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

Being shortlisted

I am late posting about this, as the news was announced last week, but I wanted to let you know that my latest novel LONDON CALLING has been shortlisted for this year’s RoNA Awards. london-calling-high-qual

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The RoNA Awards, sponsored by Goldsboro Books, are the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s annual awards for excellence. There are several categories. LONDON CALLING, set in the Second World War, is in the category: Historical Romance.

The prize-giving event is taking place in the Gladstone Library, in Whitehall, London on 13th March. (Tickets are £65 each so I am expecting it to be a glittering party! Luckily my publishers, Headline, are treating me to my ticket!)

It is a real honour to have been shortlisted and a lovely vote of confidence from the Industry. Years ago I was shortlisted really nice that LONDON CALLING has been picked up for this award.

Many of my friends and readers know that I took a long break from writing to nurse my mother through Alzheimer’s. Eventually, after eight years, as her condition deteriorated, we had to get full time care, and it was then that I began writing again. Sadly my mother died last year, but she knew that I had finished LONDON CALLING, and would have been delighted to know about it being shortlisted for the award.

Next week am off on a trip to France to do a little bit of research form my next book, the sixth in the Lavender Road series. But I will be back in London in time for the Awards ceremony. I am not expecting to win as there are obviously lots of great books on the shortlist, but I am expecting to enjoy the canapés and bubbly!

 

London Calling is now available in paperback or ebook

Helen’s next novel THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET comes out 6th April 2017.

The Dog Star

 

This is a poem written by my lovely husband about our beautiful dog Phoebe who died four weeks ago.

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For

Phoebe, the dog star.

(i) The joy of running.

A bolt from the blue,

A golden arrow streaking , skirting Newport bay

Effortlessly matching sand sail and surf.

A pimple, possibly canine, on the farthest horizon

was enough to take you away,

bullet running, wide pawed dancing.

Find the fiercest dog you could – and make it chase you!

You and Maisie rising and falling like dolphins

in the meadow sweet, long grass of summer.

In Wiltshire woods the intoxicating frustration of putting up deer,

glad running into the copses,

thundering through bramble and bracken,

off, into the dim distance.

Leaving us with the panicky emptiness of the long wait.

half an hour, maybe more,

then you would appear, purple tongue, seemingly a mile long,

hawking for breath, flat out on the green downs.

(ii) A wolf god.

Eyes, soul pooled,

kohl lined.

Anput, Egyptian dog princess,

Pharaoh dog…

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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!

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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

 

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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

 

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Eton rifle drill!

 

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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!

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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…

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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.

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