helencareybooks

A site for readers and writers

Welcome to Helen Carey’s blog

Hello, welcome to my blog,

I am a published author (see my book page above), an avid reader, and I occasionally teach creative writing at university level. In the past I have also worked as a reader for a couple of publishers and a literary agent.

If you would like to subscribe to this blog, just click the ‘Sign up by email’ or ‘RSS’ box on the right, I only post once or twice a month so you won’t be inundated and you can unsubscribe at any time.

My latest wartime novel, LONDON CALLING, is now out in paperback and the next in my Lavender Road series, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET will be published by Headline in April 2017

2014winner1With all best wishes and happy reading,

Helen

Tricky choices for authors

otterThere are so many choices for an author to make when embarking on a novel. What time period? What setting? What structure? What genre? What characters? What events? How true should it be to real history? What is the time frame? What is it all really about?

Many of these need to be answered before even starting out. No wonder so many potential novelists are put off at the first hurdle.

And as soon as you’ve made those decisions, (assuming you haven’t given up in despair,) another wave of questions immediately comes hurtling towards you.

How are you going to tell the story? Whose point of view? First or third person? What tone? What voice? Where should it start? What is going to kick the whole thing off? Where is it going to end? How are you going to layer in the clues to make that ending satisfactory? And, horror of horrors, what are you going to put in the middle?

Obviously there are even more choices to be made further down the line, about style, dialogue, punctuation, action versus exposition, amount of description, and what actual words to use, but for now I am going to focus briefly on the question of what to put in the middle. Or, as it is more commonly called, the plot.

Plots are tricky things to get right. But when they work, they engross readers in your make-believe world so effectively that they keep turning the pages, even at chapter endings, and finish up by feeling that their lives have been enhanced in some way, and best of all, eager to start reading your next book.

There are lots of things that can go wrong with a plot. The basic premise might be too weak. The concept may lack believability. The story might be too yawn-makingly obvious. The inherent conflict set up by the opening may not be sufficiently escalated. Readers also lose interest when crucial bits of information are missing, key scenes avoided, or if there is too much repetition. On the other hand there may be too many red herrings, inconsistencies or loose ends. As Chekhov said: ‘One must not put a loaded rifle on stage if no-one is thinking of firing it.’ The ending should not appear random or insubstantial, or, as so often seems to happen nowadays, to have been plonked in by the author just to get the whole damn thing over with. In my view, the very best endings grow out of the story, giving the reader what they want, but not quite in the way they expected.

There is no magic formula for a great plot, and no quick fixes for a bad one. It is the individual decisions that writers make that are the key to success. So take time to ask yourself if your story is genuinely interesting. Are your characters’ quests worth pursuing?

 If the answer is yes, then I reckon you are well on the way to a bestseller!

 

 

Helen Carey’s latest novel LONDON CALLING is now out in paperback.

All her books are available from good booksellers, or on line.

Win! Win! Win!

As you may know my latest Lavender Road novel, LONDON CALLING, came out in paperback last week.

london-calling-high-qualSet right in the middle of the Second World War, LONDON CALLING follows the lives of a number of people living in street in London.

Lavender Road is a perfectly ordinary south London street. But in wartime ordinary people find themselves doing extraordinary things, and now, in LONDON CALLING, actress Jen Carter  and nurse Molly Coogan are about to take on their biggest challenge yet.

*To celebrate the paperback publication, my publishers, Headline, are offering 10 free copies of LONDON CALLING.*

All you have to do to be in with a chance is pop over to my /helencareybooks facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/helencareybooks and write a brief comment under the competition post about why you would like to win a copy.

GOOD LUCK and HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

For more info on LONDON CALLING or to look at my other books, visit my books page above, or my website, or Amazon

 

LONDON CALLING

Stop press!

My latest novel LONDON CALLING comes out in paperback in the UK, Europe and Commonwealth next week. I have just received my advance copies and they are looking good!

london-calling-high-qual

London Calling is set in the middle of the Second World War. It follows the lives of a number of people who live in one perfectly ordinary south London Street. But in wartime ordinary people find themselves having to do extraordinary things. And nurse Molly Coogan and actress Jen Carter are about to take on their biggest challenge yet.

 

LONDON CALLING is already out on Kindle, and in Hardback, and as an Audio version too, read by Annie Aldington.

But now it is in paperback, and it joins the three earlier books with the new branding that my new publishers Headline have given them.

lav rd headline  some sunny day final  on a wing and a prayer 5

I have just recorded a tiny video about my research, showing some of the books I used – you can find that at my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/helencareybooks/

Those of you who have read and enjoyed (and hopefully reviewed!) my earlier Lavender Road books will be glad to know that the next in the series THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET will be published in 2017. And is already on pre-order at Amazon.

Find more information about my books at my book page (see above), or at http://helencareybooks.co.uk

Enjoy!

 

 

 

When is the best time to write a book?

dog and seasonsI recently read an excellent article by Professor Alexandra Harris in The Author Magazine about the best weather for writing.

Traditionally people have associated springtime with artistic creativity, all those budding plants and trees somehow linked with the germination and production of creative ideas. But for a rurally based author (like me) spring is a very busy time, flowers might be bursting into life, but so are the weeds, and what with planting and potting on, and doing all the garden chores that are so unpalatable in the dark days of winter, there is little time left for writing.

Then there is summer. Surely those long warm days lend themselves to the creative process? Well yes, but they also attract visitors. Living in an idyllic spot by the sea (as we do) makes the summer even more busy than spring. All our lovely city dwelling friends who baulk at the thought of Welsh winter mud and rain, descend on us during the summer, and so, instead of writing, I find myself picnicking on the beach and hosting endless jolly barbeques in the (well-weeded) garden.

Autumn seems the obvious choice for a decent bit of writing. It isn’t so hot and the children are back at school so there is less to distract me. But no. Because now the people who want to avoid school holidays arrive, older couples and single friends, wanting long quiet walks on the coast path and equally long talks about life and loves.

So maybe I should pin my hopes on winter. But winter in West Wales is not to be taken lightly. Not only is there the problem of resisting the urge to hibernate, there’s the problem of hours spent persuading our elderly dogs to venture out into the howling gales, of the need for warm baths afterwards.

Then even when we authors do find time to pen a few words, there is the issue of trying to write about the season that we aren’t actually in. It is hard to think about snowdrops during long hot sultry August days, and equally hard to remember that lovely feeling of sun on skin when sleety winter winds are rattling the windows.

But somehow, word by word, chapter by chapter we get it done. Sometimes we have to retreat into our own cocoons, spurning entertainment, and alienating our friends and loved-ones.

Because books have to be written. And for those of us who don’t have the inclination or indeed the stamina to write all night, finding the time to work is an ongoing problem. Because time is what all writers need. We need to live – ‘to fill the creative well’ – as Julia Cameron puts it, but we also need time to write.

Even if life, whatever the weather, whatever the season, always tries to interfere.

 

 

Helen Carey’s latest novel LONDON CALLING is now available in hardback, ebook and audio versions. The paperback follows in December. All Helen’s other novels are available at Amazon, or in good bookshops.

My Writing Day

waiting for inspirationThis morning I read an article about William Boyd, one of my literary heroes. He was outlining his working day in the Guardian Review and it made me feel even more affinity with him than I did already. I already knew that, like me, he is a bit of an artist as well as a writer, but now I discovered with some delight that his writing methods follow much the same pattern as mine.

 He, as I do, assumes that most writers are larks, preferring to get up early in the morning and crack on with their novels with vim and vigour, sometimes before daybreak.

I have always had a secret envy for larks. I am very different, and so it turns out is William. We both prefer to limber up more gently, undertaking easier, more mundane tasks like our admin, emails, dog walking and and phone calls in the morning. We then like to enjoy a leisurely lunch and finally in early afternoon we feel that the muse is sufficiently on us to start putting pen to paper, literally in his case, as it turns out he writes his daily 1000 words (give or take) in longhand before using the evening to transfer it, with inevitable edits, to his keyboard.

On the whole I write straight onto the keyboard, but often from hand written notes I‘ve made while lying in bed savouring my early morning (in my terms obviously, not that of a lark) cup of tea. I have a number of special notebooks standing by for this purpose, which need to conform to a general rule of pretty cover, ring-binding, relatively narrow line spacing, and not too large, thereby making them comfortable for use in bed, on journeys, or at other inconvenient moments when I’m not at my computer. You never know when an idea will pop up.

 William prefers a larger A4 size of pad without margins, but he stipulates a ring binding, which again show how much we have in common, although he didn’t specify a pretty cover. He also uses a very specific pen (a Rotring Tikky Graphic with a 0.2mm nib, just in case if you are wondering!)

 Now I suspect that many of you will think that finding the most satisfying pen or writing pad is a ridiculous thing for a writer to become fixated on. You will assume there are other much more important things to worry about, like story structure, plot and characterisation, and indeed whether anyone will actually want to read what we have written.

And yes, of course these are also considerations the novelist has to grapple with. But it is perhaps the very existence of all the nerve-wracking unknowns and difficult-to-accomplish feats of invention that makes the few things we can actually control so important to us. As William himself puts it, ‘It’s a toiling, messy business writing a novel,’ and anything that makes it easier for us must be taken seriously!

 

Helen Carey’s latest novel, LONDON CALLING, has recently been published. It and her other novels are available in all good bookshops.

 

 

 

WW2 in pictures

babies in shelter

Underground maternity unit – note babies on shelf!

During my research for my second world war Lavender Road novels I’ve come across some extraordinary photos. I sometimes share these on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, but I realised I haven’t shared many of them with my Blog readers yet.

Some of them relate directly to my novels, some of them don’t. But they all give a flavour of that incredible time when people (and animals) in Britain were struggling to survive under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances.

Here are just a few …

 

war carrots on sticks

Tough times for children too

 

farringdon market V1

Keep calm and carry on

 

bombed library

Keep reading ….

 

ats with princess

Do you recognise the ATS girl centre back (the only one sitting on a chair)? Yes, it’s Princess Elizabeth – our current Queen!

 

balham tube station bus

The Balham Bomb, 1940

 

wvs rifle practise

WVS rifle drill

 

eton ww2

Eton rifle drill!

 

untitled

Nurses disembarking in Normandy soon after D’Day

 

wartime pet

Battersea Dogs Home trying to rehouse dogs orphaned in the bombing

 

dog and soldiers

Awww!

 

This is just a small selection – more to follow in due course …

 

 

Helen Carey’s new novel LONDON CALLING is now available at Amazon and in all good bookshops.

A poem for St David’s Day

I have to reblog this – wonderful!

themarcistagenda

014August and sept 2015 034 

My angels were singing : a poem for St David’s Day 

This poem was written a few years a go now – and I have shared it previously. I wondered about ‘recycling it ‘ but (rightly or wrongly) I love this poem, and, given that St David’s Day is an annual event, well….here’s to him, to Wales and the Welsh, and ultimately ; to us all!

Ddiwrnod da ac yn flwyddyn wych I ddod.

I stood near the house

where Grace once lived,

My angels were singing.

 

I watched as birds

and daffodils dived.

My angels were singing.

 

It’s spring and the sun

bursts fat and alive.

And my angels were singing.

 

Old crow, silhouetted against Carningli rock,

purple shadowed on blackened burnt bracken,

gorse and heather reeling :

the after shock.

But my angels were singing, still.

As seagulls wheeled across the bay,

catching sea…

View original post 75 more words

Nineteen years later …

london calling final 3[1]Nineteen years ago my novel ON A WING AND A PRAYER was published. It was the third book in my LAVENDER ROAD series about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the residents of one London street during the second world war.

That novel ended with one of the main characters, Helen de Burrel, having been injured in the battle for Toulon harbour in France in 1942, escaping the advancing Germans on a French submarine.

And there she has been, stuck on a French submarine, for nineteen years!

But now she is finally about to be liberated (like France ultimately was,) because on Thursday (25th February) , LONDON CALLING, the next novel in the series, is coming out!

And no, before you ask, it didn’t take me nineteen years to write it! For various reasons, after finishing ON A WING AND A PRAYER, I moved on to other things, (not least living on a boat in the Caribbean for while,) painting, getting married, and teaching creative writing at various universities. And then, for the last ten years, caring for my mother who was beginning to suffer with Alzheimer’s.

But then the digital revolution happened. And when the previous Lavender Road books became popular again as Kindle books, both in the UK and in the USA, I decided the moment had come to write another in the series.

LONDON CALLING is the result. My literary agent loved it, and a wonderful deal with Headline Books quickly followed. Not only are Headline publishing LONDON CALLING on Thursday, but over the next few months they will be republishing all my earlier Lavender Road novels as well. They have also commissioned me to write two more (one of which is already finished, and will come out in 2017).

My mother sadly died this year, so she won’t see the publication of LONDON CALLING, but I know she would be happy that I have gone back to writing, because she loved my Lavender Road books, and also loved reminiscing about her wartime experience as a nurse.

Some of the things she told me appear in LONDON CALLING, which opens in December 1942. As well as picking up on the stories of my other favourite residents of Lavender Road, it also follows the story of Molly Coogan, a young trainee nurse, who longs to escape both the oppressive discipline of the Wilhelmina hospital in south London and an ill-advised infatuation for an unobtainable man. But when Molly’s wish comes true and she finds herself on a troopship on the way to North Africa, she soon realises she has jumped out of the frying pan into a very dangerous fire …

LONDON CALLING is now available for pre-order at Amazon.  CLICK HERE for more details.

Do some moves!

gleb dancing.jpg

Gleb!

As my regular readers will know I am very interested in the process of writing. But instead of banging on about the importance of story structure, character motivation and pace, today I am more concerned with the actual physical process of sitting down for the length of time it takes to write a book.

As my regular readers will know I am currently in the process of writing my seventh novel. And I am not talking about short, little novels. My last novel came in at 200,000 words, which is (hopefully) a nice, fat, satisfying read. (Or, as I discovered at the weekend when the new unabridged audio version of LAVENDER ROAD popped through the letterbox, a fifteen and a half hour listen!)

So we are talking long hours at the computer. And that can bring its own problems. As well as grappling with which extraneous adverb to expunge, what to do with the dog unwisely introduced in Chapter Three, and how to surreptitiously layer in the clues for a dramatic denouement, novelists are also often grappling with painful backs, strained eyes, tired brains and numb bottoms.

So here are six tips to help keep you going without the necessity of a visit to the doctor/ chiropractor/ nearest cliff.

1.  Take regular breaks. Walk about, look at distant things, and flex. I find dancing around the kitchen while making coffee (or raiding the biscuit tin) very therapeutic – this worked especially well during the Strictly season, although I carefully refrained from imitating any ‘Gleb specials’, that would certainly have necessitated a trip to Accident and Emergency.

2. Set a timer to ensure that those breaks happen. I find it’s all too easy to get involved, and the next thing I know, three hours have passed and I have barely moved.

3. Try to use a different part of your brain at some stage during the day. Sketching, gardening, cooking, walking or having a jigsaw on the go are all ways of giving the your brain a rest from words.

4. Give the eyes a break too. Closing them is a good idea, especially when combined with a little lie down. Although, in my case, once again, several hours may elapse without barely moving! On the other hand, good ideas often pop up when I am trying to relax away from the computer, so maybe it’s sometimes worth ‘wasting’ time on a little nap.

5. Use down time, chore time and journey times to think. Quite a bit of writing is thinking and that can be done away from the computer. In fact I believe it should be done away from the computer. I find it saves on a lot of bottom numbing if I arrive at my desk knowing more or less what I want to achieve that day.

6. Treat yourself to a laugh. If necessary watch a comedy show or Michael McIntyre DVD. There’s nothing more therapeutic than laughing!

Happy Writing!

 

*Helen Carey’s latest wartime novel, LONDON CALLING, will be published by Headline on 25th February 2016.*

 

 

 

 

WARTIME CHRISTMAS

Snoopy xmas cardThis is just a quick message to wish a Happy Christmas to all my lovely blog followers.

I can’t believe another year has nearly gone by. It’s been an up and down year for me. I signed my new amazing book contract with Headline Books in the early part of the year. Then almost immediately after that my mother died. We had looked after her for eleven years so it was a terrible sadness for us, and left a big hole in our lives.

It took me a while to be able to get back to writing, but now I’m glad to report that my latest contracted novel, the fifth in my LAVENDER ROAD series, is coming along well.

And once again I can’t help comparing what life was like at Christmas in London during the war years.

In 1942 there were very few fresh turkeys or chickens to be had for love, money, or food coupons! And of course there were no frozen ones either. In my next novel, LONDON CALLING, which is being published in February, one of my characters preserves a gifted turkey in salt ready for Christmas Day!

The best most people could manage for their festive lunch was a chicken and dumpling pie. Sugar, suet and dried fruit was in short supply too, so Christmas puddings were either very small or non existent.

Toy shops were pretty much bare of everything and fathers found themselves making toys and/or dolls from salvaged bits and pieces. One old lady I spoke to told me of a treasured necklace she had been given by her fiancé made from cherry stones!

Crackers and paper hats were often made out of newspaper, and if you fancied a tipple, the likelihood was that your local pub would have asked you to bring your own glass!

The British government wanted people to give each other War Bond savings vouchers as gifts and the Red Cross encouraged people to ‘Adopt a Prisoner of War’ (rather in the same way as people sponsor endangered wild animals nowadays!)

This year, in the UK alone, millions have already been spent on gifts for pets. In 1942 it was illegal even to put breadcrumbs out for the birds.

So there you go – enjoy the festivities, and remember to relish your freedom, your food and your gifts – and don’t forget to raise a glass to all the stalwart souls (like my characters in LAVENDER ROAD) of 1939 – 1945 who made it possible!!

 

*Helen Carey’s new novel LONDON CALLING will be published by Headline on 25th February 2016. It is now available for pre-order on Amazon.*

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