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Welcome to Helen Barrell – author

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.

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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.

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I love Ripper Street so this is all beginning to sound right up my strasse. Helen, you seem very media-savvy, having produced your own  videos etc, so, here’s my next question:

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.

 

What Every Reader Wants

What do readers really want – a reader’s point of view

Sarah Houldcroft with Boot Camp BrideI am delighted to welcome Sarah Houldcroft to my Blog today. Sarah, a Goodreads Librarian and Virtual Assistant for authors, tells us what she thinks our readers want from us.

‘You are so lucky – I would love to write a book’

How many times you, as authors, have heard that phrase, I wonder.  Perhaps you smile and think to yourself: ‘God, if she only knew the hours and hours of stress, torment and sheer hard work I have had to go through…’  But we, as readers, don’t know.  We simply cannot comprehend, it is not important to us.  All we see is the end result and the author becomes a special gifted individual who can reach down into her soul and haul out people and feelings, emotions, happenings, and create a whole new world for us.

photo 2For the booklover, the reading experience begins way before the first word in the book.  These days with so many more opportunities to read, the first question may be ‘How am I going to read my next novel?’  Paperback, Kindle, tablet, phone, PC?  For me, there is nothing better than holding a printed book in my hand, the feel of it, the smell of it, even.  And that wonderful action of turning the page to discover what happens next.  However, there are an awful lot of booklovers who now just read books on their Kindle or other e-reader.  Makes sense, you don’t have to lug an extra suitcase with you on holiday just to transport the books you want to read over the coming two or three weeks.  Easy, a click of a button online and you can start reading, no need to wait for the post to deliver your next read.  Personally, I am torn between the two methods.  I do have a Kindle which is particularly useful when I am reviewing books for authors abroad as they can just send me a digital file and away I go.  But, as I said before, my true love is the printed book, of which I have hundreds and hundreds.  I am not alone either, although millions of ebooks are downloaded every year, the printed book is still managing to hold its own.  But as readers, we like to be given the choice of how we read our next novel.  So the more formats in which you make your book available, the better.

Regardless of the format of our next read, if we don’t know what to read next, or a friend has not recommended an author or book then odds are we will end up on Amazon.  And that is when the next phase of the pre-reading experience begins.  What to choose?  Ok, we may have a particular genre in mind which could narrow it down, but with so many books to choose from these days we will be scrolling down the list at some speed until a book cover catches our eye.  Yes, the old saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ doesn’t quite hold true these days.  If we don’t like your book cover we will pass over you and keep scrolling and that applies to print books too.

Scott Pack, a former Waterstones buyer sums it up quite nicely here http://completelynovel.com/self-publishing/writers-toolbox-cover-design  and offers some useful tips for authors to consider.

Katie Fforde's Book Signing at Mk Harborough 024 copyOf course, the one really wonderful thing about having a printed book is that we booklovers may be lucky enough to have the book signed by the author. This is so exciting for a reader, particularly if we have actually met the author in person which is an incredible experience in itself.  This is something that ebook producers have considered and it is now possible to have an ebook ‘signed’ by the author too using https://www.authorgraph.com/

These days the reading experience doesn’t necessarily have to stop once the book has been read. Traditional publishing tended to keep the author at arm’s length from the reader, unless they were lucky enough to attend a book signing.  These days with social media, websites like Goodreads.com and the explosion in self-publishing, authors can be far more accessible and that is what readers like.

photo 1What Readers Want to Know

  • what inspired you to write your novel?
  • how, why and where do you write?
  • have experienced first-hand any of the aspects in your books?
  • did you base your character on a real person
  • if so, was it you?

I think booklovers have always thought these questions, but have not had the opportunity to ask until recently.  And now we can, we want more.  Yes, we will respect your privacy, but we want you to reveal more than just the contents of your latest novel.  The author who embraces this new way of doing things, particularly the self-published author, will always win out over those who prefer to keep their distance.  They will turn their readers into raving fans who in turn will review their books and talk about their books and encourage others to read their books.

READERS – do you agree?

**Sarah Houldcroft is proud to be an Author’s Envoy and particularly likes to promote self-published authors.  She offers services to authors to help boost their online presence through www.vaforauthors.com and her new website www.authors-uncovered.com which will be a place where authors and readers can connect, read, write and share.  She lives in Leicestershire with her teenage son, two bunnies, an aging gerbil and hundreds and hundreds of books!

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