Saturday, May 31, 2014

DEMONS: coming soon to a rooftop near you!

I can't quite believe it myself, but in a few days' time my new thriller Demons of Ghent is coming out! It's the second book in my Forbidden Spaces trilogy, all about UrbEx and murder in Flanders, and the follow-up to Silent Saturday, published in 2013.

Demons of Ghent sees Veerle De Keyser trying to settle into a new life in the city of Ghent after the traumatic events of Silent Saturday. Her biggest challenges seem to be fending off well-intentioned questions from her new classmates and the fact that her boyfriend Kris Verstraeten has suddenly stopped taking her calls. Then unexpectedly she sees a face in the crowd - a face intimately connected  with the horrific events of the previous summer. As mysterious and violent deaths occur in the ancient city and rumours abound of demons on the Ghent rooftops, can it be that Veerle's past is catching up with her?


Demons of Ghent is out on Thursday 5th June. You can preorder it from Random House - or to see if it's for you, read a free sample online by clicking on Open the book


Meanwhile there are lots of super launch activities and events coming up! There's a blog tour for the book's launch - all the dates and participating sites are listed on the banner at the top of this post. I'm thrilled to say that the book has also been featured on the Choose YA site as part of Jim Dean's Countdown to 5th June campaign - you can read a great interview if you click on that link. 

The very first review of Demons of Ghent has been posted by the Bookwitch and you can read that here: The Demons of Ghent review by Bookwitch. I'm thrilled to say that she described it as "that strange thing, the perfect book...heart-stoppingly scary."


There are going to be TWO sets of launch events - one here in Scotland, where I now live, and one in Flanders, where the book is set. If you're near either of those, I do hope you'll come along and say hello! 


On Wednesday 11th June I'll be appearing at Blackwell's Bookshop in Edinburgh (53-62 South Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1YS) from 6pm. There will be wine at this event! Also, excitingly, I am going to be interviewed by fellow author Susy McPhee (Husbands & Lies, The Runaway Wife, Back To You). As anyone who has met Susy will know, she is great fun so this is sure to be a sparkling event! 

This event is ticketed, but tickets are FREE. Tickets are available from the front desk at Blackwell’s Bookshop or by phoning 0131 622 8218

For more information on this and other Blackwell's Edinburgh events or if you would like to order a signed copy please contact Ann Landmann on 0131 622 8222 or


My hero and heroine Kris and Veerle are from Flanders, so where better to launch the book than Belgium? As the summer holidays are going to be upon us pretty soon and a lot of people will be away, I'm going to come over to Belgium in September. 

The plan is that I will be at:

Waterstone's Brussels (Boulevard Adolphe Max 71, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium, tel.  +32 2 219 27 08) on Saturday 6th September at 6pm 
Treasure Trove Books (Brusselsesteenweg 7, 3080 Tervuren, Belgium, tel. +32 2 767 74 76) on Sunday 7th September from 12 noon. 

I'm also hoping to visit Ghent so if any official events are booked there, I will post details in due course! 

Above: a previous visit to Ghent - the church is the background is the Sint-Niklaaskerk, which features in Demons of Ghent, as do many other Ghent landmarks!

If you're able to come to any of my events, please do - I love to answer questions and I'm always happy to chat! If Edinburgh and Flanders are too far away, I'd be thrilled if you'd follow my blog tour, which starts on Monday!

Perth Scribblers Anthology takes off!

This week I was delighted to be at a very well-attended book launch - not my own (hopefully that's next week) but that of the Perth Scribblers' first ever Anthology. Those are the Scribblers there, in the photo on the left. They are the "graduates", so to speak, of member Emma Hamilton's Creative Writing class at Perth College UHI.

I met the Perth Scribblers writing group because I offer an evening class locally: "Getting your book published." I didn't have a hand in the Scribblers' publication of their Anthology, which was already in hand, but I was glad to share all the things that I really wish I had known when I was first submitting my precious manuscript to literary agents - plus a lot more about the process of getting a book from concept to finished copies, and how to help promote it afterwards (health warning: Twitter will EAT YOUR LIFE).

Anyway, the Scribblers were kind enough to invite me to their launch party at Perth College and I was thrilled to attend as a guest speaker and interested audience member. They had multicoloured balloons, soft drinks and wine, music, lights, and a compère. I was envious! The evening kicked off with a short speech by Principal Margaret Munckton, followed by some words from Emma and myself, and then we listened to the Scribblers reading excerpts of their work.

As my evening course is about the nuts and bolts of submitting work, refining it and then promoting it afterwards, I hadn't actually heard or read so much as a single word of any of the Scribblers' work before. I am delighted to say that all the "turns" that evening were well-written, engaging, touching and often very funny. They included Island Hopping, Shaun Bartlett's description of a night spent camping on a traffic roundabout(!!), Carol Page's Mushrooms, which began in a deceptively contemplative manner and took a very unexpected turn, and Lorraine Callaghan's tour de force, George's Coffee, which I am not going to describe because it would be a huge shame to offer any spoilers. I thoroughly recommend the Anthology and I hope to see more of Perth Scribblers' work.

If you would like to buy a copy of the Anthology, it is available from Perth College library and AK Bell library at a cost of £5.00


If you are based near Perth (NB Scotland, not Australia, for my international blog readers!) and would be interested in finding out more about Creative Writing classes at the college, tutor Emma Hamilton has kindly provided the following information:

"Introduction to Creative Writing

Having been employed as an English and Communication lecturer at Perth College since 2003, I first delivered an evening class in Creative Writing in September 2012. This led to the creation of Perth Scribblers, a Perth College writing group which published their first anthology of writing in May 2014.

The Introduction to Creative Writing classes are delivered over a 10-week period on Thursday evenings from 6-8pm. These classes are designed for anyone wishing to begin, improve or simply try their hand at creative writing. The classes, which are fairly informal in nature, take into account the individual goals of participants and are designed to both instruct and encourage new writers. The classes teach techniques for the writing of short fiction – both stories and poems – and there is a weekly ‘homework’ task to allow students to further practise these skills.
Successful completion of the course qualifies interested individuals for membership of Perth Scribblers, who are desperately seeking new members! The group meets twice monthly for mutual encouragement and support which provides a useful forum for discussion, guidance and feedback."

If you are interested in attending any of my (Helen's) future evening courses about getting published/using social media, these will be appearing in the Perth College prospectus; I will post details in due course. Future courses are expected to run at Crieff Learning Centre.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Countdown to 5th June!

This blog post is loooooooong overdue! Mea culpa - I've been far too busy recently watching rubbish shark movies and supporting exam-stressed teens. Anyway - ta daaaaa! Countdown to 5th June!

It's an initiative by blogger Jim Dean, who runs YA Yeah Yeah and YA Contemporary (check them both out if you love YA books and haven't already looked at them). Book bloggers are a major part of spreading the word about new book launches - in fact for those of us authors who don't have a massive marketing machine clanking about after us wherever we go, bloggers are pretty much our ONLY support! So we are always very keen to get our new releases into their hands.

And thus it happened that Jim looked towards the horizon one day and saw an absolute tsunami of YA book launches heading towards him. (It was just like that bit in Deep Impact where Maximilian Schell and Tea Leoni are standing on the beach.) About a trillion books all seemed to be coming out on 5th June.  So, rather than stand there with his mouth hanging open, waiting to be washed off his feet, he decided to organise a task force of bloggers and authors, and create a coordinated programme of online events to tell everyone about all the fabulous new releases. And (she says, in her best Hollywood action movie voice) that programme is COUNTDOWN TO 5TH JUNE.

You can read all about it on the Countdown to 5th June website: every week in the run-up to 5th June different book bloggers talk to authors with an upcoming release. An amazing THIRTY ONE authors are featured. There are videos, interviews, guest posts and all sorts of other things.

I'm delighted to say that my own June 5th release, Demons of Ghent, is being featured. Yesterday the fabulous Lucy of Choose YA posted an interview with me, which you can read here: Countdown to 5th June interview with Helen Grant

Lucy asked me some brilliant questions, such as If you could explore any abandoned or closed area in the world, which would it be and why? and If you could say anything to your teenage self, light-hearted or serious, what would it be? So if you'd like to know the answers to those questions, check out her blog.

You can also follow Countdown to 5th June on Twitter here Countdown to 5th June on Twitter for daily updates on all the blogging activity and new releases.

If you happen to read this post today, 19th May, there is also a Twitter chat this evening at 7.30pm BST with a chance to hear the views of readers who have already been lucky enough to get a preview of some of the new releases, plus authors too. Just use the hashtag #countdownYA to join in the fun!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The FEARLESS blog tour rolls into town!

Today is a first for me, because I am taking part in a blog tour for fellow YA author Emma Pass!
I was recently lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Emma's latest book, The Fearless, which I absolutely loved, so although I'm an author who blogs rather than a book blogger, I was very keen to take part in the tour. And why not, eh? I love to tell readers of my blog all about the things I like, whether it is ancient churches, horror movies or interesting books.

It's also fun to link up with another author. That means that today, instead of getting me all alone with my typewriter at the top of my ivory tower (cough cough), you are getting two of us!
You can imagine us sitting on a battered leather Chesterfield in Castle Grant if you like, sipping whisky under the watchful glass eyes of the stuffed stags' heads on the walls*, and talking about books.

If you haven't seen a copy of The Fearless yet, this is what it is all about:

"The Fearless. An army, powered by an incredible new serum that makes each soldier stronger, sharper, faster than their enemies. Intended as a force for good, the serum has a terrible side effect – anyone who takes it is stripped of all humanity, empathy, love. And as the Fearless sweep through the country, forcing the serum on anyone in their path, society becomes a living nightmare.
Cass remembers the night they passed through her village. Her father was Altered. Her mother died soon after. All Cass has left is her little brother – and when Jori is snatched by the Fearless, Cass must risk everything to get him back."

As The Fearless is all about an end-of-civilisation-as-we-know-it scenario (squee! I love those), Emma (below) kindly agreed to share with me her favourite disaster movies. I've seen four out of the five and now I want to see the fifth one, Tomorrow... Here they are:

My Top 5 Disaster Movies, by Emma Pass

I love me a good disaster movie – I always have, and the scarier the better. Here are my top 5.

Tomorrow When the War Began
Based on John Marsden's hard-hitting and much-celebrated YA series, which was first published in the 1990s, Tomorrow… is about a a small group of teenagers waging a guerilla war on enemy soldiers after hostile foreign forces invade Australia. I loved the books, and the film didn't disappoint either, with tons of dramatic action and a great female heroine, Ellie (played by Caitlin Stasey).

I discovered Threads on YouTube. It was written by Barry Hines of Kes fame, and is one the most frightening films I have ever seen, with its unflinchingly realistic depiction of life after a nuclear attack. My early childhood was lived under the shadow of the Cold War (it ended when I was 11); I remember being told about the Four Minute Warning at school, and being genuinely afraid of the threat of nuclear war. If you want to see something else terrifying, here is a leaflet the UK government issued to all households in the late 1970s telling people what to do if there was a nuclear attack.

Some light relief after Threads! Wall•E, an animated film from Disney, isn't about a disaster, but rather the aftermath of a disaster – humans have polluted Earth to the point where they're unable to live on it any more, and one lonely robot, Wall•E, has been left behind to sort out the mess. But then he falls in love with another robot, Eve, and embarks on an adventure which will determine the fate of human- and robot-kind. I'm not the biggest Disney fan in the world, but even my Myazaki-biased heart couldn't fail to be charmed by Wall•E.

Independence Day
Aliens! Annihilation! Will Smith! Pretty much the perfect combination for a disaster movie.

But my very favourite disaster movie has to be…

28 Days Later
A virus has been unleashed; a virus which turns people into rage-filled maniacs, leading to the UK being quarantined from the rest of the world to prevent it spreading. 28 days later, Jim, a bicycle courier who has been in a coma in a London hospital, awakens to find the world is a very different place to the one he knew before…

If you've never seen 28 Days Later, go and watch it. Go and watch it now. Seriously. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, it is quite simply the most chilling and believable zombiesque disaster movie around. The scenes showing the empty streets of London, or the abandoned M1, remain seared into your memory long after the end credits have rolled. Also, Cillian Murphy. What more do I need to say?!

Above: Cass out of The Fearless: I want her boots. 

* Well, okay, sipping tea out of chipped mugs and warming our hands on the single candle set up on an upturned crate...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Stuff people ask: how do you plan your book?

There are certain questions that writers get asked quite often. Where do you get your ideas? is one. Do you write a set amount every day or just whenever you feel like it? is another. There is also the cheeky How much do you earn? which rates alongside Do you know J.K.Rowling? (Answers to those last two: i) not as much as you'd think; ii) no, sorry.)

One question that interests me quite a lot is How do you plan your book? - because although I know how I plan mine, it's a process that seems to vary widely from author to author. There's no single magic formula (sorry again). I have heard of authors who like to plan everything in minute detail before they start writing a single paragraph, and others who like to plunge straight in without planning anything at all, and see where the story takes them. I canvassed a few opinions amongst author friends, and this is what they had to say about book planning.

Emma Haughton writes thrillers for teenagers and young adults – the first, Now You See Me, was published by Usborne on 1st May 2014.

Emma says: "Once I have most of the chapters in place in the first draft I set up a spreadsheet with all the chapters in the first column, then in the other columns I put a brief description, characters in that chapter, location, date and time. I fill it in gradually as I go. It's just a handy way of checking you've got your timings rights, appropriate weather for that season, and making sure you don't repeat things like location too often.

"Excel is pretty easy to learn. It's also really handy for when you need to shift scenes around or add something in cos it gives you an instant overview of your story
. I love anything that gets me thinking about story in macro terms
. The thing is you don't have to be a planner to use it. I usually don't set up the spreadsheet till I'm into draft 2
"I like filling out the spreadsheet. It's a way of kidding yourself you're writing, like writing out revision notes for an exam.

Rhian Ivory is a writer of MG and YA, and a teacher of Children's lit & Creative writing.

Rhian says: "I do that too (see above) but use post-its and a massive sheet of paper which I stick up on the wall in front of me so I can see it all the time. I am more hands on and like to physically move stuff around and see all the different coloured post-its etc.

Lee Weatherly is the author of the bestselling Angel series, as well as almost 50 other books for children and teenagers. She’s originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, and lives in Hampshire, England with her husband. Her books have been translated into over 10 different languages.

Lee says: "I do LOTS of planning before I start to write. Then lots more planning as I go. Usually this is just notes to myself, rather than a synopsis-with-a-capital-S. And I do notecards at some point. And...that's kind of it. At some point, if I'm lucky, the storyline begins to feel sleek and simple in my head, and then I know I'm on the right track. Or else it feels like Gargantua the Octopus.

"I use notecards the way Rhian uses post-it notes. I use different-coloured ones for different characters/storylines, so that when they're all laid out on the floor I can see the story's spine at a glance."

As for me, well, although I do all my actual writing on my MacBook, I tend to do the planning the old-fashioned way: with paper and pen. I have a notebook that my agent gave me years ago when she first took me on. The notebook is invested with a certain OMG I ACTUALLY HAVE AN AGENT!!! quality; it's my magic book. I jot down ideas in it lest they slip out of my head to be replaced with other people's exam timetables and reminders to pick up cat litter from the Co-op. I also sketch out more detailed book plans in it, sometimes literally - the right-hand page in the photo at the top of this blog post shows a plan of the interior of the church from The Glass Demon. I created that so that I would never get mixed up and have a particular window in one location in one scene and then accidentally put it somewhere else later.

I also like to have a detailed synopsis before I start writing, because on the occasions when I have started work with only a vague idea of how events were going to unfold I have either written myself into a corner and had to rewrite stuff, or had actual continuity errors, the worst being the reappearance of someone who had been killed off earlier! Thankfully I noticed that howler before I showed the first draft to anyone, but it still makes me shudder. A detailed synopsis can also iron out all those annoying issues such as how am I going to get this character to do something as blatantly inadvisable as this? before you actually get to them.

All of us (above) are planners in some shape or form. I can't imagine sitting down and starting to write without some idea of where the story is going. I'd love to hear from other people about how they plan! Are you a Post-It note planner or a notecard user? Is there anyone out there with enough bottle to sit down and start writing with no idea of where it will lead? Have you ever done this, and how did it work out? I'd love to know...