#BlogTour Last Train to Helsingør by Heidi Amsinck

Today it’s an absolute pleasure to take part in the BlogTourLast Train to Helsingør by Heidi Amsinck. It’s a collection of short tales of Scandinavian Noir with a huge dollop of spooky and a smidgen of creepy.

About the Author

Heidi Amsinck, a writer and journalist born in Copenhagen, spent many years covering Britain for the Danish press, including a spell as London Correspondent for the broadsheet daily Jyllands- Posten. She has written numerous short stories for radio, including the three-story sets Danish Noir Copenhagen Confidential and Copenhagen Curios, all produced by Sweet Talk for BBC Radio 4, which are included in this collection .

A graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, Heidi lives in Surrey. She was previously shortlisted for the VS Pritchett Memorial Prize. Last Train to Helsingor is her first published collection of stories.

Follow @HeidiAmsinck1 @MuswellPress on Twitter

Buy Last Train to Helsingør

About the book

From the commuter who bitterly regrets falling asleep on a late-night train, to the mushroom hunter prepared to kill to guard her secret, Last Train to Helsingor is a chilling and darkly humorous collection of stories.

Copenhagen becomes a city of twilight and shadows, as canny antique dealers and property sharks get their comeuppance at the hands of old ladies, and ghosts act in most peculiar ways. With echoes of Daphne du Maurier, Roald Dahl and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Last Train to Helsingor will keep you awake into the small hours.

Q&A with Heidi Amsinck  (provided by Muswell Press)

The stories are all set in Denmark and all have a fairy-tale like quality to them. Is there a Danish tradition of ghost stories that you are influenced by? Having grown up in Denmark, the romantic, bitter-sweet stories of Hans Christian Andersen are indelibly printed on my psyche. However, as a young child I preferred the gothic horror of Grimm’s fairy tales, which I swallowed raw, poring wide-eyed over the original illustrations by Philipp Grot Johann and Robert Leinweber. There is an echo of these fairy tales in the work of Karen Blixen, particularly the story collections Seven Gothic Tales and Anecdotes of Destiny, which have a deliciously mystic and eerie quality to them, and are the books I would save first if my house was on fire. But the biggest, single influence on my work has undeniably been the British TV series of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, broadcast with subtitles in Denmark in the early 1980s. I never missed an episode.

What is it that appeals to you about the short-story format? I love the discipline of working towards a single moment of revelation, or epiphany, the deceptive simplicity of the format that requires months, sometimes years, of stripping back dead wood and random plot shoots, or at least trying to. Above all, I am an enthusiastic and humble reader of short stories, from Carver and Wolff to Chekhov and Maupassant. The perfect short story (see Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People or James Joyce’s The Dead) will floor you with a single blow, in a way no novel can.

You are Danish and yet you wrote the stories in English. Why is that? I like the freedom English gives me to invent stuff about my place of birth: the Copenhagen of my stories is very much an imagined one, conjured from childhood memories and my love of mystery and darkness; writing in English, I am able to look at the city from a distance, noticing its otherness, like a stranger might.

Which is your favourite story in the collection and why? There is a bit of me and my large Danish family in each and every story in this collection, but The Chanterelles of Østvig is particularly personal to me, as it was inspired by my father who taught me the secrets of mushroom hunting in Denmark’s great sand dune plantations. He passed away suddenly last summer, two days after my mother died from cancer. Childhood sweethearts from Copenhagen, they were in love for 65 years, and this collection is dedicated to them.

Review

My first thought, and this was before I read a Q&A with Amsinck, was how much these tales reminded me of The Tales of the Unexpected (TV series from 1979 – 1988). A lot of the episodes were based on short stories written by Roald Dahl. The script writers often wrote endings or conclusions to the tales for the audience, whereas the stories they were based on were more inconclusive, open and mysterious. I grew up watching The Tales of the Unexpected, and much like the Hammer House of Horror and Graham Greene tales, the episodes were incredibly creepy and stuck in your mind for ages.

Although the author has taken inspiration from certain sources it is fair to say that she has put her very own Scandinavian Noir slant on her tales. No tale is alike except for the unusual twists and creepy factor. Now and again there is also a question of justice, morality and whether everything is always black or white.

The book includes the following tales:

Last Train to Helsingør – I bet there are plenty of people who sit on trains and wonder whether that train will end up taking them somewhere unexpected. You get a sense of lack of control, as you watch houses and fields whizz by, perhaps even more so when you can see nothing but darkness through the glass windows.

The Music Box – Sometimes a curse isn’t just a collection of rumours, hearsay or Chinese Whispers repeated over decades. Sometimes a duck is just a duck, and a curse is really a curse.

The Chanterelles of Østvig – Gudrun Holm has a conundrum. She must share her secrets with someone before she dies, and yet at the same time she has to protect said secrets from ever being found out.

The Light from Dead Stars – This is one of my favourites too. Does the truth always have to come out? Are there people who deserve their destiny even if it is forced upon them? Is it always wrong to take things into your own hands?

The Man Upstairs – Do you know a man or woman upstairs? I bet if you thought about it for a while someone would come to mind. A person who has always been there throughout time – with no explanation as to how it may be possible. In fact I might just go look in the upstairs window to see if I can get a glimpse of his face.

Conning Mrs Vinterberg – You can’t con a con-artist or trick a possible serial killer, especially ones that look like friendly little old ladies.

The Night Guard – The next time you go to an art gallery pay more attention to the details, perhaps some small element of the paintings change without you ever realising it.

The Bird in the Cage – I enjoyed this one, because it speaks to the innate greediness of man (persons). An item is only ever worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Make it more exclusive and add a tale of mystery to the item, and you just might end up paying a million pounds for a picture by an elusive artist which shreds itself as soon as said item is sold. (Nods in the direction of Banksy)

The Miracle in Dannersgarde – When is a miracle really a miracle and when is it just a coincidence? This is a story of faith being born unto the non-believer at a time when she needs it the most.

Like White Rain – Angels come in all shapes and sizes, and in this case it is an old suicidal man and an abused young girl finding comfort and the will to live by helping each other.

The Climbing Rose – This will make you wonder about the meticulous rose gardener you might know. The attention they pay to detail and the lengths they will go to to make the roses grow.

The Wailing Girl – The moral of this story is to never assume you have experienced everything in life and that karma might want to have a word if you try and screw with someone.

Room Service – When someone experiences the inexplicable the majority tend to side with the more practical and logical solution, because there is no such thing as ghosts right?

The Ghost of Helene Jørgensen – This tale is about justice, but it is also about leaving everything behind and starting a new life. Cutting all the strings, both positive and negative, that keep you attached to a life you expected to be more than just a daily struggle to survive.

The Suitcase – This tale is a bit like signing a contract with the devil, except you have no choice in the matter and your heart is dictating your actions. The stringent boundaries of OCD are skewed, which could be a good thing I suppose.

The Tallboy – This one reminded me of the kind of horror the Hammer House stories were known for. The kind of mystery you want to solve, but are really too frightened of the truth to find out.

Detained – What would make you crack? What kind of incident would make you re-evaluate your life and turn your back on everything and everyone? Do you think one scruffy man in an airport could make you think about what is really important in life?

The Crying – I guess the moral of this story is that you deserve what you get, especially if you lied to get it. I wonder if the insanity was already there buried deep inside him or whether the apartment made him do it? Do what…why kill of course.

The Last Tenant – Sometimes there is a reason a deal is a deal. A house that wants to draw you in, but doesn’t really want anyone inside at all. Once you’re in there is only one way out.

I am going to have a listen to these on audio (they have been read on BBC 4 radio). For people like me who as a child used to enjoy tuning in for The Whistler on the radio and being scared before bedtime, these tales will be perfect.

It’s a collection of short tales of Scandinavian Noir with a huge dollop of spooky and a smidgen of creepy.

Buy Last Train to Helsingør at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Publisher: Muswell Press, Pub date 22 February 2018

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#BlogTour Ask Me To Dance by Sylvia Colley

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Today it is my turn on the BlogTour for Ask Me To Dance by Sylvia Colley. It is a heartfelt tale of healing, forgiveness and understanding. When someone deals with personal grief and anger without airing it in any way they can become an emotional ticking time-bomb.

About the Author

Sylvia Colley was born in Romsey, Hampshire. She became a teacher and spent many years as Head of English at the Purcell School in North London.

She has published a book of poetry, It’s Not What I Wanted Though, and a novel, Lights on Dark Water. Her work has been read on BBC Radio 4. She lives in Pinner, Middlesex.

About the book

Rose Gregory has suffered a devastating blow, a double bereavement from which months later she is still reeling. Sanctuary and rest are prescribed by her doctor. But when she arrives at her refuge, a dank and decaying Monastery, she finds it is not the haven promised. Despite the veneer of calm contemplation, the Monastery turns out to be a hotbed of intrigue and disharmony. Rose witnesses bullying and cruelty and ultimately in defence of the vulnerable turns to violence herself. Sylvia Colley’s extraordinary understanding of a woman’s struggle to deal with grief, the denial, the anger, the loneliness, is described without sentimentality. A beautifully written and moving story.

Review

‘I woke to a dead soul housed inside a live body’

Rose spends a lot of time trying to escape her grief and her emotions. She is distraught on the inside and yet on the outside she appears to be cold and in control. There is only so much a body can hide until it starts to react to such an incredible strain. It takes a while for the crumbling to start, and when it does she is guided towards a place where she can find some peace.

Her most poignant moment was admitting she was frightened that her faith wouldn’t move mountains at all and that she was frightened of putting God to the test, which of course equates to her doubting her faith in general. The realisation that no matter how much you pray there usually isn’t a miracle waiting around the next corner. Sometimes there is no explanation or reason.

It takes Rose a while to understand that she is not just dealing with anger, she is also dealing with guilt. What if she had been there? What if she hadn’t been ill that day? Did she make the right choices after the accident, and most importantly how could she forget the dead in favour of the living.

In a way I think Rose believes her loss is a punishment and the confirmation of the lack of love and understanding she also encountered as a child. You are not good enough to be loved, hence being punished by such an immense loss. The anger about her past has always smouldered deep inside her, but the loss of her loved ones is the striking of the match, and the events in the retreat are fuel which ignites and unleashes the fierce storm of anger within her.

Ask Me To Dance is a story about grief, faith and pain. It is about questioning each moment in our lives that somehow forms our personality and the choices we make in our lives. When something or someone destroys the imagined foundations of our existence, some of us rebuild the structure, but some people give up completely.

Colley keeps it simple and relatable. This could happen to any person at any given time. She approaches the topic of faith without being preachy, bullying without crass incidents and healing without sudden heavenly revelations. It is an endearing tale written with a lot of compassion, and yet very down-to-earth.

Buy Ask Me To Dance at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Publisher Muswell Press

#BlogTour The Girls’ Book of Priesthood by Louise Rowland

It is a pleasure to take pat in the BlogTour for The Girl’s Book of Priesthood by Louise Rowland. This book has a title, which may steer readers away from what is an entertaining, realistic and honest approach to what is simply a woman doing a job, which is ‘owned’ by men. Leaving aside faith and religion for a minute, this could apply to any career considered to be a purely man’s domain.

About the Author

Louise Rowland grew up in Bournemouth and studied English at Cambridge. She went on to work as a speechwriter, journalist and copywriter – including 11 years in Munich, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam. She has a Masters in Novel Writing from City University, where she won the course prize. She lives in London with her husband and has two grown-up daughters. The Girls’Book of Priesthood is her first novel.

Follow @louiserowland20 @MuswellPress

Buy The Girls’ Book of Priesthood

About the book

Meticulously researched, The Girls’ Book of Priesthood is being published to coincide with the anniversary of women’s ordination in March.

‘I mean, you know, someone says “woman priest” and you think the whole grey-hair-bobbly cardigan-house-full-of-cats thing, right?’

Margot Goodwin is a young curate struggling to survive her trial year in the parish, when everything and everyone seems hell-bent on stopping her. Success would mean becoming a fully-fledged priest, something she feels profoundly called to do. Failure would not only prove her father right, but would also delight all the antis who consider women priests at best a joke, at worst, an abomination. But from the very start, Margot faces a multitude of challenges, both personal and professional, from the hostile teenage daughter of her host family, to the married parishioner she is hopelessly drawn to. Can she convince everyone – herself included – that she’s more than a lipstick-wearing, part-timer with a PhD, and realise her long-held dream of becoming a priest.

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Louise Rowland on writing The Girls’ Book of Priesthood

What inspired you to write the book? I started writing the book as part of the Novel Writing Master’s at City University. Initially, I was very keen to do something around the idea of the cuckoo in the nest’: a stranger renting a room with a dysfunctional family and the tensions that would create.

The ‘stranger’ then became a male curate (a character loosely inspired by a young trainee priest friend). That in turn opened up a whole raft of new questions. What kind of person would choose to be a priest? Where would his personal boundaries lie, living cheek by jowl with a messy family set-up? How would he be treated by the teenagers in the house –, by everyone he met in the ‘real world’?Could he ever check out and simply be himself? But it was when I decided to make the central character female that the whole book really came to life. If the role of priest is a tough call for men, try doing it if you’re young and female and likely to encounter a whole extra layer of prejudice and stereotypes (and that’s just from your colleagues).

I wanted to explore who exactly this young woman was; what motivated her; why she didn’t just go off and live a ‘normal’ life; what kind of sacrifices she’d have to make. Would she be able have a relationship without feverish prying eyes?

What research was involved in it?  I was lucky enough to be able to interview around twenty female priests around the country: some of them right at the start of their journey at theological college; some knee deep in training on the job in parishes; and one or two who had been amongst the small initial batch in the mid 90s – including a woman who had marched down Whitehall, banner aloft, like a clerical suffragette.

Did you uncover anything surprising when talking to these women? All the time. How diverse they were as people and how far they confounded the lazy stereotypes: women priests as earnest, frumpy, make-up and men-free zones – well-meaning but completely out of step with the modern world. The women I spoke to shared a razor-sharp intelligence – and most revelled in a robust gallows humour, underpinned by a very clear-eyed appreciation of just what they were letting themselves in for. And several of them were exceptionally glamorous – even in a dog collar!

This is not a ‘Christian book’ – but does it stem from some form of personal experience of the Church or religious faith? I didn’t set out to write a ‘Christian book’ in any sense. What gripped me as a writer was the potential internal conflict of a young woman who desperately wants to fulfil her profound sense of calling – but who also craves the things that most other mid-20s millennials want. A loving relationship, a sense of personal freedom, control of her own identity … fun.

My family and I are part of the congregation at a socially liberal Anglo-Catholic (ie choir, robes, female and gay priests) church in central London. As one of the current church wardens, I help out on a voluntary basis on the administrative side.St Mark’s is an entirely fictional creation – but its depiction undoubtedly draws on insider knowledge of how that whole world works, its rhythms and challenges and some of the personalities that tend to inhabit it.

Faith itself is a very private matter for me – and always been subject to constant questioning, as I think it is for many people. One of the women I interviewed talked about her branch of the Church of England as being very comfortable with ‘not knowing all the answers or having all the certainties’. I’d put myself firmly in that middle of the road camp –sometimes hesitant but still hanging-in-there. I once read an interview with David Cameron where he compared his religious belief to the radio signal in the Chilterns: it comes and goes, at times falteringly weak, at others, clearly defined. To me, that’s the perfect analogy!

(Q&A provided by Muswell Press and Louise Rowland)

Review

Although it may be a blasé and sweeping stereotypical statement – the role of women as the listener, the advice-giver and the problem-solver, is one that has always been attributed to our gender. Perhaps unwillingly when it comes to the same traits in leadership roles, and it is most certainly met with distrust in the role of leadership as it relates to religion and faith.

Revered in the role as the nun, the subservient celibate mistress of the faith and married to God, but regarded as too emotional, not level-headed enough and well let’s just say way too female to lead a flock to their salvation. Always in the supporting role and never in role of the hand of God.

At times I felt this was more about the way society perceives women in general, than just the adjustment and acknowledgement of women in priesthood.

Adding to that particular sentiment is the attitude of her friend Clarissa, who seems to be trying to squeeze Margot into the role society expects her to inhabit, instead of supporting her attempt to win over the patriarchal religious institution and the attitude of both the members of her church, her family and the leaders of said institution.

What resonated with me was the notion that the flock believes the priest belongs to them in some way. A special in-the-flesh messenger straight to God, which automatically means they can infringe on privacy and try to dictate attitudes, clothes and behaviour. Perhaps more so when the vicar/priest is a woman. They forget the person is doing a job and because faith is all encompassing and a 24/7 job, it leaves no room for self-thought or even just the occasional stint as a free person.

I think perhaps the expectation of this book is one of a preachy heavy-handed attempt to look at our existent or non-existent relationships with faith, and the difficulty society has in accepting women as leaders of faith and religion. The latter is true, but Rowland is clear on the notion that this isn’t in any way supposed to be a book about Christians or Christianity, and it isn’t.

It is a story of a woman trying to combine her career choice, and the opposition she faces in a job made-up by men, ruled by men and where the rules are set in stone by men. At the same time she is a normal woman, who wants to have a relationship within the confines of those strict rules, and is trying to navigate the difficult stormy waters of her own emotions and the expectations of her family.

In a way it reads like a sleuth come rom-com with a hefty portion emotional turmoil and political side-stepping thrown in for free, and let’s not forget the sanctimonious attitude of the church towards enlightenment and progression. Just as DNA changes and evolves to withstand and survive environmental changes, so must society and the people within it.

This book has a title, which may steer readers away from what is an entertaining, realistic and honest approach to what is simply a woman doing a job, which is ‘owned’ by men. Leaving aside faith and religion for a minute, this could apply to any career considered to be a purely man’s domain.

Rowland surprised me with this subtle and realistic portrayal of Margot. It has the charm of Father Brown combined with a contemporary voice. It is also a reminder of humanity, of simplicity and of kindness, and yet it is also a wake-up call to chisel away at the archaic systems still at the helm of our ships. It’s time for diversity and equality to infiltrate the crumblings walls of years of patriarchal oppression and automated obedience.

Buy The Girls’ Book of Priesthood at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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