Q: Tell us about yourself. What got you into writing?
H: Writers often say in interviews that they’ve been writing ‘all their life’ or ‘since they could hold a pen’ and that was the case for me, too. When I was a child, book buying was a luxury and we only got new ones on birthdays and at Christmas so I spent hours in my local library, taking out the maximum six books you could borrow each week. Soon, I started penning my own stories and I’ve been writing ever since.
Q: Tell us about the premise of Facade.
H: My books are psychological suspense and the plot of Façadehinges on a young child drowning, estranged sisters, and the disintegration of the Stapleton family. The death happens at the family home, a stunning Georgian property called The Old Rectory and this property, and what it means to each member of the Stapleton family, is central to the story so the house becomes a kind of character in its own right. An underlying theme of property runs as a thread through the plot. Rachel, one of the central characters, owns a property company; Imogen, her sister, lives on a houseboat called the Lazy Lucy on the Regent Canal in Little Venice, London. She hooks up with a boyfriend, who lives in an old gamekeeper’s cottage, a bit like in D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and he turns out to be mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Houses shape my characters’ lives and on some level all of them are searching for ‘home’. But they don’t always recognise when they’ve found it. When researching the book, I became fascinated with the ups and downs of the property market and how investing at the wrong time can turn a profitable business into a disaster.
Q: What inspired you to write it?
H: Façade has been a long time in the writing. An early version of the book was my dissertation for an MA in Creative Writing. It can’t have been too terrible because I passed my MA but after sending it out tentatively to a few literary agents, I realised it wasn’t good enough and it got buried in my ‘drawer of forgotten manuscripts’ while I wrote two new novels After Leaving the Village and Lies Behind the Ruin and both were published. Two years ago I got it back out of the drawer and totally rewrote it with a brand new plot but I saved some of the characters.
Q: Did you do any research for your book? If you did, what did it consist of?
H: Several aspects needed research. I think my favourite part was investigating living on a narrowboat on the canal in London. This involved several trips to Little Venice, which is such a fabulous place it feels like being on holiday, chatting to people living on houseboats and gatecrashing the office of the Canal and River Trust where a kind worker took time out of his day to answer my questions about the quirks of living on the waterways.
Some scenes in the novel are based overseas and one section is set in Tunisia. For this I was able to draw drew on my own experience of visiting a diplomat friend who was posted there many years ago. As I wrote I looked at old photos and the scent and colour of the streets and the sound of local people’s voices brought happy memories flooding back.
One of my characters spent years in Ibiza where her husband was a club DJ and she was briefly a holiday rep. Sadly electronic dance and house music are not my era but a friend of a friend, who worked there as a holiday rep helped me with fact checking some very precise details, such as how emergency services deal with sudden deaths. Sadly it’s something holiday reps find themselves dealing with due to the toxic mix of alcohol fuelled dangerous bravado.
Q: Why do you write?
H: For me, writing is an addiction and I can’t not do it. I’d be impossible to live with if I didn’t write. Now I’m several years on from my first novel being published I’ve met so many fantastic people – authors, booksellers, literary festival organisers and book clubs who invite me for author Qs and As. I feel like I’ve found my tribe. I’ve made many good friends and it’s become a lifestyle.
Q: Do you think creative writing classes are beneficial? Why or why not?
H: A few years ago I quit my corporate career and went back to university to study for an MA in Creative Writing. It wasn’t possible to give up paid work altogether, so I carried on with consultancy alongside my studies and, over the next few years, gradually switched to freelance copywriting, which fits in well with writing fiction. I don’t believe writers need to do a course like this – there are other paths. For me it was because I needed to cut loose from years of writing business speak in big companies and get my imaginative writing back on track.
Q: Do you enjoy editing?
H: Oddly, I love it. I always think my first drafts are ugly. I then go to work on them with my editing scalpel and try to craft something much better. I reckon I do at least twelve drafts in total.
Q: Do you write in other genres? Have you ever written in different mediums?
H: I’ve done some freelance journalism and had articles published in newspapers and lifestyle magazines. A highlight was going to Broadcasting House to record a couple of columns I wrote about family life for a BBC Radio programme called Home Truths, presented by the late and lovely John Peel.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
H: Don’t send out your manuscript too soon. Take time to edit and review your work with other writers in critique groups. When it gets in front of a literary agent or publisher it needs to be your best work. There’s an old saying that you only have one chance to make a first impression. Don’t throw that chance away.
Q: What are your future plans as an author? Are you working on another project?
H: In the first lockdown I wrote a first draft of a new novel. As soon as we were released and able to travel, I made a research trip to Tenby in West Wales to check on the places I’m writing about. I’m originally from South Wales so I often have Welsh characters or locations in my books. The new novel is dark psychological suspense novel and returns to the modern slavery theme I wrote about in my first novel. I’m passionate about raising aware of this hideous crime in all its guises to help work towards stamping it out. I’m excited to get it out into the world soon.
Thanks for your time, Helen!
If you want to follow her writing journey, you can visit her website and social media platforms.