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.
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.
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.
Publisher: Muswell Press, Pub date 22 February 2018