The Writing Life of: Helen Carey
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Helen Carey. Helen Carey will be sharing with us details of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book ‘Victory Girls‘, which was released on 19th April 2018 and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Helen Carey is best known for her hugely popular LAVENDER ROAD series set in London during World War Two. She has also written other novels and short stories.
Having had a wide variety of jobs and having lived in several different parts of the world, including a couple of years on a boat in the Caribbean, Helen Carey now spends much of her time in Pembrokeshire in West Wales on a small coastal farm which she and her husband run as a wildlife haven.
As well as writing, Helen likes to paint and works from a small studio in a converted goat shed. She is a fellow of the Royal Literary Fund and has taught creative writing at various universities.
1) As a child did you have a dream job in mind?
Yes, I wanted to be a writer! I loved reading from an early age and began writing when I was about seven. First off I wrote pony stories to entertain friends at school, but as I reached my teens and discovered boys, I quickly switched to writing romances! But then work and further education got in the way and I only came back to writing later on.
2) Who was your favourite childhood author (s)?
I think I would have to say Enid Blyton. I just loved the Famous Five stories, longed for the same sort of adventures, and modelled myself on the character George (a bit of a tomboy girl!)
3) Was there a particular point in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer?
Yes. I was working as a management consultant, and I was driving down the M6 motorway one day, the client had been annoying, I was very tired, it was raining, there was lots of traffic and I started thinking that surely there was something better I could do. And then I remembered how much I had loved writing as a child, and there and then I decided to have a go at writing a novel. A year later I was shortlisted for the RNA New Writers Award and never looked back!
4) What is your average writing day like? Do you have any special routines, word count, etc?
When I am working on a novel I work long days. I get to my desk by 10am. Then I read over the previous day’s work, adjust it if necessary, do a few edits, and then I push on with the aim of writing at least 1500 words by early evening. Sometimes it comes easily, but other times it is a struggle. I am lucky enough to have a lovely view from my desk, looking out over Cardigan Bay towards Ireland. Sometimes when I find myself staring out to sea too much I have to close the curtains to make myself concentrate!
5) How many books have you written? Any unpublished work?
I have had eight books published, six in my Lavender Road series, set in London during the second world war, an environmental crime thriller called SLICK DEALS, and the light romance THE ART OF LOVING, which launched my career all those years ago!
I do still have the typewritten manuscripts of a couple of stories I wrote in my teens. My favourite is a romance set in a ski resort called Peaks of Passion!!
6) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am very much a plotter. I don’t think it’s possible to write a well-structured, multi-charactered, page-turning novel without knowing where you are headed from the start. That’s not to say I plan every detail, often I let the creative process take over, but I always make sure I know what I need to cover in the next section of the story, even if I don’t quite know how I am going to do it!
Concerning your latest book:
Lavender Road Series Book Six
Publisher – Headline
Pages – 560
Release Date – 19th April 2018
ISBN 13 – ebook, paperback, hardcover, audio
Format – 978-1472231550
It’s August 1944. Allied forces are finally making headway in Europe. But rocket attacks on London are a chilling reminder that the war is not yet won. Victory may be just round the corner, but the fighting is far from over for the women of Lavender Road.
Helen de Burrel knows from bitter experience how dangerous things are in war-torn France, but it’s a long time since she heard from her French fiancé and nothing is going to stop her going back to track him down. Meanwhile, her friend Molly Coogan, has returned to London after a spell of nursing in North Africa, determined to discover the truth about the mother who gave her up for adoption when she was four years old.
Sweeping from London to France and on into Germany as Hitler’s army begins to retreat, Victory Girls is full of emotion, excitement and suspense, which will hold readers on the edge of their seats.
7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
VICTORY GIRLS is the sixth and final book in my Lavender Road series, set during the Second World War. Each book covers more or less one year of the war, so for Victory Girls I was setting the story in 1944/45, when Allied troops were fighting their way across Europe.
I always look for aspects of the history that are not quite so well known, so this time I set the main thrust of my story against the background of the invasion of the South of France. But I also included plot lines that involved prisoners of war. I was interested in the stories of German soldiers (some still avid Nazis) who had been brought to the UK, and also of Allied Special Forces who had been captured in France and incarcerated in Germany.
And of course, back in London, gritty and sometimes humorous, day to day life went on with ever increasing privations, and worry about loved ones. One of the characters, who was adopted in early childhood, also chooses this moment to trace her mother. It was fascinating researching how different attitudes about unwanted pregnancies, single parenthood and adoption were then.
I search out all sorts of material for my research, diaries, libraries, personal interviews, history books and of course online, but I am always careful to check the sources as I have discovered that a lot of inaccurate information finds itself into search sites.
8) How long did it take to go from ideas stage to writing the last word?
It took me about 9 solid months to write Victory Girls, with a couple of months for research before and a month or so for editing afterwards. I tend to edit as I go along, and because I have a detailed plan and a good story structure worked out in advance I don’t find myself having to rewrite very much. That is another advantage of being a plotter!
9) How did you come up with the title of your book?
I wanted something that indicated it was the end of the war, and that it was about young women, so Victory Girls came quite easily!
10) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
There are several main characters in Victory Girls, mostly young women, but the main character is Helen de Burrel, who (without giving too much of a spoiler) has managed to get herself aboard one of the invasion ships heading to the South of France as an interpreter. Her intention is to find her fiancé André Cabillard (a former SOE agent), who has been out of touch ever since German forces moved into the South of France. The main plot strand of Victory Girls is essentially Helen’s story as she follows whatever leads she can find to track him down, following the invasion forces up through France and eventually into Germany.
There are sad moments, funny moments and exciting moments, one of which is a ‘Rear Window’ type scene in Heidelberg when she searches the house of a Nazi war criminal for clues of André’s whereabouts. When I watched my husband reading that scene his nails were digging into the arms of his chair!
11) What process did you go through to get your book published?
I was commissioned by Headline Books to write the last three novels in this series. I had written the previous three some years before for Orion Publishing, but since then had been doing other things. When the previous books started to do well as Kindle Books I decided to write another in the series. It was lovely to have them all picked up again and republished by Headline. But it did mean that I had quite a tight deadline to work to!
12) What’s next for you writing wise?
I’m not quite sure. The Lavender Road series has been very successful and my agent and my publishers would like me to write another wartime series. But I am keen to take a break from the war! I might decide to write a follow up to my light thriller, Slick Deals. Or who knows, I might write something completely different!
1) If you could have any super power for the day which would you choose?
I would love to be a time traveller, so I could pop back to the Second World War and check that all the details I so carefully researched about life at that time are correct. Although, thinking about it, I might pass on a few things, like eating whale meat, getting trapped under a bombed building, and being hunted by the SS in occupied Europe. People of that generation were extraordinary. They had amazing courage. I’m not sure we would be so resilient today.
2) Do you have any pets?
Yes, we have a lovely rescue dog called Hera. We stumbled across her while on a walk on a Greek Island. She was chained up all on her own in the middle of nowhere. She was very sad and lonely and frightened. It turned out she had been on that chain for 10 years. It’s a long story but with the help of Greek friends in the nearby village we arranged for her to get a passport and then we drove all the way to Greece to collect her. It was a 5000 mile round trip, but it was worth it. She loved the car and the journey home, has settled very well into life in Wales, and is now the happiest and most affectionate little dog you could imagine.
3) If you decided to write an autobiography of your life, what would you call it?
Variety is the spice of my life!
4) Your book has been made into a feature film and you’ve been offered a cameo role, which part would you choose, or what would you be doing?
I would be serving sandwiches at the VE Day celebrations on Clapham Common, a scene that ends Victory Girls and my Lavender Road series. What a moment that must have been, after 6 years of trauma and privations, to know that peace had come at last.
5) Where is your favourite holiday destination?
I love holidays! It is hard to choose one favourite place. But I do like to escape the British winter if I can, so perhaps I’ll pick the small resort of El Cotillo in Fuerteventura, where we sometimes go for a little bit of winter sun and delicious Canarian food. Or further afield I would choose The Gambia or Costa Rica for wonderful wildlife.
6) A baseball cap wearing, talking duck casually wanders into your room, what is the first thing he says to you?
‘You might think I’m quackers, but I think it’s high time you started writing another book!’
I would like to say a big thank you to Helen Carey for sharing with us details of her writing life and for a wonderful interview.