21 October 2013
Getting To Know – Helen Cadbury
On Saturday, I was at Ryedale Book Festival in the company of fellow York Author, Helen Cadbury. We share a common experience in that we have both recently been published for the first time. We spent a pleasant day together and in between signing copies of our respective books, I took the opportunity of asking her a few questions. Here they are, complete with her answers.
NED : I suppose the first thing to say is congratulations on the publication of TO CATCH A RABBIT. Would you like to tell us how that came about?
HC : The novel started life as my MA project on the Sheffield Hallam University MA course. The final hand-in was a full-length manuscript, ready for publication. I was very proud of it and sent it out to agents, but nobody liked it enough to take it on. A bit despondent, I put it away and got on with other things. About a year later, I noticed a competition to find new, northern crime voices. I tidied up my first three chapters and synopsis and sent them off. I was short-listed and had a month to spruce up the rest of the manuscript and in April 2012, I found out I was one of four winners and we would all be published by Moth Publishing, a new imprint founded by New Writing North and the Leighton Group, an established academic publisher in Sunderland.
NED : And now you’re very much in the public eye and ‘putting yourself about’. How gruelling is that?
HC : I enjoy events in libraries and bookshops. A couple of weeks ago I did a reading on the back of a bus, as part of the On Our Turf Festival in Easingwold. It lovely to be enthusing about the book, and even nicer to meet readers who’ve got to know my characters. So, I wouldn’t say gruelling, but it can be tiring, although not as tiring as writing!
NED : Success often appears to come overnight. We all know that’s not the truth and there’s much more to it. How long have you been writing? Is this actually your first novel?
HC : It is technically my first novel, although I started a children’s novel first and finished it after I finished the first draft of TO CATCH A RABBIT. It hasn’t found a home yet, but maybe it will.
NED : So what were your early influences? Was there any one author in particular who inspired you?
HC : I was an avid reader as a child and one my abiding memories is of reading the series of Little House on Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. They combined a feisty female lead with adventure and series of excellent characters. The first in the series was Little House in the Big Woods and I had it in hardback, with an orange dust jacket.
NED : And what was it that made crime your genre of choice?
HC : I loved Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, they were my first ‘grown-up’ books. I read a range of different crime writers, from the humorous Carl Hiassen to the gritty George Pelecanos. As I reader I enjoyed the problem solving aspect of crime, as well as the tension that’s built up.
NED : You work in prisons, helping to develop women’s writing skills. Has this experience informed your writing in any way?
HC : Yes, but not perhaps in the way you’d expect. I’m not teaching there at the moment, but I did that work for nearly six years, and it introduced me to people from all walks of life. That’s one thing you learn about jail, there but for the grace of God go any of us. I don’t write about my students’ particular crimes, because that’s not we talked about in our writing group, but I think certain feelings and relationships might have seeped in.
NED : Tell us a bit about your writing process. I always imagine that a crime drama has to be carefully worked out in advance – or is the ending as much a surprise to you as it is to your readers?
HC : It’s a bit of both. I am trying to be more organised in the second book, as the first book took me off on tangents, which then had to be cut. I like to leave some things open so that they can be discovered in the writing process. I think over-planning can cause the prose to be a bit flat, because it’s like painting by numbers.
NED : And are you prolific or does it all take you a while?
HC : If I could do this all the time and wasn’t also having to pursue a complicated portfolio career to make a living, I think I would be more prolific. I write quite fast when I have the clear time to do it.
NED : Now let’s revisit TO CATCH A RABBIT. Those who’ve read it will obviously want to know what comes next. I understand you’re writing something new – is it a sequel?
HC : Yes. I’m at the stage of a big re-write, having had my agents comments back on the initial draft. It’s quite exciting, because although it’s quite a big overhaul, I know she’s right about her feedback.
NED : And finally, your Desert Island book?
HC : I would genuinely want the complete works of Shakespeare, because you’ve got great plots, characters and poetry. I started writing poetry and plays before I got side-tracked into the vast undertaking of writing a novel! But if we’re playing BBC rules, and I get another choice, I think it would be poetry. A poem is so concise, you can read it over and over again and still find new meanings. So I’ll go for a collected works of Seamus Heaney.
I normally end Getting To Know with an extract of my guest’s work. In Helen’s case I can happily refer you to her website (www.helencadbury.com) where you will find much more information about her including the opening pages of TO CATCH A RABBIT.
Alternatively, you can go straight to the Amazon links and purchase a copy.
I was fortunate enough to get my copy at Helen’s book launch in June so I’ve already read it. And if you’re a fan of crime fiction, I can thoroughly recommend it!