I’m delighted to say that my favourite book blog, A Simple Taste for Reading, is featuring little old me as their author of the month – what an honour 🙂 There will be a number of giveaways and there is a short interview with me too as well as a review of my debut novel, Thirty Seconds Before Midnight. You can find the blog here, like their Facebook page here and here’s the interview with Sierra:
Tell us a little about yourself:
Helen: I’m British born and bred and reside near the coast in the South of England where the seagulls take their responsibility for my wake up call very seriously. I have penchants for tortoises, flamingos, hats and fizzy wine. I am addicted to Scrabble.
Sierra: When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
Helen: I’ve written for as long as I can remember but it’s not until I passed through the gateway of being thirty years old that I stopped destroying my work through sheer embarrassment. I finished my first book around three years ago and have written two more since and this year I think I’m going to write another two. Let’s see how that goes
Sierra: Tell us a little bit about your first book, ‘Thirty Seconds Before Midnight’.
Helen:’Thirty Seconds Before Midnight’ is a contemporary retelling of the Greek myth, Orpheus and Eurydice – a story that has haunted me since childhood. It’s quirky and involves sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, pantheism and evolution and is set in the Sussex countryside. The main narrator is a giant land tortoise called Herbert.
Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?
Helen: I’ve been a voracious bibliophile since my mother taught me to read when I was three. I do read genre fiction but I prefer ‘break out books’ that are difficult to classify, that cover new ground, combine and defy genres. I think that’s partly what I set out to do with Thirty Seconds Before Midnight. It’s difficult to classify it – it’s based on a Greek tragedy – but readers report it makes them laugh as much as they cry. And it’s pretty unpredictable. One of the greatest compliments I have received (I think!) is that it’s unique. It’s certainly unconventional.
Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?
Helen: Gosh this is a hard one. I’d written the book to halfway twice before I discovered Herbert. It’s his voice that makes this book tick I think. As a human, he’d be rather pompous and obnoxious, but because he’s a tortoise it’s perhaps more endearing, and a little funny. So I really liked being him. But his best friend Digby has a scene where he reports back on an evening’s activities – that bit’s more like a play and Digby acts out the humans’ drama and that was a lot of fun to write. Part two of the book is epistolary – in letters – and that let a couple of the human characters in, let the readers hear their voices direct. And then there’s the pivotal Hades scene – I wrote that in a 5am – 12pm jet lagged writing binge having been on holiday for a fortnight in Thailand and lying on a sunbed thinking about it for days. Can I say all of it really?!
Sierra: Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Helen: So this question’s a little like when people ask me who I base my characters on… Writing’s a little bit like a jigsaw or a patchwork quilt. Or perhaps a writer’s a bit like a magpie. I’ve never been a rock star, a model, a tortoise or a zoo-keeper… but there are bits of me in Stella and Hannah although they seem quite different, and bits of people I know and imagine. Bestwood is very loosely based on an alternative reality of a country estate close to where I live. It’s a combination I guess, but this book, compared to some of my others, probably is more imagination.
Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Helen: So many… As I said, I am a massive reader – I run a book club where I live and we’ve read 52 books in four years. I’ve probably read five or ten times that in the same time. My all time writing heroes would be something like: Gerald Durrell, Douglas Adams, Douglas Coupland, John Fowles, Margaret Atwood… really there are too many. I just read ‘The Extinction Club’ by Jeffrey Moore which completely blew my mind.
Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?
Helen: No. I am a firm believer in sitting at the desk and getting the words down. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I know, through experience, how easy it is to procrastinate – empty the dishwasher, look at Facebook, make a phone call – there are thousands, millions of things to do but write but if you want to be a writer you must write. The muse doesn’t come to you, but it’s nice if they find you working. Someone else famous said that, apologies I can’t remember who. There are a tonne of quotes about inspiration and stuff. Someone at my Pilates class tonight said for a moment what an easy, lovely lifestyle being a writer must be but when they thought about it for a moment they took it back instantly. Writing is hard graft. There are days when the words come easy and some where you pull them out like blood from a stone. The key thing about writing, and this is expounded by writers everywhere, is the rewriting. But getting the first drafts down is essential. Polishing comes next and it’s no less essential. More so perhaps. It is a craft. Imagine making a wooden sculpture.
Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?
Helen: I had a dream that I met Margaret Atwood the other day! I would love to meet her. I was asking her about the ribbons she apparently wraps around her new manuscripts when she pulls her editorial team together to review a new book!
Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?
Helen: Yes I have two – ‘Rich in Small Things’ tells the story of a hedge-funds trader Melissa who loses her job and gets into a whole lot of trouble over poker and ends up driving to Mongolia. ‘Riding a Tiger’ is the story of a super yacht hijacked by Somali pirates.
Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?
Helen: Like many writers, I am sure, this has been a long journey for me. Like many writers I tried the traditional publishing route and queried agents, received form rejections by the shed-load and so on. But it was the agents who were encouraging, that requested my manuscript and gave me very positive feedback that gave me the confidence in my writing. The publishing market has been disrupted in an unimaginable way in recent years thanks to technology and that has made things more challenging but also opened up opportunities that were inconceivable five or ten years ago. People can buy a hard cover or paper back copy of my book online and it will be printed for them and on their doorstep in a matter of days. They can buy it instantly on their ereader. It’s an intensely, incredibly chaotic and competitive time but what I really like about it is that the gatekeeper is becoming the readers. Yes, I have to worry (or enjoy) the process of acquiring editorial services, creating covers, formatting layout, managing all of my own sales and marketing effort – but actually I am thriving on this. The writing is the most important part of it all, of course, but, personally, I am enjoying having this much control over the process.
Sierra: Do you have any advise to give to aspiring writers?
Helen: Just write. First and foremost, write, write and write again. If you don’t have the appetite, or know-how to independently publish (I’ve worked in sales and marketing in IT for years so little of the logistics of self or independently publishing bothers me but not everyone wants to do it all) there are plenty of people out there to help you. This is the age of the internet.
Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Helen: I love talking to people about writing and reading – not just my own, so please do tell me what you think, what you like, what you don’t – please look me up at helenjbeal.com