Helen 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.
- 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’!
- 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.
- 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!
- What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
“Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” – from Mrs. Dalloway by Viriginia Woolf.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
You can buy ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.