Getting to Know You: Helen Victoria Anderson

Today on the blog, we get to know Helen Victoria Anderson.

I first met Helen when she attended one of my writing groups in September 2013. Helen had contacted me about the session and explained that she was looking for somewhere to write while her daughter Georgina was in the Royal Victoria Infirmary. Unfortunately, Georgina was seriously ill with liver cancer and passed away. 

Helen has since released ‘Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir‘ which is an honest, unflinching account of her daughter’s final months and the impact her death has had. 

I’m really honoured to have Helen on the blog today. Thank you for taking part, Helen.

Vic x

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Helen, your memoir ‘Piece by Piece is about your daughter Georgina’s diagnosis with an aggressive form of liver cancer. Although much of the book is transcripts from diaries written during this period, how did it feel going back and reliving those times?

As I typed up the entries from my diaries, I kept thinking “Wow – did that really happen to us?” Georgina’s illness progressed and became terminal so rapidly (just four months from her diagnosis to her death) that it almost seemed like a bad dream. Going back over my diaries from that time brought it home to me that our lives have actually been changed forever. That period was such a mad whirlwind, I am now very glad that I have a record of it.

I thought the book was a really honest portrayal of depression, too, have you found people have been receptive to that element of it?

A lot of people who have experienced depression themselves have picked up on my references to my own mental health. I didn’t want the book to be ‘about’ my past (and sometimes current) depression, but I’m not ashamed of it either, so I was determined not to gloss over its effect on me and our family. Georgina was very worried that I might go on a downward spiral after her death, so it was natural for me to write about my efforts to maintain my recovery.

What’s been the most surprising reaction you’ve had regarding your memoir?

I have had many moving messages from other bereaved parents, including a lady in the US who has become a ‘penfriend’. It’s obviously meant a lot to me to have helped other people in this situation, in some small way. Also, the comments I have had about Georgina’s bravery and her music have made this project worthwhile. But probably the most surprising reaction has been the surprise of readers themselves to find that, overall, ‘Piece by Piece’ is an uplifting – rather than depressing – read.

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You are very open regarding other familial relationships in your life, how have the subjects coped with that?

I was careful to ask everyone who is mentioned in the book for their permission to publish the relevant passages, because no book is worth falling out over. My husband was very happy for me to write about him – even if his perspective of events (such as our arguments) was not always the same as mine! Georgina’s brother understood that it was important for me to tell my story, but so far he prefers not to read the book (which I totally understand).  On a side note, Georgina’s consultant was generous enough to let me include some slightly less-than-complimentary entries about our experience of her treatment, and said that the book would be useful in training future doctors about the patient/carer perspective of cancer.

Do you see writing as a cathartic experience?

Definitely, there is that element of relief when ‘spilling’ onto the page, but writing also helps me with ordering thoughts and feelings – hopefully to form a meaningful piece for the people who might get to read it.

I see you were recently able to make a donation to the Make-a-Wish foundation. How did that feel?

I recently donated £800 – the profits of the sale of the book to date – to Make-A-Wish UK, and it felt excellent to be able to give something back. Lots of charities helped Georgina, and we have tried to ‘repay’ them in various ways. In the book, I describe how Georgina’s story and her music became known around the world: Make-A-Wish was instrumental in getting Georgina’s music heard (which was her ‘wish’) via her YouTube video and single ‘Two Thirds of A Piece’. So, donating the proceeds of my book to grant other seriously ill children’s wishes seemed like something Georgina would approve of.

Have you any advice for someone considering writing a memoir?

It’s important to make careful decisions about how honest you are going to be – to think how you will feel once you have opened up your heart to your parents/neighbours/people you don’t know. Also, you need to be mindful and acknowledge that your version of events is just that – rather than objective ‘fact’.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently writing my second full-length piece of fiction ‘All Hushed’, while hunting for an agent for my first novel, which I’d just completed before Georgina got ill. Both of these books began with autobiographical seeds, but are very much crafted and fictionalised stories. I also have my first chapbook of poetry coming out with the Black Light Engine Room Press early in 2017.

What’s the most useful piece of writing advice you’ve received? Who was it from?

I received a wealth of useful advice from my tutors on the MA Creative Writing course at Teesside University about reading widely, writing a lot, and being persistent. I also love Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’, in which he reminds writers that “stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it”. I often need to remind myself of that. But most of all, for me, writing is, as Stephen King also says, about “getting up, getting well and staying well. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

 

Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir’ (Slipway Press, 2015) is available from Amazon as an e-book (£1.99) and paperback (£7.99). It is also stocked by Saltburn Book Corner, Marske Post Office, Guisborough Book Shop, and Drake – The Book Shop, Stockton.

Helen blogs about writing at https://www.helenvictoriaanderson.co.uk

Follow Helen on www.facebook.com/helenvictoriaanderson

 To read more about Georgina Anderson’s story and legacy, see www.facebook.com/rememberinggeorgina

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Coming soon…

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Coming soon… 

Review: ‘The Confession of Stella Moon’ by Shelley Moon

Stella Moon

Shelley Day’s debut novel, The Confession of Stella Moon, pulls you in from the first page and doesn’t let you go, even after the final page has been turned.

Stella Moon confessed to killing her mother on her eighteenth birthday. Now she’s served her time and is determined to start over but some things need to be put to rest before Stella can begin to think about her future.

A sense of claustrophobia pervades this novel, cloying and at times unbearable. I rushed through this story, partly because I couldn’t bear the tension! Day conjures up a strong sense of Stella’s rattled state of mind. The juxtaposition between the beautiful scenery of Northumberland and the hideous acts that occur is very well developed.

I was completely immersed in the story which is no mean feat. No wonder The Confession of Stella Moon was on the longlist for Not the Man Booker prize. I can’t wait to read what Shelley Day produces next.

Vic x

Matching the Evidence Blog Tour: Graham Smith on the Creation of Characters.

Yesterday saw the release of Graham Smith’s short story Matching the Evidence. I feel very privileged to have Graham on the blog today to talk about the creation of characters. Following Graham’s post, you’ll get my review of his latest release. 

Graham has been massively pivotal in my life this year, encouraging me to set up the North East Noir at the Bar. In addition to that, his Crime and Publishment course setting me on the road to finally completing my novel. 

Congratulations on another job well done, Graham! 

Vic x

Matching the Evidence

Creation of Characters

Creating a character is about so much more than just picturing one face and writing about them. Sure every book has a lead character who more often than not is the narrator or focal point, but unless the book is Robinson Crusoe, you’ve got to think about the support characters. (Even Crusoe had a Man Friday)

These are the colleagues, the lovers, the criminals, the victims, the witnesses and a whole host of other people who are there to populate the story. To give the lead someone to interrogate. Or fall in love with. Or scheme against. Or pursue in a clichéd game of feline and rodent.

How our character interacts with these secondary characters is critical to the story’s success. A faithful sidekick can save the day. An over-bearing boss can haul the hero off the case. A long-suffering wife can walk out.

Every one of these relationships affects the story or character in one way or another, meaning us authors have to plot much more than just the plot. We have to consider each character in their own right and work out how the lead’s behaviour will affect them and their lives.

One of my favourite authors is Craig Russell and in his Lennox series he pulls off a marvellous trick of having cameo appearances from fantastic characters. He gives them no more than three of four pages of the story to themselves – in one case the character only got three lines – but they are scene stealers due to the way his lead Lennox  (as if it wasn’t obvious) reacts to and with them. I am such a fan of these “throwaway” (my word not his) characters that I have tried to emulate them in my own writing.

All of the characters in a novel have an agenda. All have hopes, fears and desires. This makes it imperative to never forget, “every character is the hero of their own story.”

Lots of famous leads have support characters who do more than just stand around doing nothing. Some of the best examples are

  • Sherlock Holmes had Dr Watson as a sidekick (explaining device) and Moriaty as a nemesis
  • Elvis Cole has Jo Pike as a friend who provides muscle as does Myron Bolitar in his friend Winn
  • Logan McRae has a co-dependent relationship with the incorrigible DI Roberta Steele
  • Bond has Blofeld as a nemesis
  • Jack Reacher has … (I’ll stop now before it becomes obvious I haven’t thought this through)

Whenever I introduce a new character; I have to spend a few minutes, or moments if I’m unusually lucky, working out what’s going through their heads. Are they afraid, or angry, or just plain bored? However they’re feeling, I have to depict them in a way that shows their emotions and allows my erstwhile lead DI Harry Evans continue to wreak his own brand of havoc.

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Review: ‘Matching the Evidence‘ by Graham Smith.

Although ‘Matching the Evidence‘ is the third in the DI Harry Evans and Major Crimes Team series, don’t worry if this is your first meeting with Harry – ‘Matching the Evidence’, published by Caffeine Nights, can be read as a standalone story.

On the surface, this may look like the Major Crimes Team being punished for their prior bad behaviour and put on crowd control for a football match between Carlisle United and Millwall. However, things aren’t quite as they seem…

As always with Graham Smith’s writing, ‘Matching the Evidence‘ is dark, gritty and packs plenty of punches. There’s a real tension that runs throughout this story and, due to its length, you will want to devour it in one sitting. Not only do you get this brilliant short story but you also get a sneak preview of ‘I Know Your Secret’ – Harry Evans’s next case.

The Harry Evans series tackles a range of modern issues with a real grit and it looks like this cop is one who will be around for years to come.

Vic x

Noir at the Bar: an event for readers and writers.

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I got an email a couple of weeks ago from a lady who had seen my posts about Noir at the Bar. Although the lady in question wasn’t a writer, she was interested in the event and wanted to know if it would suitable for ‘non-writers’ to attend.

It took me no time at all to respond to this question: it is more than suitable for people who don’t write! Noir at the Bar isn’t just about giving a forum to writers to read their work – it’s about introducing readers to writers they may not have encountered before.

For example, this Wednesday, you might come to listen to Jay Stringer or Russel D. McLean but you’ll hear work from writers you may not have heard of before and I guarantee you will leave with at least one new writer whose work you’ll want to track down.

There is no set order of speakers so we ask members of the audience to pick names out of a hat – if you pick a name, you’ll get a signed book from that author (or the promise of one in the future). Free book just for picking a name out of a hat – and the opportunity to read someone you either love now or will love in the future.

For me, one of the many brilliant aspects of Noir at the Bar is that you will hear from a range of writers, from big names to people who haven’t yet had work published. If you attend Wednesday night, you’ll be able to say that you saw LP Mennock and Jon Wigglesworth before they made it big!

The joy of Noir at the Bar is that not only do you get to listen to awesome writers, you also get to interact with them. It’s encouraged that, during the break or at the end of the evening, you tell someone if you enjoyed their reading. Chatting about books is absolutely encouraged at Noir at the Bar!

And if you do fancy having a go at reading something you’ve written, you could always put your name down for the wild card round.

Noir at the Bar is meant to encourage interaction between writers as a community but also readers so if you’re a member of a book club or a solo reader, pop along. Entry is free and, if this Noir at the Bar is half as fun as the last one, you’re in for a cracking night.

Vic x

Guest post: Jackie Baldwin on Noir at the Bar’s wild card reading.

It’s one week until our second Noir at the Bar North East and today we have Jackie Baldwin, author of the forthcoming ‘Dead Man’s Prayer‘ which is out later this week, to talk to us about the wild card round.

Jackie’s name was picked out of the hat at the first Noir at the Bar and she gave a brilliant reading from her novel. I hope Jackie’s insight encourages you to put your name forward next week! 

Thanks for being involved, Jackie. Can’t wait to have you back at Noir at the Bar! 

Vic x

Jackie Baldwin

 

The Wild Card Round
By Jackie Baldwin.

Calling all crime writers! Have you been slogging away on a novel or are you about to be published? Are you brave enough to throw your name in the hat for The Wild Card Round? In my head, at least, also known as Russian roulette.

On 1st June, I travelled across to Newcastle from Dumfries for Noir in the Bar NE. I had stuck the prologue for my debut novel in my bag but had no real intention of entering the wild card round, being of a disposition that makes shrinking violets look bold and brazen. My friend and my husband accused me of being a wimp. It stung but I had to admit they were right. Craftily, I glanced into the hat. There were loads of names in there. Maybe I could redeem myself by putting my name in the hat and not have it pulled out? I was gambling heavily but decided to roll the dice and play the odds.

I met loads of lovely new people and was just starting to relax as the evening drew to a conclusion, having enjoyed listening to all those lovely, poised authors. Then the unthinkable happened. My name was pulled out. The bullet had slid into the chamber. Bang!

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I jerked to my feet like someone was pulling my strings, walked to the mike and started reading. My knees were knocking and my heart was pounding so hard I thought it was going to burst out my chest and flop about the floor. I was aware of the irony that the heart of the character I was reading about was doing a very similar thing. I finished and apparently ran rather than walked back to my seat. It was over. My first public reading.

Everyone was very kind and encouraging. I did not, as I had feared, have to change my name and go into my own version of witness protection to escape the horror that had unfolded. In fact, since then I have read again and each time it gets easier. I am one of the speakers at the upcoming event on 7th September and this time, I am almost (steady on!) looking forward to it.

So, what I have to say to any writers out there contemplating throwing their name into the hat is: DO IT!! If someone like me can do it and come back for more then YOU have absolutely nothing to worry about! That first time is as much a rite of passage for a writer as the first rejection slip. The audience will be right behind you, cheering you on. And guess who will be clapping for you loudest of all? ME!

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