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Helen Black Interview

Posted on 25 April 2008. © Copyright 2004-2019 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to crime novelist Helen Black

Tell us all about your writing background- what youve written, what youre currently writing

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

Im a lawyer by trade and specialise in representing children, though Im currently on a break, darling.
Since my main character, Lilly Valentine, is a lawyer who wallows in the murky waters of the care system, Id 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 shed say Ive always lived in my imagination something I see in my own daughter, who at this moment is riding a horse called Courage through The Black Wood but I didnt 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. Dont 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 read 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?

Id love to tell some anguished tale of seven unpublished books sitting in an attic but thats not the way it happened.
I finished Damaged Goods and sent it off to a few agents, starting at A 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.
Im 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 everythings rubbish.

And the best?

I never for a moment thought Id 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 Im not John Grisham, but Ive sold many thousands more copies than I ever anticipated, which, if Im honest, was about six.
I still cant quite believe I get paid to lie.

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

Im 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 shed ever wished shed 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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