Author Archives: Helen J Beal

Kingley Vale


So the last time I posted, and an impersonal post at that, was nearly ten months ago. So why the hiatus? Having had the luxury to balance my business and writing lives for several years, and publishing my first three novels and a book of short stories during that time, summertime 2013 saw me embark on two new novels and take on a second job that in October last year became a single full-time position. Whilst I am lucky enough to have found a role that ticks all of my boxes in the business world – creative, business building, autonomous but with people I adore who support me and allow me to support them, with real purpose that is simultaneously fun, challenging and rewarding – it’s to the detriment of my novel writing. I’ve written a lot in the past year – but mainly for the new business: thought papers, technology guides, a website, consulting engagements, workshops, proposal templates, surveys and countless blogs and I only have so much brain. The novels somewhat languish although there are some draft chapters and copious notes and thoughts in my head.

But another thing has been happening outside of my business and writing pursuits which, while another demand on that finite resource, time, is enriching and inspiring both of these areas: wildlife conservation. It’s a big theme in one of my new novels and one of the wonderful things about building a business with like-minded people is that together we can make choices about how we want our business to look and operate, how we want to incorporate our ‘paid work’ into our lives and flex and bend our time to create space for our other interests – the interests that make us more rounded, happier, more fulfilled people. Our company’s motto is: “Fanatical about making life on earth fantastic.” and that is our intention for ourselves just as much as our clients.

This morning, on my drive from Chichester to an event at Twickenham stadium I, as is my wont, listened to BBC Radio 4 and heard a story that triggered this blog: last night the winner of the Samuel Johnson prize for for non-fiction was ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen McDonald (It sounds amazing and I plan to gorge myself on it on a beach in India in January). My interest in wildlife and the conservation thereof has taken me to many places in recent years (the Galapagos islands, a long weekend camping at Durrell Wildlife for my birthday this year, to a Victorian sewage pipe in Worthing for a Shoresearch survey with the Sussex Wildlife Trust, on butterfly walks with the Butterfly Conservation Trust, many many zoos and aquariums all over the world, on safari in Tanzania, elephant reserves in Thailand, some amazing reading and a very special nature reserve – more on both the last later) but this immediately brought to mind my visit to Eagle Heights, a bird of prey centre in Kent I visited recently with a friend that lives nearby. We met several birds that day – a Harris Hawk called Squeak because he does, a hand reared Little Owl and a stroppy eagle and I thought how much fun falconry would be. My mother, who is retired, recently told me that due to niggles in her back and hip, would likely give up her hobby of wood-turning and sell her lathe since it requires standing in a cold garage for extended periods of time which is not conducive to comfort. So she needs a new hobby, so I was quick to suggest falconry, perhaps selfishly (arguably like when I took my father walking with llamas for his birthday present). She’s yet to equal my enthusiasm for the concept but I will continue working on it (I’d buy her a copy of Helen’s book but I don’t think Amazon have properly sorted Kindle gifting yet…) but the real point is here that peoples’ passion is inspiring. And whilst I’ve been avoiding doing any writing that is not novel writing (and doing very little of that) Helen inspired me to write more about my experiences with the work and pleasure I am doing and taking in wildlife conservation.

DRUM ROLL! I am officially a volunteer warden at Kingley Vale! I start my training on November 20th. I am beside myself with excitement and have already packed a bag with: binoculars, secateurs, a magnifying glass, a thermos flask, a tape measure, a Leatherman, a whistle and some Nivea cream. I want to put my bat detector in too but think I should probably only take that when it’s dark.

What? I hear you say… Well, let’s start with what Kingley Vale is. Here are some headlines:

  • The finest yew forest in Europe (I’ve been told who said this but can’t remember! Will update in a later post!) – some of the yews are as much as two thousand years old which makes them some of the oldest living organisms in Great Britain
  • A National Nature Reserve – as specified by Natural England which is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (one of the first questions one of my friends asked when I took her and her dogs there was who ‘owned’ it and I was unable to answer… then.)
  • Over fifty species of birds are found, although only six species breed in the yew woodland
  • Mammals include deer, yellow-necked mouse, water shrew, dormouse, badger, bats and moles
  • Thirty-nine species of butterfly (mainly found in the grassland)
  • A dew pond featuring the protected great-crested newt
  • Remains of a Roman Temple, Iron Age settlement site known as Goosehill Camp, the Devil’s Humps Bronze Age round barrows and prehistoric flint mines and Viking battlegrounds
  • A couple of miles north of the stunning Roman, Georgian and cathedral (walking through Kingley Vale is likened to walking through a cathedral) city of Chichester (my ‘hood)

So there are some initial facts and figures but the reason I’ve brought this up is because I plan to write much more over the coming months and years about my experiences at Kingley Vale and what I am learning about conservation. And post pictures of what I see and find. And answer any questions you may have. And finally, here are some of the things I anticipate I will be doing as a volunteer warden (this is the first time Kingley Vale has had such a position and there are six of us working together for the reserve manager):

  • Maintenance: checking leaflets, signs and boards, litter picking, making tree damage safe if needed, clearing paths
  • Talking to walkers and answering questions (if I can!) about the reserve and hearing what they love about it and feeding that back
  • Seeing what changes and what I find and reporting that back
  • Getting involved with surveys for butterflies, bees, plants, dormice
  • Helping with bigger projects around creating new wildlife environments, protecting some of the rarer species
  • Helping people understand why it’s best they don’t light fires, camp there or why it’s important they keep their dogs on leads or stay on the cycle paths

So – in a post soon – more on Kingley Vale, but also more on what I’ve been reading and listening to in the last few months. Make your life on earth fantastic. Please do.

Quotes from Einstein to Apply to Writing/Life

einstein quotes

I love Einstein – I even have a (smelly) rubber mask of his in a cupboard should I feel the need to dress up as him. This  list of quotes starts with my favourite ever from him but all can be applied to writing and life. Pure genius.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

“Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think.”

“The important thing is not to stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.”

“The most precious things in life are not those you get for money.”

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Favourite Things

thTonight it was Write Club’s Christmas party (soon apparently to also be extended to bake club – more on that another time) and we did quotes quiz. Here are mine – can you guess any of them? Free ebook to anyone that gets them all right:


7 April 1852


Went to the Zoo.

I said to Him –

Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me

of you.


     “For you, a thousand times over,” I heard myself say.

Then I turned and ran.

It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything else all right. It didn’t make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight.

But I’ll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.

I ran. A grown man running with a swarm of screaming children. But I didn’t care. I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the Valley of Panjsher on my lips.

I ran.


BUSY old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.


Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: “What does his voice sound like?” “What games does he like best?” “Does he collect butterflies?”. They ask: “How old is he?” “How many brothers does he have?” “How much does he weigh?” “How much money does his father make?” Only then do they think they know him.


here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)


Additionally, and this might give you a clue to one of the excerpts above, I was reminded of another favourite poem, The Flea by John Donne. Here it is, for your pleasure:

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,
    Yet this enjoys before it woo,
    And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
    And this, alas, is more than we would do.
Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, nay more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our mariage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, w’are met,
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
    Though use make you apt to kill me,
    Let not to that, self-murder added be,
    And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now;
    ’Tis true; then learn how false, fears be:
    Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,
    Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

A Letter About Love from John Steinbeck to His Son

John SteinbeckJohn Steinbeck is one of my favourite authors – East of Eden one of my favourite books ever. It’s set in Salem which came in useful yesterday evening when, following a post on Facebook of Brits trying to name US States and my acknowledgement that I would be rubbish at said task, a friend of mine helpfully pointed me at a game which would teach me the States and their locations. After a couple of hours and managing to name them all in less than five minutes I moved onto learning all of the States’ capitals. I cracked that one too, eventually, and had to find my own ways of remembering each – the capital of Oregon, for example, is Salem and it was that literary link that helped me recall that particular capital having never been there or even that close (although Nevada’s reasonably nearby, I know now, and I have been there on several occasions to the hell they call Las Vegas. Not a fan. Send me to Montana any day).

At Write Club tonight Mike brought along a new and wonderful idea – a quiz based on short excerpts from his favourite reads. A brilliant and fun idea that we all thoroughly enjoyed so much that it’s on the agenda for the Christmas party in a couple of weeks and each of us will bring five (only five!) from some of our favourites. One of Mike’s was:

“He could not explain to his friends the coolness that had come into his relationship with Mrs Morales, since he was the owner of only one house; nor could he, in courtesy to Mrs Morales, describe his own pleasure at that coolness.”

From John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, a novel I have not read but is available for, a frankly outrageous, £6.99 on Kindle.

A little earlier in the day I had seen on Facebook a letter from John Steinbeck to his son, advising him in the small matter of love. It’s a letter I have read, even posted before on a previous blog, and here it is again as it truly is a thing of beauty:

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



And now for…

So after many months of publishing my novels and a few more settling myself down in the work that pays the real bills, I am back at the writing desk on novel number four. I am on Chapter Five and have started the other one too. I feel my blogging has been rubbish though for a while, so I am going to share with you over the next few months, the things I come across whilst writing that I find amusing and inspiring. So to kick us off, here is a Fennec Fox – a fine piece of evolution I think you will agree:

helen j beal, how humans breedIsn’t he (or she? I have not yet learned how to sex a Fennec Fox from a front taken photo) a very beautiful thing? I also, when writing today, had the word ‘hotchpotch‘ spring into my mind when describing a patch of allotments in south-west London. Spell-checker (and we all kind of rely on that don’t we, even though it lets us down regularly and we rejoice in teaching it new words) had a problem with that. But the more I think about hotchpotch the more I love it.

And finally, whilst typing a chapter title, I mistyped the date. And typed 20103 and in reviewing the mistype thought – ‘Blimey, what would it be like to live then? (and, weirdly, then seems like the wrong tense as that’s in the future and that seems like the past?) And would there even be an earth then? A lively debate ensued on Facebook as to if someone was to write a screenplay, who would be the hero (for me, a clone of David Attenborough) and who would be the villain (I struggled)? Apparently, the bible assures us the world is eternal. I’m going with quantum physics for that. But I think I need to learn more…

New Competition! For A Hardcover Copy of Riding a Tiger and a $50 Amazon Gift Voucher

Although the hijacking of vessels in the seas around Somalia has abated recently (arguably the cost of ransoms has been transferred to the UK and US in the form of insurance policy hikes and investment in private security), it’s still of huge interest and we’re about to hit a major film season with Captain Phillips (starring Tom Hanks) out in mid-October here and across the pond. I read the Captain’s own account of his real-life experiences in his book A Captain’s Duty along with a good deal of other research. You might also want to check out A Hijacking if you can (it came out in May 2013 but is available on DVD/Blu-Ray) and Stolen Seas.

My book, Riding a Tiger is a fictional account of the hijacking of a super-yacht, Talisman – you can win a copy and a $50 Amazon Gift Voucher by entering the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Interview with Loren Kleinman

riding a tiger book coverI was recently interviewed by the very lovely Loren Kleinman – here’s an excerpt of the interview and you can read the whole thing here.

Loren Kleinman (LK): Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world?

Helen Beal (HB): When I was growing up, my father was a pilot and many a weekend jaunt was taken up with a visit to an air museum. I was particularly taken by the seaplanes and it became my ambition to own one and live aboard, with an unspecified number of cats, and travel the world in it. It’s a goal I am yet to realise (although there may be time yet! And I currently have one cat!) – I’m not entirely certain how visas and things like that might work and I don’t have a pilot’s license but these things are all fixable, surely.

I think though, this adventuresome free spirit is very much alive in me, and reflected in my books. Although life has a habit of tying us down to places, I explore many locations in my work, most of which I have been lucky enough to visit myself (for example, the Galapagos islands, Mongolia, the Seychelles) and hope to explore many more, in the name of research.

The book I am working on at the moment features a naturalist, a young, David Attenborough / Gerald Durrell type character, and will be the most ambitious yet from a global travel perspective.

If you wanted to pin me down to just one place, right now, pushed, put on the spot, I would probably choose New Zealand – such a beautiful, verdant and quaint country with vast, unpopulated beaches (by humans, that is!). But an awful long way from home…

LK: Did you know the title before you started writing?

RATHB: I’ve published three novels, my first was called ‘Ode’ for a very long time in draft (a kind of poetic skit on Orpheus and Eurydice – the myth the book retells in a contemporary setting), until I stumbled across ‘Thirty Seconds Before Midnight’ – you’ll have to read it to work out where the title fits! My second was ‘Rich in Small Things’ – a reflection on the journey the protagonist, Melissa, takes.

My most recent though, Riding a Tiger, is the only one that had a title before I even started writing it. I was at work in my other career, software sales, when a lead popped up for a company called Satyam. I hadn’t heard of them before but they are a very large Indian company – who had done a bit of an Enron. When the deceit was uncovered, the CEO disappeared for a while in the maelstrom of the scandal. When he reappeared, and resigned, he said his experience of the sequence of events that led to the financial irregularities that caused the downfall of the company was, ‘Like riding a tiger – I didn’t know how to get off without being eaten.’ He’s not the only person reputed to have used this phrase – it’s said to have fallen from the lips of the 33rd President of the US, Harry Truman too. It’s originally a Chinese idiom from historical warfare and the conclusion is that one must kill the tiger. Although there are no tigers in Africa, where my book is mainly set (aboard a super yacht in Somalia), I still felt the title worked very well.

LK: Did you do any research before start or during of the writing of the books? Read on

rich in small things

New Competition – for Rich in Small Things

Following the success of Herbert’s competition for Thirty Seconds Before Midnight for World Turtle Day, we’re running another one! It’s summer time, a great time for adventuring, so we’re giving away a copy of Rich in Small Things and a $50 gift card – and it’s a fantastic opportunity to support a very worthwhile cause, the awesomeballsness that is Cool Earth – save a rainforest today.

Here it is!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

riding a tiger book cover

My Cover Story

I was recently asked to write a guest blog post for The Writer’s Guide to e-Publishing website about how I created the covers for my books and used them to create a brand – which as you can imagine I was delighted to do. You can read an excerpt below, and see the full post here.

Every author’s story is different, but here’s how my covers came about. I’d written nearly three novels (that is, two were complete and one was in progress) when I decided to independently publish. I’ll not go into much detail about how I made that decision as it’s a complex one for any writer to make, even now, but I will say it was based on professional feedback on the quality of my manuscripts, my observations of the publishing market at the time and a desire to take control of my own destiny. I also decided to publish a volume of short stories as a ‘taster’ of my writing. So I had four books to take to market.

I gave myself a six-month window to hire editors (and go through the various editing processes and finish writing the third novel) and cover designers, research and plan routes to market and devise an initial launch plan. I wanted to go to market with print (both paperback and hard cover) and digital (to as many stores as possible) as I felt this was important to reach the widest market available – and build a scalable platform should the books take off (here’s hoping!). I’ve always seen this as a long game and this was my strategy for writing as much as publishing. I don’t write to genre – I write books that I hope tell new stories in new ways, and I decided this was an important part of the way that I branded them. And publishing them in all formats added to the challenge (for an ebook you need one image that works as a thumbnail, for print books you need to start thinking about spines and back covers and flaps). READ MORE