Helen Irene Young
Helen has just published her debut novel, The May Queen, and I was delighted to interview Helen about her book and being a writer.
We met on the Faber academy Writing a Novel course, in London. For those who do not know, tells us a little about yourself.
I'm a writer and digital editor by trade. I work in publishing ~ for magazines for years (Harper's Bazaar, Good Housekeeping) ~ and now for a well-known book publisher.
I've read The May Queen and thoroughly enjoyed it! Well done, as it's a wonderful story full of beautifully drawn characters, as well as a sense of nostalgia for the 1930s and 1940s. Where did the inspiration for your book come from?
Thanks Ann, that's a relief. I've had mixed responses to be honest but I've enjoyed every one of them. 'Not a novel' was a particular favourite. Inspiration came in the shape of my maternal grandmother who grew up at the mill in Fairford. She was a wild country girl, full of life, with a desire for more than her lot. I wanted to tell that tale.
Which books inspired The May Queen?
I'm mad for Thomas Hardy, so Under the Greenwood Tree, A Pair of Blue Eyes and Far From the Maddening Crowd gave me a firm appreciation for nature and its power to shape mood and character. Daphne du Maurier too, definitely ~ The House on the Strand perhaps ~ just her sense of place and how it marries plot. I am always inspired by Virginia Woolf and her language. The Waves I think. It's easy to get a little carried away by her prose which slips like water off the page.
Did you undertake any research for The May Queen?
Yes, lots. I started off by mapping Fairford Town circa 1936, building up a picture from old photographs and maps. I became quite obsessed with that for a while. Then, I read a lot of WW2 biographies, but written by adults who had been children at the time. I found their recollections most authentic and less intellectualised. They basically told it how it was and I wanted that. That raw understanding of what they were seeing.
Being Published has been quite the experience! Why choose this particular agent / publisher?
Crooked Cat Books approached me after a month or so of having my submission. I liked that they were an Indie and got what I was trying to do. They are extremely friendly and open to ideas and the entire process, from editing to choosing cover art, was really good fun! Although, I should say I suffered internally too because otherwise people won't think I did any work.
Have you always wanted to write and how young were you when you knew? Who influenced you to write?
My father used to walk me to the town library every Saturday morning without fail from the age of five I'd say. I'd replenish my stock of Spot the Dog books, Famous Five Adventures later and so on. I remember being handed my adult library card and I actually thought I'd arrived in the world! I don't know if many people remember, but before Amazon, books were actually quite expensive.
Do you have a writing routine, and where is your favourite place to write?
If I'm writing or editing a manuscript, I'm really on it. I can do it most places. I tell myself it has to be done and I just do it. Sometimes I forget to come up for air. Because I work full-time, I tend to write for an hour before work, an hour at lunch and then have the evenings off. The next morning starts by editing the previous day's work and then continuing. I think you have to be pretty relentless to get it over the finish line.
Do you have any writing tips?
All of the above! Don't wait to be inspired. Writing is a craft that you will never excel at if you don't practice. You must be objective too and question everything. Obviously writing is highly enjoyable and I'm at my happiest when I'm storytelling (even if just to myself to begin with). But don't be fooled by thinking something is better than it is. Learn to tell yourself when it isn't.
All the ones I haven't read. I'm always chasing something. Having said that, I do have a first edition Tender is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I love that more for what it tells me about the author.
What's next for you?
I've written a novel set in Colombia, 1948, about a broken architect trying to build something new. That's with me at the moment. Next, I'm planning a sequel ~ I'm heading to 1960's Miami and the beginnings of the US / Colombia drugs trade ~ I'm going to turn up the heat on all that architecture.
Thank you so much for your time Helen, and to offering insight into how and why you write. I too enjoy Thomas Hardy and Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn being one of my favourite books. Your next endeavours sound intriguing too, and I look forward to seeing them published (and reading them )in the future.
You can find Helen's book, The May Queen, online at Amazon Books.
Helen can also be found:
website ~ helenireneyoung.com
twitter ~ @helenireneyoung