I’m very excited to have joining me today the award winning and critically acclaimed author Helen Grant!
Helen has been good enough to take time out to answer a few questions and tell us her thoughts on the upcoming Shadows at the Door anthology.
When did you first fall in love with the horror genre?
When I was a child. My father is a great fan of the ghost stories of M.R.James and could sometimes be induced to retell them to amuse us on long car journeys. I think he probably has some of those tales pretty much off by heart. I recall Wailing Well being a particular favourite of ours. If you hear that stuff when you are still in primary school, there’s no going back really.
Which subgenre/s of horror would you say your work falls into?
I’m not sure I can really say. It’s easier to say which subgenre it doesn’t fall into, which would be splatterpunk. I prefer creepy/weird over extremely gory. As well as short ghostly fiction, I write novels probably best described as thrillers with a hint of the supernatural. Sometimes very gory things do happen in those, but they are described in an indirect way, eg I might focus on the gleam of a knife as it descends, rather than what happens when it lands.
What is it about the horror genre that appeals to you as a reader and as a writer?
Hmmm, the excitement I suppose! When I’m reading, I like to feel involved, thrilled, scared. I like my flesh to creep a bit. When I’m writing, I think I’m dealing with my own fears. Since childhood, I’ve had a particular fear of death by fire, so quite a few people in my books end up burning to death. Or falling from a height – I’m scared of that, too.
What are some of your favourite horror stories?
I’m assuming “horror” extends to include subtle Victorian ghosts so I’d have to say the ghost stories of M.R.James. I also love The Inner Room by Robert Aickman and Thurnley Abbey by Percival Landon. Among my modern favourites are the stories in John Connolly’s collection Nocturnes. I also love the novels of John Ajvide Lindqvist.
Do you remember being scared by a particular story growing up?
When I was a kid, I thought M.R.James’ Wailing Well was pretty scary. The humour passed over my head when I was a child so I was also rather shocked at the school’s cavalier attitude to the deaths of their pupils!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
At primary school. English composition was my absolutely favourite thing. I experimented with all sorts of genres back then – animal stories, sci fi, even romance (I’d like to forget about that last one though – shudder).
Are there any writers who have particularly influenced you?
M.R.James. I don’t try to write like he does (well, who can?) but his story The Treasure of Abbot Thomas inspired my second novel The Glass Demon, which is about a set of lost stained glass windows created by the same (real life) master craftsman who made the Steinfeld glass featured in MRJ’s story. There are a few Jamesian touches hidden in the text for other fans of his stories to find. I’ve also mentioned him in the acknowledgements.
I’ve said I don’t try to write like MRJ but there’s one exception. I did a completion for his unfinished story The Game of Bear, and for that I had to do my very best to continue the tale in his style. The story won a competition run by the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter. It appears in my collection The Sea Change and Other Stories.
Tell us a bit about your previous writing work.
I’ve written six novels, starting with The Vanishing of Katharina Linden (2009) which I’m very proud to say was shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. My latest novel is Urban Legends (2015), the final book in a trilogy of thrillers about urban explorers menaced by a brutal serial killer. I’d describe my work as crossover; nominally it’s Young Adult but judging by the audiences at the book events I’ve done, most of my readers are grown-ups!
Obviously I also write short ghostly fiction. One of the fun things I’ve done was to be Writer in Residence at the Library of Innerpeffray for Hallowe’en 2013. It’s an antiquarian library overlooking a graveyard (yes, I know – wonderful!) and I spent the day in there creating a set of three interwoven ghost stories, which I read aloud that same evening by candlelight. The stories are set in and around the Library and are inspired by the book collection. Copies are available from the Library’s online shop, with all proceeds going to support the Library.
How do you feel about being part of the Shadows at the Door Anthology?
I’m very pleased about it! Initiatives like this are the lifeblood of ghost stories. Ghost stories are hard to sell to large commercial publishers so small presses and projects like this one are champions of the genre. I’m also enjoying the contact with the other writers. I can’t wait to see the finished anthology and read all the other stories!
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Yes, I’m working on a new novel. I can’t say too much about it because even the working title is a massive spoiler, but like my other novels, it has a lot of Gothic elements, mystery and deaths. My previous books were set in Germany and Flanders because we were living in those places when I started writing them, but we moved to Scotland in 2011 and my current work in progress is set here in Perthshire.