On my blog today I’m very pleased to welcome Helen Barrell. They say that the truth is stranger than fiction and Helen’s book Poison Panic, described as ‘A clever mix of family history and true crime’ – Angela Buckley, is a great read if you’re looking for something ‘different‘. But I’ll let Helen do the talking . . .
Tell us something about yourself, Helen
Librarian by day, and author by night; I’m surrounded by books all the time. I’ve always written, but it’s my non-fiction Victorian true crime which has been published, while my fiction lingers on in a drawer. I live in Birmingham, with my partner and two cats, and drink far too much tea. I dress up in historical costume when the mood takes me. And I didn’t intend that to rhyme. Sorry.
Who or what has inspired you the most/ to become a writer?
My grandad, who used to sit me and my brother on his knee, and make up stories as they came to him. My favourite ones were about his time in France and Belgium during WW2 – he used to turn his adventures into ghost stories. Haunted, abandoned chateaux were his speciality, as well as his retelling of the haunting of Borley Rectory. Some people have commented that I write how I speak, and perhaps it’s that storytelling courtesy of my grandad which is behind that. There were always books in our house when I was growing up, and I loved going to our local library. At some point, I made the connection between the stories that people tell with their voices, and the stories people tell by writing them down.
Being a modern author, Helen has used the power of the internet to bring her stories alive for her readers. Click on this link to watch her fabulous book trailer for Poison Panic.
If you’d like to hear Helen reading from Poison Panic, click here.
When you’re not dreaming about poison (!) describe your typical writing day I fit my writing around my job, so I tend to write in the evening, heading up to my desk as soon as I get home from work. I manage to fit in two hours of writing that way. I spend chunks of my weekends writing as well. I’m a bit of a hermit, really! I will sometimes write during my lunch hour or if I get an idea that wakes me up early, I’ll give up trying to get back to sleep and spend some time writing early in the morning. I commute to and from the day job on foot, and I find walking a wonderful way to get lost in my thoughts. So “writing” happens then, too. When deadlines loom, I take holiday from work to write. Recently I took a day’s annual leave in order to work on my book’s index – yes, an index. Such are the woes of the non-fiction author.
Social Networking – a help or a hindrance? I’m never entirely sure how well social media helps to sell books, but I will say that it’s an excellent way to get in touch with other writers. Getting to know other writers is an excellent way to share your pain! Twitter is even worth using purely as a writing tool: that focus required to fit what you need into the character limit is good discipline for saying much with little.
Tell us a little about your new book- Fatal Evidence – A surgeon and chemist at Guy’s Hospital in London, Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor used new techniques to search the human body for evidence that once had been unseen. A toxicologist, he could also identify blood on clothing and weapons, and used hair and fibre analysis to catch killers. He gave Charles Dickens a tour of his laboratory, and Wilkie Collins owned copies of his books. For Dorothy L. Sayers, Taylor’s books on forensic science were ‘the back doors to death’.
Fatal Evidence is available for pre-order here
Tailcoat and waistcoat by Walker Slater of Edinburgh
. . . and finally, Helen – and tips for fledgeling authors? There’s no point sitting about not-writing, telling everyone “I’d really like to be a writer,” or “I can picture myself musing at a typewriter by a picture window.” Just get on with it! Whatever it takes – fire up your laptop, open “notes” on your phone, grab a pen and paper, the back of an envelope, or a clattering old typewriter if you really must, and write. Even if it’s a few lines of conversation, a description, a plot outline. Something.Get some words down. They might not be amazing words, but get them down. And then you’re not not-writing, you’re writing, and you’ve set your foot on the path to being an author.
I hear you, sister ! Thank you for coming onto my blog, it’s been fascinating and, who knows, I might be knocking on your door for advice if I give up writing romance and go over to the ‘dark side’. (Helen kindly took these photos of Tall, Dark and Kilted when she visited Edinburgh recently.)
Some reviews of Helen’s work
Reviews for Poison Panic “A clever mix of family history and true crime.” – Angela Buckley, chair of the Society of Genealogists.” “These scandalous true stories are as compelling as any crime fiction.” –All About History magazine. “Poison Panic is an intriguing read that brings a forgotten history to light and reveals past attitudes to women – and a national fear that gripped Victorian Britain.” – Family Tree magazine
Finally – what are you working on ATM?
With two non-fiction titles under my belt, I’m focussing on fiction for a while. I’ve started work on a 19th-century police procedural series, set in the riverside village I grew up in. I’ve recently started to write collaboratively with Catherine Curzon – we have historical romance and romantic thrillers up our collective sleeves.
Hi Jo and welcome to my blog. Sit down, Jo, make yourself comfortable and we’ll begin. When I started out as a writer I think yours was one of the first blogs I appeared on – that was back in 2013. Can you believe it? How the time (and the writing) has flown.
I had no idea what I was doing but you soon sorted me out. Now I’m more savvy, I’m happy to repay the favour. So, tell us all about your new novel: SUMMER MOVED ON. Great cover by the way.
Thank you Lizzie for giving me the opportunity to showcase my latest novel,
Summer Moved On.
It’s a contemporary romance set in 2007 about two people from completely different backgrounds meeting and falling in love. Jess Hayden is a middle class girl on course for university. Talún Hansen is a penniless farm worker who lives in the village where her uncle runs the village pub, The Black Bull. Jess already has a boyfriend, surgeon’s son Zac Rayner; someone her father has earmarked as eventual marriage material. However, spending a holiday with Rufus brings her into contact with Talún and the beginning of a forbidden and passionate summer love. But as autumn approaches, a dark shadow from Jess’s past returns, bringing far-reaching and unwanted changes for both of them.
What reviewers have to say…
It’s a real page turner …
Powerful, thought provoking romance…
The location and characters are superbly drawn and Jo Lambert certainly knows how to tell a story…
Entertaining, emotional summer read…
Rich in interesting characters and an equally interesting plot…
Love, heartbreak, loss and friendship – this book has it all…
You can find out more about Jo and her books by following these links:
Book link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0139IXHZE
Web and Blog Links: Website: www.jolambertbooks.com
All that remains for me is to go onto amazon and download Summer Moved On for my kindle, settle back for a great read – and to write a review once I’ve finished. Why don’t you do the same?
Many thanks to Emma for joining me on my blog and allowing me to share this fabulous post with you. If you like Men in Kilts and novels about Scotland (good or bad), read on . . .
One of the advantages of a Kindle is that the moment you’ve finished a good book, you can download the sequel, or more by the same author, right away. E-books can also be dirt-cheap, or even free, which gives me the impetus to explore genres and authors I wouldn’t previously have tried.
One of the downsides of the Kindle is the amount of (often self-published) weirdness out there…
I’ve been addicted to Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous ‘Outlander’ series since a friend recommended them last year. They hit every button for me – amazing settings, suspenseful plots, masses of fascinating historical detail, a strong-minded heroine and a frankly swoonworthy hero. The first book has just been made into a TV series (available on Amazon Prime) and though at first I had doubts about the casting of the book’s iconic Jamie Fraser, I’ve loved every minute. I’ve been saving the last (8th) book in the series to read later, because I’m pretty sure that either Jamie or the heroine Claire is going to die, and I’m not ready to lose them just yet… so I recently decided to browse on my Kindle for something similar.
Well, I have to say, I didn’t realise ‘Men in Kilts’ were such a big thing, if you’ll excuse the innuendo… I’ve always had a sneaking fondness for a man in plaid, ever since the Highlander film in the 1980s (my husband does a pretty good Christopher Lambert impersonation), but I had no idea that Gabaldon’s books had sparked such a surge of hormone-fuelled fantasy.
There are novels in every genre – from ‘Outlander’ time-travel copycats (though I haven’t found any as good as the original) to bodice-ripping drama and contemporary romance. As you’d expect, the quality varies hugely – I soon abandoned the ‘historical’ romances, which were often unreadably awful, with hideous ‘Forsooth, ma brae lassie’ dialogue and paper-thin characters. Authors, please note: a hero with a kilt, an accent and an improbably large sword does not make up for lousy writing.
Speaking of large swords, there is a frankly incredible amount of ‘Scottish erotica’ out there (don’t tell the Scottish National Party about this – they’ll only get ideas). It seems the Highlands are positively awash with passionate Celts who will tear off their tartan at the sight of a heaving bosom.
It’s not just ladies who like the idea of a laird – kilted gay erotica is particularly popular, though queerly enough, much of it is still written by women – for women?
There’s even a sub-genre of ‘Scottish Historical BDSM Fertile Erotica’, which is a very niche interest. Dearie me.
The contemporary women’s fiction scene is generally more wholesome (and rather better-written). Lizzie Lamb’s “Tall, Dark and Kilted” is a good, fun read with likeable characters, making great use of the romantic Scottish setting. I’ve also read a couple of entertaining supernatural stories where the kilted Highlander appears in ghostly form, to break a curse or charm the repressed English heroine.
If you’re more interested in the ‘real’ history of Scotland, you’ll find literary fiction re-imagining every era from the Picts to the 1960s, or you could venture into the murky realms of crime with Scottish Noir (though, to be fair, there’s not a lot of hot kilt-action in those).
There’s so much kilted-ness to explore – I’m quite intrigued by the sound of the ‘Kilts and Quilts’ cosy mystery series, and more so by the probably dreadfully-chafed Cowboys in Kilts (c’mon guys – even Jamie Fraser wears trousers on horseback).
I’ve found Vampire Scots (do they bleed Irn-Bru?), Scottish Fairies (harking back to the magic of the standing stones in Outlander), Scottish Dragon-Shifters (Oi! Bob! Help me shift this bloody great dragon!) and even Footballers in Kilts (now that would REALLY liven up Match of the Day).
Still, I think the prize for ‘freakiest kilt-related fantasy’ and possibly the oddest book title ever, must go to “Men in Kilts with Tentacles – and the women who love them”.
I am NOT going to download that one, BTW – some things are definitely best left unexplored…
Emma Seaman lives in Devon with her young family, and is a freelance Marketing & Social Media professional. She has been writing fiction for ten years, winning awards including the Jeremy Mogford Food & Drink writing prize and the Wells International Literary Festival Award.
Her short stories have featured in eight anthologies published by Legend Press, Exeter University, The Yeovil Prize and The Harrow Press (USA), with another due this October from the Bath Short Story Award.
She finds inspiration in long walks on Dartmoor, lazy days at the beach, from the people she meets and the fascinating minutiae of everyday life.
While we’re on the subject of Men in Kilts, dear reader, let me lead you gently by the hand towards my latest Scottish themed novel – Scotch on the Rocks which is available over on Amazon as a kindle download and as a paperback.