Sunday, July 18, 2021

Folk songs and sinister history

Some time ago, I blogged about a "Jamesian adventure" I had had, researching the history of a rather sinister-sound local folksong centred on the ruined church shown to the left. I'm an absolute sucker for anything like that - I love spooky snippets of local culture!

When I was writing my most recent novel, Too Near The Dead, I couldn't resist putting a local folk song in. My hero and heroine, James and Fen, go to the local pub for an evening of live music. Everything is very jolly until the folk band, who aren't from the town, start playing a song called Lavender Lady. This is what happens:

"People are clapping and singing along, James included. So it’s a surprise when the next song strikes up and there’s a noticeable drop in the sound levels. At first I think they’re all just trying to listen, because this one is a ballad – it’s slower and softer, almost melancholy. I pick out fragments of the words: dark, dark the night... she will come back to you... and something that sounds like she’ll put ye on like a suit of clothes, though perhaps I have misheard that because it doesn’t make any sense. I look from face to face and see that the grins have been wiped right off them. Some look neutral, some downright stony. Nobody likes this song, for some reason. A few heads shake. And Seonaid gives me a sidelong glance. 

It’s a wary glance, the sort of glance you give someone if you know someone else has said something potentially offensive in front of them. In spite of all the empty glasses crowded onto the table top, she’s not so drunk that she doesn’t notice me react. She looks down, quickly, and then away." 


I've been asked a few times by readers whether Lavender Lady is a real song. It isn't - I made it up to suit the story, although I tried to make it sound in keeping with other folk songs. If there is ever a film adaptation of the book (wouldn't that be nice?!), someone might make one up. But as it stands, no, the lavender lady is entirely inside my head. 

Anyway, yesterday evening life imitated art, as my husband and I went to see a real life folk music performance - carefully socially distanced in our local park. (Hat tip Strathearn Arts, who managed to bag us some last minute tickets.) The duo we went to see are called Plaidsong and I know Nicky, the singer, from Culture Perth and Kinross events. 

The second song they performed was actually the song about the "Terrible Parish" of Kinkell, and before they did it, Nicky was kind enough to mention me, as I had told her about its origins (some people think it is about Dunkeld, but it isn't). So that was very nice! And it was absolutely amazing to hear the song performed live. Genuine goosebumps for me! 

NB If you haven't read my previous post about it, the parish of Kinkell actually suffered the disasters mentioned in the song - the minister, Richard Duncan, was hanged in 1682 for infanticide, the precentor drowned in the river, the steeple fell down and the bell was lost. These awful events were memorialised in the song, much as the horrors of the Lavender Lady are remembered in my fictional song. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Launching Too Near The Dead!

Last night saw the online launch event for Too Near The Dead, which appeared on Facebook Live. I was interviewed by the inimitable Lalla Merlin, and also read from chapter one. I've been quite surprised at the reactions to the reading - eg. my oldest friend messaged me afterwards with "omg how horrible!" 😁 I guess because I have written the story, I forget how other people will experience it! 

Anyway, for anyone who wasn't able to attend or who couldn't access the launch for technical reasons, you can watch a recording of it on YouTube, here: book launch on YouTube

The very first review of the book was by the Bookwitch and you can read it on her blog here:

This morning Scot Lit Daily also posted a review on Instagram:

"It’s absolutely no secret that I’m a massive fan of ghost stories (handle gives it away if nothing else) but take a ghost story and make it Scottish and that’s *chef’s kiss* - especially when it’s as gorgeously written and evocative as Too Near The Dead by Helen Grant.

BLURB || For Fen Munro and her fiance James, it is a dream come true: an escape from London to a beautiful house in the stunning Perthshire countryside.

Barr Dubh house is modern, a building with no past at all. But someone walks the grounds, always dressed in lavender. Under a lichenous stone in an abandoned graveyard, a hideous secret lies buried. And at night, Fen is tormented by horrifying dreams. Someone wants Fen's happiness, and nothing is going to stop them - not even death...

REVIEW || Now, I don’t know what the inspiration was behind the book but it immediately brought to mind one of my favourite Scottish hauntings: Ballechin House. Because it has that same haunting on the site of a former already haunted house kind of vibe, which is very much My Thing. I was on board immediately.

What kept me on board was characters that felt so real. I grew to really care what happened to them. I loved the sense of isolation and at times this book truly creeped me out. It’s very Scottish and very gothic and that’s a gorgeous combination for a ghost story if ever there was one.

It had all the tropes I love - small town with a secret, secrets between the main characters, and best of all - THE LIBRARY SCENE - where the main character finds out the story behind their haunt. But it all felt fresh with little expert touches here and there to make it feel brand new.

I loved it. This is a fast paced, easy to sink into book that will be perfect for a rainy Saturday or October evening. I tend to reread my favourite ghost stories over and over again - this one will definitely be getting added to the rota."

It's lovely to get reviews like these. I'm not going to post every single one that comes in, but I wanted to share a little bit of book love today. 💖