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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Interview with Helen Howell (Writing Wibbles)

I'm dedicating today's Writing Wibbles to a regular visitor to TFM, Helen Howell. Helen's book, I Know You Know, deserves more of a spotlight than I can shine on it, but I'll do what I can. :-) After the interview, check out the links!

The darkest cards in the tarot deck reveal the darkest side of the man sitting opposite Janice—Mr. Edgar Kipp.

She feigns an inability to read for him, but will he believe her? His parting words indicate that he knows she knows he's a serial killer. And he plans to return.

The voice of her dead grandmother urges her to be careful, warning Janice she might be seeing her own future in those foreboding cards.

But Janice doesn't want to listen. Gran's dead.

How can she possibly help her?

TFM: How do you make time to write—do you schedule it, or grab open moments? Is there a particular place where it's easiest to write?

Helen Howell: I'm retired from the work force, so I can really choose when I want to write. I'm very undisciplined and write all over the place. The biggest trick is not allowing social media to distract me too much; it's very easy to lose a couple of hours on Twitter or FB just catching up on what everyone is doing.

I'm very lucky; since my son moved out, I have turned his old bedroom into my writing room. So I totally have my own space, which I have found is a great benefit. I just shut the door when I don't want to be disturbed, but I do allow my husband to come in and bring me those endless cups of tea. I really need to get back into a schedule if I want to realise some of the projects I have in mind. Since completing both Jumping At Shadows and I Know You Know I have allowed the schedule to slip away, resulting in my undisciplined writing habits. But I do plan to get back to them, as I have another idea of a novel that will need lots of work. I also want to put together a couple of collections, ghost stories and my noir, and some of these stories will need expanding.

TFM: Do you prefer keyboarding, or pen(cil) and ink, for first drafts?

HH: Oh I'm so used to my keyboard now that normal writing does feel strange. I tend to do everything on the computer even though I carry a note book around with me, I always come back to the keyboard to put those ideas into some order.

TFM: You self-published your first book, Jumping at Shadows, and went through Crooked Cat Press for I Know You Know. What do you think are the important differences between self-publishing and small-press (SP vs SP)? What are the similarities?

HH: Interesting question. ^_^ I think I'll cover self publishing first. As you know, one does all the formatting, and arranges the cover design themselves, (or you can employ someone to do it for you), along with promotion, etc. Editing, you have a couple of choices as a self-publisher. You can hire an editor or use beta readers which are excellent, in order to discover if your story has plot holes, transitional problems, grammatical errors etc. before making the final edits and publishing. Most formats are e-books and again it depends on your financial situation whether you decide to do a printed edition as well.

With a small press, the formatting is taken care of. They will research a cover design for you, and offer you alternatives until you reach an agreement. You get assigned an editor and work one on one with them. I found this to be a very smooth experience. Working with one person whose job is to help you make your story the best it can possibly be, with no plot holes, etc. was less confusing than having to deal with three or more people's different perspectives on your work. Although you do have to do as much promotion for your book as you would when you self publish, a small press sometimes has a bigger reach than you can have by yourself. The other advantage of course is that the small press will have a readership following that your book gets exposed to. With the small press I went with, they also offer my novella not just as an e-book but also as a paperback.

I guess the big difference between self publishing and small press is that the small press does all the hard work for you and leaves you just to think about writing and promotion.

TFM: The settings in both of your books have an English feel to them, even though you live in Australia. Why, as an American, would I get that impression?

HH: Ah that's because I was born in England and lived there until I was 31. Even though I have now lived in Australia for 30 years, those early impressions as I grew up are what stay with me. I went to school there. Experienced the wonderful sixties there, married and had my son in England. I guess my English upbringing is deep seated and although Australia is a wonderful country, those early impressions are what colour my writing.

TFM: The main character in I Know You Know is a fortune-teller, who learned the trade from her grandmother. You yourself are skilled with the Tarot, and belonged to a professional association. If you don't have a grandmother in the trade, how do you get training? What qualifies a person to become a professional?

HH: What makes one a professional? That's also an interesting question. Within the Tarot world, there is a lot of discussion about whether there is any need for a professional certificate or not. I can only speak from my own experience. I've owned tarot decks since the 1970's, and I spent a lot of time studying the cards. During my learning period (I was self-taught), I spent up to 2-3 hours a day studying and doing reading exercises. I learnt not just traditional meanings, but also the numerology associated with the cards, colour symbolism etc. I don't hold with the idea you don't need to learn the traditional meanings, and just look at the cards and say what comes into your head. You might as well be reading a cornflake packet. Tarot has a history, and a good grounding in their basic traditional meanings will always help you do a good reading. If you only rely on intuition, what happens when it fails you? Whereas if you have a grounding in their meanings and your intuition leaves you, you can still do a decent reading, but when your intuition kicks in, that reading turns into something really special. Tarot cards in themselves are not the magic, the reader's ability to interpret them is what is the magic.

To become a Professional Member of the Tarot Guild of Australia as I did, (although I have retired from that Guild now), I sat an exam paper and answered various questions and scenarios that involved how the cards could be interpreted. I logged X amount of readings for others that was required and I did live readings for the panel of judges.

But does that make you a professional? What it does show, is that you have a good knowledge of the cards and are able to read for others. I think what makes you a professional is your ethics. Here we touch on other subjects where some agree and others disagree. For instance do you do predictive readings or pro-active?

When you predict for someone, you are telling them what will happen. When you do pro-active readings, you allow the questioner to take responsibility for their own decisions and you help them, with the aid of the insights from the cards, to make the best choice for themselves. Having said that, there is always a certain amount of predictiveness within a reading, but it becomes pro-active when you show the questioner the alternatives and choices they can make to change outcomes. No future is set in stone.

I think for me, being professional was about aiming to always empower my clients and to remain aware that as a reader one has a responsibility for what they say and how they say it. The certificate alone doesn't make you a professional, it's the way you take responsibility for what you say and how that influences another's life that really counts. You don't need a certificate to say you can read the cards, but in my own humble opinion, it is the way you conduct those readings that does or does not make you a professional.

TFM: Which would you rather have: universally glowing reviews and forty sales; or mixed reviews and a thousand+ sales?

Ah well, we authors do like to hear nice things about our writing. But mixed reviews I think are part and parcel of the deal and hey, if you've sold a thousand+ books, you've gotta be doing something right haven't you? So I'd be going for the latter. I think we as authors do have to accept that not everyone will enjoy what we write, just as we don't enjoy everything that others write. So give me a thousand sales any day, because I think that is a greater reward to know many are reading your books rather than just a few.

TFM: Having experienced both, I have to agree with you. So, is there going to be a sequel to Jumping at Shadows?

I did think I would write a sequel, and I do have an idea that keeps popping up every now and again, just to remind me it's there. Will I write it though? That's something I can't answer truthfully right now.

TFM: Are you working on anything new? What can you tell us about it?

HH: At the moment all I'm working on is Wizard, which I'm showing as a serial on my website. I do think that I will probably publish this when it's done. Wizard is another fantasy, and would appeal to YA and adults who like fantasy. It's a more complicated plot than Jumping At Shadows was, as there are sub-plots going on around the main plot. Writing it as a serial is helping me sort it out at a slower pace than if I was just writing it as a novel. There's a dark Wizard and an evil Witch, there's an apprentice Wizard and a girl who knows more than she should. ^_^

TFM: Picture yourself sitting in your favorite public venue, working on your next book. Someone sees what you're doing, and asks how they can get started writing. What do you tell that person?

HH: I think I would tell them to do what I did in the very beginning, just write about anything. The first thing I ever wrote about was what I saw and experienced on my afternoon walk. I think it doesn't matter what you write about, it's the act of writing that's important. I would also suggest that they join a writing group, whether it be in real life or on line. There is nothing like the encouragement from other writers to help you get started and keep going. I would tell them that writing is a skill that has to be learnt and you can only learn it by doing it. I would also suggest reading as much as you can on writing. The internet has a vast array of writing sites, all offering guidance of how to write better. But the most important thing I would say is just do it.

Helen is a fiction writer, who writes in several genres which include fantasy, noir, horror and humour. She has written several short stories, flash fictions and poems. Her work has appeared in both e-zines, anthologies and print publications. In July 2012 her debut Novella, Jumping At Shadows, a fantasy fiction for 9 years-adults, was published as an e-book. February 2013 her Novella I Know You Know, a psychic thriller for adults, was published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

She is a member of Friday Flash Dot Org. and is a regular participant in writing Friday Flash.

You can find Helen's flash fiction, short stories, drabbles, poems and serials at her website: helen-scribbles.com

I Know You Know is published by Crooked Cat and available from:

Amazon, as both an e-book and paperback: Amazon.com   Amazon.co.uk

Crooked Cat Books as an e-book.

Smashwords as an e-book.

Jumping at Shadows:
When Belle discovers the secret of a family heirloom, she and her friend Rosy are propelled into a world of the shadows—the same shadows that have been haunting Belle all her life. Soon Belle realises that the future rests in her hands, and only she can keep the magic of her ancestors from falling into the clutches of a dangerous mad man.

Jumping At Shadows is available from Smashwords.


  1. Thanks Larry for inviting me over - it was fun chatting to you! ^_^

  2. Fabulous interview ... very revealing about your inner workings .. and interesting to learn about Tarot (even though it scares the living crap out of me) Thanks Helen and Larry

  3. A very good interview Larry and Helen.

    Good luck today Larry!


  4. Always a pleasure, Helen!

    Tom, that "scares the living crap out of me" part is interesting in itself. What do you fear about it?

  5. FM, I missed you when I was responding the first time! Hate when that happens. Thanks much, anyway!


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