughter of a baker, and the bakery is part of the backdrop of the novel. For this reason, the video tour of the town also makes a stop at the Erft Cafe, my favourite bakery and cafe in Bad Münstereifel. Herr Nipp, the baker, was kind enough to help with the research for the book, as was Frau Quasten of the Bäckerei Cafe Quasten in Kommern.

I hope you'll enjoy the video!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The things I do for literature...

Yesterday I had an adventure. I wasn't planning to have one.
I was spending a second morning working on my fourth novel (working title: Silent Saturday). The very first scene is set in the belltower of a Flemish village church and I had spent the previous day setting the scene and getting the hero and heroine into the belltower. It was only when I booted up my MacBook on Tuesday morning that I started to question what I had written the day before. I had envisaged the pair of them climbing a stone spiral staircase straight up to the belltower from the vestibule of the church. But now I started to wonder whether that was realistic or not. Do churches still have bellropes hanging down, and would these be in the vestibule too? I hadn't mentioned them. And would the staircase go straight up to the bells or would there be a landing with access to the organ loft? Come to that, how many bells would there be up there? One? Four? Forty-six? (A quick check on the Internet showed that some Belgian churches do have more than forty bells, if they have a carillon.) Eventually I decided that there was nothing for it. I would walk up to the church in my village and have a look. I wasn't very hopeful of getting into the church at 9.30am on a filthy wet Tuesday morning, and I definitely didn't think the tower would be open, but I might be able to answer the question about the bellropes, and I certainly wasn't getting anywhere entering klokken + kerk into Google.
So I walked up to the church, which is partly romanesque and partly Gothic. To my relief it turned out to be open, though deserted. No sign of any bellropes, although there was a circular hole in the ceiling of the vestibule that had been filled in. To my surprise the door leading to the staircase up to the organ loft was unlocked, so I was able to go up. No stone stairs, and no spiral, either; there were several flights of fairly modern-looking wooden stairs turning a corner at right-angles. I was able to get into the organ loft, but it seemed there was no way of getting into the belfry at all, so no way of seeing how many bells there were.
On the way home, I decided on impulse to nip into the newsagent's shop in the village and question the friendly local man who runs it. He said he didn't go to mass at that church so he couldn't tell me much about it, but he thought the bells were controlled automatically nowadays. "The priest sends a GSM," he told me.
I went home, sat down again, and wondered whether to change the stone stairs in the story to wooden ones, and have a door leading to the organ loft halfway up them. It didn't seem a very satisfactory arrangement, and not half as creepy as the original setting. After playing about with a few ideas and deleting more than I had added, I finally decided that I would have to visit another church. The one in the story is supposed to be romanesque, as it happens there is a very pretty romanesque church in one of the villages in this area. If I could only see what the arrangements were in the belltower, they would be perfect for the fictional church. This time I had to take the car.
I parked in a side street and took a path across the churchyard. The church door was open but once again there was not a soul in sight. I went inside. There were no access doors to the upper areas at all in the vestibule, but there was one each at the back of the nave. One of them was obviously modern; the other looked much older, and had been blocked off with chairs. Both of them had locks. Somewhat pessimistically, I tried the newer door; it opened. Inside was a room crammed with various bits of furniture and what appeared to be the priest's bicycle. There was a flight of stairs running up to the organ loft. I went up but there was clearly no access to the belltower.
Back in the nave, I picked up the information sheet about the church, but although it gave plenty of details about the history of the church etc it said nothing about the bells. There was, however, a plan of the church showing the two doorways at either side of the nave. The one I had already tried led onto a square room (the one with the bicycle in it) and the other one apparently gave onto a spiral staircase.
I decided to try the older door. It didn't look promising; there was a piece of wood nailed to the door which suggested that it had been somehow barricaded shut, and there was a new-looking lock. All the same, I thought I might as well try the handle. I pushed, and the door opened. Behind it was a very narrow, very worn and extremely dark stone spiral staircase.
My Flemish is reasonably good by now and I was pretty sure I hadn't overlooked any signs saying "keep out" or "no access to the belltower" but on the other hand, the door was shut and there were chairs lined up in front of it. I had visions of some angry churchwarden turning up and berating me in Flemish, and me lamely telling him I was doing research for a book. Still, I had already answered one of my questions, which was that it was possible to have the access to the organ loft on one side of the church and have a separate staircase on the other leading specifically to the belfry. It was a simply irresistible opportunity to find out exactly what was up there. In I went.
The stone stairs were extremely worn, with great dips in the middle, and the staircase itself was not much wider than a shoulders' width. There wasn't any handrail either (Health and
Safety not existing in the Middle Ages) and it was so dark I couldn't see where I was putting my feet. I fumbled my way up the stairs. I was surprised to realise that I was actually frightened. My heart was thumping and I had an unpleasant tingling feeling in my stomach. Partly I was afraid someone would turn up and start shouting at me for being somewhere I shouldn't be, but it was also extremely unpleasant being in such a dark narrow space, not knowing where the stairs led or how far up they went.
Eventually I came to the top and found myself in a square room with stone walls and a wooden floor. No sight of the bells yet; instead there was a rickety-looking wooden staircase leading up to the next floor. In for a penny, in for a pound; up I went, now feeling very nervous, and trying to ignore the clumps of dirt and cobwebs all over the stairs and the handrail.
The next floor up proved to be the height of the church clock. I found myself in a square room with windows on three sides. It was extremely cold because the windows were louvred, not glazed, and the wind was howling through them. With the open space leading to the floor below, and a further open space above me leading to the next floor, it all felt horribly unstable. It was much as I imagine it would be perched in the crow's nest of a sailing ship; the wind and the impression of empty space all around were so strong that I felt as though I would be blown away. The room was also an unpleasant mess of thickly-encrusted birds' droppings, which didn't make me feel any better about being there; there are all sorts of nasties you can catch from contact with those, and here they were so thick that you couldn't touch anything without coming into contact with them. I had a look at the ladder up to the next floor, but it shifted when I touched it, and I dared not go up it. However, by standing at the bottom of it and putting my head back I could see up through the next levels, through a nest of wooden beams, to the church bell itself. That was another question answered: there was a single bell, green with age.
I turned to go back down, and then I had a real twinge of vertigo. The wooden stairs looked much more open, much less robust than they had when I climbed up. Reluctantly I had to hang onto the filthy handrail all the way down, promising myself that I would scrub my hands and wrists as soon as I got home (mental note to self: don't bite your nails on the way back). I went back down the stone staircase, very carefully closed the door at the bottom, replaced the chairs and went outside.
As I walked back to my car I realised that my legs were actually aching, not with exertion but with tension. Why was I so scared? I'm still not sure. I didn't want to get in trouble with anyone, certainly, but I hadn't seen a soul. I think perhaps it was the coldness and filth in the belfry. It was a very desolate place. I'm glad I got the information I had set out to get, but I'm not sure I'd go up there again.

Katharina Linden wins an "Alex"!

I'm very pleased to report that The Vanishing of Katharina Linden has won an ALA Alex Award!

The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The Alex Awards were first given annually beginning in 1998 and became an official ALA award in 2002.