AUTHOR INSIGHT: MEET HELENE YOUNG

Young Helene 2012 (credit Charlotte Rose)
Helene Young won the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) Romantic Book of the Year Award in 2011 and 2012 and was shortlisted in 2013. She was also voted most popular romantic suspense author by the Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA) in 2010 and 2011, and was shortlisted for the same award in 2012. Burning Lies was shortlisted for the 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award Mystery/Suspense in America. Safe Harbour is her latest book – see my review here. Thanks, Helene, for making time to answer my questions.

Monique: Your fifth book Safe Harbour has just been launched. What do readers have to look forward to with this book?

Helene: Readers will find a love triangle in a rural community with a gorgeous local copper, a funky chef who’s returned to her hometown, and an enigmatic stranger who may not be all that he seems. There’s plenty of action, heartache and whales – I love whales!

Monique: What do you like most about Safe Harbour?

Helene: The setting for me is very special. Banskia Cove doesn’t exist, but it’s a combination of all the little towns that dot our rural landscape on the coastal fringe. Flying to rural areas I’ve watched many of the kids leave town to follow glittering sports careers. Not all of them have happy endings so I wanted to explore the dynamics of small towns and the difficulties of growing up in disadvantage and isolation.  

Monique: I particularly liked Rosie, Darcy’s mother-figure friend in Safe Harbour. Which characters do you like the most in Safe Harbour? Which one did you like least?

Helene: Thank you, Monique! I do love Darcy, Noah and Conor, but I have to say that Rosie stole my heart. She kept growing with the story and she seemed to almost embody the spirit of the land. My least favourite would be Stirling because his narcissism blinded him to so much, including Darcy.

Monique: You work as a commercial airline pilot (when you’re not sailing and writing). What prompted your move into writing fiction?

Helene: I’ve always loved to write and I naively assumed one day I’d write a book. It wasn’t until I started work with Qantaslink in Cairns that I suddenly found myself with enough spare time to do it. Once I’d turned on that tap, and the flood of words came gushing out, there was no turning it off again!

Monique: Your books have attracted high praise from reviewers, as well as a number of awards. How does it feel to hear your work described this way? Do you still feel nervous when you’re about to release a book?

Helene: I’m always nervous in the weeks leading up to the book’s release. There’s a moment when I think ‘why on earth do I believe I’m a story teller?’ and I doubt that will ever change… The awards have been a humbling but wonderful validation of my characters and I’m grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me including more publishing contracts.

Monique: You wake in the middle of the night with a brilliant book-ish idea. What do you do?

Helene: Get out of bed and make some notes!

Monique: One (or more) of your characters is not behaving, or does something unexpected. How do you handle this?

Helene: I hang on for the ride. At one point when writing Safe Harbour I had no idea which man Darcy was going to choose! It was a bit disconcerting but a girl has to do what a girl has to do.

Monique: How do you get into the headspace of a villian? Is it hard?

Helene: It’s fascinating! I love researching the mind of someone evil or arrogant or perhaps unhinged, in the case of the villain in Burning Lies. True Crime books and news stories are great for that sort of insight.

Monique: Do you become emotionally attached to your characters? What happens when the book is finished? Do you close the door or wonder what they’re getting up to?

Helene: I absolutely get attached to my characters and grieve a little when the book is finished. It’s tempered with the knowledge that I’m off to make new friends with the next cast of characters (which makes me sound very fickle…). Perhaps that’s why I like loosely linked series, like the Border Watch Trilogy, as I can stay in touch with the older characters for a few more months.

Monique: Have you ever cried while writing an emotive scene? 

Helene: Oh yes! Many times. My husband’s used to coming home and finding me in tears. The first time was when I was writing Wings of Fear and I was sobbing … He thought a real person had died…

Monique: You’re having trouble writing. What do you do?

Helene: The only trouble I have writing (touch wood) is finding the time to write! I’m very used to writing wherever and whenever I can.

Monique: What do you do when you’re having doubts about your writing?

Helene: Push on and try to ignore that little pixie on my shoulder, although she can be very compelling…

Monique: How do you procrastinate?

Helene: Facebook and Twitter are definitely diversions and if I know I’m procrastinating then I log off the internet and limit myself to 5 minutes an hour.

Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?

Helene: We make squillions of dollars!! My husband calls my writing ‘that self-sustaining hobby’.

Monique: What’s your writing process like? Where do you write? Do you need complete silence or can you cope with noise? How do you get into the “zone”?

Helene: I can write anywhere, anyhow. I do prefer silence, but once I’m in the groove everything around me becomes white noise. Of course, I also have some days where I crave music – the louder the better!

Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?

Helene: Snacking… raw almonds… sour bears… rice crackers… chocolate… sigh…

Monique: Which books have impacted on you in your life?

Helene: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre will always be the definitive spy story for me. I think it also inspired me to make my female characters resilient, feisty and determined, rather than passively excepting of their fate. Hungry as the Sea by Wilbur Smith was a revelation. It was the first mainstream book I’d read that combined a love story, an adventure, and an articulate, high achieving woman who found her happy ending!

Monique: Which authors do you admire the most?

Helene: Markus Zusak because I love The Book Thief, Kate Morton because I love The Secret Keeper.

Monique: Which book are you reading now?

Helene: Simmering Season by the talented Jenn J McLeod.

Monique: Do you ever skip ahead a few pages or read a book’s ending?

Helene: Oh yes, I definitely kill fairies and fast forward to the end – but only occasionally.

Monique: If I came over for dinner now, what would we have to eat?

Helene: Chicken and mushroom risotto is being served on Roo Bin Esque tonight.

Monique: Which book character are you most like?

Helene: None of them! Although I’d love to be able to cook like Darcy!

Monique: Which book in your collection would you most like to have autographed by the author?

Helene: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.