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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.

 

Amanda Brooke’s Writers Tips

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. ‘Don’t Turn Around’ is her latest book.

Today Amanda shares her writing tips for aspiring authors.

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.

Read more about Amanda and her writing journey here

Quentin Bates Writers Tips

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 out now.

Today Quentin shares his writing tips for aspiring authors.

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.

Read more about Quentin and his writing journey here.

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

Isabelle Broom Writers Tip

Isabelle BroomIsabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts in London before joining the ranks at ‘Heat’ magazine, where she was the Book Reviews Editor. Always happiest when she off on an adventure, Isabelle now travels all over the world seeking out settings for her novels, as well as making the annual pilgrimage to her true home – the Greek island of Zakynthos. Currently based in Suffolk, where she shares a cottage with her dog Max and Julius.

Today Isabelle shares her writing tips for aspiring authors.

Decide which genre you want to write within, then set yourself a challenge to read the Top 10 bestsellers in that category, be it crime fiction, sci-fi dystopia or romance. As you read, note down observations. Ask yourself what these authors have done differently, or better, and how they have developed their characters, then map yourself a list of dos and don’ts. If you haven’t already, then pick up a few “how to write” books and learn as much as you can about structure and plot. Trust me, getting lost in the middle of your novel will only knock your confidence and set you back. The planning may seem dull compared to the fun writing part, but it will help you to stay on track and make sure that your character arcs don’t vanish into thin air. Try to write every day, even if it’s just a few lines, and on the days the creative juices aren’t flowing, go back and edit what you’ve already done. You need to live and breathe a book for it to really flourish.

Read more about Isabelle and her writing journey here.