Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Interview with Author Helen Carey

24 December 2017

Special Guest Interview with Author Helen Carey

           on  Amazon UK                   and Amazon US

It's 1944. London's citizens are weary of air raids and rationing. But there are rumours of an invasion of France. 
Is the tide of war turning?

Today I would like to welcome author Helen Carey

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book is THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET. It is the fifth novel in my wartime Lavender Road series.  Set in London in 1944, (the year of D-day and V1 rockets,) THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET can either be read alone or as part of the series. Like its predecessors it follows the lives of a number of people living in one south London road. 

This time the main focus is on Louise Rutherford, a headstrong, somewhat spoilt young woman, who is desperate to escape her strict, well-to-do family home, and in particular her overbearing, chauvinist father. When an opportunity occurs for her to join a top secret unit working on a defensive weapon, she jumps at the chance, not realising that it will involve her enlisting in the strict, disciplinarian ATS, the women’s army.   

Putting characters in difficult circumstances is always interesting, and for Louise Rutherford, the grim realities of an ATS training camp come as a nasty shock!

What is your preferred writing routine?

I’m often asked to describe my writing routine, but my typical day depends on where I am in the writing process. If I am planning or researching a novel, I lead a relatively normal life of working during the day and socialising or relaxing in the evenings and weekends. Sometimes there are nice little research trips (recently I spent a few highly enjoyable days with my French cousin researching wartime Grenoble), or talks to give, lunch with my editor, or even the occasional fancy award ceremony to attend. But as soon as I knuckle down to the actual writing, then I work full time, generally well into the evening and often including weekends.

Once I’m involved in a story I find it hard to switch out of it to do anything else. Even when I’m having supper with friends or watching a film, my plot lines are always lurking in the back of my mind. I am very lucky to have a patient husband and dog who don’t mind being ignored for days on end! Each morning I jot down all the ideas that have plagued me during the night and revise what I wrote the previous day, then I take a deep breath and push on to the next scene. If I’m lucky, and I’m on a roll, I manage about 2000 words a day.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

My advice would depend a little bit on what sort of novels they are writing. I like to write tightly plotted novels where everything intertwines and the decisions one character makes impact the other characters, and that means working out the key scenes and turning points before I begin. That’s not to say I know every detail of the novel before I start writing, but I have a definite framework, a theme and a final scene that I keep in mind and work towards. I work out what needs to happen in each chapter before I start writing it, but then I let creativity take over.

For me, planning out a novel is a bit like embarking on a big puzzle, or a three-dimensional game of chess, but I will only start a new book if I am sure I have a really compelling story to tell. The characters are obviously key to that. They don’t have to be all good, or even nice; the main protagonist of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET, pretty, spoiled Louise Rutherford, is far from good, or nice! But they do have to be interesting. If they entertain me then I feel more confident they will entertain my readers!

Six tips for new writers:

1. Make sure you have an interesting theme.
2. Work out a page-turning story structure.
3. Know your ending and make sure everything leads towards it.
4. Check out the motivations of your characters.
5. Use dialogue that pushes the story along (not just characters telling each other things they already know).
6. Read everything you can and work out how good writers make you want to keep turning the pages.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books? 

I’m not sure there is a best way! There are lots of opportunities to raise initial awareness about new books, from basic posts on Twitter and Facebook through blog tours, review sites, giveaways, promotions right up to expensive press and online advertising, but the only thing that keeps books selling in the longer longer term is word of mouth. And that means writing a really brilliant book that makes people want to recommend to their friends!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

At the beginning of the Second World War, Anti-Aircraft fire was terribly inaccurate. In 1940, during the Battle of Britain, approximately 18,500 rounds were expended for each aircraft shot down. It was therefore almost impossible to protect British cities from German bombers, which was why they caused such devastation. But in the summer of 1944 a top secret Anglo American collaborative project developed a new technology called the Proximity Fuse, which reduced the rate to 40 rounds per hit, and as a result the Luftwaffe and the V1s rockets were quickly routed.

Heralded as an achievement ‘transcending anything of the time’, the top secret Proximity Fuse was believed by Dwight Eisenhower to have reduced duration of the war by at least a year. By the end of the war over a million people in the UK and the US were working on the production of Proximity Fuses. There wasn’t one single security breach, and neither German nor Japanese intelligence ever found out about them.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I enjoyed writing THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET. There is quite a lot of humour in the book and lots of tension and excitement which I like, but there was one bit I did find quite difficult. In 1944, just before D’Day, a number young Polish Jewish soldiers ran away from a free Polish regiment stationed in Scotland. Due to the odd vagaries of war, many of the Polish regimental officers were almost Nazi in their views and their violent anti-Semitism had caused the Jewish conscripts to fear for their lives. The soldiers had been told that once the regiment arrived in France it would be ‘one bullet for the Germans and one bullet for each of them’.

This seemed an interesting area to explore, but when I read about the treatment of these Jewish soldiers and what they had been through, I found it quite harrowing, and that made writing the scene where it all came to light quite emotional for me.

Many of these young men, having fought for their country in the early stages of the war, had been captured and held in horrendous conditions in Russian POW camps, before being released and sent back to fight again on the Allied side. Back in Poland, their families had been hounded out of their homes, and either confined in diseased ghettos or sent to death camps. Now the soldiers themselves were about to be shot as deserters, when all they wanted to do was join British or American regiments where they could fight alongside men who wouldn’t turn their weapons on them at the first opportunity.

I suppose this was just a small example of the horrors that were going on in Europe, but it somehow seemed particularly shocking that it all took place in the UK. Thankfully, before the death sentence was carried out, a number of British MPs got involved and pressure was put on the Polish government in exile to spare the deserters’ lives. And, in the end, the soldiers did indeed go on to fight in France, in British regiments, where they acquitted themselves with honour.

What are you planning to write next?

I am just working on the final details of the sixth book in the Lavender Road series, VICTORY GIRLS, which will be published next year. VICTORY GIRLS will bring the series to a conclusion at the end of the war. It will be sad to say goodbye to my characters, but once I have finished VICTORY GIRLS I will have written over a million words in the series, and I think that is quite enough! Once it is all done and dusted I am going to take a nice long holiday before deciding what to do next!

Helen Carey
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About the Author

Helen Carey is best known as the author of the popular wartime Lavender Road series. The previous novel in the series, London Calling, was shortlisted for the RoNA Award for best Historical Romance. Helen also writes travel articles and short stories, and from time to time she teaches Creative Writing at various universities, specialising in story structure. She is also a fellow of the Royal Literary Fund. Before being published herself, she worked for a literary agency and as a reader for several publishers. Having spent quite a lot of time in different parts of the world, Helen now lives mostly in Pembrokeshire in West Wales where she and her husband run their small coastal farm as a conservation project.  For more information about her and her books please visit her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @HelenCareyBooks.

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