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!


  1. Thanks Scotti for inviting me over it was fun! ^_^

  2. Lovely interview Helen and Scotti.. and some great insights into your writing process Helen..

  3. Lovely interview Helen and Scotti.. and some great insights into your writing process Helen..

  4. Helen, love hearing about your writing process. I've just recently gotten to the point in editing my second half of my novel where I have to do chapter by chapter outlines to make sure I'm keeing the plot moving in the right direction. Great fun learning more about you. :)

  5. Thanks Tom and Lara for coming over and reading. I'm still very much a newbie to writing and have lots still to learn. ^__^

  6. Great interview! I'm a friend and fan of Helen's work and I must say, being invited to follow Helen's experience has broardened my horizons...not that I could aspire to write but simply, as a reader, being exposed to different forms of literature has really been enriching. Thanks to all of you..keep up the great work!

  7. Hi Jackie, thanks for dropping by and for your kind words. ^_^


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