A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Throwback week – what were you like as a child? by Helen Grant

What was I like as a child? Unprepossessing, if my parents are to be believed; when I was a baby I had spiky black hair and was consequently dubbed “Lavatory Brush”!

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As this is an authors’ blog, though, I’ve aimed to think more specifically about the child I was and how she influences the grown-up writer. I don’t think of that child as having gone away; I think of myself as being like one of those sets of Russian dolls, with the smaller ones tucked away inside the shell of the largest one. My inner child is responsible for my continuing love of Lego, fairy stories, and those foam prawns you get in pick and mix selections in the cinema, as well as a host of other things.

When I was a child I read voraciously. My parents weren’t all that well off so I inherited a lot of their books from the 1940s and 50s, including well-worn volumes by Enid Blyton, Louisa May Alcott and H.Rider Haggard, and (somewhat bizarrely) the Buffalo Bill Annual. Apparently, when I was unable to lay hands on anything more interesting, I also read bus tickets and the telephone directory. So it’s probably no surprise that I ended up writing books myself.


When I was a child, I wanted to be an explorer, no doubt because of this diet of H.Rider Haggard adventures and cowboy stories. I was very disappointed when I discovered that most of the planet had already been explored. I still nurture a forlorn desire to go into space one day, although I doubt they’d send me at my age, even if I had a degree in Astrophysics, which I don’t. In the meantime, my love of adventure and excitement lives on in my books, which feature bizarre deaths, vengeful serial killers and ominous mysteries set in a variety of foreign locations.

When I was a child, I was terrified that the house would burn down. I was so anxious about fire that my mother took me to the local library and found me a book about the positive aspects of fire (smelting, etc). Sadly, it didn’t work. This perennial phobia almost certainly accounts for the fact that in at least four of my six novels people get burnt up. Some characters fall from very high places too, which was another childhood bugbear of mine. You can tell I never particularly worried about tripping while carrying scissors, avalanches, or being eaten by gigantic mutant cockroaches, because none of those things ever appears in my books.

When I was a child, I was fascinated by the past. I absolutely loved visiting places like Corfe Castle in Dorset or Housesteads Roman fort in Northumberland – the older the better. I really felt there was something magic about them; my imagination would run riot. When I was only eight I saw the Tutankhamun exhibition at the British Museum in London and I was completely obsessed with it for ages. I know from seeing photographs that the queues were very long but I don’t really remember any of that – just the glory of coming face to face with that golden mask. It’s no accident that the past is so important in my books: The Glass Demon, for example, is about a set of ancient stained glass windows haunted by a monstrous presence, and Demons of Ghent features buildings and an artwork dating back hundreds of years. In the book I’m working on at the moment, the past is a big influence on present events.

And finally…

When I was a child, I had a terrible Sweet Tooth. Fruit Pastilles, Sherbet Fountains, Freddo Frogs, Refreshers, Spangles, Smarties – I even ate the coconut ones out of Liquorice Allsorts, and I don’t actually like liquorice. I also particularly loved Mr. Kipling French Fancies, which we only ever got when we visited our paternal grandmother. Amazingly, my teeth survived, and so did my love of sweet things: one of my books, Wish Me Dead, is set in a German bakery and lovingly catalogues all the cheesecakes, pastries and gateaux. It also features a scene in which a character dies face down in a plate of cherry streusel. A fine way to go, as I am sure my younger self would agree…

Helen portrait 300b copy copyHelen Grant
Helen Grant was born in London. In 2001 she and her family moved to Bad Münstereifel in Germany, and it was exploring the history and legends of this beautiful little town that inspired her first YA novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. The book was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and the Booktrust Teenage Award and won an ALA Alex Award in the US. Helen has written two other novels set in the same part of Germany: The Glass Demon and Wish Me Dead. She later moved to Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, and her two most recent novels, Silent Saturday and Demons of Ghent, are set there. Helen now lives in Scotland with her husband, two children and two rather shiftless cats. As well as writing YA, she writes ghost stories for adults. She spends her spare time walking, exploring ruined churches and castles, and going to the cinema.



One comment on “Throwback week – what were you like as a child? by Helen Grant

  1. Emma Haughton
    August 24, 2016

    Love this. I too share your sweet tooth, but unfortunately I have a mouth full of fillings to show for it!

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This entry was posted on August 24, 2016 by .


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