– ‘The Magic Of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘Lies Behind The Ruin’ blogtour, organised by Rachel’s Random Resources.
To promote this book I have a Q&As post, but b
About the Author :
Helen Matthews is the author of Lies Behind the Ruin, a contemporary suspense novel set in France, to be published in April 2019 by Hashtag Press. Her debut novel After Leaving the Village, published in 2017, won first prize for the opening pages of a novel at Winchester Writers’ Festival. Born in Cardiff, she read English at the University of Liverpool and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. Helen’s short stories and flash fiction have won prizes and been published in Reflex Fiction, Ad Hoc, Artificium, Scribble and Love Sunday. Her freelance journalism has been published in the Guardian and broadcast on BBC radio. She is an ambassador for Unseen, a charity that campaigns to end human trafficking and modern slavery.
Emma Willshire has overcome plenty of obstacles in her life. From student bride to single mum of a son, Owen, but she has found happiness with her second husband, Paul and another child, Mollie. Emma’s dark days seem far behind her until a fatal accident happens at Paul’s work and he is held responsible.
On holiday in France, Paul’s behaviour turns erratic. On impulse, he buys a cheap, dilapidated property and, to Emma’s dismay, persuades her they can renovate it into a holiday home.
Back in England, their problems spiral out of control. Escape to a new life in France seems the only solution but with heart-breaking loss for Emma. As the couple strive to renovate their ruin and open a small business, shadows from the past threaten their happiness and safety. Because, how can you build a new life on toxic foundations?
Welcome to my blog and congratulations on the publication of your second novel Lies Behind the Ruin. Let’s start by talking about how you became an author.
1. What made you want to become a writer and how did you set about it?
Writers often say in interviews that they’ve been writing ‘all their life’ and that was the case for me, too. When I was a child, book buying was a luxury and you only got new ones on birthdays and at Christmas so I spent hours in my local library, taking out the maximum number of books you could borrow each week. Soon, I started penning my own stories but life lobbed a few boulders into my path to becoming an author.
I suppose the main one was the role reversal in our family. I was the breadwinner; my husband looked after the children and ran a small business that he fitted around them. To support everyone, I needed to be very focused in my career. Although my first degree was in English, I ended up in a profession that was about as far from creative as you can get. I worked in the Energy industry and my specialisms were Employee Benefits and Pensions. In my day job, I did a lot of writing and financial stuff – reports, legal documents, strategy papers and financial analysis. These had to be factual and precise and I felt I was losing my ability to be imaginative and struggled to keep writing fiction. To stop myself from going mad, I started writing articles and non-fiction in the evenings when my children were in bed. Many of my articles were published in newspapers and magazines, and a highlight was when I pitched some columns about family life to the BBC and was invited to record them for broadcast on a Radio programe called Home Truths, presented by the late and lovely John Peel.
Once my children were older, I decided it was time to end my pact with the devil (money or your soul) and quit my job to study for an MA in Creative Writing. I don’t believe all writers need to do a course like this – there are other paths – but in my case, my imaginative writing had stagnated and I had to get back on track. After so many years in corporate life, going back to university felt a bit like entering a decompression chamber where the weight was lifted off my shoulders.
It wasn’t possible for me to give up paid work entirely so I carried on with freelance consultancy relating to my HR and pensions expertise alongside my studies. Over the next few years I gradually switched to freelance copywriting, which I still do and it fits in well with writing fiction.
2. You say you love books and that will strike a chord with readers of this blog. Are there any particular books or authors who inspire you?
I read widely and I love literary fiction, classics, contemporary women’s fiction, crime, thrillers, suspense and commercial fiction. Authors I admire are Louise Doughty (Appletree Yard), Helen Dunmore, who sadly died back in June 2017 (Birdcage Walk, The Siege), Elena Ferrante (My Brilliant Friend etc), Kit de Waal (My Name is Leon and The Trick to Time) and Emma Donoghue (Room). I try to read at least some of the books shortlisted for major prizes and I quite like Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Jonathan Coe. I’m partial to a good psychological thriller and I recommend Clare Mackintosh (I See You and I Let You Go) and Sarah Vaughan (Anatomy of a Scandal).
3. What genre do you write?
This is going to sound odd but, until I started submitting to literary agents and publishers, I didn’t really understand that you needed to write in a specific genre. I just thought I was writing ‘a book’!
I now understand why genre is important because publishers need to pigeonhole your book within a particular niche so they can market it. My books have been variously categorised at crime, suspense, psychological thrillers and as book club fiction. My debut novel After Leaving the Village was a suspense thriller with dark and gritty themes of modern slavery and human trafficking. My current novel Lies Behind the Ruin is more of a genre splice – contemporary suspense about a family, which is women’s fiction, crossed with domestic noir in a foreign setting.
4. Tell us about your current novel Lies Behind the Ruin
Lies Behind the Ruin tells the story of a family, Emma and Paul Willshire and their children Owen and Mollie, who become overwhelmed with problems in their life in England and are forced to move to France where they impulse-bought a property that’s an uninhabitable ruin. The action takes place between 2015 and early 2017, before Brexit, when young families with limited money had the option of upping sticks and moving to an EU country to start again. Post-Brexit this may still be possible for well-off people, who can support themselves, or for people with job offers in a European country as their new employer will arrange the necessary permit to give them permission to work. The people who are likely to be disadvantaged are young people and ordinary families, without plenty of money behind them.
An underlying theme in Lies Behind the Ruin is the myth that you can escape your problems by moving to another country and everything will be miraculously different. But it won’t – because you take yourself and your past with you – and if your life is based on secrets and lies, you’ll be building your new life on toxic foundations. My character, Emma must show immense resilience as she sets up a new business in France and soldiers on to support her family, despite a burden of loss. Unknown to her, sinister shadows from the past will threaten her family’s safety.
The novel has a dual narrative structure with both Emma and Paul telling their own stories in a first person viewpoint. Unfortunately, they don’t talk to one another. Emma’s son, Owen has a couple of chapters in his point of view and is able to give readers an insight into the craziness of the adults in his life.
5. You mentioned your previous novel After Leaving the Village had some gritty themes, including human trafficking. What made you write about that?
After Leaving the Village does have some dark content but it’s not gratuitous. It’s done well with book clubs and I’m delighted that readers and reviewers have found it a gripping page turner. It tells the story of Odeta, a seventeen-year-old who lives in a remote village in Albania and works in her father’s shop. She feels that life is passing her by, until, one day, an enigmatic stranger from the capital, Tirana walks into the shop and tells her of the glittering career that awaits her if she travels with him to London. Her life is about to change in a way she could never have imagined.
There’s a second storyline about Kate, a journalist and mum, who lives on the same London street. Eventually the two women’s paths cross in terrifying circumstances.
I’ve been appointed an ambassador for the anti-slavery charity, Unseen and I wanted to raise awareness of the horrors of modern slavery and human trafficking, hidden in plain sight on the streets of our towns and cities.
6. Do you have any writing rituals? What are they?
I like to shake things up a bit and tend to move around the house working in different rooms. I do have my own work space but, at the moment, I’m writing in my daughter’s bedroom using her dressing table as a desk. In the summer, I often take my laptop outside and write in the garden. I don’t write in cafes, though. I’m too easily distracted.
7. Is there a particular novel or literary character you wish you had written?
This is a tricky question because there are so many amazing books out there. I wish I’d had the talent to have written some of them. I’m not sure how familiar readers are with Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels – My Brilliant Friend; Story of a New Name; Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child? They are literary fiction and nothing like the books that I write but, when I discovered these novels a couple of years ago, they gripped me so strongly it felt like rediscovering the joy of reading I had as a child.
Ferrante’s two main female characters, Lina and Lila, are so fantastically alive and psychologically real the reader feels like she’s walking in their shoes and living their lives. I try to create this closeness to the characters in my books.
Lies Behind the Ruin published on 25th April by Hashtag Press is available from Waterstones, Foyles and other good booksellers and from Amazon as a paperback and eBook.
The Magic Of Wor(l)ds