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Helen Cullen

Helen CullenHelen Cullen’s debut novel, ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’ was published in 2018. Before writing, Helen started her career with Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE (Ireland’s national broadcaster) where she worked in radio broadcasting before moving to London in 2010. She subsequently worked for companies such as the BBC and The Times before her most recent role in Google where she worked before signing her publishing contract. Helen was also shortlisted as Best Newcomer at this year’s Irish Books Awards.

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
    I am Irish but live in London. I had always wanted to write ever since I was a little girl but didn’t really have the confidence to try to write a book until I was in my thirties. Eventually the fear of never writing a book overcame the fear of not being able to and I joined a six month writing workshop that ‘The Guardian’ ran with the University of East Anglia with the amazing Michele Roberts as mentor. I feel so fortunate now that I had that amazing experience because the very first thing that I ever wrote became the first chapter of ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’!
  2. Can you tell us a bit about your new book, ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’
    The book is set inside the Dead Letters Depot in East London, where William Woolf is one of thirty letter detectives who spend their days solving mysteries: Missing postcodes, illegible handwriting, rain-smudged ink, lost address labels, torn packages, forgotten street names – they are all the culprits of missed birthdays, broken hearts, unheard confessions, pointless accusations, unpaid bills and unanswered prayers.

    When William discovers letters addressed simply to ‘My Great Love’, however, his work takes on new meaning. Written by a woman to the soulmate she hasn’t met yet, the missives capture William’s heart in ways he didn’t know possible, and soon he begins to wonder: Are these letters truly lost? Or might he be the intended recipient-could he be her great love?

    Torn between his love and commitment to his wife and his romantic idealism, William must of follow the clues in Winter’s letters to solve his most important mystery yet: the human heart.

    This novel meditates on the lost art, and power, of letter-writing. It is concerned with the juxtaposition that often exists between the portrayal of romantic love in the media and the arts and the pragmatic reality of sustaining a committed relationship over a long period of time. In the Dead Letters Depot, these notions of magic and realism collide on a daily basis and William’s story unfolds.

  3. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    In my dream book club, presuming I am choosing from just writers that are still with us, I would love to spend time discussing books with Donna Tartt, Elizabeth Strout, Michael Chabon, Anne Enright, Ian McEwan, Sarah Winman, Edna O’Brien, Colm Toibin, Michael Cunningham, Andrew Sean Greer, Michele Roberts, Audrey Niffenegger, Alice Munro…that may be too many already but I could keep dreaming about this one all day!
  4. The Lost Letters of William Woolf

  5. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” – from Mrs. Dalloway by Viriginia Woolf.
  6. What’s your favourite book of all time?
    Oh it’s impossible to say – different books have meant so much to me at different times in my life!
  7. Who’s your literary hero/heroine?
    Without a doubt, Edna O’Brien. There is no doubt in mind that the reason I can walk through doors today with a published book that I have written in my hand is because Edna broke down so many doors first. I can’t recommend her work enough and am always buying ‘The Country Girls’ trilogy as presents for people.
  8. What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
    I love when the structure and story are set in stone and I can spend time polishing the text on a word by word, line by line basis without wrestling with the big picture at the same time.
  9. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen
    ‘Anna Karenina’ by Tolstoy
    ‘The Hours’ by Michael Cunningham
  10. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    I think the most helpful thing a writer can do to progress is to persevere on finishing a complete draft to the end – afterwards then you can work on polishing, designing and editing – but persevering to the end is often the biggest challenge so developing that stamina is so valuable.
  11. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    I type on a laptop but also like to have a notebook and pen beside me to write down ideas that occur to me for later or reminders to myself to go back and fix something later!

  12. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website.
    I am just finishing my second book, ‘Leave A Light On’, and if readers are curious about what I’ve been working on, they can read the first chapter in the paperback edition of ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’. I am so excited that it will be released in spring 2020 and am looking forward to hearing what folks think!

    Follow Helen Cullen on Twitter and follow her website

You can buy ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

 

Phoebe Morgan

Phoebe MorganPhoebe Morgan is an author and editor. She studied English at Leeds University after growing up in the Suffolk countryside. She has previously worked as a journalist and now edits crime and women’s fiction for a publishing house during the day, and writes her own books in the evenings.

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
    I am 29 and live in North London with my boyfriend. I work full time in publishing, and write my own books during the evenings and weekends. I wrote my first book, ‘The Doll House’, whilst I was an assistant and it was published last year, after I spent a few months working on it editorially with my lovely agent. ‘The Girl Next Door’ is my second book, and I can’t wait to see what everybody thinks of it!

    I have always loved writing, but only began to take it more seriously when I was about 24. I studied English at university and did a great creative writing class in America that inspired me to do more of my own work. So much of writing it about persistence, and now I’m very glad I kept going with it even though there were times when I felt like giving up.

  2. Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book, ‘The Girl Next Door’
    ‘The Girl Next Door’ is a psychological thriller about a small Essex town and the secrets that lie behind closed doors. The whole community is shocked when sixteen-year-old Clare Edwards is found dead in a field known as Sorrow’s Meadow, and DS Madeline Shaw is brought in to investigate the murder. Most of the narrative is told in the perspective of Jane Goodwin, a member of the school PTA and the wife of the town doctor, but is she as perfect as she tries to appear? You’ll have to read it to find out!
  3. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    Oh, that’s a good question! My absolute favourite writers are Maggie O’Farrell, Liane Moriarty, Melissa Banks and Liz Nugent so I’d love to sit round a table with them! I read so many fantastic books for work that it’s quite hard to find time to do my own reading now, so joining a book club might actually be a good way of being able to read more for pleasure.
  4. Is there anything that you would change about your writing journey?
    Hmm, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s been a particularly easy journey, so I might make it a bit easier for myself, but then I don’t know if I’d feel as grateful as I do now or appreciate it as much. All writers have a different path to publication and I try not to get hung up on other people’s – it’s best to just focus on your own and I feel very lucky to have a supportive agent and editor who have been great to work with on ‘The Girl Next Door’.
  5. Who’s your favourite literary villain?
    I like Tom Ripley out of the Patricia Highsmith novels!
  6. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    Liz Nugent always does brilliant opening lines, she is the master of pulling the reader in straight away. They’re always so sinister!
  7. 'The Girl Next Door

  8. What’s your favourite book of all time?
    It changes, I think – I’ve always loved ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath, and ‘After You’d Gone’ is my favourite Maggie O’Farrell novel, although they’re all great. When I was younger I read tons of Enid Blyton and Harry Potter so those all have a special place in my heart too.
  9. Why did you decide to write crime fiction?
    I write crime mainly because it’s what I enjoy reading – I decided to try to write books that I’d want to read myself. I publish a lot of crime and suspense at work as well, so it was the genre I felt the most confident in, although I don’t know whether I will stick to crime forever.
  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    Hmm. I would bring the fourth Harry Potter book, ‘The Goblet of Fire’ because I love that storyline, there’s so much going on! I’d also bring ‘The Wonder Spot’ by Melissa Bank, which I’ve read hundreds of times but never gets old, and I’d bring a ‘Bridget Jones’ book to make me laugh!
  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    I think it’s very important to read a lot, get to know your genre, find out what works and what doesn’t work. I’d also suggest getting your work read by beta readers or joining a writing group that might help critique your manuscript – it’s always good to get other opinions and find out if what’s in your head makes sense on the page! Don’t be afraid of editing your book, either – get your first draft down and then go back through it, again and again, moving chapters around or making cuts where necessary. No one ever writes a perfect first draft so the editing process is something you need to get used to.
  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    I don’t really need anything other than my laptop, but I like lighting a candle if I’m at home, it’s nice and calming! And tea. Or wine.
  13. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website.
    ‘The Girl Next Door’ is out now and then my third book will be out next year. It’s about a couple who go on holiday to France, only for the police to ring the doorbell of their villa and accuse the husband of a murder back in England… I hope you all like it! You can stay up to date with my book news by joining my newsletter – you can subscribe here:

    Follow Phoebe Morgan on Twitter and follow her website

Amanda Brooke

Amanda BrookeAmanda lives in Liverpool with her daughter Jessica and writing was most definitely a late discovery for her. She didn’t really begin to explore creative writing until she was almost 40, at which point her young son Nathan was fighting for his life. Poetry and keeping a journal helped me through those difficult times and the darker times to come when he died in 2006. He was three years old. She continued to write and in 2010, she found an agent. Shortly afterwards in 2011 she was offered a book deal with HarperCollins. Her first novel ‘Yesterday’s Sun’ was published in January 2012 and she was absolutely thrilled when it was selected for the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club List.

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
    I wasn’t one of those people who grew up always knowing I’d be a writer. I was in my late thirties before I took any real interest in writing, and it was at a time when I was dealing with a nightmare rather than pursuing a dream. My son, Nathan was twenty one months old when he was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2004 and I found writing poetry and keeping a journal helped me remain strong for both my son and his older sister Jess. When Nathan died in 2006, writing was a way for me to process my grief. At first I wrote about my son but once all of those precious memories were committed to paper, I found I wanted to carry on writing. Yesterday’s Sun was my first attempt at women’s fiction and was inspired by my experiences of motherhood. The story not only secured my first book deal but was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club in 2012. I’m slightly stunned to be publishing what will be my ninth novel, and all because of one little boy who left behind an amazing legacy.
  2. Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book, ‘Don’t Turn Around’.
    The story opens ten years on from Megan McCoy’s death and is told from the perspectives of Meg’s mum, Ruth and her cousin, Jen who was also her best friend. Meg died from suicide and in the years since her death, her parents have established a charity in her name and currently operate a helpline for young people in crisis who need someone to talk to. The family are trying to rebuild their lives but there are questions that haunt them. What hold did her boyfriend have over her and why did she protect him to the very end? Was the brief note she left meant to be a cryptic message or did someone destroy part of the note before her father found her body? The family had thought they had come to accept there are no answers, but then a young woman phones the helpline and reveals things that only Meg could know. Is she suffering as Meg had suffered and can they save her?
  3. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    Actually, I’ve recently been invited to join a book club in Liverpool and that group includes Sarah Haywood who wrote ‘The Cactus’. It was one of my favourite reads of 2018 so Sarah would definitely be on my wish list. There are a few other local authors I also like to keep in touch with so I’d happily chat books with Caroline Smailes, Catherine Isaac, Debbie Johnson, Rachel Lucas, Mary Torjussen and debut author Caz Finlay whose first book, ‘The Boss’ is out later this year. If there’s room for more, I’d love to invite Cecelia Ahern as I was a big fan of her books long before I’d ever thought of writing one myself, and we now share the same publisher.
  4. Dont Turn Around

  5. Is there anything that you would change about your writing journey?
    That’s a tough one to answer because I doubt I would have become a published author if my son hadn’t died, so there’s always going to be a part of me that wishes I had never had to start my writing journey. Thinking beyond that, I don’t think I would change a thing. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have become a published author. I gave up my day job two years ago and it’s thanks to my publisher and my readers that I’m now doing something I love and long may it continue.
  6. Who’s your favourite literary villain?
    I’m going to be cheeky here and name one of my own characters. In ‘The Bad Mother’, Adam is responsible for mentally abusing his wife, using a form of abuse known as Gaslighting. He was outwardly charming but he was ruthless and cruel as he stripped his wife of her confidence and her sanity. When the book was published, it was the first time I’d ever had hate mail, although I should point out it was directed at Adam rather than me. I was thrilled that readers hated him as much as I did.
  7. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    I’m going to pick something I’ve read recently and that was ‘Our House’ by Louise Candlish. The opening line is: ‘She must be mistaken, but it looks exactly as if someone is moving into her house.’ It sums up the premise of the story perfectly because it’s about a woman who comes home one day and discovers someone has sold her house without her knowledge and a new family are moving in. The hook is there immediately and it’s another of my favourite reads of 2018.
  8. What’s your favourite book of all time?
    I was a big fan of horror in my teens, having started my obsession with ‘Carrie’ by Steven King but the stand out novel for me was ‘Watchers’ by Dean Koontz. It’s about two creatures who escape a secret government experiment. One of them isn’t so nice but the other is an extremely clever dog called Einstein and now I’ve thought about him, I need to go back and read the book again.
  9. Why did you decide to write crime fiction?
    I’m not sure I’d describe my books as crime novels although my last few have become darker and there are certainly crimes involved. However, I’m more interested in the telling the victims’ stories and exploring what impact the crime has on them and their families. I do tend to put my characters through emotionally wrought experiences but they come out fighting and they’re the ones who ensure justice is done, not the police.
  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    I mentioned reading horror in my teens but I also loved fantasy and one of my favourites is ‘Lord of the Rings’ and because it’s a trilogy, I’m sneaking three books in for the price of one. My second selection would be one of Jane Austen’s novels. After reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’ at school, I went on to read her other books and loved them all. I’d happily add any of them to my book pile but at a push, I’d choose ‘Persuasion’. My last book would be a collection of poetry. I don’t know if the book exists but I’d like something that includes a mixture of classic and modern poetry with verses about love and tragedy, loss and longing, as well as poems written for children – I had a book of Roald Dahl poems was I was younger and loved it. Poetry would be ideal for a desert island because you can read verses over and again and find new meaning in the words based on your current mood or experiences.
  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    To be a writer you have to put in the hours and write, so the best advice I can give is not to talk yourself out of it. Don’t tell yourself it’s too late to start writing, or that the opportunity has passed you by. If you want to write, write and if that isn’t enough to get you filling that first page with words then ask yourself if you’ve found the right story. The story, when it comes, has to be one you’re desperate to get down on paper because you’re going to be spending a lot more hours than you think bringing it to life. And if a full length novel is too daunting, start off small to hone your skills. Writing competitions are a great way to develop discipline as they come with a theme and a deadline, and who knows, you might win the odd prize or two.
  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    That’s an easy one to answer. When I gave up the day job to write fulltime, one of the first things on my list of requirements was a dog. My cockapoo is called Mouse and she has a bed next to my desk. I start writing each morning at about eight o’clock and as lunchtime approaches, Mouse will move to the armchair where she will sit and stare at me to let me know it’s time to take a break. We go for our walk and that’s when I’ll have those little bursts of inspiration that keep the plot of my current book ticking along.
  13. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website.
    My tenth book is going to be about a support group for young widows and widowers. I have three main characters who have all been widowed under the age of fifty and the story begins when the youngest and most recently bereaved joins the group. She forms close friendships with the other two characters and they each face challenges in their lives, one of which will lead to a tragedy. As the draft stands, the first scene hints at what fate awaits one of my characters, however, I won’t reveal what that is in case that opening doesn’t survive the editing process.
  14. Follow Amanda Brooke on Twitter Amanda Brooke

    You can buy Don’t Turn Around from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Amelia Mandeville

Amelia MandevilleAmelia Mandeville is one half of the video blogging sisters, ‘The Mandeville Sisters’ with her sister Grace. They have a YouTube channel, where they explore their love for fashion, style and discussing disability and body positivity. ‘Every Colour Of You’ is Amelia’s debut novel.

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
    My name is Amelia Mandeville, I have a Youtube channel with my sisters ‘Mandeville Sisters’. I’m
    21, and I love dipping into the fictional world. I just got into this, by writing, and writing until I
    finally got there. Not giving up was the key!
  2. Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book, ‘Every Colour of You’.
    ‘Every Colour of You’, is a book of many different emotions, following the journey of Tristan and Zoe, and their very unlikely friendship. It’s a book to make you hopefully laugh and cry, break your heart, and mend it at the same time.
  3. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    Ooooh. Rainbow Rowell. Patrick Ness, and Veronica Roth.
  4. Is there anything that you would change about your writing journey?
    I wish my writing wasn’t so dependent on my mood.
  5. Who’s your favourite literary heroine or heroine?
    I always loved ‘Maximum Ride’.
  6. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    You know what, I don’t have one!
  7. What’s your favourite book of all time?
    Hmmm, that’s too hard to choose. I have so many favourites, ‘Eleanor and Park’, ‘Chaos Walking ‘series, ‘Maximum Ride’ and so many more.
  8. Every Colour of You

  9. Why did you decide to write female fiction?
    I’ve actually wrote YA, and zombie novels before this, so I guess it just depends on the story I’m creating.
  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    Oooooh, it’d be the three I answered for my favourite book.
  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    The motivation and self believe. Definitely. Just keep writing and encouraging yourself because it’s hard to believe in yourself. I nearly gave up lots of times.
  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    Can music count? I always have to listen to music, but a good cuppa is helpful too!
  13. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website.
    I am working on my second book at the moment, which is all pretty secret…and still busy with my Youtube channel www.youtube.com/mandevillesisters. Thanks so much for having me 🙂

  14. Follow Amelia Mandeville on Twitter Amelia Mandeville

    You can buy Every Colour of You from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Quentin Bates

Quentin BatesQuentin Bates is the author of six crime fiction novels and the translator of Ragnar Jónasson and Lilja Sigurðardóttir novels. His new novel, ‘Cold Breath’ is published by Constable on the 11th October.

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing
    I’ve been a journalist for quite a few years – nothing wildly exciting, as I write mostly about shipping – so it was a side-step into books and fiction. I did a creative writing course, mainly so I could have an afternoon a week off work, and the first book in the series grew out of that course – even though I had gone into it expecting to come out writing non-fiction.
  2. Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book, ‘Cold Breath’?
    ‘Cold Breath’ is the latest in a series that centres around a Reykjavík police officer called Gunnhildur Gísladóttir who has solved a good few murders before now. In this book things are a little different, as I wanted to take her out of her comfort zone entirely, so instead of hunting a criminal, she has been assigned to be a bodyguard for a visitor to Iceland who has a price on his head. The two of them have little in common and don’t like each other a great deal, and it isn’t clear if the mysterious visitor is everything he claims to be. That’s about all I can say without giving away any spoilers.
  3. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    Lilja Sigurðardóttir (whose books I translate into English) because Lilja is loads of fun. Dominique Manotti and William Ryan, John Lawton, John le Carré and Len Deighton and because I love their books. Barbara Nadel because she has a wicked sense of humour, and writes brilliant books. My old friend Guðlaugur Arason because he was, like me, a seafarer, and he’s a fascinating character. And maybe Douglas Adams…
  4. Why did you decide to write crime?
    I’m not entirely sure. It was something I had been tinkering with for a while and when it came to it, it was almost a snap decision to go down the fiction route. As I said, I had expected to be firmly shackled to non-fiction rather than crime novels, but sometimes these decisions seems to take themselves.
  5. Is there anything that you would change about your writing journey?
    I would have liked to have started earlier, and a little more confidence at the outset would have been ideal.
  6. Who’s your favourite villain?
    The chilling General Carmona, the Hairless Mexican from one of Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden stories.
    Cold Breath

  7. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    ‘It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.’
    ‘Earthly Powers’ by Anthony Burgess
  8. What’s your favourite book of all time?
    It’s hard to tell, as there are so many. It’s probably ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.
  9. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ (preferably the omnibus edition of the whole trilogy in four parts), Saki’s collected short stories and ‘The Code of the Woosters’ by PG Wodehouse. On a desert island, I’d need something that raises a laugh.
  10. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    Just concentrate on the story and don’t let yourself get sidetracked. Don’t be afraid to cut stuff that doesn’t work. Try to do something on your WiP most days, even if it’s just a few words, as it keeps it ticking over in your mind. Don’t ask your Mum’s opinion of your work – ask someone who doesn’t love you.
  11. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    As little as possible. Preferably nothing more than a table with a keyboard and a screen.
  12. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website?
    Right now I’m back in translation mode, working on two more books by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Cage which will appear in English in 2019, and Betrayal in 2020, as well as the translation of Indriði G Thorsteinsson’s Cab 79 which has just been published. There’s my own stuff as well, which is on the back burner at the moment. There’s a story that’s brewing, but I’m not sure yet if this will be Gunnhildur or something different.

    You can buy Cold Breath from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.