Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Writing Buddy Wednesday: Helen Ellis

Welcome to another installment of Writing Buddy Wednesday. 
This week I have BF-Fiends buddy, Helen Ellis. Helen is a lovely lady whom I've known online for a while now. She is a Ellinophile (Grecophile) and loves to chat things Greek.

Your latest release is The Chocolate Affair. Can you describe this book for us?

Here's the blurb:
Henrietta Pittman already has three novel manuscripts lying forgotten in the bottom drawer, so why challenge the Delta Cove Writers Group to write another 50,000 words in 30 days? From Day One things do not go well for her. For instance, there's Matt Watson, her critique partner, who's determined to out-write her with his scorching sex romp, "Drop Dead Blonde". Henny can't even make up her mind what to write! Finally she decides on "The Chocolate Affair" - after all, isn't chocolate every girl’s soother of sorrows; panacea of all ills; comforter; consoler; obsession-maker; greed gatherer?
But widowed Henny is also trying to cope with her feelings for Matt, while contending with her daughters, Louise and Allie, and their burgeoning teenage problems. Then there's her boss, Jay Franklin, expecting her to run his garden center business, but not coping with her suddenly popular innovative garden concept. And her psycho cat, Rissole...
So, can she write "The Chocolate Affair" despite all distractions? Can she cope with new disasters, bringing back terrible memories? And can she do it all without Matt? He's become important to her, but he disappears in strange circumstances at a crucial moment, leaving behind a legacy to help her face the future. Will they face it together?

I wrote this book for one of the Nanowrimos. The months always fly by when you get older. It came up to November, and because I always challenge myself to write the required 50,000 words in 30 days, having done it for nine years now, I was suddenly faced with not having a brain in my head! So I decided to write about someone writing 50,000 words in 30 days! And of course they say - write about something you know. Chocolate! Of course!

(EK: Find The Chocolate Affair on Smashwords.)

Please tell us a little about your road to publication. Why did you decide to go the Indie published way?

I'm getting to be a ditzy old lady. I just got tired of submitting my stuff and either not hearing at all, or waiting months just to be rejected. Now, I can take rejection with the best, but one thing I don't have is a lot of time. Another thing I have to admit to, if I'm honest, is that I'm rubbish at submitting stuff.

Somebody put me onto Smashwords, and I decided to give independent eBook publishing a go, believing it was better to do something positive with my manuscripts rather than have them mouldering away in the computer. I started with my non-fiction writing about Greece. It was a huge learning curve, but I'm a Virgo and therefore fixated, determined, and a perfectionist. I'm pleased to say that I have immediately achieved Premium Status with Smashwords for all my books. 

Many years ago, you published a book with your granddaughter. What was that experience like? 

It was an amazing experience. I wrote "Max, and the Gang of Five" for my granddaughter and her friends, never intending to publish. It's about Monifieth Maximilian, a pedigree Burmese cat - a funny and fast-moving adventure over back fences and through grass, swamps and rivers as Max and his four cat friends try to eliminate from their town the nasty rat, Ragglewort, and his tribe. It tells of friendship, teamwork, and how to clean burrs from your fur… J. It's for children 7 - 12.

Lucy, then aged 12, illustrated it for me. Her lovely drawings of the cats were a hit with the young readers. A wonderful teacher at her school set her class to 'edit' the manuscript as an English exercise! However, everyone liked it so much, kids and adults, that I eventually went through Zeus Publishing to bring it out in paperback. We had a great book launch in Adelaide at her school. I didn't find the publishers particularly helpful at the time, but now I realise self-publishing involves a tremendous amount of your own effort to get the book out there. I'm toying with the idea of re-publishing Max, especially as the sequel book is now finished. 

I love your travel stories. What differences do you find when writing non-fiction opposed to fiction? 

My Greek memoir "Make Mine a Moussaka" was originally created from my copious travel diaries, hand written when in that lovely country. It sat in the computer waiting for me to make up my mind what to do with it. I'm glad I didn't do anything drastic for such a long time, because in the meantime I learned a lot about memoir writing. For instance, in non-fiction travel you are writing about your own experiences, but readers become bored if you continually rave on about what you did here, and how you got there - they aren't really interested in you as a person. You have to bring them along with you, by description and reaction, to enjoy the journey and the places, rather like a tour leader in print. 

In many ways travel non-fiction is not all that different to writing fiction, but I would say there has to be more use of touch, smell, and taste, interaction with the unique ambience of a place, reactions to and with the people, and of course good descriptive writing. It's the old tale of show, not tell, and I think this is the definitive. It's not: "From Athens I went to the Cyclades Islands…" it's, "From pallet-box blue seas, the dry rocky Cyclades Islands rear up like dragon's teeth. Tiny towns, like spilt sugar cubes, cling precariously, scatter across, spill down, or cower between grim, grey mountains…" My biggest challenge was writing 1000 words about Greece for the News Ltd Escape section of the weekend newspapers, and I was gratified that my submission didn't need editing!

I'd be interested in comments from other non-fiction writers about this. 

You can read about my own journey here

Are you a plotter? Pantser? Or somewhere in between?

Oh I'm definitely a pantser. It has its disadvantages but I can't help it! I've actually had two characters stuck in a blizzard for two years because I lost the plot and went on to something else! (They've since been rescued *grin*)

What are you working on now? And what’s in the near future for Helen Ellis?

At the moment I'm doing an extensive edit of my chick-lit novel, "Men, And All That Nonsense" with the help of my critique partners who are tough, exacting and thorough. They don't let me get away with anything (fortunately!) I have two novels I want to put up on Smashwords, but as I'm very fussy about the final product which MUST be first-rate, it's a slow process. In my opinion, too many self-indie-pubbed books go out as eBooks without proper editing, with poor results.

In May I'm off on my travels again for three months. When I get back I'm going to write a short book about Greece for over-50 travellers! "Spend the kid's inheritance…" something like that *grin*. I also want to write "The Totally Rubbish Cookbook - for all those who hate cooking and are proud of it." Then I want to get my folio of novels onto Amazon - another huge challenge.

What is your favourite part of the process of writing?

That's a really hard question! I'm a compulsive writer. I have periods of frenzy and periods of disinterest. I just have to do it when the muse grabs me. I write everything and anything. If I have an idea, I just have to go with it, and it's all amazing. But I think my favourite process is getting to know my characters and putting myself into their minds. I love it when I say to them - "You will do this," and they reply - "No I won't. I'm going to do that, so get lost." I also like the "what if…" part of writing, and the challenge of it all. Also I do enjoy the contact with other writers - love my writers group, "the Inkies" in Brisbane, and the great friends I've made through the RWA and writers groups on Facebook.  

What are you currently reading?

Just finished reading Anna Campbell's "Captive of Sin" - a beautifully written historical novel. But before that I was reading some very old Dick Francis books - love his who-dunnits with a twist in every chapter. 

Then I have local author Angela Lyon's "Secrets" which has just been launched - a wonderful love story set in the Second World War. Also I've just systematically gone through the whole nineteen Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovitch - I know I'll hear groans from that, but I LOVE them!


Thanks, Helen! Always fun talking to you.

You can find Helen at her website or her Facebook page


Coleen Kwan said...

I read Helen's "The Chocolate Affair" and loved it! I was in the mood for a fun, entertaining read, and Helen delivered.

Imelda Evans said...

Oh, I enjoyed reading this Helen! It's lovely to learn some more about you and I adore the idea of making a novel out of not knowing what to write about! I am off to Smashwords to buy it. Sounds like a perfect one to read on the plane to Brisbane next week (don't tell the committee, I should be reading meeting papers on the plane...).

Thanks for hosting Eleni!

Eleni Konstantine said...

Thanks Coleen and Imelda for visiting!

I'm really looking forward to reading Helen's books. She may say she's a ditzy old lady, but she's a fun cool chick, and I'm sure that will come across in her books.

I mean what a title in Make Mine a Moussaka!

Rebecca Lochlann said...

What a great interview, Helen and Eleni! I'm happy to learn more about Helen's books and really looking forward to some good chick lit for a change!

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