Friday, December 14, 2012

Helen Carey, Lavender Road


Why don't you start with telling us a little about yourself? I suppose I am best known as the writer of the Lavender Road trilogy (originally published by Orion). I have had several jobs including army officer, crude oil trader, tour guide and management consultant. Having spent time in various part of the world, I now live in West Wales on a small coastal farm which I run with my husband as an organic conservation project (bats, badgers, owls, butterflies, rare grasses and wildflowers etc). I am also an artist and have made a gallery out of a converted goat shed. As well as writing and painting, I teach Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University.

What genre do you write in and why?  Having been shortlisted for the RNA New Writer’s Award for The Art of Loving, and then having written the Lavender Road trilogy, set in the Second World War, I mostly consider myself to be a historical saga writer. I love being able to explore a broad range of relationships and weaving the real history into my plots. Then, in On a Wing and a Prayer, when my heroine Helen de Burrel joins the SOE and is sent into occupied France, a lot of people wrote to me to say that they found the final chapters really exciting as Helen evades the Nazis to blow up the ships in Toulon harbour. This made me feel that I would like to have a go at a thriller. Writing my latest novel, Slick Deals, as a romantic thriller allowed me to bring my experience of creating tense relationships to a different kind of novel.

Do you outline before you write? Yes, I am a great believer in story structure and planning. (I actually teach a course in Story Structure at the University of Wales. I see so many wannabe writers floundering to a halt after a few chapters - often because they don’t have a clear idea of where their story is going.) Personally I like to create story, plot and characters that engage the reader from the start and hold them right until the end. The best way to do this is to plan it all out carefully to make sure that the characters’ motivation is totally in tune with the structure of the storyline and all the clues are layered in carefully and unobtrusively so that the conclusion is credible and satisfying. 

Which of your characters do you love the most and why? I am fond of many of my characters, but Ward Frazer, the Canadian air force pilot (and subsequently SOE agent) who first appears in Lavender Road probably holds a special position in my heart. (And in many other people’s too judging from his fan mail!) He is physically attractive, of course, but I think his real appeal comes from his nonjudgmental acceptance of other people’s foibles, his mental strength and physical courage, and the romantic tragedy of his past. Also perhaps because he is the only person to see the true quality in the young, sickly Katy Parsons.   

Did your book require a lot of research? Yes, my Second World War books in particular take a lot of research. I always set my novels against the real history, both international and local, so I have to make sure it is right! I study the events of the period, I go to museums and libraries, I find old newspapers and magazines, I research on the internet, I read diaries and personal accounts, I visit the locations, and, as much as possible, I interview people who were actually there.

How long does it take to write a book for you? Normally it takes me about three months to do the research and about nine months to write and edit.

Describe your writing space. I am lucky to have my own studio which we converted out of an old goat shed. It has a rather uneven oak floor, old wooden beams, thick whitewashed stone walls and a wood-burning stove which came from Norway. I write in there in the company of our two lurchers (even now ensconced on the sofa!) surrounded by my paintings and with a lovely view out over Newport Bay.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing? When I am not writing, teaching or painting, I spend a lot of time lazing around! I think of it as thinking time! I walk the dogs every day, we live in a beautiful area so I have the choice of walking on our tiny local mountain (Mount of Angels) or along the coast. I’m an eclectic reader and a film fan and also tend to get addicted to big TV series like West Wing, 24 or Downton Abbey! Marc and I are keen travelers and when we can get away (we care for my elderly mother) we love to go exploring. Recent trips include 10 days visiting friends in Colorado and Utah, a week’s 1500 mile drive round Namibia and research visits to France and Italy.
What so you see for the future of publishing and e-books? I am very excited about the digital revolution. I think it will have the effect of liberating writers from the shackles of traditional publishing with its artificial restrictions about genre, word count and author marketability. Without the gatekeepers of agents and publishers, writers will be able to spread their wings and try writing different kinds of novels, crossover novels, short novels, long novels, in fact whatever they want to write. OK, it will be up to them to edit, promote and market their work but then most of us want to/have to do that anyway! And readers will have much more choice about what they read. Yes, there will probably be too much choice but hopefully, in a free market, the really good, readable books will rise to the top.

What are your current books out right now, and what are the books coming up for
release?  LAVENDER ROAD, SOME SUNNY DAY, ON A WING AND A PRAYER, SLICK DEALS and THE ART OF LOVING are all out. My next novel will be the fourth in the Lavender Road series (working title LONDON CALLING). It should be out in 2013.

What is your marketing plan? The best marketing is definitely word of mouth so I try to write the most enjoyable and compelling books I can so that people will recommend them to each other. So far, with a little help from Amazon, Twitter and Facebook this seems to be working!  

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out? Create a varied cast of compelling characters, of different ages and from different walks of life. It is the extent to which readers engage with the characters that makes or breaks a saga. Find a theme for the novel (mine is how people show courage in adversity) and keep it in the back of your mind. Make sure each one of the main protagonists has their own story, their own secret (or not so secret) aims and ambitions. Try to ensure the highs in one character’s story coincide with the lows in another’s. Know exactly how the story is going to end and structure your plot to make everything work towards that climax. Try to incorporate some humour too - it always helps.  Don’t forget to read. And keep at it. As Winston Churchill said: ‘Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.’

Where can people learn more about you and your work?


‘Unputdownable!’ Western Telegraph
‘A sparkling bit of storytelling.’ Evening Standard

Opening in September 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War, Lavender Road follows the lives of a number of people who live in one South London street through the first year of hostilities.
Lavender Road boasts a pub, two rows of terraced working class homes, and overlooking Clapham Common at the top end of the road, two big houses, one owned by the local brewer Greville Rutherford and the other by the glamorous eccentric Mrs D’Arcy Billière. Everyone in the road suspects that their courage will be tested and that the war will change their lives, perhaps for ever …
For Joyce Carter, care-worn but resilient, the outbreak of war means a struggle to keep food on the family table. For her daughter, wild, sexy Jen, it may mean an end of her dream to become an actress. For shy asthmatic Katy Parsons, the pub landlord’s daughter, it offers a chance to break free from the life of an invalid if only she can summon the courage to defy her parents and enrol as a nurse. For Pam Nelson, a sickening see-saw of emotions as she fights attraction to her handsome Irish lodger, and for her husband Alan, the demoralising discovery that despite his desperate desire to do his bit, he is considered unfit to enlist. For seventeen year old Louise Rutherford, rich pretty and naïve, it offers grand illusions of romance.
This compelling novel creates a rich tapestry of life which depicts in all its vivid detail the story of London at War.


  1. Penny, thanks for hosting Helen today. Her books sound really good. I love historical fiction set during WWII and I'm a big thriller reader, so I guess I hit the jackpot stopping by today:)
    Thanks for sharing your books, Helen. I must go check them out now!

  2. World War II seems to be really popular right now! Nice interview!

  3. Great interview. The book sounds wonderful.