Here's the first chapter!
Uncle Henrik’s funny turn
Blink was lying on the ground, pulling clutches
of grass out with his fingers, as if it was
the green hair of some rather evil and large-headed
He was bored, you see. Totally, utterly, brain-numbingly
bored. Not that he absolutely minded being
bored. No. On the scale of ‘Worst Things
to Be’ being bored was nowhere near
the top. It was certainly not as bad as many
of the other things he had been this summer.
Like being frightened out of his skin, or
feeling so sad he could hardly breathe.
But still, if only his stuff had arrived from
England. Or if Aunt Eda and Uncle Henrik had
a TV. Or a computer. Or a book that wasn’t
written in Norwegian. If only there was somewhere
exciting he could go.
True, it looked nice around her. Just by tilting
his head left, away from the white wooden
house, he could see the still waters of the
fjord and, further in the distance, the vast
rugged triangle that was Mount Myrdal. But
nice as it was, you can’t play with
a view. You can only look at it. And as it
was, according to Uncle Henrik, three months
away from the start of the ski-ing season
it was going to be quite a while before it
offered some genuine fun.
Of course, there was one place he could see
that could offer something exciting. It was
the pine forest right in front of him, that
began where Aunt Eda and Uncle Henrik’s
land ended, right at the top of the grassy
slope. But he wasn’t allowed in there.
‘We still haff to be careful,’
Aunt Eda had told him and his sister, Martha.
‘If we don’t effer cause trouble
with the forest, the forest won’t effer
cause trouble with us.’
‘But the forest’s safe, now,’
‘Well, we don’t know,’ she
said. ‘Not for sure.’
This was true, of course, There were still
a lot of unknown things about the forest,
like whether all the trolls who lived there
were good or just some of them. And this type
of question could do something to lessen the
boredom of an afternoon, but not quite as
much as seeing a troll face-to-face.
He was just about to pull a particularly large
clutch of grass when he heard the faint sound
of the telephone ring in the house. A few
minutes later his Aunt was calling him from
‘Samuel!’ she said. ‘I haff
to tell you something. And what are you doing
on the grass? You are far too close to the
Samuel sighed, and pulled himself up to walk
over to his Aunt. She was quite a stern woman,
in some ways, and certainly looked it with
her hair tied in her bun and her buttoned
up cardigan and her tight mouth and prickly
chin. But she was a good and kind woman too,
who was only really guilty of worrying a bit
‘That was Fru Sturdsen on the phone,’
she said, once Samuel was in the hallway and
taking off his shoes. He noticed Martha was
in the kitchen, talking to Uncle Henrik at
seven hundred miles an hour as he prepared
roast elk and cowberry jam for supper.
It was funny. After their parents died Martha
hadn’t said a word for weeks, but now
you couldn’t shut her up. It was as
though all those unspoken words had been saved
up like money in a bank and she was spending
them at every opportunity. And all she would
talk about was the same thing – the
time she spent in Shadow Forest.
‘. . . and so . . .’ she was saying
‘. . . when I was in the underground
prison I met this two-headed tro-’
‘Martha,’ said Aunt Eda, sharply,
as she overheard. ‘I think we haff heard
enough of this conversation. Perhaps we shall
talk about something else. Like how you are
feeling about your new school? And remember,
when you start school you must not mention
Shadow Forest. I know it is ferry exciting
to liff next to a forest full of such strange
creatures, but we must not effer tell anyone
about it. This is ferry important, because
as I say Fru Sturdsen has been on the phone
‘What kind of a name is Fru?’
said Samuel, frowning at the name as if it
had an unpleasant smell.
‘It’s not a name, it’s a
term of address. ‘Fru’ means ‘Mrs’
in Norwegian. ‘Herr’ means ‘Mister’
and ‘Fru’ means ‘Mrs’.
So I am talking about Mrs Sturdsen. Your new
Samuel’s heart sank. How was he ever
going to fit in at a new school if he didn’t
know the language?
‘What did she want?’ Samuel asked.
‘Well, she telephoned to say how ferry
excited she is to haff two new children starting
her school tomorrow. And she also said it
would be a good idea if you wrote about what
you did in your holidays. They do it after
effery summer apparently.’
Samuel rolled his eyes. ‘Homework before
we even start?’
He had already thought schools in Norway sounded
strange, with ten-year-olds like his sister,
being in the same class as twelve-year-olds
such as him. But having to do homework before
term began – that was even worse. Especially
the sort of stuff he’d been given as
homework when he was still in primary school.
‘Apparently, yes,’ said Aunt Eda.
‘Homework before you start.’
Uncle Henrik stopped crushing cowberries for
a moment. ‘I remember when I was at
school,’ he said, his gentle face broadening
into a smile. ‘Every summer I used to
make sure I did something interesting just
so I had something to say.’
‘Yes,’ said Aunt Eda briskly.
‘Well, I haff to say that is not the
same problem we face here, is it Henrik? Quite
the contrary in fact. I am worried that there
is rather too much for them to say.’
‘What’s the big deal?’ Samuel
said. ‘Everyone thinks there’s
trolls and other weird creatures in the forest.
That’s why they’re too scared
to visit it.’
‘They’re scared because they don’t
know for sure,’ she said. ‘They
think these things but they don’t haff
the knowledge that we haff. And if they know
Henrik is back from the forest then efferyone
will want answers. So we must pretend we know
nothing, and you must not write anything about
the creatures of the forest. And tomorrow,
when you are both at school and people find
out where you liff, you must not try and impress
them with stories about the forest.’
‘Hey,’ said Martha, blushing.
‘Why’s everyone looking at me?’
‘Because you’ve got an unstoppable
mouth,’ said Samuel.
‘No I -’
‘Listen,’ said Aunt Eda, raising
her hand to stop an argument. ‘It’s
going to be difficult for all of us. But you
must pretend you haffn’t effer seen
Uncle Henrik. Well, not until we decide what
we are going to do. And they must not know
about trolls and pixies and so forth. If the
willagers found out that we haff been to the
forest and surfifed then efferyone would go
to the forest. And what do you think would
happen to the creatures that liffed there?
They would be taken away and locked up. They’d
be experimented on. That is what happens when
people start to know things. They want to
know more and more. And what about the forest
itself. What do you think Magnus Myklebust
would do if he found out?’
‘Who’s Magnus Myklebust?’
asked Martha, stealing a pickled onion from
a jar she had opened in the kitchen.
Aunt Eda and Uncle Henrik shared a glance,
and Samuel noticed there was something strange
about this glance, but he couldn’t work
out what it was.
‘Mr Myklebust is a man I used to know,’
said Uncle Henrik in a slow voice, as if each
word was precious and breakable and needed
to be let out as carefully as porcelain teacups
from a chest. ‘After I retired from
ski-jumping and moved to Flåm with Eda.
He was once quite the athlete.’
‘Not any more,’ said Aunt Eda,
shaking her head. ‘No. Definitely not
‘What’s so special about him?’
said Samuel, staring at the empty dog basket.
Aunt Eda laughed. ‘Beleef me, there
is nothing ferry special about him. But he
is not ferry nice. Not ferry nice at all.
And he has neffer liked your uncle ferry much.’
‘Why not?’ said Martha, taking
another pickled onion.
‘It is a long story. And you haff your
homework to do. But anyway, the point is that
if he found out about the forest he would
want to chop it down and build lots and lots
of houses. He is a land developer, you see.
If he wasn’t so scared of what might
be in the forest then he would do it right
now. He already owns half of Flåm. Ski-lodges,
holiday homes. He is the richest man in the
willage. And he has always been wanting to
know about the forest, as well as Uncle Henrik.
So if he found out about either we would be
in trouble. There are local laws, about this
kind of thing. Laws that go back hundreds
of years, to the time of King Håkon
the Good, the first Christian King of Norway.
Laws about knowledge of efil creatures. Laws
that no-one has bothered to update. We must
be ferry careful.’ Her attention switched
as she noticed Martha pinching another pickled
‘Now, Martha, that’s enough nibbling.
You won’t be able to eat your elk. Honestly,
what is it with you and pickles?’
Martha shrugged. ‘They’re tasty,’
she said. Indeed, for Martha, this was the
very best thing about Norway. There were pickles
everywhere. Pickled berries, pickled onions,
pickled cucumbers, pickled cornichons. And
she was eating them at every given opportunity.
‘Right, well, when you do your homework
you must not say anything about the creatures
that liff in the forest. And when you go to
school you must not say that your Uncle has
come back. That is ferry important.’
Samuel leant back as far as he could on the
rocking chair, supporting himself on tip-toes.
‘So . . . you want us to lie?’
Aunt Eda closed her eyes, tight, as if someone
had just flicked water on her face. ‘Well,
it is not really lying, it is just not telling
the whole truth.’
Samuel nodded, and rocked forward on the chair.
‘Yep. Thought so. Lying.’
Aunt Eda was getting flustered. ‘No,
it’s . . . could you just sit still.’
As soon as she said the word ‘sit’
in such a sharp way, a rather remarkable thing
happened. Uncle Henrik dropped his chopping
knife and sat down on his heels, with his
hands on the floor. His tongue was hanging
out the side of his mouth, and he was panting,
as if doing an impression of a dog. But if
it was an impression, it was a very good one,
and Uncle Henrik’s eyes showed no sign
of a joke. Indeed, Uncle Henrik’s eyes
showed no sign of Uncle Henrik. It was as
though he was in some kind of a trance and
had momentarily forgotten he was a human being.
But Aunt Eda didn’t seem to look too
bothered. She just rolled her eyes as if it
was a perfectly normal occurrence.
‘What’s happening to Uncle Henrik?’
asked Martha, so confused that she stopped
crunching on her pickle.
‘Is he all right?’ added Samuel,
getting back off the rocking chair.
‘Yes, yes,’ said Aunt Eda, through
a sigh. ‘He had a couple of these turns
‘Turns?’ said Samuel. He remembered
how his mum had used to say his granddad had
‘funny turns’. But Samuel was
pretty sure granddad’s variety of funny
turn never involved sitting on all fours on
the kitchen floor, panting like a dog.
‘Before you woke up I haff found Henrik
lying in the dog basket,’ said Aunt
Eda. And as she said the word ‘basket’,
Uncle Henrik cocked his head to one side and
gave her a look of canine bemusement, before
charging through the house on all fours. Martha
squealed as he nearly ran her over and Samuel
jumped out of the rocking chair to get out
of his way. But Uncle Henrik flew past the
rocking chair and ended up in the dog basket,
where he laid down. Obviously, he was rather
too big for the basket, and seemed most awkward
in there, with his head leaning over the side
and his legs sticking out. Yet, despite his
clear discomfort, he still found time to lick
the back of his hands, as though they were
paws needing a wash.
‘Henrik!’ shouted Aunt Eda. ‘Henrik!
Snap out of it! You are not a dog! Henrik
Krohg get out of that basket immediately.
Henrik? Henrik? Can you hear me?’
And Samuel and Martha watched as Uncle Henrik’s
eyes fluttered, as though he was waking up
from a bad dream.
‘Oh,’ he said, wearily, as he
pushed himself to an upright, thoroughly more
human position. He blushed, as he realised
Samuel and Martha were watching the whole
thing. ‘It’s happened again, hasn’t
it? I thought I was still a-’
‘Yes,’ said Aunt Eda, stroking
his arm. ‘But don’t worry. You’re
back with us now. Everything’s going
to be fine. I’m sure. Yes, everything’s
going to be fine.’