Friday, August 15, 2014

Discovering the Diamond: Interview with Helen Hollick

Discovering the Diamond by Helen Hollick is an excellent read much like a mentor for the new author or wannabe who needs to develop a feel for the work and the field. Helen is well qualified to help after twenty years as an author, one who has been published in the mainstream and who also has done indie-publishing.

In Discovering the Diamond, Helen discusses tips of the trade for new novelists, going self-published, the basics of writing a good novel, and the importance of editing. I have interviewed Helen below.

So… who is Helen Hollick then and now?

I’ve always thought of myself as ordinary, if a bit of a loner. I like chatting to people (one bonus of being a writer is you get to meet lots of lovely people!) but I am also happy in my own company and quite content when immersed in my own fictional worlds – whether these are the ones I am reading or writing about. I had few friends at school (many years ago!) and found the world of books to be a much kinder place. I wasn’t bullied or anything, but extreme shyness combined with short sight and those awful bottle-bottom glasses eroded my confidence. You do not need to be confident when you are off adventuring with fictional characters though do you?

Now? Well I live in Devon, England, having moved in January 2013 from the noise, pollution and pressure of a London suburb. The decrease in stress levels and the quieter, slower life is wonderful – as is being able to write without neighbours shouting, radios blasting or sirens blaring. The noisiest things outside my study window are birds, cattle and sheep!

At what point did you find yourself becoming a writer?

Writers, I thought, were clever people who went to university and had degrees. Ordinary people like myself with minor, low-grade qualifications were not writers.

I was about thirteen when I started scribbling stories. I am sixty-one now, so a lot of words have been transferred from imagination to paper in the years between. I desperately wanted a pony, we could not afford one so I invented one in the world of fiction. I wrote dozens of stories about Tara, as she was called. (Must have been an unrealised influence from Gone With the Wind.) I was quite shocked when I discovered that living your dreams through writing stories was unuasual. I had assumed that everyone did it

I moved on from pony stories to fantasy and science fiction, still inventing my own worlds, then I discovered that King Arthur may have been a real person who lived during the fifth or sixth century. I had never much liked the traditional Arthurian tales of knights in armour and courtly deeds – they always seemed so out of place somehow, but the excitement of discovering that he might have been a post-Roman warlord fired my imagination. I delved deeper with research and suddenly the novels I were reading irritated me – they were not how I envisioned Arthur. So I wrote my own novel, which turned out to be the first book in the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. The books were picked up by William Heinemann in 1993 (Random House UK) and that was it. I was a published writer.

You review self-published novels for the Historical Novel Society. How did that come about, and what are your goals there?

I was delighted to discover that the HNS reviewed indie historical fiction; few such societies do as there is still an unfortunate element of disdain about self-published books. But the reviewers were all US based – what about us UK writers? It costs a fortune to mail books to America. Rather than moan I offered to become a UK editor, which set the ball rolling, but as is oftn the way, one thing led to another and I am now overall Managing Editor of Indie Reviews, with a fantastic and enthusiastic review team behind me.

The doubts about Indie books can be justified because, sadly, there are a lot of badly written, poorly produced self-published novels out there. But there are also some darn good ones! I wanted to introduce a standard into our HNS Reviews, aiming for the point where if it has been reviewed by the HNS then you know it is a good read. We take into account the standard of writing, of course, but also the quality of production – comic sans font, double- spaced paragraph breaks with text left justified is unacceptable. As are covers with no title on them (yes! I have had two books submitted with no text on the cover: the authors said that as the books sold on-line not in a book store why did they need to print a title? Words fail…!)

Recently, in 2014 I have also introduced the HNS Indie Award, which is to be an annual award for the best Indie Historical Novel, This is not a competition as such, and there is no entry fee, the books are selected from those submitted to us for review. If one of our reviews becomes an Editor’s Choice then it is automatically long-listed for the award.

I know most of your work is historical fiction. But I just read your Discovering The Diamond. What motivated you to write a writing book, and who is this book mainly for?

I wrote this in conjunction with my UK editor, Jo Field. Both of us were receiving so many e-mails asking for various bits of writing advice that we decided to produce some common answers on a quick to send attachment. This soon became six pages, then twelve, and then booklet-sized. In the end we thought we might as well publish our useful tips as a modest ‘how to’ book.

It is written with the intention of assisting novice and new writers to discover their talent and achieve a dream – of writing a good, readable book. Writing well is not just about thinking up a decent plot and getting the punctuation, spelling and grammar right. There is a technical side as well: to ‘show’ not ‘tell’ your story, not have too many point of view changes (often called ‘head-hopping’,) or not to use author’s voice. Although useful for prospective mainstream authors Discovering the Diamond is especially helpful for Indie writers as it also includes advice about layout – the dos and don’ts of self-publishing, many of which I learnt first-hand.

When I initially went Indie with my Sea Witch Voyages a nautical adventures series, I made many errors that are very common for the new indie writer – going it alone is a sharp learning curve, so I wanted to share my experiences and help other writers avoid the pitfalls.

Where can Discovering The Diamond be purchased?
I expect it can be ordered from any good bookstore, but it is available from any of the leading on-line stores, such as Amazon, in paperback format or on Kindle, Nook etc.

What are your historical fiction topics and titles?

The Arthurian Trilogy
The Kingmaking
Pendragon’s Banner
Shadow of the King

The ‘what might have really happened’ story of King Arthur. No knights in armour, no Lancelot or Merlin; just a boy, who became a man, who became a king… who became a legend.


The Forever Queen (US title) / A Hollow Crown (UK title)
USA Today Bestseller
The story Of Emma of Normandy, Queen of Anglo Saxon England

I Am The Chosen King (US Title) / Harold The King (UK Title)
The people and events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 from the English point of view.


Sea Witch
Pirate Code
Bring It Close
Ripples In The Sand
On The Account (coming soon)
Pirate-based adventure series with a touch of fantasy.
I describe Captain Jesamiah Acorne as a blend of Jack Sparrow, Indiana Jones, Hornblower, Jack Aubrey, James Bond and Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe.
If you liked the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you will enjoy these sailor’s yarn adventures.

8) Where can we learn more about your books?
My website:
My Main Blog:
My (sort of monthly) Newsletter:
Twitter: @HelenHollick

Thanks Debra – this has been a most enjoyable interview!


Lynne said...

Thank you for an interesting interview - enjoyed reading it.

Helen Hollick said...

Thank you for inviting me onto this page Debbie - much appreciated

Helen Hollick said...

...and thank you Lynne for dropping by!