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?
Morgen: Lovely, thank you, Helen.
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