Helen Juliet, who also writes as HJ Welch, discusses what stories readers will find with her two pen names. We learn about her current project, a retelling of Rapunzel, as well as her work in the Rosavia Royals series and the Pine Cove series (which includes the Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection for August, Troubled Waters). She also shares the story of how she came to write m/m romance, thanks to support from some other authors in the genre.
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Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- Jeff’s Newsletter Signup on JeffAdamsWrites.com (sign up here to get Jeff’s Friday Storytime)
- Irresistible Omegas series by Nora Phoenix on Amazon
- Episode 250 – Nora Phoenix and “Omega’s Truth” on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Of Sunlight and Stardust by Christina Lee and Riley Hart on Amazon
- Tell Us the Most Recent Fantastic Book You’ve Read? – August 2020 on Patreon
- Hairpin Curves by Elia Winters on Amazon (audiobook also available on Libro.fm)
- Barbara’s Bookstore Event: Month of Romance: LGBTQ Romance with Elia Winters and Philip William Stover event details
- Joyfully Jay website
- Helen Juliet / HJ Welch Interview
- Helen Juliet / HJ Welch: Helen Juliet website | HJ Welch website | Helen’s Jewels Facebook Group | Twitter | Instagram |
- Reign and Shine by HJ Welch on Amazon
- Thorn in HIs Side by Helen Juliet on Amazon
- Pine Cove series by Helen Juliet on Amazon
- A Right Royal Affair by Helen Juliet on Amazon
- Max Rowan on Amazon
- Men of Hidden Creek Season 1 by various authors on Amazon
- E Davies on Amazon
- Rosavia Royals series by various authors on Amazon
- Amelia Faulkner on Amazon
- Without A Compass by Helen Juliet on Amazon
- Lucy Lennox on Amazon
- May Archer on Amazon
- Raleigh Ruebins on Amazon
- Troubled Waters by HJ Welch on Amazon
- Safe Harbor by HJ Welch on Amazon
- Albert Kennedy Trust website
- The Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat on Amazon
- A Charm of Magpies series by KJ Charles on Amazon
- Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk on Amazon
- Glitter on Garland by Helen Juliet on Amazon
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen on Amazon
- Pride and Prejudice BBC adaptation on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – Helen Juliet / HJ Welch
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Helen, welcome to the podcast. It is so awesome to have you here.
Helen: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
Jeff: You write under H.J. Welch and Helen Juliet. Tell us what kind of books people will find under those two names.
Helen: Yes. So that is the question everybody asks me. So I started writing as Helen Juliet with a very distinctive British voice those books are set in the UK, and they’re standalones. But then I wanted to delve into American small town series, but it didn’t feel right to put those in with the Helen Juliet’s books as well. So that’s why I came up with H.J. Welch. And so H.J is Helen Juliet and then Welch is my husband’s name. So, that seemed quite romantic.
Jeff: Keeping it in the family.
Helen: Yeah. So, but all my books are kind of very similar in tone in terms of they’re all contemporary MM romance. They’re all very much feel-good, low angst, quite light and fluffy, I write a lot of mischievous pets and there’s always a cat, or a dog, or a hedgehog there to kind of liven up the proceedings. But yes, so, H.J. Welch is what I’ve written most books on. So far those are all series, they’re separate books in each one or they’re part of, it’s part of a series like “Rosavia Royals,” where I write a book and there’s several other authors that have written a book as well. And then, yes, Helen Juliet writes standalones. And that pen name I’ve now decided to steer in the direction of purely just fairytale adaptation. So, it’s been really, really fun working on that pen name, yeah. I’m gonna be focusing on that one sort of for the rest of this year, I think, pretty much apart from one book. Yeah, I’m having a real…I’m having a blast. So diving into this very fairy tale contemporary MM adaptions. Yes, really fun.
Jeff: So I have to ask, can you tell us what adaptation you’re working on right now?
Helen: Yes. I’m literally in the process of finishing the last couple of chapters of my new book, which will be out by the end of August. It’s a Rapunzel adaption, and it’s called “Hair out of place.” Hair as in hair on your head. But he’s a secret prince. So it’s kind of, you know, it’s a bit of play on words hair out of place. So yeah, I’m really, really excited about finishing that and getting that out, yeah, into the world.
Jeff: Wow, you said so many things that I like because I’m a sucker for a royal book.
Helen: Yes, I love princes too.
Jeff: You wrap in the fairy tale overlay to it. Yeah, I can’t wait to see what you’ve done with that.
Helen: Yeah. I think that’s what I enjoy most about fairy tales is taking the little details that people are familiar with and bringing them to life in a new way. I come from a background of about 15 years in fan fiction and I had a reputation for real-world ultimate realities. So I would take the characters, come from Harry Potter fanfiction. So I would take the characters that people knew and loved from that, and I would put them in contemporary modern settings, or I wrote a lot of historical AUs for fanfiction, the kind of “easier” it is to adapt. But, honestly, like, so earlier in the year I did “Beauty and the Beast” adaptation “Thorn in His Side.” And that had a lot of elements and that’s a very well-known Disney film that people absolutely love. But even then, like, you know, I wanted to get as many little details in as possible. So we’ve got oh, like, this character reminds me of this, so, you know, there’s roses everywhere, or like and then with the Rapunzel one is actually a simpler fairy tale, there are less elements to play with.
And that kind of made it harder in some ways, but then it also allows me to just be a bit wackier and really go, you know, I love. With the fairytale books, I kind of, it’s not quite realistic it’s sort of like realistic adjacent, so, the animals don’t quite talk, but they’re not far off it they’re pretty sassy. You know, it’s quite crazy in terms of like the arranged marriage in “Thorn in His Side” was completely ridiculous, that could never be allowed, legally speaking, in this day and age. Which I had to patiently explain to my editor was a bit like, “This is all wrong.” And I was like, “I don’t care,” like I’m going full Disney here. So yeah, it’s kind of it’s taking all those fun elements and going, “Oh, that would be a cool way to kind of translate it.” So, yeah, I really enjoy working on the fairy tales and they all have their individual challenges, I think.
Jeff: You know, with Thorn, the thing that just swept me up, in even the blurb itself, was that you talk about bubble baths, the arranged marriage, and the stubborn but loyal horse.
Helen: Yes. Yeah, all those things are important.
Jeff: But it’s an interesting tie together those three very distinctive elements, you know, and especially now that you’ve talked about the talking animals, the stubborn but loyal horse, I totally get it now because that’s the horse that you would expect. And I immediately when you said it flashed to some of the horses that we’ve seen in the Disney animated movie, how they react to certain things.
Helen: Yeah, he might have been based on a horse in a different Disney film, but let’s cross our wires too much. I think we’d like with that tagline in the book, like I wanted to, you know, there are quite a few “Beauty and the Beast” adaptations out there, even in MM land, and I wanted to kind of put my original stamp on it. And I think, I don’t wanna give anything away if you haven’t read the book, but the end of, the big climax of that book is, you know, it’s quite crazy. And sort of want readers to know what they’re letting themselves in for. So, it is a little bit off the rails. But, yeah, with the bubble bath, like, very important things happen when they’re having their bubble bath. So, like, those are very important moments. Yeah.
Jeff: With the Rapunzel book, has there been anything that’s been like the most fun that you wrote into the book, if you could give that away maybe without giving up too much spoiler material?
Helen: So I love the opening of this book, and I kind of I can’t wait to go back and do the second edit on it. I do a lot of work in the second edit of my books. It’s kind of a case of just throw it all down. And then, you know, bless my beta reader is absolutely amazing. And she’s always been like, “Are we gonna fix this in the second pass?” And I’m like, “Yes, it’s fine.” But the opening of this book, without giving too much away, like I wanted to go not so it’s I would describe it a little bit like a “Fast and the Furious” moment. It’s like, “What the hell just happened?” And I hope it’s that kind of explosive start that will make people go, “Well, I have to finish this book now because what the hell just happened?” It’s quite an action-adventure, fun, crazy moment. So yeah, like I want to make sure that the rest of the book matches up to that because I wrote that like, that started off as like a 9000-word chapter and then I had to like break it down a little bit to get it more manageable.
Jeff: I don’t know, as we were talking about Rapunzel, that I would have expected “Fast and the Furious” to come attached to that.
Helen: I know. I am like, I love those films so much. They are pure indulgence. And that’s the kind of tone that I want to go for with these fairy tale adaptations that kind of like we’re not gonna care so much about the law about the laws of physics, like we’re going to go a little bit kind of off the rails and not worrying too much about realism. So I think, again, you know, I wanted to set the tone for this book that, you know, don’t take it too seriously.
Jeff: Are you interconnecting your fairy tale worlds?
Jeff: Wow, fun. I love that.
Helen: Not like a series, but like, so, all my books are interconnected unless they are part of the shared universe because that’s purely like intellectual property. You know, anything that’s in Rosavia stays Rosavia, anything that’s in Hidden Creek stays in Hidden Creek. But aside from that, all my other books are interconnected. So, my first series I wrote as H.J. Welch, it was about a form of boy band, and that boy band has been mentioned in my Pine Cove series, and in one of my other Helen Juliet books, and then “A Right Royal Affair” is around Prince James of England. And quite a few of my other books, if you pay attention, will mention Prince James and his husband sort of like a throwaway line of, well, the UK has a gay prince or whatever. So like all my books are, if you pay attention, they’re all set in the same world. But I, yeah, there might be a tiny little crossover coming in Rapunzel you just have to wait and see.
Jeff: Interesting, I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to attach the fairy tale books to everything else too since it’s, you know, reality adjacent, but I’m super intrigued now. So let’s visit Rosavia for a minute. Obviously, the set of royal books came out earlier this year, shared universe. Your entry was “Reign or Shine” which I loved kind of the pun on the words there, kind of like the Rapunzel book again. Tell us what happens to your prints within the Rosavia Royals Series.
Helen: Well, so, you’re talking about the titles of the books. We, I don’t know if you know the story behind Rosavia, but we got those covers, they were pre-mades. So our very talented artist and AngstyG, she had a pre-made sale. And that was the piece de resistance, she called it a royal boyband, and she had these five princes and she picked out, she had already named four out of the five books, we only changed one. So she gets all credit for the crazy pun in the very…
Helen: …yeah, she’s such a pun artist, she’s great. So we had the titles pretty much and the covers all ready sorted, and Ed and I saw them. He was in Japan. I was up late in the UK, and AngstyG was in America. So it was all crazy time zones. And it happened to go live at the moment that we were all awake. And I was screaming at Ed like over Messenger, I was like, “We have to get these books.” So that’s what we did, we grabbed them. And then we invited a couple of authors to work with us that we’ve worked before like Max Throne, we worked with in Hidden Creek and a couple of authors that we knew and then brand new Zoe Dawn. It was like half of us were already on board and then a couple of us were yet to be on board. But we looked at the covers, and we kind of knew what we wanted to do already before we even had some of the authors on board. You know, Ed jumped on to his book, the “The Barely Regal” that’s the title we changed, I think it was “Street Regal” originally. And Ed just looked at it and said, “I want to write a daddy book,” which was correct because he nailed it, and I am bullying him into writing more daddy kink.
So he picked that one and Max wanted to write a secret spy because she loves writing action, and then we knew that “Throne Together” would have to be “Two Princes” because it just had to be. And then “Up for Air” had to be kind of “The Rebel Heir,” so, that left “Reign or Shine,” and it was kind of like I could do anything I wanted with it. And I just knew I wanted to do like a classic hallmark, lifetime sort of royal story, you know, I love those Christmas movies. I’m the one that’s like “Give me Hallmark Channel in the UK,” because I will watch all of those very, very cheesy movies.
And so I just kind of knew that I wanted to do this Princess Jasmine kind of secret prince who was yearning for a real life. And then, yeah, and then kind of the character of Matty and his young niece, Finley, fitted so nicely into that, because I love writing kids. So I really wanted to write this fabulous little girl who’s an archery champion, and that’s what brought her to Rosavia because that seemed quite fairy tale and romantic. And, you know, I’m so keen to work on the series as H.J. Welch because I think it is the perfect kind of amalgamation of both my brands, you know, you got the H.J. Welch, which is the American series, but then it very much leans into the Helen Juliette books about the fairy tales, and princes, and royalty and all that. So, yeah, it was just kind of the perfect combination. And then it was just a matter of filling in the blanks for 80,000 words, you know, as writers do, it’s so easy, you just, you know.
Jeff: I love that you mentioned the Hallmark movie kind of connection because those some of my favorite hallmark movies are the ones with the secret Prince who’s been in the states doing something. And “Oh, by the way, I’m a prince why don’t you come home with me?”
Helen: Yeah, I’m the same, I love that. I can’t remember which one it is now, but it’s like she goes over and she’s like, she doesn’t know that he’s a prince and then like, yeah, it’s always like, “Oh, and by the way.” And I really like that interplay of characters like, at what point did they want to stop keeping the secret? At what point does this stop being the flight of fancy and when does it become reality? And that was kind of the, yeah, the interplay that I really wanted to sort of to explore. And also it gave me a chance to write them a great villain. I love a good villain. So the journalist we ended up sharing throughout the series I really, really enjoyed writing her because she’s awful. And I love that idea. She was very much a kind of Rita Skeeter character. She was there to try and just get everybody secret’s out and to ruin everybody. And it was very satisfactory that she didn’t.
Jeff: And you and Ed work a lot together. This is your second shared universe because you’ve also got Hidden Creek that’s gone on for a few seasons. What keeps bringing you two back together?
Helen: Well, we’re like BFFs in real life, we live like half an hour away from each other, which is amazing. So I met Ed at Euro Pride Con 2017 in Berlin, and I approached him and our friend, Amelia Faulkner, who writes LGBT, it’s more like kind of action, horror, thriller, quite different to us. We’re like light and fluffy and she writes scary stuff. But I knew that they were friends and they were gonna be there at the convention, and I was a brand newbie, I had like two books out at this point. And this was my first event as an author, I was quite terrified. And I just sort of approached them and was like, “Hi, I love you guys.” And they really took me under their wing, especially Amelia, who was like, “Do you want to write full-time?” And I was like, “God, yes. Please save me from my evil day job,” which I really, really hated. And, yeah, I was just looking for the exit by that point, because I had written a couple of books. That was it, my eye was on the prize, and I would do anything to just to be able to write full-time. And so they made it happen. They coached me through my next book, which was what I considered to be my first proper book and the start of my writing career. And I did so well that I was able to stop the evil day job within a couple of months and write full time, which was amazing.
So, from then, we’ve kind of become inseparable. We’re like a little family unit, you know, we do our own Christmas, and we go on holidays together. And Ed and I, like, you know, I said earlier, we are two peas in a pod, we are always together. And we’re part of the same LGBT dance group in London, you know, so we’re always, basically we see each other two or three times a week. So we can’t help but just…We just we love the same thing. So we’re always plotting and brainstorming about what we’re gonna do next. And if we see an opportunity to work together like we did on Hidden Creek, you know, we weren’t planning on doing Rosavia Royals. We didn’t know where we were going to take the concept of the shared universe and we were so excited to be able to do something else together again like that. So, we don’t know what we’re gonna work on next, but it’s gonna be something, I think we can’t help ourselves.
Jeff: So I have to ask, which of the books do you consider to be that first book?
Helen: Yes, yes. That’s my book baby, that’s “Without a Compass,” which is a Helen Juliet book. It’s not a fairy tale romance, it’s kind of an anomaly. It’s just a standalone, very sweet. It’s set in the Lake District, and it’s older brother’s best friend, which is one of my favorite tropes. And it’s just a very sweet story that came about because I was trying to force a sleeping bag back into its bloody sock thing. And I just thought, “God, I hate camping.” And I thought “Well, I could write a book about a guy that hates camping.” And the really hot like outdoorsy guy who’s his brother’s best friend, and that’s what I did. So, yes, the book is “Without a Compass.” And, yeah, I just kind of, I don’t know, that’s when I’d met Ed and Amelia and they helped me tweak a few things. I think there was already a lot of good stuff going on with that book, but they helped me think about, you know, making it the best that it could be. And, yeah, like, I was blown away by how well it did, like by my standards now I think “Oh, that’s sweet.” But at the time I was like, “I can’t believe this has done so well, it’s charting so high,” you know, it’s like oh bless. For someone who didn’t even know that MM romance existed a year previously, or I think I was just maybe getting into reading it a year previously, to then have my own book out and see it in the, you know, when I saw it in the top 20 in the UK chart, I just burst into ugly tears. It’s like proper ugly crying.
Jeff: But the best kind of ugly crying I’m sure.
Helen: Yeah. Well, like, you know, I say to people, when people ask what I do for a living and I’m able to tell them I’m a full-time author. And I’m almost always saying it’s my dream job, like, I feel so lucky to have met the right people that helped me on my path and helped me achieve this dream. Because, yeah, it’s, even on my bad days, I have to remind myself, you know, you never have to go back to that evil day job, like just keep writing it’s okay.
Jeff: It’s amazing what can happen with the right book and finding the right help at the right time that everything clicks.
Helen: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I feel like serendipity was on my side. I also worked my ass off.
Jeff: Oh, for sure. Yeah.
Helen: It wasn’t like me waving a magic wand. But, you know, if you’re working really hard and you’re not being pointed, or you’re not pointing yourself in the right direction, it can be really sad and frustrating to sort of not achieve the results, you know, that you want. So I feel very, very lucky that I was able to kind of fulfill so much potential and to be able to, yeah, to be able to support myself and write full-time and earn a living doing what I really love. I feel very lucky, very privileged.
Jeff: Let’s talk a little bit about Pine Cove, which is one of the H.J. Welch Books. How did you develop this small town? Where did it come from? What were its inspirations?
Helen: Well, I love small town romance, I’ve read quite a few. I’m gonna forget the names as of now, but like ones by like, Lucy Lennox, May Archer, Rally Reuben’s, you know, I love that kind of feeling of getting to know a town and its people, which we very much did with…I’d had a taste of doing that with Hidden Creek, obviously that was a shared universe, there’s lots of people playing in that sand pit. But I took a lot of what I’d learned from that and I applied it to my own little town. And, yeah, I just kind of, I created a place that I wanted to live in for a while, you know, I think when you’re an author, this is, you’re creating an experience for a reader that will hopefully be a wonderful few days that they can lose themselves in your book. When you are the author, you know, you’re looking at a month or two for each book at least. And then, if you’re writing a series, you know, it’s like a couple of years that you wanna spend in that world. So I wanted to create this lovely sweet town, you know, that had a few villains to keep things interesting. But I really wanted to base it around big families and that kind of community spirit. Yeah, and I’ve really, really enjoyed it.
Jeff: “Troubled Waters” in August is our biggest fiction book club selection for the month. And the story of social media influencer, Emery, and his bodyguard, Duffy, really captivated us. What brought this story to mind for you and how did it all come together?
Helen: Well, first of all, thank you, because I feel quite like “Oh, you picked book two not book one,” that like, you know, I feel like book two was a little bit overshadowed by book one. So that’s really nice.
Jeff: You know, we have a weird thing in the book club where we’ve not picked book one. It’s usually been further into the series. We don’t know why, it just works out that way.
Helen: I love that. I think book one always gets the attention, and also I think, as much as like I love my book one, I love “Safe Harbor,” but you’re always still finding your way into the world with book one. So I think you can always…You can often get a richer experience of whatever the series is about with the later on books. So, yeah, I think that’s really cool. I think “Troubled Waters” was an example, as quite a few of my series are, where the character kind of ran away from me. So I introduced Emery in book one, much like Connie introduced Chris in Hidden Creek in my first Hidden Creek book. Neither of those guys was supposed to get book two but they jumped off the page, you know, they were so flamboyant and so interesting.
And with Emery, I really wanted to explore a character, like you say, he’s a social media influencer. And, you know, in the book, Duffy is like, “What the hell is that?” And it’s kind of treated with, you know, quite a bit disdain as I think you see in the real world. And I really wanted to explore how important it is to have LGBT people that are out and proud and just living visible lives, to show the world and to show other people in the community how okay that is and to have something to aspire to. And I think that’s, it’s kind of a nuanced thing with Emery because he’s also quite a brat, which I really enjoy writing brats, which I don’t know what that says about me, but.
I think, with him, I wanted to kind of show…I think sometimes if you see yourself represented in media all the time, you don’t appreciate what it means to other people to go, “Oh my gosh, this person looks like me. This person is similar to my background, this person is similar or the same race as me, or religion, or socioeconomic class, disability,” you know, anything like that. I think it’s so exciting. So I wanted to show an Asian-American feminine, non-binary protagonist who was very passionate about the work he did. And, you know, yes, he’s a social media influencer, but the focus of his work is actually his charity work. And, you know, just highlighting how important charity work is within the LGBT community. Because, you know, we are a community that has to find our families. You know, almost every other kind of minority you’re often born into, you know, you’re born into a race, or a religion, or a socio-economic class, whereas it can be very lonely to be LGBT.
And for some people, you know, I’m quite a passionate supporter of things like the Albert Kennedy Trust in the UK, and they are specifically supporting LGBT homeless youth because 50% on average of homeless youth are LGBT still in 2020. And I just think it’s important, as much as I want to write happy, lovely fiction, to also kind of explore these issues that affect the LGBT community because it’s still, you know, it didn’t end with gay marriage, you know, we’ve still got a long way to go in terms of representation and understanding. So, yeah, I really enjoyed, I felt like Emery’s journey was very personal to me. I choose to be sort of a loud, vocal, you know, non-binary person, you know, a pansexual member of the queer community. And I do that specifically because I want people to be able to say, “Oh, she’s a bit like me,” you know, because I know what it feels like when I look on the telly and I see somebody like Ruby Rose and I think, “Oh, she’s a bit like me. I feel a bit less alone now.” So, yeah, as much as like I wanted to write a fun book about a bratty guy and his grumpy bodyguard, you know, it was important to me to kind of have that deeper message as well.
Jeff: I really enjoyed Duffy because he was flummoxed so much by what was happening around him.
Helen: Bless his cotton socks. Yes.
Jeff: You mentioned that it was only about a year from that first book that you wrote it when you met Ed and Amelia. What was your gateway into MM romance?
Helen: So, like I mentioned before, I was in fanfiction for many, many years. And I spent a long time writing a certain thing. And then I thought I was going to maybe go into young adult urban fantasy, but I just didn’t know how. And it was at that point, January 2015, that I discovered Tumblr, and I discovered Drarry, which I’d been interested in like a decade before on fanfiction.net. But I fell down the rabbit hole hard. You know, I became a big part of the Drarry community on Tumblr, and I was there for a good, it was a good two years that I was very, very active. But about 18 months in, my feed started getting filled up with this artwork. And I was like, “What is this?” Like, I don’t know this ship that people are drawing, and I was astonished to discover it wasn’t a fanon ship, it wasn’t like an imaginary pairing, it was an actual book, and that was the “Captive Prince” by C.S. Pacat. And I was completely shocked to realize that this was a real book with real gay characters. So I immediately went out and bought the trilogy. I read all three books in about four days.
And then Amazon, as it does, started suggesting the “A Charm of Magpies” by K.J Charles, which, again, I devoured it, and then the Widdershins books by Jordan L. Hawk. And I loved these books so much that I just couldn’t, I had to like find a way to contact the authors. And that’s how I got into their Facebook groups. And it was Jordan L. Hawk who, when he found out that I was a London-based aspiring author, Jordan asked, “Are you coming to the UK Meet,” and that was, this was August and September was UK Meet in Southampton, which is about an hour, an hour-and-a-half away from London. And that like my world just pivoted on an axis, I was like, “Okay, I will get a ticket and I will go to this thing where I know absolutely nobody, and I will see what happens.” And by this point, I was thinking maybe I could, you know, I’d written, like I said earlier, I’d written a lot of fanfictions that were AUs and there was one in particular that I was thinking, “Well, maybe I could adapt into a book.” And I just, that was, I just sort of met so many people and started reading so many books and I, so this would have been September 2016. And I completely fell down the Christmas M/M rabbit hole and I must have read about a dozen Christmas books like one after the other.
Jeff: It’s such a good rabbit hole too.
Helen: I love Christmas books. And then, it’s December 10th, and this idea for a story just popped into my head fully formed. And I had a friend at the time and I said to them, “I think I’m gonna write this and maybe see about getting it to a publisher for next year.” And all credit to them, they said, “No you’re not. You’re gonna write it right now, and we’re gonna self-publish it.” And I went, “Okay.” So I wrote this book, which is my little Christmas novella, “Glitter on the Garland.” I wrote 45,000 words in 10 days. Around my day job, like I just became a woman obsessed. And I did it. I got the book out by New Year’s Eve, 11:30 on New Year’s Eve, it went live. So I could say, by the end of 2016, I finished 2016 as an author as a real author, and like, yeah, that was kind of it, like I just. Yeah, released that, and then it was that June that I met Ed and Amelia. And then that August I released “Without Compass,” so, yeah, it was, once I set my sights on it, there was no stopping me, like, I knew what I wanted and I was gonna get it. And, yeah, it felt really, really good to be able to hand my notice in that September and be like, “Bye.”
Jeff: That’s a great trajectory.
Jeff: Going further back. What got you started writing with the fanfiction insights? How did writing become something that was, you know, a part of your life?
Helen: I don’t remember not telling stories. So I remember being a little girl with my little ponies and my Barbies, and I would create these elaborate scenes in my bedroom or in the living room, and I would have adventures going on. I would create like mountain ranges, and forests, and bridges, and they would go on these adventures, and my catchphrase, according to my mother when I was playing these games was, “I save you.” So I’d have my favorite my little pony and she would go and save all the others. You know, I remember getting a computer when I was very young and the first thing I did was write a little story about it, it was like probably about I think it was about going to walk our dogs or something like, and I was very, you know, imagination. Yeah, it was very imaginative for a six-year-old. But, yeah, like any opportunity to write at school, I always took it. And I was just I was into a lot of geeky kind of TV shows. I was a big “Star Trek” fan, you know, so I was always kind of like immersed in these worlds and I would go to bed and I would just be making up my own stories as I was falling asleep.
And then it was my love of “Harry Potter” and my desperate need between “Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Goblet of Fire” for something else, something more that led me to the internet. This would be about 1999 I guess. And that’s when I discovered fan fiction and I pottered around, pottered, pottered around for a while. And then, yeah, like I just, I don’t know. By the time I got to my late teens, I knew I loved writing. And in my 20s, it’s the thing that I kept coming back to, like, I love doing a lot of creative things, like I said earlier, Ed and I are both part of a dance company. I also act. I love to sing, I played piano and flute, I draw, or I used to draw. And it was hard for me to kind of sift through everything. But by the time I got to my late 20s, and certainly at the point at which I hit my 30s, I realized that writing was just the thing, like I just couldn’t not write. It was the purest joy that I had, being able to kind of create these worlds and share them with people. And so it took a while to kind of narrow down that passion. But once I did, like I kind of knew and that was it, you know, just writing every single day always, even if you’re not writing properly, always planning something in your head and always daydreaming. So, yeah, I can’t imagine not being a storyteller, because I just always have been.
Jeff: I love all that other creativity that you’ve got too, the acting, the dancing, the singing, the instruments.
Helen: Yeah, I was one of those children.
Jeff: You’re a multi-threat there.
Helen: Yeah, but if I could have gone to stage school I would have.
Jeff: What’s a book you’ve read over the past few months that you’d recommend to our listeners?
Helen: So, like I said, I’m a big sci-fi fan. And I’ve discovered that there is like this quite a niche of MM sci-fi and I’ve just discovered Sci-Regency. So it’s Regency romance but set in like a sci-fi setting. I had no idea something like this existed.
Jeff: You’ve just told me something new here.
Helen: Excellent. Great. I can lecture you about it and telling everybody, I am that person. I just like sit down I’m gonna tell you about. So just read “The Earl and the Executive” by Kai Butler. I believe they’re brand new to MM romance because I have been stalking them. There’s a book two coming out in September, I believe, I’ve got it on pre-order. And it’s just wonderful, you know, I do love Regency romance in MM, I’m a big Jane Austen fan, “Pride and Prejudice” is one of my absolute faves. I’ve watched the BBC adaptation more times than I can count, and yeah, my copy of the book is like falling apart. So it’s all those wonderful kind of things you’d expect from Regency romance, you know, the social etiquette, and the very rigid kind of moral codes, and the kind of repressed feelings, and the sighs and the longing glances. But, you know, when it comes to MM romance, you’re doing that kind of thing and it always has to be in the shadows when you’re writing historical, always has to be closeted, you know, for fear of corporal punishment.
So, what Sci-Regency does is take all these wonderful traditions and just sticks them on another planet in the future. So, instead of going to London for the season, they go to this whole planet where they go for the tone go for the marriage season, and instead of sending letters they have, you know, like basically mobile phones and iPads. And it just it removes that kind of…And everybody’s just bisexual, like, you know, there’s just no question about it. And I think that’s the exact kind of escapism that I wanted in 2020, like, you know, just to shut the world outside away, forget all the stuff that’s going on. And to just kind of lose yourself in these fancy balls and the, “Oh, you know, he needs to marry to save his family and to save his business.” And, yeah, and to just, you know, sometimes it’s just nice to kind of remove that prejudice that is still, you know, in this day and age, a prevalent issue for the LGBT community. So, yeah, it was pure escapism, but I absolutely loved it. I highly recommend it. So, that was, “The Earl and the Executive” by Kai Butler. And now I’m falling down a rabbit hole. I ask my readers for more recommendations, so I got several lined up. So, yeah.
Jeff: Is that something you’re gonna take a stab at writing some time?
Helen: I mean, maybe.
Helen: I’m trying to be…I’m trying to sort of not plan so much because I spent the first couple of years really planning what I was gonna do, and what was gonna come next and nothing ever, ever worked out the way that I thought it was going to. So, I’ve got like place marks for things, and I’ve got things, my next book is kind of set in stone that I’m gonna do, but aside from that, I’m like, I’m kind of like just seeing where the Muse takes me, because trying to plan actually doesn’t seem to work. My books just seem to pop up and do whatever they want anyway, so I’m embracing that now.
Jeff: You know, best laid plans.
Helen: Yes. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Jeff: We’ve talked a little bit about what’s coming next, you’ve got the Rapunzel book coming out. Is there anything else you could share about what to expect towards the end of 2020?
Helen: Absolutely, I’ve got quite a lot going on immediately in terms of adjacent projects. So the “Reign or Shine” audio should be coming out any day now, as we hopefully mentioned earlier. I’ve got a lot of German translations coming out, which is incredibly exciting. The first three Pine Cove books are out in German, “Without a Compass” will be out in German in September and I’ve got three or four more books scheduled to be translated, which is really fun. And then my next book after the Rapunzel one, “Hair Out of Place,” I’m gonna go back to Pine Cove and I’m gonna write the fifth book, which I think is going to be the last, but like I said, I’m not planning anymore, I have given up planning. So I think it’s gonna be the last. I’m really excited about that. That’s for a character that has been in the background quite a lot and has been hinted at, but, you know, he hasn’t got his own story yet, and I’m really excited. I’ve got that quite a bit planned out. And, yeah, I’m looking forward to, because it’s been a while I haven’t been back to Pine Coves since November. So I’m looking forward to returning to the town and sort of reminding myself of all the fun characters and the families that I’ve introduced. Yeah, it might be the last book, we’ll see.
Jeff: So, what’s the best way for people to keep up with you online and your multiple pen names?
Helen: Yeah. I’ve made myself stick to two at the moment, but the temptation to drop a third is strong. Yeah, definitely the best way to keep up with me is my Facebook group, which is, Helen’s Jewels. It’s a really fun, very active group. I do weekly updates there. I do weekly teaser Tuesdays. I’m always sort of dropping in and chatting about what I’m working on. But it’s also like just a fun place to hang out. We have authors pop in each week doing giveaways and we do like, what to read on Wednesdays and just like lots of like random fun games. But, yeah, it’s definitely the place where I go to first, you know, if I’ve been writing till 2 a.m. and I’ve done a 7k day, like, that’s where I’ll go and say, “Hey, guys, guess what I just did?” Yeah, it’s nice to have a corner of the internet that’s just fun and safe. So, yeah, I absolutely love my Facebook group. So, yes, please, please come join Helen’s Jewels. Yeah, you’ll enjoy it. You’ll have a lot of fun.
Jeff: Excellent. We will, of course, link to that in the show notes along with everything that we talked about in this episode. Helen, thank you so much for coming and talking to us, it’s been wonderful.
Helen: Thank you. I’ve really, really enjoyed it. It’s been really fun.
Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:
Hairpin Curves by Elia Winters. Reviewed by Jeff.
It’s summer so roadtrips are in. I’ve already read one roadtrip book this year with Annabeth Albert’s Conventionally Yours and now I’ve got a second with Hairpin Curves by Elia Winters. While this roadtrip takes place in the dead of winter, this enemies to lovers, second-chance romance is an ideal summer read.
Megan is in her mid-twenties and drifting through life. When the diner she works out announces it’s closing, she has no idea what to do next. She’s got dreams and things she’s always wanted to do, but she stuck. When her former best friend Scarlett shows up because Megan’s not answering email it’s beyond awkward. They’ve not spoken in years. But another friend they were besties with in high school is getting married and wants them both to attend. And, she’s getting married in Quebec… while Megan and Scarlett live in Florida.
With money concerns and not being thrilled with the idea of flying, Megan and Scarlett manage to put aside some of their animosity and agree on a roadtrip to get to the ceremony. Even before they leave, the ice begins to thaw between them. Megan reveals that she wants to stop along the way–she’s got places she’s always wanted to visit that they could do on the trip.
Shortly after they start the trip too, they work through why they stopped talking anyway. The way Elia describes this was visceral on the page, talking about the pain they went through when one reached out and the other didn’t respond. Why they stopped trying and why neither could be break the stalemate. Without getting into specifics, it boiled down to not wanting to disappoint the other, which was just heartbreaking.
The roadtrip is wonderful as Megan and Scarlett open up about their lives. Megan’s not the only one stuck so as they talk about why their friendship fell apart, there’s also a lot of discussion about where their lives are now and what they may want. They also have to deal with the feelings they’ve always had for each other. The same things making them feel stuck also have them believing they can’t find love either. The discovery for both of them that everything they’ve made themselves believe isn’t actually true was wonderful. Elia does such a wonderful job of these two figuring out more and more on this trip. It felt like I was an interloper in some intimate conversations that would only happen on a trip like this.
The trip too was amazing. They zig-zagged everywhere from the Carolina Coast to Nashville for some live music to a place where there’s snow to play in and even Salem to check out witchy things. They even get snowed in for a couple of days as they get near their destination. Each place gives them a more to unlock about each other and it’s all wonderfully slow burn as it goes too. Megan and Scarlett don’t have a lot of trust in each other, or honestly themselves initially, but Elia handles these characters perfectly as they figure out what they want from love and from life.
The road trip is the best thing for Megan and Scarlett and it was great for me to. I loved the vulnerability of these two and the two steps forward one step back they go through…and that makes the slow burn all the more wonderful.
I highly recommend you take the trip with Megan and Scarlett in Hairpin Curves by Elia Winters. And consider the audiobook too. Devra Woodward gives a great performance.