by Anna Campbell
Back in 2005, I'd finaled in the biggest romance writing contest in Australia, the Emma Darcy Award. One of the great pleasures of that for me was that I got to know my fellow finalists including today's guest, the fabulous Hélène Young.
Hélène is a fascinating person to talk to - she's traveled all round the world and currently works as a commercial pilot. Added to that, she's incredibly smart and funny. Just who you want sitting next to you at a long awards dinner.
I was utterly delighted when I heard last year that Hélène had sold a romantic suspense story to Hachette Australia. BORDER WATCH is out in Australia this month and it sounds absolutely fabulous.
Here's the blurb:
Above the crystal-blue waters of North Queensland, Captain Morgan Pentland patrols the vast Australian coastline. When Customs Agent Rafe Daniels joins her crew, she is immediately suspicious. Why is he boarding her plane when she isn’t there? And why is he asking so many questions?
What Morgan doesn’t know is that Rafe has her under surveillance. Critical information about their Border Watch operations is being leaked and she is the main suspect, but when Morgan and Rafe are shot down in a tragic midair attack, they realise they have to start working together – and quickly. One of Australia’s most loved icons is the next target and they have only nine days to stop it.
Will they uncover details of the plot in time, or will the tension that is growing between them jeopardise everything?
You can find out more about Hélène and her books on her website: http://www.heleneyoung.com/
You can buy BORDER WATCH from the Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9780733624902/Border-Watch
People outside Australia can also purchase the book online from Booktopia: http://www.booktopia.com.au/border-watch/prod9780733624902.html
Welcome to the lair, Hélène! And huge congratulations on the publication of your debut romantic suspense novel BORDER WATCH.
Hi Anna.Thanks so much for inviting me into the lair – I love dropping by to read your guests’ posts and I now I get to be here too! Woohoo!
You work as a commercial pilot in beautiful Far North Queensland. Can you tell us how your career and this environment influenced your work?
My day job definitely influences my writing. The action is set in an aircraft very similar to the one I fly day in day out. The setting is North Queensland, a part of Australia that captivated me the first time I flew into it twenty years ago. Looking out of the flight deck window on a beautiful winter’s day, the view is spectacular – cerulean waters stretching to the horizon, white reefs rising out of darker depths, beaches dotting the coasting as we track north to the tip of Cape York, and the lush green of pristine rainforests. Gee, can you tell I love it?
Can you tell us about your writing journey?
I first started writing with intent when we moved to Cairns for me to pursue an airline career. Initially I shied away from writing about aviation because I didn’t think anyone would be interested and I also didn’t think I could demystify it enough to make it readable – who knew there were so many acronyms... My early manuscripts wandered around in the wilderness of ‘I don’t know where my voice fits.’ I tried writing to Harlequin Mills and Boons guidelines for Sweets. That didn’t work. I tried writing Sexy. Nope, no better – the only heat in my sex scenes were my cheeks when I reread them… I entered contests and learnt so much from the feedback. I attended RWA conferences and sat in stunned silence in workshops realising I knew so little. Bit by bit I learnt my craft. Four books later, after some great advice from a contest judge I took a deep breath and starting writing BORDER WATCH. Ten years after completing my first manuscript, my fifth one finally found a home!
Here in the lair, we love call stories. Would you share yours with us?
I still smile when I remember that day! I’d been fortunate enough to final in the RWAmerica Golden Heart Competition and through that, met the wonderful Bronwyn Parry (love DARK COUNTRY, her latest book!). At Bron’s book launch for AS DARKNESS FALLS, she introduced me to Bernadette Foley from Hachette. I may have been guilty of stalking Bernadette … but in a nice way! (When I pitched to her at the 2008 RWA conference it did mean I wasn’t incoherent with nerves – I’d got that out of the way at Bron’s launch!) Bernadette asked to see the complete manuscript and she then sent me some wonderful advice on that first draft. I took it on board, pulled the manuscript apart and tried again. And waited.
My husband and I were headed to the stunning Whitsunday Islands for a week’s sailing holiday where phone contact would be limited and I was fretting. We dropped anchor in Nara Inlet in time for sunset. My husband was ripping the top off a bottle of champagne when my phone rang. I could tell it was a Sydney number and one I didn’t recognise. I hesitated for an instant, took a deep breath and then there was this lovely familiar voice telling me Hachette Australia was interested in buying BORDER WATCH and my next book! I did manage to say yes, (after some prompting) and I did manage not to scream until I’d hung up though I clearly remember standing on the deck of the yacht with tears streaming down my face.
What a great call story! What’s next for Hélène Young?
My next book is BEYOND THE BORDERS and it takes Lauren, one of the secondary characters in BORDER WATCH, on her own adventure. She’s also a pilot in Border Watch and has more attitude than a cage full of leopards.
Love "more attitude than a cage full of leopards!" Now this is a story I want to read! Can you give us a glimpse of your working day?
A typical flying day involves four to six sectors of flying which can be up to eight hours in the air. We start by flight planning, checking the weather, working out how much fuel we can carry, briefing the cabin crew, then heading for the aircraft. On a typical summer’s day in North Queensland. I’ll be soaked to the skin by the time I finish inspecting the aircraft for serviceability… On a glorious winter’s day I’ll be feeling sorry for anyone stuck in an office. I fit writing in when I can. I try to be disciplined about either doing internet stuff – blogs, emails, e-loops - or working on a story. That involves having to turn the internet off. I have lousy self-control…
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
My advice is join RWA Australia or America – they are both wonderful organisations that foster writing. Enter competitions, get feedback, toughen up and persevere. Write what you know, write what you love and believe all things are possible! Write characters that people can connect with, empathise with, love with!
Hélène, thanks for that great interview. Is there anything you'd like to ask the Bandits and Bandita Buddies?
I was chatting today with a journalist about what makes a character believable. She was fascinated with the process of creating a new character from scratch and how a writer does that. What do you start with? Is it a face, a photo, a whiff of aftershave on a train? Does your character drive you or do drive them? I’d love to hear about your process.
Writing Banditas, we'd love to hear your answers to Hélène's question. Readers, what makes a character come alive for you in a book?
Get commenting, people! Hélène has very generously offered one lucky commenter a signed copy of BORDER WATCH. Good luck!