Good morning folks, and Happy Saturday!! I’m delighted to welcome psychological thriller writer Helen Callaghan to my blog. Here, Helen chats about how she gained representation, her favourite authors and studying for her degree as a mature student.
Over to you, Helen.
Oh yeah – I would glom on to someone, then read everything they’d ever done – then I’d re-read it. Books were expensive then. I loved CS Lewis, Tolkien, and Watership Down by Richard Adams. At home, us kids could watch most things – I saw Jaws, The Exorcist, Alien – all at quite a young age. But I remember being taken to the cinema to see Watership Down the movie and it was the only one that actually gave me nightmares. It was hardcore.
I still love to be scared…
2) Did you enjoy English at school?
Yes. It was my best subject. I was the weirdo that actually enjoyed the set books for my GCSEs. Very early on I’d become a fanatical reader, and the more you read, the more you end up reading.
3) Did you go to university and if so, did you enjoy your degree?
I did indeed! I was a mature student, having spent the best part of ten years mucking around, so when I did go it was because I wanted to. I got my A-levels in night classes and they came out surprisingly well, so someone suggested I have a go at Cambridge and I ended up getting in. My family were thrilled, as I was the first person to go to university.
I studied archaeology rather than English though. I thought to myself that archaeology would produce more things to write about. Which funnily enough, was true….
4) Are you self published, and if not, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I’m not self-published – I went the trad publishing route, as when I was starting out, self-publishing was still finding its feet. I’d been writing on and off for years, but around 2009 I completed a dystopian thriller, which never sold but got me an agent – Judith Murray at Greene and Heaton. Dear Amy was the third book she ended up submitting for me, and there was an auction and it sold in ten days, which felt very peculiar after thirty years of trying!
Most people in such cases advise you to ‘be persistent’ and ‘finish what you start’ and that is all excellent advice, but folk have probably heard it before. I think *my* advice would be, join a writing group. Being in a writing group exposes you to listening to others’ opinions, and teaches you how to accept and deal with criticism. Dealing with criticism, and being able to seperate your book from yourself, is a skill that never goes out of style. And it’s always nice to meet simpatico people. Join a writing group.
5) How did your first review of Dear Amy feel? What did you do to celebrate?
D’you know, I can’t remember? The thing no-one tells you is, you don’t really remember the good reviews. The bad ones, those you remember. But I do recall my parents had been flipping through lovereading.co.uk (which I had not seen yet) which collated a ton of reader reviews and they were ecstatic, which made me ecstatic. I think we were in Rome, and we celebrated with wine and pasta. But to be honest, I think we would have done that anyway. What else do you do in Rome?
6) Do you have a favourite all time book?
Hmm… I don’t have a single favourite. Some things do different things at different times, but I do have things I love for different reasons. I loved The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which had a real influence on Dear Amy with its Classical leanings. I love Iain Banks, Angela Carter, and Charlotte Bronte – I have a real Gothic addiction.
But I like other things too – recently I really enjoyed The Girls by Emma Klein and I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes which is this over-the-top US spy thriller but which was just fantastic, so clever and absolutely raced along…
7) How do you like to work – music or silence?
Ooh, depends. At home it tends to be silence, but every book has a playlist I create for it, with the tunes that put me in mind of what the book is about. The new book, Everything Is Lies, which is coming out in February, was about revelation and disillusionment, so it had things like Big Picture by London Grammar and lots of Florence and the Machine. There were Eighties tracks too, as part of it is set then, so The Smiths and The Cure were happening.
The one I’m working on at the moment, which doesn’t have a name yet, is about sexual jealousy and betrayal. It’s also about being isolated, both psychically and geographically, and it’s set in Orkney. So it was Mr Brightside by The Killers, Burn For You by Sting, Kings of Leon, PJ Harvey; all much more slow-burning and ballady if you like.
As a rule, if I am working in public, in a coffee shop say, I’ll have the playlist for that particular book happening on headphones. Elsewise you’re going to be listening to Starbucks’ piped music, which I can never get on with.
8) Are you a Rod Stewart fan?
No, I missed the Rod Stewart boat, I think. Growing up, I remember my cousin was mad for him, and she was a little older than me. Though my eldest cousin got me into David Bowie. I mean, what’s not to love about David Bowie?
Thanks for your time, Helen.