Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Urban Legends: thrills and wine at Blackwell's Edinburgh

26th March 2015 sees the publication of the third and final book in my Forbidden Spaces trilogy: Urban Legends.

A group of story-tellers are disappearing one by one. A young woman is haunted by her past. A serial killer has one target he is desperate to hunt down. 
Veerle is trying to lie low, to live as 'normal' a life as she possibly can. But when you've thwarted a serial killer, it's hard to do this. Especially when he wants revenge...

Urban Legends sees the return of the terrifying killer who calls himself De Jager - The Hunter. It also has some of the most atmospheric and thrilling locations of the trilogy. Forbidden Spaces has a theme of urban exploration running through it. In Silent Saturday Veerle and her friend Kris explored opulent villas whose expat owners were away. In Demons of Ghent the action moved up to the high points of an ancient city - the towers, battlements and rooftops. Urban Legends takes us to some of the murkiest, most dangerous urbex locations of all, as Veerle is forced to confront a brutal murderer with a personal vendetta against her, and try to uncover the real truth of what she saw on Silent Saturday ten years ago.

To celebrate the publication of Urban Legends, I'll be at Blackwell's Bookshop in Edinburgh on Tuesday 24th March, talking to fellow author Susy McPhee (Husbands and Lies, The Runaway Wife, Back to You) about the inspiration for the book, the challenges and thrills of researching the real-life locations, and why urban legends are so compelling. There will be wine too, to steady our nerves while contemplating some of my scariest settings and most brutal confrontations ever!

All welcome. This event is ticketed, but tickets are FREE.

Tickets are available from the front desk at Blackwell's Bookshop, by emailing events.edinburgh@blackwell.co.uk or by phoning 0131 622 8218.

Tickets can also be booked on Eventbrite

For more information or if you would like a signed copy of the book, please contact Ann Landmann on 0131 622 8222 or ann.landmann@blackwell.co.uk

Urban Legends: going to all the scariest places...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

What's the last thing you borrowed from the library?

As we're celebrating National Libraries Day this week, I thought it would be fun to ask my Facebook friends and fellow authors: What was the last thing you borrowed from the library? It could be a book (of course), or a DVD or CD. It could be "internet time".

I think there's sometimes a perception that people don't use libraries any more, because of internet access and other resources. I don't agree with that; I blogged earlier today about the way that local libraries have helped me to integrate into the community in every new place I have called home. So I was delighted to hear from so many friends and colleagues that they are actively using libraries, and fascinated to hear what their most recent loans had been.

Here's what they said!

 Emma Pass, author (pictured left): Pea's Book of Best Friends by Susie Day, and the DVD of Schindler's List.

K.A. Laity, academic and author: Double Indemnity DVD to show my students next week. From local library, The Black Count by Tom Reiss about Dumas' father and a 2-in-1 pair of Margaret Millar novels. I'd actually started reading The Black Count from Dundee Central Library, but had to leave before I could finish.

Splendibird, blogger and reviewer for Mountains of InsteadInto Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Not usually a non fiction reader but was up until the wee small hours reading this. Brilliantly compelling.

Savita Kalhan, author: The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price because I wanted to reread it.

Mary Mayfield, blogger: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding - I read it a few months ago so for my Teen this time. The new system at our library allows the librarian to say "You know you've already read this?", as if no one would ever read the same book twice!

 Sally Nicholls, author (pictured left): Um ... the last book I borrowed from the library is a bit more revealing than I think I want to be (nothing rude before you all get excited!).
Last books before that were the Complete Works of Saki and The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker.

Kate Kelly, author: Not counting the books I borrow on behalf of my kids - the last thing I borrowed for me was a book all about the development of Radar during WW2, written by one of the Scientists. Echoes of War by Sir Bernard Lovell.  I had to get them to order it up from another library for me.

Dawn Kurtagich, author: My last one was Just Ask Alice I think!

Bryony Pearce, author: I'm always borrowing new YA from my library - they're really great at getting in anything I ask for, so my library has a well stocked YA section now!

 Roy Gill, author (pictured left): Four different books on the life and work of Alan Turing - research for something I was writing at the time.

Nikki Sheehan, author: Reality Boy. But I go in there to work as well, and Brighton Library does great coffee!

Alex Campbell, author: Just borrowed - Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill. And was also there researching yesterday for Bk3. Love my library.

Sarah Naughton, author: The Inbetweeners 2 and The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas. Both excellent, but at somewhat differing ends of the intellectual spectrum.

Janet Edwards, author: My last thing at the library was the last readers' circle.

Helen Douglas, author: I've just taken out With Your Crooked Heart by Helen Dunmore and The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd.

 Luisa Plaja, author (pictured left): The last book I borrowed was the graphic memoir Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

Zoe Marriott, author: The last thing I borrowed was The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie. Little though most people realise it, I am a huge whodunnit fiend, and have read (and re-read) everything Christie ever wrote, including all the short stories. But if I actually attempted to *own* AG's vast backlist I'd probably need to move myself of my house to make room for them all. So when I feel the need for Poirot or Marple (or any of her other, lesser known sleuths) I head to the library, because there's not a library in Britain that doesn't have a full shelf of her books.

As for me, my last trip to the library was to consult the huge collection of old copies of the Strathearn Herald for Crieff Remembers, a commemoration of the effects of World War One on the town, scheduled to take place in 1917. Because libraries aren't just about books; it's where our history is.

What's the last thing you borrowed from your local library? I'd love to know! 

Why I'm supporting National Libraries Day

Saturday 7th February is National Libraries Day 2015, a day when we celebrate libraries and librarians, and remind everyone of all the things that libraries contribute to the community. 

I'm delighted to be one of the 2015 ambassadors for NLD alongside a host of brilliant authors including Jo Cotterill, indefatigable library campaigner Cathy CassidyCatherine Johnson, and newly-elected VP of CILIP, Dawn Finch.

Libraries offer many things: free access to books and newspapers, advice for readers and researchers, reference collections, internet connection, book events, community focus. 

That last one has been very important to me personally. I've had a library card since the 1970s. Since then I've moved about a lot: first to Oxford to study, and later to Germany and Belgium with my young family. In 2011 we  moved "back" to the UK, except we didn't move to England, where I was born, we moved to Scotland, which I had visited many times but where I had never lived. Each time we moved, one of the first things I did in the new place was to join the library. Each time, being a member of the local library has been one of the things that has helped me integrate into my new home. This is not a vague "soft benefit" as far as I'm concerned. These local libraries have made my and my children's lives happier and better. 

During Book Week Scotland 2014, for which I was also an ambassador, I wrote a love letter to my current local library, Strathearn Community Library. I think it says everything I want to say about why I love libraries, so I'm reposting it here. Please, love your library. 

Dear Strathearn Community Library,

I love you. We’ve known each other for three years now, so it’s about time I made my feelings clear. I think you’re the best ever!
I’m much older than you and over the years I have moved about quite a bit. I’ve lived in England, Germany, Belgium and now Scotland. Every time we’ve moved, one of the first things I’ve done when we’ve been settling into the new place is to join the library. I have a big collection of library cards now, starting with a very old creased cardboard one with my maiden name on it and running through to the latest one, which is yours, and has a barcode on it. I never threw any of them away, just kept them, like old love letters.
When I was a student, I joined the library to borrow textbooks and something to read when I couldn’t afford to buy novels. When we were abroad, I joined so that I could practise my new language skills without investing in a whole new book collection of my own. When we got to Scotland, I wasn’t a student any more and I didn’t need any German or Dutch books either, but joining the local library had become a habit by then. It was a bit like rolling up in a foreign city with all our worldly goods in a van and registering ourselves with the embassy.
When I first visited you, I was dazzled. The libraries I’d been using abroad had tiny collections of English language books; you have thousands. I wanted to take armloads of them home to read. No, not armloads. Truckloads.
After I’d calmed down a bit, I began to notice all the other things you have to offer. You have a great selection of graphic novels, ideal for tempting reluctant readers. You have lots of non-fiction and science books for kids, perfect for enquiring young minds, especially those who aren’t into fiction right now. You have internet access, audio books, magazine subscriptions, DVDs. You have a reading corner for smaller kids, with bean bags and picture books, and one for grown-ups, with comfortable chairs, the newspapers, and a coffee machine. Luxury!
The thing I love most about you, though, is not the modern stuff. It’s the local history section, over in the back corner. Because I’m new to this part of the world, I don’t have a past here. I’m finding out about my new home, just as I would ask a new friend all about their life before we met. You have so much to tell me! Folk stories, curious little snippets of history, amazing ancedotes of past lives.
One of my favourites is the tale of John Steedman, the timorous minister of Auchterarder during the Jacobite rising of 1715, who was too afraid to preach while the Rebel Army were in the neighbourhood. William Reid, the minister of Dunning, who was made of sterner stuff, swapped with him, and for several weeks gave the sermon at Auchterarder armed with a loaded pistol!
I love that story. It makes eighteenth century Perthshire sound like the Wild West!
I found that tale in a very old book. Thank you for keeping books like that safe, so that history stays alive, and we can read about more than just the big national events.
Thank you also for safeguarding a huge collection of issues of the (then) Crieff Herald, dating back to the mid-1800s. I’m using those to research World War One at the moment, but I’ve often looked through them before when trying to find out about other things. You know, I wasn’t born here in Scotland, but my husband was. When he was a very tiny baby, he lived in Crieff for a few months because his father was working here as a young doctor. So one day when I was looking through the old papers, I took a peep in the issue that came out the week after he was born. And sure enough, there was his birth announcement! It was funny to see his name there, but wonderful too. It made me feel as though we belong here just a little bit more.
I guess that’s what I love most about you. I’ve travelled all over the place, but when I visit you, I really feel I’m home.

With love,

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014: ghosts, demons and musical instruments

2014 is drawing to a close, and Facebook is sprouting dozens of photo retrospectives perkily labelled "It's been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it." I've avoided doing one of those, mainly because nearly all my photos would be of me poking around old graveyards, which wouldn't make for very jolly viewing! All the same, I thought I'd take a look back at the year and pick out some of its memorable moments.

I'm pleased to say that I made it back to Belgium, where we used to live, and where my most recent books are set, three times this year, which was a huge treat for me. I went over at Easter to see Flemish band Clouseau play at AB Brussel, again in September to hold launch events for my new book Demons of Ghent, and a third time in October for the British School of Brussels' Book Week. Like most people these days, I don't have a big budget (or even a budget at all!) for travel and accommodation so the fact that I was able to make these trips  was largely due to the kindness of my German friend Gaby, who still lives in Belgium, and who ferried me about and offered me her guest bedroom. Gaby gets a well-deserved mention in the acknowledgments at the back of Demons of Ghent. A major highlight of my time in Flanders this year was taking a group of students from the British School of Brussels on a tour of the city of Ghent, and showing them the real life locations that appear in the book. I would gladly do this every day, if only someone would hire me to do it! It was great fun listening to the students discussing the practicalities of hiding inside the Gravensteen castle.

Demons of Ghent was my main published work of 2014, but I'm pleased to say that one of my short stories, The Third Time, appeared in the Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows Volume Two in September. Like the first Book of Shadows, this was an anthology of prequels and sequels of the ghost stories of M.R.James. The Third Time is a sequel to James' A Neighbour's Landmark, which is in my opinion one of his most underrated tales. Although the stories in the Book of Shadows anthologies must be related to the tales of M.R.James, there is no requirement to write them in a "Jamesian" literary style, nor to set them in the same period as his stories. The Third Time has a contemporary setting and I turned up the nastiness to a higher setting than James would have liked! The Book of Shadows Volume Two has now sold out and copies are changing hands at rather unaffordable prices on eBay and Amazon, however, if you would like to read The Third Time, I am delighted to say that it will be appearing in Best British Horror 2015 edited by Johnny Mains, and due out in April from Salt Publishing.

Also during 2014, I finished working on the third book in my Forbidden Spaces trilogy: Urban Legends, due out in March 2015. I have to admit to lingering somewhat over the final edits of the book, because it broke my heart to say goodbye to Veerle and Kris, the heroine and hero of the trilogy. Writing these books, urbex thrillers set in Flanders, has been some of the best fun I have ever had as a writer; the research was particularly exciting! I began by climbing the bell tower of a little village church in Flanders to research the very first scene of Silent Saturday, spent days exploring Ghent for Demons of Ghent, and visited a deserted industrial site with some seasoned urban explorers for Urban Legends. I also visited the Brussels sewers, which was an interesting if somewhat niffy experience! You'll have to read the book to find out what use I made of these adventures.

After finishing work on Urban Legends, I recently began work on a new novel. I'm not going to say anything about that at present other than that it is set in Scotland. As I've mentioned before on this blog, as a writer I am very influenced by setting, and when I'm on the lookout for ideas I often visit atmospheric places in the hopes of finding inspiration, a method I find to be pretty much infallible! So I've spent much of my spare time since we moved to Perthshire poking about in ancient castles, ruined churches and other interesting locations. I'm pleased to say that this has paid off!

As well as the new novel, I've also written a new short supernatural story, which will be appearing in Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands, part of the excellent Terror Tales series of regionally-inspired supernatural anthologies edited by Paul Finch. I'll post details of where to get this book in due course.

As well as actually writing in 2014, I was delighted to be one of the Scottish Book Trust's Author Ambassadors for Book Week Scotland in November. I had some ambassadorial duties such as composing a love letter to my favourite library, but I also tried to lead by example by making and honouring two reading pledges. One of these was to read aloud to my family from the works of a Scots author every day in Book Week, and anyone who follows this blog will have read about the excerpts I chose. The other was to read Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.

This brings me onto something else I wanted to mention in this 2014 round-up: my "books of the year". Ivanhoe was my absolutely top book of 2014; it was challenging to find time to do justice to Scott's early nineteenth century prose but it was well worth the effort. I've thought about Ivanhoe a great deal since reading it and I doubt I'm ever going to quite get past the marriage choice of the eponymous hero!

I'm not generally one to be put off by a book being "antique"; I love the works of Dickens, Trollope, etc. However, I had tried to read Ivanhoe when I was a teenager and had not managed to get past the jousting scene. For this reason, when I pledged to read the book I posted it on Goodreads, so that everyone would see my progress and I couldn't worm my way out of finishing it. In the event, the more I read of the book, the more I loved it. I shall certainly be reading more Scott in 2015!

As a YA writer, I naturally get to hear about other YA releases so I also read a few of those in 2014: The Fearless by Emma Pass, Bet Your Life by Jane Casey and Now You See Me by Emma Haughton were all really excellent.

Finally, I asked for Necropolis: London and its Dead by Catharine Arnold for Christmas after a recommendation from Twitter pal Paul Haine. This has turned out to be an utterly gripping read, for which I have forsaken several other books I had already started. There's nothing like a good book about burials!

Aside from strictly bookish things, I've spent more time exploring in 2014; I'm not sure you could call all of it "urbex" though, as many of the places I have visited have been in the countryside, such as the abandoned village of Tirai and the Glenfargs railway tunnels (pictured).  I don't need to do any more urbex research now that Urban Legends is done and dusted, but I guess I've got the bug in a small way! I shan't be breaking into opulent expat houses in Brussels like my heroine Veerle, though, and hopefully I shan't run into any crossbow-wielding serial killers either...

There's one other thing I'd like to say about 2014, and that is: thank you. Thank you to the very kind friend (you know who you are!) who gave my daughter armloads of books and who also gave us a saxophone in beautiful condition for our musical son. Thank you to the former owners of the lovely Victorian piano on which my son is now also learning to play. Thanks again to Gaby and to all the friends in Belgium who came along to my book events this year. And a very, very big thank you to everyone who read my books, especially those who reviewed them, either on their blogs or on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. It is very, very much appreciated! Wishing you all an enjoyable end to 2014, and a very Happy New Year 2015!

Above: star treatment at the British School of Brussels! I'd share with my readers, though!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ghost Story Christmas Special! (This offer has now ended.)

As Christmas is not only a time for candlelit carols and mince pies but also ghost stories, I'm planning to post something special online in honour of this spine-tingling tradition!

As you may know if you've read some of my previous posts, I'm a big fan of the Library of Innerpeffray, Scotland's oldest lending library and home to books that are centuries old. For Hallowe'en 2013 I spent the day there as Writer in Residence and created three ghost stories set in and around the Library itself. I read these aloud that same evening, and the reading was kindly recorded by Ralph Haggerty.

The audio recording of one of these tales - Lilith's Story - has been available on my SoundCloud account since last year, but the full set of three stories with their interlinking narrative has never been made available in this format, mainly because I did not want to encroach on the printed version, which was sold for a limited period to raise funds for the Library.

I'm going to post the full version of Ghost Stories of Innerpeffray on SoundCloud on Christmas Eve 2014. From then until Boxing Day (26th) it will be available free to listen, share or indeed to download, if you would like to listen but don't have time over Christmas.

I do hope you will enjoy these stories, which are written in the traditional mould and are very much inspired by the wonderfully atmospheric situation of the Library. If you would like to make a donation to the Library of Innerpeffray to help support the upkeep of their marvellous collection of antiquarian books, you can do it here: http://www.innerpeffraylibrary.co.uk/support-us.php

Here is where to find my SoundCloud account: https://soundcloud.com/helen-grant-3  - the full recording will be up on Wednesday but currently you can listen to a single story.

Happy Christmas!