Teens' Book of the Month: Urban Legends
Author: Helen Grant | Age category: 12-16
Urban Legends is the third and final book in the Forbidden Spaces Trilogy.
In the first book, Seventeen-year-old Veerle is bored 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...
In book two, Veerle has moved to Ghent to start a new life with her father and his girlfriend; she's isolated and alone. But not as alone as she had thought. Veerle recognises a familiar face in the crowds one day, a face connected to a past that she has been fighting to get over, a past that involved murder. A spate of deaths hit the city but has Death followed Veerle to Ghent or is this something new?
In book three, a group of story-tellers are disappearing one by one. A young woman is haunted by her past. A serial killer has one target he is desperate to hunt down. Veerle is trying to lie low, to live as 'normal' a life as she possibly can. But when you've thwarted a serial killer, it's hard to do this. Especially when he wants revenge.
We have 5 copies of Urban Legends to be won! To be in with a chance of winning one, just answer this question:
What is the name of the first book in the trilogy series?
Send your answer to Miriam Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Competition closes on Thursday 30 April 2015.
Entrants outside the UK must cover postage.
Q&A with Helen Grant
What else have you written?
As well as Urban Legends, I’ve written five other novels and a collection of ghost stories. My first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was published in 2009. It’s set in Bad Münstereifel, a little town in Germany. I lived there for seven years and I fell in love with the place so much that I wanted to write a book about it. The next two novels I wrote – The Glass Demon and Wish Me Dead - are also set in or close to Bad Münstereifel. Like my first book, they were inspired by the real life history and legends of that part of Germany. Bad Münstereifel must be the most haunted town on the planet! It has a spectral horseman, a headless ghost, a fiery man, witches disguised as cats – you name it.
In 2008 we moved to Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium) and my new home provided me with lots of inspiration for books set there. As we were living fairly close to Brussels I wanted to write something with a more urban environment, and a bit more hard-edged. My new novel, Urban Legends, is the final book in a trilogy which began with Silent Saturday and continued in Demons of Ghent. The books have a continuing theme of urbex (urban exploration). The heroine, Veerle De Keyser, has had a pretty stifling upbringing with an overprotective mother, so she is attracted to risky pasttimes like rock climbing and urbex. Unfortunately, the places she visits are also the hunting ground of a serial killer…
My novels are all aimed at a crossover audience (adults and teens). I’ve also written quite a few ghost stories aimed at an adult audience. Some of these were collected in The Sea Change & Other Stories. One of my most recent ghost stories is coming out in Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands later this year; it’s called The Dove and it’s set in Perthshire.
What else do you have in the pipeline?
I’m currently working on a novel set in Scotland. It was kind of inevitable really that I would do that next! I draw a huge amount of inspiration from the places I live in. The book is set in Perthshire and although I don’t name the town that appears in it, it’s based on Crieff! I can’t imagine living in this part of the world and not wanting to write about it. It’s a fascinating place. There are so many crumbling old castles and dilapidated churches in lonely spots – lovely!
I don’t want to say too much about what the book is about because it would be easy to give too much away - there are some strong mystery elements in it. As usual in my books, there are some nicely Gothic locations, and there’s a love story too.
What research did you do for this book?
I did a lot of location research. When I was writing my German novels, we had already been living in Germany for a few years and my German was fluent, so in a way I’d already done my research before I started writing. With the current trilogy it was a bit different. When we moved to Flanders, everything was new to me, and I didn’t speak Dutch so I had to learn that from scratch. I actively went out looking for places to use in my books!
For Silent Saturday I went up a number of church bell towers because there is a scene in one at the beginning of the book. It’s very important to me to get the details right. It might seem obvious that a bell tower is going to be a particular way but actually there are so many possibilities – some have metal staircases, some have stone spiral staircases, some have one bell and some have several, and in some churches you can’t actually get access to the bell tower at all. I’m a real fusspot about making things realistic! I want to bring the place to life for my readers.
Demons of Ghent took my heroine up onto the rooftops of the city of Ghent, so for that I spent a lot of time climbing high buildings in the city so that I could study the rooftops and work out whether someone could get about on them. It was agony doing that research because I really, really hate heights!
As Urban Legends is the finale to the trilogy I wanted to go for the most exciting, most atmospheric locations of all. So the places featured in the book include a huge derelict factory and the Brussels sewers, and I really did visit both those places. Sewers are one of the most hostile urbex environments – apart from flash floods, there are poisonous gases down there and of course the risk of getting lost altogether. I visited a section of the Brussels sewer system via the Musée des égouts (sewers museum) in Anderlecht. The factory visit was less official – I went with some seasoned urban explorers one Sunday afternoon. The building was in the process of being demolished so parts of it were rubble, and other parts were pretty much the same as they were on the day the last workers walked out, only covered in a layer of dust. It was spine-tinglingly creepy but also magnificent in a way, to see destruction on such a large scale. The scene in the abandoned factory in the book was genuinely drawn from the life.
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