I would like to introduce Author Helen Hart, winner of the BRAG Medallion for her book, “The Black Banner.”
Helen, I’m delighted to be interviewing you. Thank you! I would like to begin by asking you questions about your reading interests. What are you currently reading?
Thank you for having me on Layered Pages, Stephanie. It’s a genuine pleasure to be here. Reading is a real passion for me and I can so easily lose myself in a book. I have a fairly ‘magpie’ approach to the books I choose – if I like the look of it, I’ll read it! I return regularly to historical fiction (Bernard Cornwell does this so well) and historical romance (I’m a big fan of Sergeanne Golon’s ‘Angelique’ series which was so popular in the 60s and 70s). Interestingly, until recently I would have said I don’t read a lot of fantasy novels but I’ve been completely swept away by the world created by George RR Martin and his ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series (which TV viewers will know from HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’).
What do you plan on reading next?
I’m working my way through George RR Martin, but am also trying to read other books too. I plan to read ‘The Athenian Murders’ by Jose Carlos Somoza, and also to finish another book I began on holiday called ‘The Untied Kingdom’ by Kate Johnson. It’s an alternative history novel which explores what might have happened if the UK’s history had followed a different path over the last few centuries (and there’s a bit of romance for the lead character Eve Carpenter too!).
What’s your favorite literary genre?
I tend to enjoy historical novels, but also thrillers, some crime, and some romance. I enjoy Young Adult books too, as they seem so much more exciting than a lot of novels intended for adults… and of course as a YA author myself, it’s important to keep up with trends.
When and where do you like to read?
I read anywhere I can – on the bus, on the train, in bed, in the bath. I’ve even been known to read while cleaning my teeth when I was very captivated by a book!
Do you have any bad book habits? Do you tend not to finish books? Skim? Scribble in margins? Fall asleep while reading?
I always finish a book. I feel that if the author had the stamina to complete their book then I should at least have the courtesy to try and finish it. I’ve only ever broken that rule once, and that was with a really bad book. I’d rather not say what it was. My only bad habit is falling asleep while reading. I always try not to, but after a long working day (I also work as a publisher and writing mentor when I’m not writing) it’s so hard to stay awake, however good a book is!
In which format do you prefer to read in? Paperback or e-book?
I actually like both, although if you’d asked me this question a year ago I might have given a different answer. I was quite resistant to reading on a e-reader, but as I work in the publishing industry I thought it was important to try them out and be aware of how technology impacts us as readers. I now read books on Kindle and iPad (and sometimes on my phone), but also read print books just as much. I think e-books are great for trying out new writers but I’ll often buy a print copy if it’s something I really enjoyed, because I want that sense of permanence. I also want to be able to share books, show them to friends, and lend them. It’s harder to do that with e-books.
Please tell us a little about your book, “The Black Banner.”
‘The Black Banner’ is historical fiction for young teens. It’s set in the early 18th century and features penniless Becky Baxter who disguises herself as a boy and escapes to sea. Her adventures begin when the ship she’s on is captured by pirates, and Becky (along with some of her new friends) has to join the pirates if she wants to live. It’s a swashbuckling tale that was exciting to write, and now it’s getting a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon which is wonderful. Becky learns a lot by living with the pirates – that some people can be trusted, but others can’t; that to survive in a rough world you have to be resourceful and live by your wits; that family, support, respect, and love can come from the most unexpected people.
How long did it take you to write your story?
I actually wrote ‘The Black Banner’ in 7 weeks. It was a tough deadline, and self-imposed by accident. I hadn’t written all of the book but sent the opening pages and synopsis to literary agents thinking it would take months or even years to get anyone interested. The first agent rang 4 days later and said she wanted to see the rest. I was terrified of losing her interest so didn’t like to admit there wasn’t much more… and instead just wrote day and night to get it done. Later, when I told her, she laughed and said she wouldn’t have minded waiting because the book was so good. The lesson I learned there was twofold: first, always be honest with your agent (she’s mother, best friend, advocate and cheerleader all rolled into one), and second, don’t send off your work until you have most if not all of it completed, polished, and ready for publication!
I lived in the Caribbean as a child and wanted to set a book there, but in the Caribbean of the past (because I’ve always loved historical fiction). Pirates and highwaymen have always fascinated me – they’re the ‘bad guys’ in reality, but in fiction they’re a good way to explore adventure, morality, and living outside of society with its rules.
Were there any scenes that were a challenge to write?
Quite a few scenes in ‘The Black Banner’ were challenging. In the past, people lived differently to the way we live now – life was rougher and customs more barbaric. There was no health & safety, or human rights. In order to be true to historical reality, some scenes needed to be violent or shocking… for instance, before the ship is taken by pirates, the captain has one of the ship’s boys whipped to death, and later in the book Becky kills for the first time. Those scenes were hard to write, but are an important part of the historical accuracy of the story.
What is your next book project?
I’m currently taking a break from writing to develop my publishing business, SilverWood Books (www.silverwoodbooks.com) where I use all my own experience to help other writers improve their manuscripts and then either submit to literary agents, or to self-publish (but self-publish to a high standard so that the resulting book is well-edited and beautifully produced). It’s great fun, and I’m really enjoying playing ‘midwife’ by supporting other writers and helping them develop their skills and knowledge.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Write what you know, and write what you love. Readers can always tell if you’re faking it, so write the kind of thing that gets your fingers tingling as the words flow onto the page. That way, your enthusiasm will shine through and you’ll captivate your readers.
What is your favorite quote?
What a great final question! I haven’t been asked that before, but I do have an answer:
“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” (William Faulkner)
Helen Hart has been a published author since 1999. She has written a number of novels under pseudonyms for Scholastic, Virgin Books and HarperCollins, and one of her books, ‘Sisters of the Sword: The Warrior’s Path’ (with Helen writing as Maya Snow) was shortlisted for a major UK book prize. Helen also runs a publishing consultancy, SilverWood Books, regularly reviews indie and self-published books for the Historical Novel Society, is an Associate Editor for the interactive reader/author site LoveAHappyEnding.com, and for the past two years has been publishing tutor at the prestigious Marlborough College Summer School.
‘The Black Banner’ links…
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Helen Hart who is the author of, The Black Banner, one of our medallion honorees at http://www.bragmedallion.com. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as The Black Banner merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
BRAG Medallion is owned and operated by indieBRAG LLC, a privaltaly held organization that has brought together a large group of readers, throughout the United States, Canada, and the European Union. IndieBRAG’s mission is to recongnize quality on the part of authors who self-publish both in print and digital books.
For contact information please visit indieBRAG at bragmedallion.com. You can also find indieBRAG on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/#!/Indiebrag , Twitter @IndieBRAG, & Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/9273166-indiebrag
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