I am so pleased to introduce the talented fiction author, Helen Carey. Helen is best known for her popular Lavender Road series, which is set in South London during the Second World War. The Lavender Road novels include Lavender Road, Some Sunny Day, On a Wing and a Prayer, London Calling and The Other Side of the Street.
Helen started writing about the war when she met a neighbour at a bus stop in London who pointed out where the air-raid shelters used to be on Clapham Common. That sparked an interest in the Second World War, especially for lesser known details, which now appear in Helen’s spell-binding novels.
Having lived in London, Germany, Switzerland and the West Indies, Helen now lives in Newport, Pembrokeshire in Wales, on a small coastal farm which she and her husband run as a conservation project. She is also a prize winning artist and has made a gallery out of a converted goat shed. As well as painting and writing she teaches Creative Writing at various universities and currently has a Royal Literary Fund fellowship at Aberystwyth University.
She has also written the exciting thriller novel, Slick Deals, which really piqued my interest due to its settings!
Helen, as the author of the popular Lavender Road series, a saga set in London during the WWII era, what inspired you to write Slick Deals, a thriller novel set in London and West Wales?
I was inspired to write SLICK DEALS after going out on a dolphin survey boat in Cardigan Bay just off the beautiful coast of Pembrokeshire where I live. We had a wonderful day, during which we saw masses of seabirds, gannets, terns, puffins, Manx shearwaters, and over a thousand dolphins. But on the way back we passed an oil exploration vessel, and we all agreed how terrible it would be if oil drilling was allowed to spoil such a fragile and beautiful environment. I used to work in the oil industry at one time so I knew the dangers. So I decided the best thing was to write a novel! As well as flagging up the local issue, I thought the conflict between the oil industry and environmentalists would make a good basis for an exciting crime thriller.
That sounds like some amazing inspiration with wisdom to back it up! Was there any particular inspiration behind the American character, Nick Jardine, who is the ‘irritatingly cool environmentalist’?
I suppose he’s a mix of various people I have met over the years, some Brits, some Americans. Yes, he is very cool, and a bit too laid-back at first, but only in a deliberate attempt to provoke the oil trader heroine of the story, Ella Crossley! In the end, of course, he turns out to be pretty tough, but I liked the idea of him pulling the wool over her eyes. I wanted to show that environmentalists aren’t all as ‘hippy-dippy’ as the media sometimes makes out. By the end of the book I was half in love with him myself!
Slick Deals also has a strong romantic suspense element, which seems to work very well in this novel, and many readers have asked for a sequel. Are you considering writing one, and if so, what can we look forward to in the next instalment?
I would love to write a sequel! I actually do have an idea in mind for another crime thriller, but at the moment I am finishing off my Lavender Road series. Once I have done that, and had a nice long holiday (!) I might well turn my attention to Ella Crossley and Nick Jardine once again.
Being a resident of West Wales yourself, your own experiences and familiarity with the countryside must have helped with writing the scenes in Slick Deals a great deal. What about Wales has drawn you to make it your home?
Yes, indeed, I don’t think I could have written Slick Deals without knowing the area and the varied mix of people who live here. The Welsh are extraordinarily tolerant and welcoming people. I think that’s partly why so many so-called ‘hippies’ settled here in the 70s!
The other reason that so many people come to live here in Pembrokeshire is that it is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt places in the world. My husband and I live on a small organic farm which we run as a conservation project. From our house, which is tucked under Carn Ingli (Mount of Angels), we have views out over Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea. There are many other parts of the world that I love, but in the end I always want to come back here!
I can really picture Pembrokeshire as the perfect home for a writer! Are you planning another novel, and if so, can you tell us a little bit about it?
My next novel will be VICTORY GIRLS, the sixth in my Lavender Road series. It is set in the last year of World War Two. Like most of my books it is essentially about women trying to make their way in a male dominated world.
Helen de Burrel knows how dangerous it is in war-torn France, but it’s a long time since she heard from her French fiancé, André Cabillard, and now she has decided to go back to try to track him down.
Her friend Molly Coogan is finding it hard to stop thinking about a Canadian pilot she met while nursing overseas. But Molly wasn’t ‘good enough’ for him, and now she is back in London, determined to discover the truth about her family history, especially about the mother who gave her up for adoption when she was four years old.
The war may be nearly over, but the women of Lavender Road still have battles to fight!
As a prolific writer of seven novels, do you ever experience writer’s block, and if so, what tools and tricks do you use to overcome it?
I have never really experienced writer’s block, although that might be partly due to the fact that I have been commissioned to write most of my novels, and there is nothing more motivating than a publisher’s dead-line!
However, in between novels I do sometimes find myself floundering a bit and I have found Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, very helpful for getting me back on track.
My other tip for writers is to know your ending. Novelists, in particular, often get stuck when they don’t know for sure where they are headed. I spend a lot of time working out my plots, and that helps enormously, because I always know (more or less) what needs to happen in the next scene.
That’s great advice. I noticed that you are also a traditionally published author. What has been your experience with the traditional publishing industry?
Yes, my Lavender Road novels are published in the UK, Europe and Commonwealth by Headline Books, a major London publisher, and the audio version by Isis Soundings. I was previously published by Orion, another big London publishing house.
There are obviously plusses and minuses of being traditionally published and being an indie author. The plusses of the traditional publishers are that the books are professionally edited, and distributed into bookshops and libraries much more widely than I could do myself. I also get a nice fat advance on royalties!
The advantages of indie publishing are that I have much more control over content, covers and pricing.
I think the way I have it at the moment, retaining the US rights on my books, is a good compromise.
Helen, thank you so much for sharing your inspiration for Slick Deals and your insight on writing with us. Where can readers find your books and learn more about you?
I love hearing from readers.
You can visit my website: http://www.helencareybooks.co.uk
My books are all on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Helen-Carey/e/B0066LDO96
Or you can find me on Facebook and Twitter: @helencareybooks