Thursday, 11 August 2011

How I drifted into a life of crime by Helen Grant

"I never meant it to happen“ must rank alongside "It went off in my hand“ as one of the world’s feeblest excuses.   Nevertheless in my case it’s true; I simply drifted into a life of crime.

My first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was reviewed by The Guardian as "crime fiction“. The German edition, melodramatically retitled Die Mädchen des Todes, has KRIMINALROMAN (crime novel) emblazoned across the blood red cover.

My UK publisher even, in a fit of hyperbole, described me as the "Stieg Larsson of teen fiction“ (thanks, guys; it hasn’t escaped my notice that poor Mr. Larsson is dead).

All the same, I didn’t set out to write crime. My first forays into fiction were ghost stories (you can read one on my website at

I’ve always been fascinated by tales of the supernatural, bizarre historical events and creepy legends, so it was natural that I should write that kind of thing myself.

When I wrote my first novel, we were living in Bad Münstereifel, a pretty little town in the German Eifel. As well as being a tourist draw and home to German folk singer Heino, Bad Münstereifel is one of the most haunted places I have ever come across.  Amongst others, it boasts an eternal huntsman, a fiery dwarf and a headless ghost.
Helen Grant

I adored Bad Münstereifel and dreaded the day we would inevitably have to leave. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was born of my desire to create a memorial to my time in the town I loved. I wove the genuine legends of the town into the plot and made local folk hero "Unshockable Hans“ a kind of symbolic hero.
In the book, Hans’ adventures inspire the young heroine Pia Kolvenbach to investigate a series of sinister events. At no point, however, did I think to myself, "I’ll write a book about disappearances and murder.“ I actually set out to write a book about a town I loved, legends that fascinated me, and (hopefully) sympathetic characters faced with personally threatening situations. I was quite surprised to hear the finished book described as a "crime“ novel!

Since then I have written two further novels, The Glass Demon and Wish Me Dead.

Both of these indubitably contain crimes: I’ve written over a dozen bizarre and grisly murders now, plus one death by cherry streusel. However, my main interest is still the strange, the weird, the hint of the supernatural.

The Glass Demon, for example, was inspired by the true-life history of the Steinfeld Abbey stained glass, which vanished for over a century before being re-discovered by the mediaevalist and writer Montague Rhodes James, who wrote a ghost story about it.

Wish Me Dead was inspired by the witch trials that claimed thousands of lives in the Eifel. Bad Münstereifel itself is supposed to have had a coven of witches.

I am not inspired by true-life crime; in fact, had Bad Münstereifel ever experienced a chain of events like the one in my first book, I would probably never have written The Vanishing of Katharina Linden.

I am also a lot more interested in how my characters experience what is happening than in how the police or other authorities deal with it.
All the same, if you write a book with a crime in it, particularly murder, it is very difficult to avoid mentioning police investigations, and for this reason I have repeatedly picked the brains of the very helpful Polizeihauptkommissar Erich Trenz of the Bad Münstereifel police, to avoid making any mistakes with German police procedure.

Meanwhile my German editions continue to have KRIMINALROMAN printed on the front cover, the New York Times reviewed The Glass Demon alongside Ruth Rendell’s latest book in a round-up of crime novels, and my books are tagged as crime fiction on Amazon.

I never anticipated a life of crime, but it looks as though I’ve drifted into one!

My website:

You can follow me on Twitter @helengrantsays or meet me on Facebook at Helen Grant books fan page