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Helen Black Interview

Posted on 25 April 2008. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

WriteWords talks to crime novelist Helen Black

Tell us all about your writing background- what youíve written, what youíre currently writing

Iím a crime writer and my first novel, Damaged Goods, was published in January by HarperCollins. Itís the story of a girl in care who is accused of murdering her Mother and her lawyerís journey to help her. I deal with drugs, prostitution and paedophilia so itís not for the faint hearted.
I recently submitted my second novel, A Place of Safety, to my editors. I was flippiní relieved to learn they love it. Iíve just received the structural edits and have three weeks to get them done. Ahhhhhhhh.

Iím a lawyer by trade and specialise in representing children, though Iím currently on a break, darling.
Since my main character, Lilly Valentine, is a lawyer who wallows in the murky waters of the care system, Iíd say the day job has been indispensable. The stories and characters are all there just waiting to spill out onto the page.

How, when and why did you first start writing?

If you asked my Mum sheíd say Iíve always lived in my imagination Ė something I see in my own daughter, who at this moment is riding a horse called Courage through The Black WoodĖ but I didnít write anything down until around 2005 when I began working on Damaged Goods.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

In the blood and guts category, I love Mark Billingham, Karin Slaughter and when I grow up I want to be Minette Walters. Donít get me started on her structures.
My all time fave book is The Secret History by Donna Tart which is a thriller written by an angel.
I also have a huge place in my heart for Crime and Punishment which my Dad re Ėread every year. The picture of this old miner, sucking away on an Embassy Regal, deep in commune with a long dead Russian author, still delights me.

How did you get your first agent/ commission?

Iíd love to tell some anguished tale of seven unpublished books sitting in an attic but thatís not the way it happened.
I finished Damaged Goods and sent it off to a few agents, starting at ĎAí in The Writers Handbook. One wrote back saying my spelling was crap, my punctuation worse, but he had fallen in love with Lilly Valentine.
From there I left it to him and he sold it to HC.
Iím sure that much of my lack of confidence in my work is due to the fact that it all happened very quickly.

What's the worst thing about writing?

Self doubt. I always think everythingís rubbish.

And the best?

I never for a moment thought Iíd see Damaged Goods in print and it still makes me smile each time I see it in a shop.
My weekly sales figures make me whoop for joy. I mean Iím not John Grisham, but Iíve sold many thousands more copies than I ever anticipated, which, if Iím honest, was about six.
I still canít quite believe I get paid to lie.

Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.

Iím still staggered by those lovely people who get off their fat backsides and email me to say they love the book.
One woman even told me she was considering fostering after reading it. How fab is that?
Overwhelmingly, readers say they want more Lilly which has made it easier for me to continue with the series. Frankly, she gets on my pip, but that may be because I spend more time with her than anyone else, including my husband.

What was your breakthrough moment?

When my editor told me she takes fifty pages of a manuscript home every evening and Damaged Goods was the first time sheíd ever wished sheíd had the whole thing.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Helen Black is represented / published by:
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Comments by other Members

rogernmorris at 16:58 on 25 April 2008  Report this post
Great interview, Helen. You've done spectacularly well, right from the off - which is amazingly brilliant. What's best of all though is that you've obviously really touched your readers and got through to people. More power to you!

Good to meet a fellow fan of C&P, by the way!

Sidewinder at 08:57 on 26 April 2008  Report this post
Great interview, Helen. Congrats on all your success! It's great to see hard work rewarded.

Good luck with your future dreams!

tiger_bright at 11:13 on 26 April 2008  Report this post
Terrific interview, Helen, love your honesty! You manage to make it all seem possible while not pretending for a minute that it's something you expected. Good luck with the future writing.


Sally_Nicholls at 13:42 on 26 April 2008  Report this post
Hurrah! I'm crap at spelling too, so I loved your agent's comment ...

Steerpike`s sister at 20:13 on 27 April 2008  Report this post
You're obviously gonna be huge! Well done!

Nik Perring at 13:51 on 29 April 2008  Report this post
Great interview. Thanks for sharing and all the very best.


nessiec at 15:10 on 14 May 2008  Report this post
Yes, I can just imagine that agent making those comments (!). Good stuff. Best of luck with the next book.

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