It’s a great pleasure to welcome UK author Helena Fairfax to the reading and writing blog. Helena is one of the lovely writers I’ve been privileged to meet online and she runs a very interesting blog that I always enjoy reading. A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Helena’s debut novel, The Silk Romance, is one of the contenders for this year’s prestigious Joan Hessayon Award - for authors who came through the RNA New Writers’ Scheme.
I have just finished reading the novel, which is published by MuseItUp in Canada, and I loved the story, characterisation and setting. I also greatly enjoyed her second book, The Antique Love. We wish Helena all the best at the Joan Hessayon Awards on 22nd May. Before Helena kindly answers my questions, here’s a little about the novel.
The Silk Romance
The Silk Romance
Sophie Challoner is sensible and hard-working, and a devoted carer of her father. One night her grandmother throws a ball for her in Paris…and Sophie does something reckless that she can never forget.
Jean-Luc Olivier is not a man to treat lightly. And so when fate takes a hand years after the ball and reunites him with Sophie in Lyon, he is determined not to let her go a second time.
But it seems the fates are conspiring against their happiness. Jean-Luc has secrets of his own. And when disaster strikes at home in London, Sophie is faced with a choice—stay in this glamorous world with the man she loves, or return to her family to keep a sacred promise she made her mother.
Thanks so much for having me, Ros!
It’s lovely to see you here, Helena and thanks for answering my nosy questions!
Tell us a little about how you became a writer.
I started writing as a way to occupy myself on a long train commute to work. On those deathly mornings when the rain steams off everyone in a packed carriage, and all the windows are fugged with condensation, it was so much nicer being in the south of France with my characters and the world of my imaginings! Bit by bit, my story evolved, and I began writing more and more often. I then joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, and my writing became a lot more focused - until eventually the exciting day arrived when my first story was published!
Was there a particular reason for setting this novel in France?
I worked in Lyon as an au pair for several months when I was a student, and fell in love with the city then. This sunny and vibrant part of France was so different from to the grimy University town I came from. Everything seemed to me intensely colourful: the two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, gliding through the city; the market stalls with their ripe fruits; the cypress trees; the street cafés and the night-life. It was an intense experience, which stayed with me long after I left France.
What’s the best part about being a published novelist?
By far the best part is the people I’ve met. Being a writer is quite a lonely experience, but since being published I’ve met other wonderful writers and avid readers, and I feel as though I’ve found my tribe!
How does it feel to be nominated for the Joan Hessayon Award?
It still seems surreal to me that the story I started scribbling on a crowded early morning train is now a contender for a prestigious RNA award. After many months of writing and re-writing and agonising about my abilities as a writer, to be part of this fabulous group of contenders has given an enormous boost to my confidence.
What is the most difficult part about starting a new book?
I find just getting on with it is quite hard. When I’m in the middle of a book, I find it easier to sit down and write every day, because I’ve grown to know my characters, and I care about them as though they are real people. With a new story, I feel as though I’m getting to know strangers, and it takes me a while to get involved in their lives. Does that sound weird?
Not at all – I know what you mean!
Do you have a favourite writing place?
I love the summer, when I can sit outside in my back yard and work at the garden table. My dog loves it, too, and she lies down in a patch of sunshine. We listen to the birds singing, bees buzzing, the hustle and bustle of the nearby street, and it’s the nearest I get to total contentment.
You make it sound idyllic! Must admit, I'm an autumn/winter person.
Do you prefer e-books or print? Does it matter these days?
I love to be able to choose. I recently moved house, and had literally hundreds of paperbacks that I’ve read once and will never read again, that I had to find a home for. Now I can store books on my Kindle and transport them everywhere. I also love the possibilities offered by interactive e-books, especially for non-fiction.
There are certain books I would only buy in print, however. These books are “keepers”, which I turn to again and again. There’s a recent anthology of poetry, for example, called Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, which I’m planning to buy in print.
Yes, I feel the same about e-books and print.
How do you promote your books and does it work?
Like a lot of writers, I’m not very good at promoting myself. The promotion that was most successful for me was a book tour for The Silk Romance which was organised by France Book Tours. The tour gained me new readers and several excellent reviews. Other than that I’m quite active on social media (links below) and keep a blog. All writers these days need to devote some time to promotion, and I find it hard to juggle the time between promoting and writing. I do believe, though, that the best way of getting more readers is to write the next book.
Do you find time for hobbies?
I walk every day with my dog on the Yorkshire moors, which is great exercise, and the solitude helps me mull over my writing. I love to watch the changing seasons, and have learned so much about wildlife since I started these walks. Since moving into my new house I’ve replanted the back yard to make it far more wildlife friendly, including putting in a small pond. Unlike most people, I don’t mind all the insects in the garden, of which I see literally hundreds of different varieties. Over the past couple of years the garden has begun to attract far more bees and butterflies, and we finally this year have a couple of birds nesting in our hedge.
Besides outdoor pursuits, like every writer of course I’m also an avid reader! But in the evenings, when I’m flagging, I like nothing better than to sit down with the TV and a glass of wine and get out my knitting. I always have a knitting project on the go, and at the moment it’s a cable-knit cover for my sister’s iPhone.
I’m with you on watching TV in the evenings but I don’t knit!
What are your current writing plans?
I’ve just submitted a short story for an anthology, and am now at the stage of creating a whole new novel from scratch. I have three ideas, and have written my way into all of them with a few thousand words or so. One of the ideas – a story set in a hotel in the Lakes - is grabbing me more than the others at the moment, so much so that I scribbled down some of a scene at six am this morning! So after I’ve finished this interview, I’ll carry on with the hotel story, and hope that the scene and the characters in my head will start to come to life, and I’ll begin care about them as real friends :)
Sounds great and I look forward to reading it!
Any tips for new writers?
First of all, read as much as you can. Find out which new novels are getting rave reviews in the press and in book blogs and check them out.
Secondly, if you want to be serious about writing, you have to stop treating it as a hobby and learn to write every day – even when you’d far rather be doing something else. This dedication is what separates professional writers from other writers.
Thirdly, having said all that, there is absolutely nothing wrong at all in just writing for fun, if that’s what you’d rather do!
All excellent advice! Thank you for being my guest, Helena.
The Silk Romance is available in e-format from major e-book retailers, including MuseItUp Publishing; Amazon UK, Amazon US; Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.
Helena Fairfax was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now and that’s just as well, because nowadays she lives in an old Victorian mill town in Yorkshire, right next door to windswept Brontë country. She has an affectionate, if half-crazed, rescue dog and together they tramp the moors every day—one of them wishing she were Emily Brontë, the other vainly chasing pheasants.
When she’s not out on the moors you’ll find Helena either creating romantic heroes and heroines of her own or else with her nose firmly buried in a book, enjoying someone else’s stories. Her patient husband and her brilliant children support her in her daydreams and are the loves of her life.