Perhaps I could have had my chat with author, Helen Christmas, in a London pub, in Shoreditch, the kind of venue in her first novel. But, I’m in Tuscany, so I spirited her over for an espresso in the mill and we caught up indoors. There was a light drizzle – maybe it helped her relax and feel more at home. Anyway, we had a great session. We are both members of CHINDI authors, based in Chichester, now spreading its membership of indie authors wider, thanks to the internet.
I started off by asking Helen when she started writing.
Writing has always been a passion of mine. Born with a vivid imagination, I have always loved dreaming up characters in my head; such was the process that inspired ‘Same Face Different Place.’ I came up with the idea while wandering along the beach with my dog one day in the summer of 2010. I was thinking about the decades – the changes I had seen throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s… and somewhere in the midst of those thoughts, I imagined a murder mystery and at the heart of the story, a troubled teenager in London who falls foul of some very dangerous people. Once I started writing it in 2011 there was no stopping me. The story evolved into five books which took seven years to complete, but I loved every minute.
I have only completed the first book (“Beginnings”), and was taken aback by the rawness and violence of some scenes. You’ve been likened to Martina Cole, which you must be pleased about. Her books cover quite difficult aspects of the crime world. Is there any subject you wouldn’t touch on?
I’ve read quite a few of Martina Cole’s books but there came a point when I found them too violent. There were some horrific killings and I don’t like scenes of torture or child pornography, it’s too nasty and plays on my mind.
The most evil character in my own story (first introduced in Book 2 Visions) is a dangerous psychopath who enjoys frightening people, though I avoid graphic scenes of violence and sex.
I’m reading “Visions” at the moment and, although there are scenes of psychological bullying, I relaxed more into this book than your first. Maybe I’m a scaredy cat… I’m particularly enjoying the descriptions of the countryside locations and buildings. I know you’ve talked to other writers about location. This is an aspect of writing that really interests me – how it influences our writing – and I know, like me, you take lots of photos in researching your books, so can I have a peep at them?
Much of the series is set in and around London and I have loved visiting some of the places from high rise tower blocks in Bethnal Green to the Old Bailey, near St. Pauls. Then one amazing co-incidence arose when I decided my male character, Jake, (at the heart of the conspiracy and romance) was a Dutch-born musician. I chose Nijmegen as his homeland which I have visited only once. But in summer 2011, friends of my husband’s from Nijmegen invited us to stay in their house for a week to look after their cat. I was ecstatic!
I love Holland. When I was in my twenties, I worked near Amsterdam for a year and spent most weekends visiting other places. Do you have any more pictures? The cities are so leafy-green and, although it’s a densely populated country, you don’t get that impression, do you. When you visited, did it change any of your ideas for the plot?
This time, I took many photos and made notes. I don’t think I have ever deviated from my original plot but from this trip, I decided that Nijmegen would feature a lot more throughout the series, which it did. There are detailed chapters set in the city, in Book 3 Pleasures and the final book of the series, Retribution. It is a beautiful place and the people are wonderful so I like to think I’ve done it justice.
A lot of these snaps are on Instagram. I’m on there too and I see your fab photos but I’m not sure I use it properly. I admire the way you navigate social media. The trailer you produced the other day was stunning and you casually said you’d put it together on the train back from London… I need to book you for a lesson, Helen – I’m such a beginner in this area. How did you learn how to use social media? And Instagram in particular.
I started using Instagram when I ordered a new smart phone. It is such an easy app for sharing my best photos and I even have an Instagram feed on my website. Like twitter, you can feature a timeline in a side bar, so the content is continually refreshed. I have noticed more and more authors using Instagram to show images of their books but I personally prefer not to do this too much, otherwise it just becomes another vehicle for advertising (which I already do enough of on Facebook and Twitter). I like my Instagram feed to look colourful with vibrant pictures that inspire people. I am a big fan of architecture which makes Instagram a great place for showing off my London photos.
Right – when can I book you? I didn’t even realise you could feed to a website. Do you think your writing aspirations changed in the time it took you to write your series?
Not really. I write for pleasure, not to make money, so I don’t have a lot of respect for those who think that writing a book will make them rich. I get more of a buzz when someone tells me how much they have enjoyed my book, even more so if I get nice reviews. I also think that as authors, our books represent our own take on life. For example, I enjoy simple pleasures. I cannot stand greed or people who are power hungry. Supporting strong communities where people show each other kindness is the moral message in my fiction.
Well said! That’s quite a timely piece of advice for me at the moment. And I would add we shouldn’t lose our enjoyment in writing. There can be too many pressures, if we’re not careful. Let’s lighten the mood and move outside as the sun is out again. What book would you have loved to write and which three characters from any novels would you invite for dinner? What would you dish up? Food is so important in Italy!
I have a great love of Ken Follet’s ‘Pillars of the Earth,’ which was written in Medieval times and a wonderful story ,but I probably get along better with characters who are more modern. I adore all the Harry Potter books and would have loved to have written those. So I think I might choose Sirius Black, along with Ron and Harry and serve up traditional fish and chips in beer batter, followed by sticky toffee pudding. I’m sure they would like that very much!
Ha ha! I can’t imagine tucking into sticky toffee pudding here in Tuscany! Let’s have some ice cream instead… It’s been great getting to know you better, Helen. I wish you everything you want for your books and that you continue to write to your heart’s content. Arrivederci!
More about Helen and her books
I am an avid reader and writer, with a passion for good stories. I’m lucky to be living in an idyllic 17th Century thatched cottage with my husband, Peter, where we run our own web design business from home. We share our cottage with a fluffy white cat called Theo and a border collie called Barney and as we live near the sea, I enjoy taking him for walks along the beach (where the idea for my book series began.) I trained in marketing and graphic design and worked for a number of different companies before my husband and I decided to go self-employed. We both love long country walks, good food and films.
About my Books
‘Same Face Different Place’ is a combination of a mystery crime thriller and romantic suspense.
Beginnings, the first book of the series is set in the criminal underworld of 1970s London and the start of a mystery thriller that rolls across four decades. Sixteen year old Eleanor is the key character, a girl whose father is forced to go on the run. This puts her in danger until she meets someone who has even more to fear. Dutch born musician, Jake, is the only witness to a suspicious scene, on a day a British MP is killed in a car bomb explosion. The press blame the IRA but only Jake has some notion of who the real killer is and as a result, they send a hit man after him. Eleanor and Jake tumble into a passionate love affair, soon after their escape and are desperate to get out of London to Jake’s homeland, Nijmegen, in Holland.
The next book, Visions, (set in the 80s in rural Kent), is a suspense filled psychological thriller. The pace hots up again in the 3rd book, Pleasures, where we see the return of organised crime in a terrifying race for justice. In this story, the younger generation grow up into the adults they become in the final book, Retribution, which concludes the series throughout the 90s. I have enjoyed reflecting the mood of each decade by depicting the politics, fashion, TV and music as can be seen on my Pinterest boards.
Helen’s blog, for more information about her books.
Helen and her dog, Barney.