Silent Saturday by Helen Grant 

By J. H. Bográn

Seventeen-year-old Veerle is frustrated with life in suburban Brussels. But a chance encounter with a hidden society, whose members illegally break into unoccupied buildings around the city, soon opens up a whole new world of excitement—and danger.

When one of the society’s founding members disappears, Veerle suspects foul play. But nothing can prepare her for the horror that is about to unfold when an old foe emerges from the shadows… No one is safe, and The Hunter will strike again…

What inspired the premise SILENT SATURDAY?

I lived in Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium) from 2008 to 2011 and I took Dutch lessons to help me integrate. My Dutch teacher told the class the tradition of Silent Saturday, the day after Good Friday. All the church bells in Flanders fall silent on that day, and the children are told that it is because the bells have flown away to Rome to collect Easter eggs from the Pope! I remember hearing this story and thinking that if I were a little Flemish kid, I would be desperate to get into the church bell-tower and see whether the bells have really flown away or not. And that is how my book starts – with the heroine Veerle (then aged 7) and her friend Kris climbing the bell-tower to see if the bell is there or not. Of course it is right there where it always is, but then they look out of the window and see something horrific happening in their village…everything that happens later on somehow stems from that moment.

Please tell us about Veerle.

Veerle is 7 in the first scene of the book but then it fast-forwards to the present time, when she is 17. She is slim, dark-haired with hazel eyes, brave, daring and a little temperamental. She lives with her mother, who is stiflingly protective, and as a result she almost courts danger. She can be quite prickly at times because she is always having to push back against her mother’s attempts to make her life utterly safe and predictable. Veerle also has quite an impish sense of humour. She is a superb rock climber and once or twice she really enjoys surprising Kris (now aged 19) with her ability to climb things – including buildings.

Without giving away the ending, what can you tell us about the antagonist? 

He’s big, he’s brutal, he’s very physically imposing to look at. He sees himself as unstoppable and that’s pretty close to the truth.

Have you prepared a book video trailer?

Yes, a book trailer is currently in production and will be ready for the launch of the book in the UK on 4th April. You’ll be able to see it on my YouTube channel.

What kind of research did you do?

I often get asked this question about my books! Some of my “research” isn’t formal research, it’s more a case of my following something that interests me. In this case, the story of Silent Saturday that inspired the book was something I heard about at my Dutch class. However, once I started writing the book I had to do a lot of little bits of research because it is set in Belgium and there are all sorts of small details about life in that country that it would be very easy to get wrong. For example, I am British, and if I were writing a book set in Britain and I wanted for plot reasons to get the heroine out into the street so she could meet someone, I might have her go out to get a pint of fresh milk. In Belgium, people mostly buy long-life milk in bulk at the supermarket. If Veerle is popping out for something it would be more likely to be fresh bread from her local bakery. There are all sorts of little pitfalls for the unwary when writing about another country!

I rely on my own experiences of living in the countries where my books are set (the first three were set in Germany where we lived from 2001 to 2008) and consulting local friends in those places. I also use reference books, and the internet. I have spent literally hours on Google Streetview checking things like the location of tram stops and the height of the pavements! It’s very useful having taken those Dutch classes because it means I can consult websites and books written in Dutch as well as English ones. I don’t always use all the details I find out, but I feel more confident writing if I feel I know a place inside out.

What is it about ghost stories that you find them so appealing?

I should maybe say here that SILENT SATURDAY is more of a thriller than a traditional ghost story but I am fascinated by ghost stories of all kinds and have written a number of them, in the more traditional mould. I’ve always loved them. When I was a child my father used to re-tell the ghost stories of the great M.R.James for us during long boring journeys and I think that is where my interest started. I think people fall into two camps: those who don’t like being scared by creepy stories, and those who absolutely love it. I’m the latter! I like that pleasant frisson. Actually I quite like an unpleasant frisson too…!

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on the sequel to SILENT SATURDAY I finished the first draft in the first week of January and now I am revising and improving (hopefully perfecting!) the manuscript. The title is THE DEMONS OF GHENT. As soon as that is finished I shall be starting on the following book, URBAN LEGENDS. SILENT SATURDAY is actually the first book in a trilogy and URBAN LEGENDS will be the final book of the three. I have not started writing it but I have a pretty detailed plan and have been doing loads of background reading.

Any presentation or forums you will be attending?

I was in Brussels for the real Silent Saturday (30th March 2013) because I thought it would be fun to launch the book in Belgium itself on the actual Silent Saturday. I’ll be signing books at Waterstone’s bookshop in the city centre and doing some interviews. I’m also going to be doing some events in London and in Scotland, where I now live. Details of all my events will be posted on my blog.

The unasked question:

I have occasionally asked myself, are you completely nuts trying to write a trilogy about Flemish people? How can you possibly know what it’s like to be Flemish? I do think it’s ambitious. I only lived in Belgium for three years and I didn’t speak any Dutch before we got there, so there was probably a lot going on that I missed completely at the beginning. I’m not even married to a Flemish person! (My husband is a Scot.)

I really fell in love with Flanders and Flemish culture, though, and that was why I wanted to set the book there, and I wanted most of the characters to be Flemish (Veerle’s mother is French speaking but her father is Flemish and she goes to a Flemish high school so in some ways it’s her “first language”). I love cities like Antwerp and Ghent, and I learned to love the language too. I chatted with some of the Flemish friends who advised me about details of Flemish life for the book, and they were very supportive. They tended to think that people would be interested to see how I interpreted life in Flanders, rather than being critical. I hope my love of Flanders comes across in spite of the chilling subject-matter of the book!

*****

Helen was born in London in 1964. She read Classics at Oxford, then worked in marketing for ten years to fund her love of travelling.
In 2001, she and her family moved to Bad Münstereifel in Germany. It was exploring the legends of this beautiful old town that inspired her to write her first novel. In 2008 she moved to Flanders, where Silent Saturday is set.

Helen Grant is a highly acclaimed YA author. Her debut novel attracted praise from critics and readers alike and was shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. Helen now lives in Scotland with her husband, her two children and her two cats.

To learn more, please visit her website.

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