It's another lovely start to the week out there, perfect weather to sit in the sun and read the latest guest author interview. Today we welcome Helen J Beal to the hot seat.
Please introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?
Jambo! I'm Helen J Beal and I am the author of three novels and a collection of short stories (all contemporary literary fiction). I am a voracious reader and hopelessly but happily addicted to Scrabble. I have a penchant for tortoises. I would like to learn to fly a helicopter and part of me is tempted to be one of the inaugural team being sent to colonize Mars.
What first inspired you to start writing?
As I said, I have always read masses and I studied English Literature and Language at London University. The seed of my desire to write was sown by my love of reading. I began writing my first novel when I was eleven on holiday in Greece. Unfortunately I left the draft on a seat in the airport in Corfu never to be seen again. I can't remember now what it was about, but it's highly probable cats were involved.
If you could write anyone's biography, whose would it be and why?
I don't think anyone's written a biography of Douglas Adams which I can't help but think is a massive oversight. He's one of my favourite writers ever who manages to tackle some very deep thoughts with astonishing humour. He also had one of the most fertile imaginations ever seen on this planet. He actually hated writing and his publishers had to lock him in a hotel room to make him finish a book. He used to say, purportedly: "Writing is easy. You just stare at a blank sheet of paper until your forehead bleeds." I also share with him a deep-rooted love of the natural world and the desolation at the damage we humans are doing to the planet and our fellow creatures. He did the first series of 'Last Chance to See' (a series about species gravely threatened with extinction) with Mark Carwardine that was more recently updated with his great friend Stephen Fry. He died in 2001 and I had a hat made and inscribed with his immortal words 'Don't Panic' in his honour. Eoin Colfer wrote a posthumous sequel to Hitchhikers that I haven't been able to bring myself to read. The more I think about it, the more it seems strange that nobody has written a biography - he was such an extraordinary man who led a brilliant life. But I hadn't thought about writing a biography until you asked that. I've always thought of myself as a writer of fiction.
Do you have a favourite place in which to write?
Not really... I write a lot in my house because that's where I am a lot. But there are also some lovely tearooms around the corner that have roaring fires in the winter where a lot of words have been churned out. I also like going away to write and have had some excellent writing binges in Cornwall, the Alps, the Seychelles, New Zealand... My and my laptop are quite happy anywhere really. The train's good too.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I think my absolute favourite bit is teasing the story and the characters out of the germ of an idea. Giving the story a place and looking at the plot. Scrubbing out ideas and finding new directions. Watching while new characters appear and move the story in a new direction.
And the least?
I'm not a huge fan of editing and rewriting but do enjoy the 'cleansing' feeling when extraneous matter is removed from a manuscript and naughty little typos are stamped out. And it's great when the manuscript comes back from the editor and they confirm that overall it works, and suggest a few changes and I know I'm really on the final stretch. And it's the best feeling ever, although slightly nerve-wracking, to press 'go' on the book and see it become available to the world.
What advice would you give new and aspiring authors?
Just write. There's a lot of noise in the marketplace about how to market and sell your book and, of course, that's important too, but the primary focus of a writer should be producing the best work possible. And the more you write, the better you will become. And hire a professional editor before you even think about publishing. That last one's an imperative.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am in my favourite phase in two novels - the early development. I have two really strong premises and I can't decide on one of them so I am attempting to write them both at the same time. One is heavily concerned with themes of conservation and overpopulation, the other, a new direction for me, is more of a psychological thriller.
Tell us about your latest work and how we can find out more.
I just published my third novel, Riding a Tiger, which is about a super-yacht that is hijacked by Somali pirates. It's a character driven novel that tries to be sympathetic in some ways to the challenges those less privileged than us face. You can find out more at my website and the book's Facebook page. Here are the links: