Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Helen Howell has been a cyber-friend of mine for many years now. We first *met* in a forum unrelated to writing, but one day Helen shared with me a draft of a fantasy she was working on. I fell in love with the story and Helen's way of telling it, and I have been privileged to follow Jumping At Shadows through drafts and revisions and, ultimately, to publication.

The highly versatile Helen also writes deep, dark noir and horror fiction for adults. As a Stephen King fan, I love that aspect of her work as well.

You can purchase Jumping At Shadows here:

More of Helen’s wondrous works can be found here:

Her works of flash fiction are also available here:

And now, without further delay, The Writing Blog is delighted to share this interview with Helen Howell!

The Writing Blog: Would you please tell my readers a little about yourself -- where you're from, where you live, hobbies, and so forth?

Helen Howell
Helen Howell: I hail from England and was born in the County Town of Essex (which recently, I believe has been made a city), where I lived until I was 31. Then my husband, son, and I immigrated to Australia, where I have now lived for the last 30 years. Two cats share our home, although I think they think we share theirs. I loved to go out walking and to spend time in my garden and when I am not writing you can find me reading, knitting or beading.

TWB: Sounds lovely! When did you start writing? What prompted you to begin?

HH: I started writing about four years ago. I've always loved to do creative things ever since I was little, starting with ballet. When I was a teenager I used to amuse my fellow typists in the typing pool by writing funny poems. Later in life I took up watercolour painting and continued with that creative path for around 18 years. But after that time I lost interest in exhibiting paintings and needed another outlet.  I'd always wanted to write a story, but I really didn't think I could. Then one day I found a site on the internet called Let's Write and they said write about anything and do it every day. So that very day four years ago, I went for a walk and came home and wrote a small piece about it. I showed this to an author friend who was so encouraging, that I didn't look back.

TWB: It takes a lot of determination to complete a novel, with or without encouragement from others! For those who might be considering a journey similar to yours, can you give us a summary of the stages you went through with Jumping At Shadows, from the time you first had the idea to publication?

HH: Since I started writing Jumping At Shadows up to its publication, 4 years have gone past - you could say I took my time.

I woke one morning with just the title in my head and an idea about a girl who sees shadows. The story I first envisaged turned into a very different one when I started to plot it out.

I did a plot outline, just so that I had a sense of direction and didn't get lost. However around quarter way in, I found the plot wasn't going to work. What next? I sat down with my son, Theo, and had a brainstorming session to come up with a new direction.

Each chapter I wrote I did an outline for first, just bare bones, which I fleshed out as I wrote. During the project, I did take time out at regular intervals to write short stories and flash fiction. I found this helped me not to get bogged down and to come back to the project with fresh eyes. The only drawback to doing this was that the first draft took me around 12 months to write and came in just over 60,000 words. I had my novel.

I let it sit for a while, then I started editing with the help of a friend who cast her eyes over each chapter and made suggestions. Also a writers group I belonged to made suggestions too. Now it was time to take out chunks of the story that didn't enhance or were not required to the plot. Very hard thing to do, but necessary.

The manuscript had around three edits before I sent it out to a beta reader. He sent it back with some more suggestions and the round of edits started again. Then it went out to two more beta readers for comments.  When it came back, I implemented their comments and suggestions and finally it went to one more person for a finale copy edit - so Jumping At Shadows had around six edits in all. Now it was ready to be published.

When I write, I tend to just get the idea down on the page, then I go back later and edit out all the superfluous words, to make it tighter and smoother.  If I hadn't taken frequent breaks to write short stories and flash fiction, I could have probably cut the initial draft's time down to six months, but there is no escaping the edit stage/s if you want a polished piece of writing.

TWB: I love the names you use in this book. How did you come up with the names for your characters? What about the names of the people, places, and things in the fantasy world you created?

HH: My main character, Belle, was a derivative of my Aunt Bella's name. I loved the name Bella, but somehow Belle seemed to suit the character better. The planet, Janella, I got from a house name I saw on one of my walks. It was spelt differently but sounded the same. As for Madgar, Istar, Tranthulus and Dracmee, I have no idea how I came up with those, just my fertile imagination I guess. I've never found it really hard to invent names and things, so I am lucky that way. The Moon bird was easy. I just thought of a big turkey with colourful feathers. This is what I love about writing fiction. You are free to invent all sorts of worlds, people, places and objects - there is no limit to one's imagination.

TWB: As a child, were you more like Rosy or more like Belle? Both? Neither? In what way(s)?

HH: I think more like Rosy. Rosy is a bit of a tomboy and not too afraid to try something new. She can stand up for herself and likes an adventure. I loved to do new things when I was a child and I was up for climbing trees etc. or playing rounders with the boys in the street, so I guess I had a little bit of that tomboy in me.

TWB: What were your favorite books when you were about 10 years old?

HH: One book really stands out and I still love it today: Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Such an imagination, such a wonderful world he created with really cool characters.

TWB: That's a favorite of mine, too. Do you have any advice for people who want to become published writers?

HH: If you want to write, you need to read. Read books in those genres that you like to write in. The more you read and write the better you will become. Remember that most people do not write a good first draft. It is the editing that comes after that turns your work into something worthwhile.

TWB: So true! Anything else you would like to say?

HH: Only thank you for inviting me over and it's been a pleasure.

TWB: The pleasure is mine!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Critique THIS!

I recently joined a writers critique group with four other members of SCBWI-C (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - Carolinas). The group is specifically for writers working on picture books and/or books for a middle grade (MG) audience.

Just FYI - This is not my first critique group.

Already the question has been raised (okay, I raised it): How do you decide what to do with the comments, suggestions, evaluations, and criticisms you receive from group members about your manuscript?

Oh, I know all the pat answers, such as "Take what makes sense to you and ignore the rest" or "If more than two people say the same thing, take it seriously."

It seems to me that those answers are a bit simplistic.

I shall now provide a set of succinct, brilliant instructions on how to sift through all the advice you receive from critique group members to arrive at those pearls of wisdom that will lead you to create the book you always dreamed you could write. After all, this is a WRITING BLOG and I AM A WRITER.

Hold on a second while I . . .
Sorry. You see, there's no way I can create those brilliant instructions. I truly don't know what to do with the feedback I receive.

Oh, sure, some of it is easy. Typos, grammatical errors, tense shifts, word choices -- I can deal with that sort of thing.

I'm talking about the other stuff. If you are a writer and you have had your work critiqued, you know what I mean.

So what do you do? How do you do? (Fine, thanks, and you?)

I want some answers, people. And I want them NOW!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Advice vs Advise

Yes, friends, it's time for another installment of Spelling Errors That Drive Me Crazy!

Noun: guidance / Verb: to recommend

See how that works?

He ADVISED me not to give him any ADVICE.

Take my ADVICE. Please.

How can I ADVISE you if you won't let me give you any ADVICE?

She asked me to ADVISE her concerning the ADVICE she received from her sister.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Oh my goodness, look at the time! It's April, and my last post is dated September. That's when I took my Mom to the doctor to discuss having esophageal dilatation. She had it done, but is having problems again, so we went to the doctor today to discuss having it done again.

Take a moment to ponder possible connections between my mother having esophageal dilatation and me posting on a writing blog. Comment if you dare.

TODAY, I am going to start something I like to call "Spelling Errors That Drive Me Crazy!"

For example -- confusing the word lose with the word loose. The following is my attempt to clarify the difference, while being funny to help you remember.
"Turn me loose, you loser!" she cried. "How dare you call me a loose cannon? That chair leg was already loose, so lose the attitude before I lose my temper and you lose a few teeth!"
Familiar Sayings That Might Help:
  • Loose Lips Sink Ships
  • a loose interpretation
  • You Snooze, You Lose
  • Use It or Lose It

There. Got it? Super!