Today as part of the UKYA Extravaganza we welcome author Helen Grant to the blog, as we chat about writing crime for a younger audience, weird and wonderful things she's found out and we get to know each other better in a quickfire quizz.
The UKYA Extravaganza is being held at on the 10th October 2015 with a fantastic line up of YA and MG authors make sure you check it out and get tickets whilst you still can!!
1.Can you tell us a little about your experiences of reading growing up and how you got into writing.
I’ve been a voracious reader ever since I learned to read. When I a kid, I had a huge number of my parents’ old books from the 1940s and 1950s, many of them written a long time before that. I grew up reading adventure stories like The Lost World and King Solomon’s Mines. I guess that’s why I write thrillers, full of people dangling above gaping chasms and being chased by other people with crossbows.
I always wanted to be a writer, ever since primary school. Other things got in the way for a long time: university, my first job, travelling the world, having kids. Then we moved to Germany. All of a sudden the kids were at a German nursery school all morning and I had time to myself. I couldn’t have gone back to my old career in marketing because they were back at home by lunchtime, so I started writing instead. I started off with non fiction articles and short stories, and eventually worked my way up to writing a whole book. My first published book, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, is set Bad Münstereifel, the town where we lived in Germany. It was inspired by the history and legends of the town. I really fell in love with the place and it broke my heart knowing we would have to leave one day, so I wanted to write a book set there, as a kind of tribute to a town I loved.
2. I've read a lot of Adult crime, can you tell us what the process of writing Crime is like for a YA audience?
I also write ghost stories for adult readers, and I have to say that I don’t see a big difference in writing for a YA audience in terms of style etc. I write for the upper end of the YA age group and I actually have a lot of adult readers too. I don’t hold back in any way because my books are read by young adults. I figure that if there is an obscure word in there, people can always google it! I have serial killers, and bizarre deaths and all sorts of gruesome things in my books.
The big difference between writing crime for adults and writing it for the YA audience is probably that if your hero/ine is 17 s/he can’t realistically be a Detective Inspector! So if it is the sort of book where they are doing all the investigating, you have to think how that is going to work. It’s not going to be your standard police procedural novel. A big challenge for me with my recent Forbidden Spaces trilogy was that it would probably be unrealistic for my teenage heroine Veerle to run into three different serial killers in the three books. Most of us don’t run into even one serial killer during our lifetimes unless we are in fact some kind of police expert, which she wouldn’t be at the age of 17. On the other hand, if it is the same guy who keeps coming back it can get a bit predictable. I’m not going to say how I solved this dilemma. That would be a huge spoiler!
3. What are some of the most interesting things you've come across in your research?
I think the most fun I have ever had was researching the urban exploration locations for my Forbidden Spaces books. I went up bell towers for the opening scene of Silent Saturday, which takes place in one. I also went down the Brussels sewers, and later the Paris sewers, because although the book does not have any scenes set in Paris, I reckoned you can never see too many sewers! One of the most interesting locations I visited was an old pottery factory which was about to be demolished. Some experienced urban explorers took me to see that. They had already started knocking it down, so one of the walls was completely off and you could see inside, as though it were an enormous dolls’ house. Inside, though, most areas were pretty much as they had been left the day the workers walked out. There were even coffee cups and soft drink cans sitting on the workbenches! That was kind of spooky. I ended up using that place as one of the locations in Urban Legends, which is the final and most gruesome book of the three.
4. Do you have a favourite character you like to write?
I loved writing my Forbidden Spaces trilogy the most out of everything I have done, but it’s difficult to pick one character out of it. I loved writing about the heroine, Veerle, because to me she was a very compelling person. She can be quite prickly and also quite impulsive, but at the same time she has this terrible sense of responsibility for other people, which causes her a lot of heartbreak. I also loved writing about her friend Kris, because I found him so intriguing. He’s hot(!) but he’s quite enigmatic, he holds part of himself back. You keep asking questions about him, especially in the middle book, Demons of Ghent.
On the other hand, it was brilliant fun writing the horrific character De Jager, who appears very early in the trilogy, carrying a dead body in his arms. In my first few books, I tended not to have anything too graphically bloody. It was more about disappearances and grisly discoveries. This was partly because the heroine of my first book, Pia, was only 10, so it wasn’t realistic or desirable to have her confronting or grappling with serial killers! But with Forbidden Spaces, I wanted to take the gloves off. I wanted to write a killer who was unimaginably cold and brutal. I enjoyed the feeling of it being no-holds-barred. De Jager is unspeakable.
5. Do the characters ever take on lives of themselves and take the story in their own directions?
Yes, they do. I don’t think any of them has ever completely derailed the plot. I like to know where the book is going when I start writing, so it would be difficult for that to happen. But I have a strong sense of what the characters are like and what they are doing outside the bits that appear in the book. In Forbidden Spaces, one of the characters is a girl called Hommel, who is Kris’ ex girlfriend. You get hints about their relationship and about her life but you never hear the whole story. I think you can piece a lot of it together but not everything. I do personally have a strong sense of what things were like between them, and what her life was like outside the scenes in the book. It’s actually sad and a bit twisted – there’s a real tragedy there which is on the periphery of what actually happens in the trilogy. I still think about Hommel quite often. Is that strange? Maybe.
6. What books in the genre have you been influenced by?
Hmmm, that’s a really hard question. When I wrote my second novel, The Glass Demon, I was partly inspired by the real life story of the Steinfeld glass, a series of fabulous and
valuable stained glass windows that vanished for a hundred years. I first heard of the windows in connection with one of the ghost stories of M.R.James, who was also inspired by them to write his story The Treasure of Abbot Thomas. I mentioned M.R.James in the acknowledgements at the back of my book because researching the background to his story gave me the idea for The Glass Demon. But I didn’t try to write like he does when I was writing the book! I try not to be influenced by other people’s style, although readers do sometimes say they think my work was influenced by this or that writer. Someone once compared one of my books to Kafka, which was a bit mad because I think I’ve only ever read one thing by Kafka, the Metamorphosis, and that definitely did not influence me! I’ve put some mad stuff in my books, but no giant beetles…
7.If you could team up with an author to write a book who would it be and why?
I can’t imagine teaming up with anyone else because I’m quite secretive about my books when I am working on them. I never show them to anyone else before they go off to the agent or editor. If I had to team up with someone, it would have to be someone who writes the sort of thing I like reading, so I’d probably choose someone like the Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote Let the right one in. Of course he writes in Swedish and I write in English so there would be all sorts of horrible problems, but on the other hand, loads of trips to Sweden. I’m addicted to kanelbullar
(Swedish cinnamon rolls) so that would be an incentive.
Whilst we were talking about what we could do for this blog post, we both agreed that we also wanted to get to know each other so thought it would be fun to send each other some quick fire questions...and here they are:
Quick Fire Questions for Helen:
1) If you could be a character in any of your books which would it be?
Veerle De Keyser, the heroine of my Forbidden Spaces trilogy.
2) If you could invite any fictional character to dinner who would it be?
Haha, Kris Verstraeten, the hero of Forbidden Spaces. I’m not going to create a hero I don’t fancy myself, you know…
3) What book are you currently reading?
The 2nd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories (published in 1966!)
Quick Fire Questions for Stephen:
1. If you could spend the day living in the world of a book, which book would it be?
Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde
2. What's the scariest thing you've ever read?
... I actually can't think! (Sorry!)
3. eBook or print book?
Print - unless I physically can't
4. A rainy afternoon, a good book and....what would you have as a snack?
5. Three words to describe your favourite type of book?
Exhilaration, emotional, all-encompassing