* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com), including author spotlights, guest posts, book reviews, flash fiction or poetry - new items posted 6am UK time Monday to Saturday and writing exercises at 6pm very weekday.
Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Author interview no.282: Helen Hollick (revisited)
Back in February 2012, I interviewed author Helen Hollick for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the two hundred and eighty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical adventure fantasy author Helen Hollick. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Helen. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Helen: I am Helen Hollick, I live on the NE outskirts of London, England on the edge of Epping Forest – so the best of both worlds, town and country! I have always enjoyed reading, and started writing stories when I was about 13 because I desperately wanted a pony, but we couldn’t afford to keep one, so I made one up and wrote stories about our adventures – it seemed a natural thing to do! When leaving school I worked as an assistant at a local library, where I read and wrote science fiction and fantasy – but soon discovered the delights of historical fiction.
Morgen: Wow. How wonderful, to know what you wanted to be when you grew up before you did. :) What’s your journey to writerhood been like?
Helen: I was first published by William Heinemann (Random House UK) but when my backlist was not to be re-printed I obtained the copyright and re-published with a small UK independent company as part of their even smaller mainstream imprint. The company recently went bankrupt, however, so rather than fall out of print again here in the UK I republished with an assisted publishing company, www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk based in Bristol.
Morgen: I was going to say “oh dear” but you’ve certainly landed on your feet.
Helen: I am also published in the US by Sourcebooks Inc and I was delighted to make the USA Today best seller list in the summer of 2011 with my novel The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK).
I have recently become the UK editor for the Historical Novel Society Online Review, with the ultimate aim of improving the standard of self-published historical fiction novels – if you are an Indie author of HF details of how to get reviewed are here: http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/hnr-online-guidelines.htm
I firmly support writers who decide to publish their books as either “self” or “independent”, as I feel too many excellent writers are being overlooked for various reasons. It must be emphasised, however, that to be taken seriously self-published authors must produce their books to a professional standard. There is no reason why a self-published novel cannot be as good as any mainstream book. Which means professional editing and production. This costs money, but quality is never cheap.
Morgen: Absolutely. It’s the thing to do if you want to be taken seriously. I’m in it for the long-haul and really my only expense is an editor. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Helen: I write Historical Fiction and Historical Adventure Fantasy – both of which I expect to stick to for the time being, although I quite fancy having a go at murder mystery.
Morgen: Me too. :) Do you write under a pseudonym?
Helen: I use my own name – Helen Hollick has rather a good ring to it don’t you think?
Morgen: I do. Very alliterative. :) What have you had published to-date?
Helen: I am the author of
The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy - the ‘what might have really happened’ story of King Arthur
Shadow of the King
Published by Sourcebooks Inc US
And SilverWood Books UK
A Hollow Crown (UK title) published by Arrow Books UK / The Forever Queen (US title) published by Sourcebooks Inc
Harold the King (UK title) published by SilverWood Books UK / I am the Chosen King (US title) published by Sourcebooks Inc
The first two books of a proposed trilogy regarding the people and events that led to 1066 and the Battle of Hastings – probably the most famous date in English history.
Morgen: It’s one of the few I remember (that and 1665/6 and the two 20thC world wars). Sorry do go on…
The Sea Witch Voyages:
Voyage One: Sea Witch
Voyage Two: Pirate Code
Voyage Three: Bring it Close
Pirate-based adventure with a touch of fantasy.
Hornblower meets Richard Sharpe and Indiana Jones – at sea
If you enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you will love these.
Published by SilverWood books UK
Morgen: Wow, they do sound great. We’ve touched on self-publishing but are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Helen: Yes, all my books are available as e-books – Kindle and Nook. Both my UK and US Publisher have the contract to publish my books in any English Language format, so as I am completely un-technology minded this is just as well!
I enjoy my Kindle – for one thing I have a sight problem, so it is lovely to be able to change the font size, but it is frustrating that maps and genealogies etc cannot be easily seen on an e-book, and I find it difficult to flick back and forth to check on details of plot of characters. I tend to read a real book if I know I am going to enjoy it, those by my favourite authors for instance, or books I know I will be wanting to keep to read again. Kindle is my “passing read” bookshelf; books I obtain because someone has said it is a good read, but would probably not be an obvious choice, and books I doubt I will want to keep or treasure.
Morgen: I’ve always seen paper books at home and Kindle away. I love the Kindle (I tend to just read text) but can’t imagine ever getting to the stage where it’s the only thing left on my bookcase. :) Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Helen: I would love my Sea Witch Voyages to be made into a TV Drama series – I think they would be as popular as the TV series Sharpe and Hornblower. I am also working on a movie project based around my novel Harold the King/ I am the Chosen King. The movie 1066 is in development and I am co-scriptwriter. An exciting project!
Morgen: Oh wow. You said you ‘The Forever Queen’ was a different overseas title, did you have any say in the title / covers of your books?
Helen: My US publishers decided to change the titles of the two Saxon books – from A Hollow Crown to the Forever Queen and Harold the King to I am the Chosen King. Had I realised how much of a problem this would cause for my readers I might have objected a little more. I do get upset when receiving low star ratings on reviews and the occasional rude e-mail blaming me for the change of title. I wish readers would realise that titles are mainly in the hands of the publisher, not the author. I am as annoyed about the confusion as my readers!
Morgen: Oh dear. It’s a shame there can’t be an author’s note or something, a big yellow sticker on the back perhaps. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Helen: I write something every day, not always the work in progress though – the downside of being self-published is you have no one else to help you with promoting your books, so Facebook, Twitter, Blogs are a daily necessity. While this is essential, it is also important to attend the reason for being here – to write books.
I had the mammoth task of re-editing all seven of my books that SilverWood now publish because my small UK publisher went bankrupt last year and failed to return my files. I had old files – but they all needed a re-edit. To do seven books in five months was not easy. I rather think I burnt myself out with the effort as its taken a while to find the motivation to start again with my WIP. I’ll get there though!
Morgen: Oh ouch. I can relate to that. It’s great you have so much content… if that’s any consolation. :) Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Helen: Actually, my stories seem to find me!
Morgen: :) Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Helen: My characters, to me, are real people. I “met” my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne on a beach in Dorset. I’d had the idea for Sea Witch – the main plot and characters, but had no idea of my protagonist. I sat on a rock looking out at a rather dull English Channel (imagining a blue Caribbean Sea) looked up – and there he was, standing a few yards away in full pirate regalia. He nodded, touched his hat and I said “Hello Jesamiah Acorne.”
A real “ghost-like” image or an over-active imagination? Who knows?
Morgen: A bit of both, perhaps. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Helen: I write a rough draft and I edit each chapter as I go along until I am fairly happy with it, then do the next chapter and so on until I have a complete MS – which I then print out and read and re-edit. This will then go to my editor for her first opinion – and usually, another edit by me. Then she will do a full edit – then a copy edit – and finally a proof read.
No one can edit their own work – I wish self-published authors would realise the importance of using a professional editor. This is not just for checking typos and grammar – does the story flow, does it make sense? Have you got your point across; or maybe you’ve done so too much. Are the characters consistent in behaviour and looks?
Morgen: There’s been a set-to on LinkedIn about this subject where a chap said he was going to edit his novel and post it and everyone (I think without exception) said he should get an editor… I don’t think he did. Do you have to do much research?
Helen: For my historical fiction, yes, and a fair amount for the Sea Witch Voyages – I have never been aboard a sailing ship in my life, yet I’ve taught myself the details (and I think I must have had something to do with the sea in a past life as a lot of it comes naturally). I am currently researching the tobacco trade of the early eighteenth century and the early Jacobite rebellions – I find these things fascinating!
Morgen: I’m so glad we’re all different; history was my worst subject at home and I’m not a fan of research (although the internet is great). Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc., do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Helen: I usually have a CD playing. What one depends on what mood I am in and what particular scene I am writing. Mostly I listen to Mike Oldfield and Loreena McKennitt.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Helen: Yes – several! I have one which I started writing over 40 years ago. I think it has too much dust on it to be read now!
Morgen: That’s a shame because you’re oh so much wiser and er… OK digging self out of hole. :) What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Helen: As I said above for self-published authors – get professional help. I have an article on hints and tips for aspiring writers – you might find it useful. http://www.helenhollick.net/culpa41.html
Morgen: Brilliant, thank you. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Helen: Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Helen: Main website: www.helenhollick.net, Facebook: www.facebook.com/helen.hollick and Twitter: http://twitter.com/HelenHollick
Morgen: Lovely, thank you, Helen.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know. :)
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