Category Archives: General

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.

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


The opening paragraph of my first novel, Thirty Seconds Before Midnight is:

“Digby clattered his little red hook of a beak on my shell the morning that I first saw the dominoes of my life topple. Over one went, tipping into another, knocking it onto the next. Several had gone already, escaping my notice, and though I was unable to see where they led, my instincts told me that at the end of them there was something thrilling: a climax of sorts, fireworks perhaps.”

One of the things I was quick to learn in my writing career was the ease at which one can transition from the act of writing to the act of procrastination. One minute a character’s in a herb garden, the next I’m in a botanical dictionary. Or Facebook. Or emptying the dishwasher. Or researching the exact hoot of a Scops owl. Youtube, though, for me, has to be king of all procrastination platforms and has some AMAZING videos of dominoes toppling. Here are some of my favorites:

My conclusion? There are lot of people out there with vastly more patience than me. And startling ingenuity.


Well hello there! This is my new blog launched in line with the announcement of the availability of my first three novels and a book of short stories – you can buy them from December 1st – and the short story collection – Half a Dozen Star Jumps – will be free as an ebook! Read more about my books here.

I will be accompanied initially on this blog by a protagonist from each of my first three novels (and more may join us in time):

– Herbert Trimble: the giant land tortoise who narrates much of the action in Thirty Seconds Before Midnight from Bestwood and the surrounding area, Herbert’s specialist subjects are zoology and evolution and film. You can also be friends with Herbert on Facebook – find him here.

– Melissa Lavender: the hedge-fund trader from Rich in Small Things, a gambler and an adventurer; her specialist subjects are poker, botany and being green. Be friends with Melissa on Facebook.

– Rachel Lassetter: the failed biochemist and super-yacht stewardess who spent most of Riding a Tiger aboard and captive off the coast of Somalia; her specialist subjects are reading, travel and Scrabble. Rachel is very gregarious and would love to be your friend.

We thought we’d kick off with a rather lovely short film of a murmuration – a flock of starlings – that inspired the ending of one of the scenes in the first chapter of Riding a Tiger. Enjoy!

Murmuration from Islands & Rivers on Vimeo.