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Serendipity

serendipityOne of the wonderful things about writing novels is that serendipity often lends a helping hand.

When I was starting to write my first book, LAVENDER ROAD, my car had broken down and I bumped into a wonderful local lady, Laura Boorman, at a bus stop on Clapham Common. Inevitably the bus was late, and we fell into conversation. It turned out Laura had lived in London right through the war years. She was a mine of information, and many of her memories crop up in the Lavender Road books.

A couple of days later the garage owner introduced me to an actor who in turn put me in touch with the lovely Mary Moreland who had been a celebrated concert artiste in the 30’s and 40’s. Much of Jen Carter’s turbulent career in SOME SUNNY DAY and the other books is based on Mary’s experiences.

Just as I was beginning to think about the SOE angle for ON A WING AND A PRAYER I was invited to an uncle’s birthday party at the Special Forces Club in Knightsbridge. There, I not only discovered the tragic staircase of pictures of agents killed during the war, which was a salutary reminder of the incredible dangers those men and women put themselves in for the sake of their country, but I also found information about certain young female agents and was therefore able to base Helen de Burrell’s adventures much more on reality than invention.

While I was researching the early development of penicillin for LONDON CALLING, I discovered by chance that an old family friend, Antony Jefferson, had been a medical student at the time (1942) and actually visited the laboratory in Oxford where Professor Florey and his small team were attempting to create a therapeutic drug. Things were so short in those days that they had to resort to using bedpans to grow the cultures in as they simply couldn’t find any other suitable receptacles. Antony had also survived a torpedo attach in mid Atlantic. Some of my readers will recall Jen and Molly’s dramatic escape from their sinking troopship in the Mediterranean, all based on Antony’s experiences!

I had already begun writing my most recent Lavender Road book, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET, and was trying to find useful details about the women’s services during the war years, when I asked Eirian Short (a famous local embroiderer) for some advice on a tapestry I had recently inherited, only to discover that Eirian had joined the ATS in 1942 and remembered every detail! Although I should add that Eirian’s military service history was exemplary, and my character Louise Rutherford’s various high jinks are entirely her own!

Now, as I draw to the end of writing Book 6 (as yet unnamed) I’m glad to report that the same kind of thing has happened again. I won’t tell you exactly what because I don’t want to give the story away yet, but suffice it to say that serendipity has once again played a part, and for that I am profoundly grateful!

 

 

Helen Carey’s latest novel, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET, was published by Headline on 6 April 2017 and is now available at your local Amazon store.

Uk editions combo 2          US Editions combo

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big news today! My new novel, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET, comes out.

Published by Headline Books in the UK, Europe and Commonwealth, and by TSAP in the USA and some other territories, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET is my fifth Lavender Road novel, and like its predecessors it can be read as a stand alone, or as part of the series.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET is mainly set in London in 1944, and as well as the inevitable problems of war, one of the themes this time is about someone (Louise Rutherford) trying to become a better person. That is never an easy thing to do, especially perhaps in wartime, and when Louise finds that she has to join the ATS, the Women’s section of the British Army, things become even more difficult for her.

I love writing about the Second World War. For me it is a fascinating period of history. So much happened in those eventful years, even for those who weren’t actually fighting. With almost constant Luftwaffe bombing, plus Hitler’s V1 and V2 revenge missiles, people on the Home Front were also in considerable danger. I have always been impressed by the extraordinary courage and resilience that people showed at that time, and I think, more than anything else, that is what has always drawn me to the period Putting characters in difficult circumstances is always interesting, and for the posh, pretty, somewhat self-centred young widow, Louise, the grim realities of as ATS training camp come as a nasty shock!

I very much hope you enjoy reading THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET, and as always, if you have the time or the inclination to pop a review of this or any other of my books on Amazon, that would be great. It all helps enormously!

To find out more about any of my books do visit the Books page above.

All best wishes, and Happy Reading,

Helen

To celebrate the launch of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET in the USA, all the American eBook editions of Helen’s books have been given a new look covers.

us covers launch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

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.

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.*

Time flies?

Nearly everyone I meet at the moment comments on how quickly this year has gone. At first I thought it was an age thing. But then my teenage niece (great niece actually, but I don’t dwell on that!) said the same thing. The old adage says that time flies when you are enjoying yourself. In that case, everyone I know must be having a very jolly time.

And then I began to wonder if people felt the same sense of time passing too fast during the Second World War. But I can find no mention of it in wartime diaries or letters. On the contrary, there are lots of comments about how slowly everything was progressing; the interminable Blitz, the endless backwards and forwards of the North African campaign, the pitifully slow Allied crawl up through Italy, and the long wait for the invasion of France.

If the old adage is right then the obvious conclusion is that people were not enjoying themselves. But, however odd it may seem, much of the evidence says they were.

Indeed many of the people I have talked to during my research look back on the war years with fondness and a sense of nostalgia. Yes, unbearably awful things happened, friends and family were lost, people suffered horrendous ordeals, privation and tragedy, but on the other side of the coin there was a sense of comradeship, both on the home front and on the battlefield, of being in it together. There was also a life affirming sense of surviving difficult odds, and of playing a part in a great struggle for justice and freedom. A Hungarian doctor attending survivors of the bombing of the Bank underground shelter said afterwards, ‘If Hitler could have been there for five minutes with me, he would have finished this war. He would have realised that he has got to take every Englishman and twist him by the neck – otherwise he cannot win.’ Another old Londoner who had been bombed out of his house was asked if he wanted to be evacuated. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘Nothing like this has ever happened before and it will never happen again. I wouldn’t miss it for all the tea in China.’

Nevertheless, it is clear that everyone was longing for the war to end. And perhaps it is the act of waiting for something that makes time go more slowly. Maybe nowadays, in our quick, convenient, instantly gratifying world, we lack that sense of expectation and anticipation. It is rare that we have to wait very long for anything.

I certainly know that some of my fans feel they have waited quite long enough for the next novel in my wartime Lavender Road series.

But it is finished and will be published next year. It’s called LONDON CALLING and takes the story up to Christmas 1943. I am so sorry it has taken so long, but I hope it will give you something to look forward to and perhaps make the intervening time pass a little more slowly!!

Snoopy xmas card

Lauren Bacall – the passing of an era

There are lots of wonderful aspects to researching the Second World War, the stories of the indomitable spirit that people showed even in the worst of time, the grim humour and the accounts of extraordinary courage and derring-do.

I never know quite where my research will lead. But I do know that one of the most amazing things of all is talking to people who were actually there at the time. And one of the saddest things is that so many of the people I have spoken to during the course of my research have since died.

A few years ago I found myself talking to Lauren Bacall.Lauren_Bacall_Harper's_Bazaar_1943_Cover

I was in Italy researching my Lavender Road series. We were staying in Roncade, a small town in the Veneto. It was New Year’s Day and most of the cafés were shut. But there was one place open, so we went in for a coffee before leaving for our flight home. The café was called Il Grillo, not, as we thought, something to do with the cooking methods employed there, but after its owner, whose nickname was ‘il grillo’ (the Italian word for a cricket.) He was indeed a very lively (and amusing) man! He was fascinated to hear about my research and told us proudly that Roncade was a famous place because not only did Ernest Hemingway pass through the town towards the end of the war but that Lauren Bacall was also a frequent visitor and had, over the years, become a personal friend.

Apparently misinterpreting my somewhat bemused expression as one of scepticism, he took out a mobile phone and dialled a number. A moment later he handed me the phone and, to my astonishment, there was Lauren Bacall on the other end, apparently quite happy to have been woken up in the middle of the night in Los Angeles to wish me Happy New Year! She couldn’t have been more charming.

At the beginning of the war, at the age of seventeen, (rather like my Lavender Road character Jen Carter,) Lauren Bacall took acting lessons at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she was classmates with Kirk Douglas. To make ends meet, she was, at the same time, working as a theatre usher and a fashion model. In 1943 she was chosen to appear on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. The following year she appeared for the first time as a leading lady in the Humphrey Bogart film To Have and Have Not and her career was launched.

But now, like so many of the icons of the wartime years, she has passed on, leaving the world a less glamorous, less stylish and, perhaps, a less wonderful place.

It is the passing of an era. And it is the job of us novelists to try to capture some of that history, some of those people’s lives, some of that spirit and humour, to enable our readers to transport themselves, albeit briefly, back into those extraordinary times.

Historical Fiction Award

2014winner1Great news! My wartime novel ON A WING AND A PRAYER was voted winner of the E-Festival of Words Best Historical Fiction Award. WAAP0-123

It’s great to know that stories about the Second World War are still so popular, especially as I am just in the process of finishing the sequel to ON A WING AND A PRAYER! It will be the fourth in my LAVENDER ROAD series and is called LONDON CALLING. It should be out later this year or early next year. I just have the final chapters to write …. and then the editing process begins!

I know some of my fans are getting impatient, but do bear with me. It is coming, but I want it to be just right. I am sorry for the delay but I hope it will be worth the wait.

In the meantime a great big THANK YOU to everyone who voted for ON A WING AND A PRAYER – you are all stars and I really appreciate your support.

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