Monday, March 18, 2013

The Sea Change and Other Stories by Helen Grant

The Sea Change and Other Stories brings together the works of Helen Grant spanning seven years writing (2005-2012) for the first time. The title taken from one of the seven stories sums up well the nature of her writing; they are stories about radical change or transformation, as well as being about subjects "rich and strange" as Ariel, Prospero's airy spirit says in The Tempest; "Nothing of him that doth fade/ But doth suffer a sea-change/ Into something rich and strange." The stories are ghostly and supernatural and have the feeling of that great early 80s TV series Tales of the Unexpected.

The first story 'Grauer Hans' was inspired by the figure who accompanies Saint Nicholas in Germany on the eve of 6th December. A tapping at the window of a child's bedroom and the appearance of an apple-cheeked old man after her mother has sung the bedtime song 'Grauer Hans' leads into a spooky tale. 'The Sea Change' is particularly memorable, as a diver starts to go off diving solo rather than with a partner as diving code demands, returning repeatedly to the same site and for ever more extended periods of time underwater.

'The Game of Bear' recalls the reason why an uncle in his house where the children are playing noisily would be upset by their sudden outbursts and shouts. Interestingly this was an unfinished story by the ghost story writer M. R. James (1862-1936) which was used in a competition to have the story completed. 'Self Catering' involves a character called Larkin who under pressure from his boss sets off to book a holiday. Wanting something suiting his rather pompous self image, he enters into a rather unusual travel agents dealing in holidays of a supernatural kind. An image of the shopkeeper in the children's programme Mr Benn comes to mind, as he tries on a new costume and has an adventure. Needless to say, Larkin's holiday does not go as he planned.

'Nathair Dubh' is a tale told by an old man in a bar to two young climbers. He tells them of one of his climbing experiences as a young man with unsophisticated equipment as he and his friend set off to climb the Nathair Dubh - the black snake. His experience on that day had never left him. 'Alberic de Mauléon' was written as a prequel to another M.R. James story. A seventeenth century tale it tells of two brothers- Henri de Mauléon, the first born twin son who inherited everything, and his brother Alberic who entered the church. This is a tale of love and revenge.

The final tale is 'The Calvary at Banská Bystrica' which tells of a man searching for his lost brother and his journey to Slovakia. Both mysterious and ghoulish in turn, the description is superb.


I really enjoyed Helen Grant's collection. With three novels behind her (The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, The Glass Demon and Wish Me Dead) she is currently working on a trilogy set in Flanders, the first Silent Saturday due out later this year, which I will certainly look out for.

The Sea Change and Other Stories is published by The Swan River Press

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