Helen Treharne, Author
Please enjoy the author spotlight interview before. My friend Helen Treharne, author of Relative Strangers agreed to answer a few questions about herself and give us a little insight into her world!
About Helen: After a successful career in business and career coaching, Helen Treharne returned to South Wales in 2010 to focus on writing, among other things.
Relative Strangers, a modern vampire story featuring an increasingly feisty Sophie Morgan, hits digital bookshelves in 2014. In addition to being the creator of the “Sophie Morgan” series, she is an urban poet and social commentator who can frequently be found ranting in the Twitterverse. She knew the degree in Sociology would come in useful some day!
Helen lives with her husband, three cats, an entrenched tea addiction and an increasing collection of stringed instruments. She can’t be trusted near stationary and is often found watching horror films on a Sunday afternoon.
I love the title of your blog and your affinity for tea. Tell me when that started and how you grew to integrate this warm beverage in your everyday life?
It would be fair to say that my relationship to tea is nothing short of an addiction – there’s nothing quite as calming as the ritual of making tea, particularly when you need to clear you head. It creates a stillness which is very often missing from my life – I’m usually racing through everything at a hundred miles an hour. Going out for Afternoon Tea is something that you can share with everyone – it brings people together. Nobody gets into a fist fight or vomits over their shoes after a decent mug of tea – well, not on my watch.
When did you start putting pen to paper and realize that you had a story to share?
I remember short stories about an orphan called Annabella , when I was around six, who was the ward of a rich uncle and had lots of adventures. I wanted to grow up to be a writer, but life got in the way and academic studies and a “proper job” took over. It wasn’t until my mid thirties that I rediscovered the joy of writing for pleasure – before then I’d only been writing as part of a day job. I began writing short stories and had a few false starts at novels – then one day I picked up a notebook and started writing Relative Strangers and I never stopped.
Give my readers a run down on your new book, Relative Strangers? I loved it by the way!!
I’m glad you liked it; I wasn’t sure how well it would go down with a non-Brit audience because of the dialect and locations so it’s been great to have such positive feedback from my overseas fans.
Relative Strangers is about Sophie Morgan, a down to earth 23 year old who has had a relatively easy if not subdued life. She’s been raised by her single mother in South Wales but has stayed in Coventry in England since attending university there. She hasn’t had much success with men (not that it has bothered her I might add), so when she is dumped by her first boyfriend, a friend whisks her off to Belgium for a weekend of shopping, wine and good food. Things are on the up when she meets unconventionally attractive Irish barman, Mickey, but things quickly go to hell in a handcart when she’s attacked by a vampire. The story follows her reluctant acceptance of the supernatural world and her return to the UK where there is plenty more action – including a 300 year old vampire who takes a shine to her, a dead body turning up outside her apartment, and a neighbour who is more than he seems. It’s not just about vampires though -it’s about figuring out you are, surviving and the uncertainty that comes with new relationships.
Tell me about the process by which you create a full length story. Map out your writing plan for us.
I’d love to say I had a plan for Relative Strangers but I didn’t – not at first – I literally picked up a book and started writing. I wrote three separate scenes, one of which made it into the book and the others which have been banked for the rest of the series. Each of them were pivotal moments when something is revealed. I knew these were the things I needed to write but I still needed to fill in the blanks.
That said, after that I point, I sketched out an outline of the story, and created back “stories” for each of my characters, down to key events that had happened, their birthdays, what they looked like. It was still a relatively “light touch” approach though as I always knew who I wanted them to be. My process is still similar, but the emphasis has shifted from the characters to plot development. I still carry a notebook around with me though, and whenever I get an idea I scribble it down – whether it’s a line of dialogue for a character, an interesting location, or a behaviour that interests me.
Tell us about other hobbies that you enjoy on a regular basis.
I’m a big reader and a huge movie buff. My husband says I’ve watched every film that’s ever been made but that is definitely an exaggeration. I go to the gym a few days a week and I also volunteer for an animal welfare charity, although that’s mostly admin and social media management now. We have three cats, two of which are elderly with health issues, which keep us busy!
Are you currently working on any other books? If so, feel free to give us a sneak peek of any/all of them.
Relative Strangers is the first in a series and I’m already working on the follow up, Death in the Family, which further develops the back story of some of the other key characters, plus what happens to Sophie when she moves back to Wales. Needless to say, there are some interesting developments – she definitely hasn’t seen the last of her troubles with vampires!
If you’re not into the supernatural though, I’ve also published a short collection of flash fiction which has some very different themes – I wrote it at a time I was dealing with a bereavement and focuses on themes of grief, peace, love and freedom. On the 17th October, I’m also releasing a collection of 10 urban poems about growing up in South Wales.
What’s your social media of choice and do you use it mostly for promotion of your book or just sharing your day to day life?
Twitter is my favourite platform by a country mile! It gives you the opportunity to network and connect with people with immediacy and on a range of subjects. It’s also a great tool for teaching brevity in writing!
I use it for promoting my book, but I think that the best way of engaging people is to be human. I may tweet the occasional promo, but I mainly like to share interesting content and engage with readers and those with similar interests. My blog is a close second, as that’s where I really get to unleash my views of the world, as well as share reviews and support other authors. I’ve also a Facebook page and I’m on Google+ so I think I’ve covered most of my basis. I suspect I’m a social media addict.
How long did the process of self-publishing take for you and what was your biggest stumbling block?
The whole process from picking up a pen and getting it onto bookshelves took about a year, although I did take the occasional break! The actual process of self publishing took around six months, if I include editing, proofing, formatting and design. The biggest stumbling block was time. I’d love to be one of those writers who have a dedicated “writing time” which they don’t deter from. I’ve tried that, but it doesn’t work for me. I’ve gone days without writing, then spent two days straight at it; sometimes writing in the morning works for me, other times late at night. It took me a while to ignore all the advice that you must do something every day, and gave myself permission to write in the way that suits me. It’s fine if it takes you longer; just don’t expect to be churning out four books a year. Don’t beat yourself up over it; just find ways to write regularly that work for you.
What words of advice would you give to an author writing a novel for the first time?
Enjoy it! Write the story that you want to tell and that you would want to read. Whether you are writing full time or around other commitments, writing a novel is a huge endeavour. If you’re not feeling motivated to write that next chapter, or are struggling on where the story should go next, it’s probably not the right story or not the right time for it – take a break, try writing something new, come back to it. Don’t give yourself a hard time when it’s not working and be sure to celebrate the small successes.
Do you think in the future you will stick to adult women’s fiction or do you have any interest to move into another space as well?
That is a very good question! In Relative Strangers, I’ve written from several characters’ points of view and I’ve particularly enjoyed writing from the male perspective. I’d be keen to do something for a broader audience (although strangely enough I’ve had a lot of support from men, middle aged ones in particular!). I’m a huge horror fan, both literary and film, so I suspect I’ll produce something more firmly entrenched in that genre soon. There’s also a novella for children/ young adults which I started a while ago that I’d like to revisit.
What do your friends and family think of your success? Do they get sneaky peaks at your works in progress, or is it a closely guarded secret, even to them?
It’s only recently that anyone other than my mother and husband found out about my writing. I think most writers are deeply insecure and dread criticism from those closest to you – or worse, that you get undeserved praise which doesn’t help your writing at all. Some of my friends didn’t know until they saw my newly created Facebook page! Everyone is amazed that I kept it quiet for so long and are really impressed that I’ve written a book in the first place!
Do you read as much as you write or is it a give and take situation?
I go through phases; generally I find it quite difficult to do both as I’m an all or nothing sort of person. I’m always reading at least one book, but I have to be strict with myself and limit myself to an hour a day, or when I’m travelling, otherwise it’s all reading and no writing. As a writer, it’s essential to read often and across a broad range of genres and writers -it helps make you a better writer.
Tell us what your average day looks like?
I’m not sure there is an average day, although a little routine isn’t a bad thing. At the moment, it’s getting up, going to the gym, heading into work, then writing a blog post or review over lunch, or reading. Once the work bell announces home, I’m back there to work on my novel and do some work for Cats Protection. At the moment, I’m still juggling writing and my day job in PR and communications so it’s definitely manic!
I have to know… was Sophie (protagonist of Relative Strangers) structured after you or someone in your life?
There are certainly some similarities between myself and Sophie. I’m from Wales (although not the fictitious Bethel/Bethesda from the book), worked in recruitment and lived in Coventry for a while. Some of the events have been inspired by things that I’ve done or witnessed (for example, retrieving a handbag from a mugger, believe it or not), but that’s where the similarities end. I’ve taken a premise and created a character out of bits of me, bits of other people and a few “what would someone do if this happened?” questions.
Give us a piece of advice from someone who has successfully self-published a well-written novel. We’re just starting out, what knowledge would you impart to us?
Self publishing can be as cheap or as costly as you make it. If you can afford professional help – take it, but there are some areas where it’s more important. I’d recommend using a graphic designer for your artwork and if you don’t have the patience to format, then pay someone to do that too. To cut costs, I’d say it’s a good idea to get some “critical friends” to edit and proof for you – ideally these shouldn’t be your actual friends. Twitter is a great way to find beta-readers, authors or others who are happy to help out for an early copy. You can generally rely on them to give you honest feedback as they’re not emotionally invested. There are many self-publishing companies who will provide all these services for you and if you go down this route, I’d advise you to check out works they have published for other indie authors and see what the quality is like. Stay away from vanity publishers who charge a whopping fee for the service and then give you a minimal return (some as low as 30% royalties), its best to pay for a bundle of services and keep all the royalties you earn.
Most of all I’d say that you have to remember that good content is the most important thing, followed by enjoying the ride!
I want to thank Helen for her participation in this interview and say what a pleasure it is to interact with her. She’s a great writer and deserves a good boost on the Amazon market. Check out her book and pick up a copy today!! You won’t be disappointed!