Saturday 10 June 2017

Close to Home ...Helena Fairfax

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Please welcome Northern writer

Helena, a warm welcome  to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for being our guest today. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author.

I was born in Uganda, where my parents were working as teachers, and I came to England as a child. Since then I've lived in Yorkshire almost all my life. The older I get, the more I realise just how much this lovely county has to explore and discover. I'm not sure I've ever really got used to the cold in winter, though…! In fact, it was on a cold, grim, northern day that I had my first idea for a romance novel. I was sitting on a commuter train to Leeds, looking at the rain running down the grimy windows, and thinking how wonderful it would be to be somewhere warm. I'd worked in Lyon as a teenager, and an image of that sun-soaked city popped into my head. Gradually a story began to formulate in my mind about a young woman from London who goes to work in a modern-day silk mill in Lyon.

That's how my writing journey started. Every morning after that, as I sat cramped next to my fellow sufferers on the 7.25am, I’d bring my idea to life in my notebook. Eventually the seed of my idea on that commute became my first novel, The Silk Romance.


Your books are written in Northern England – how have the people and its landscape shaped your stories?

While The Silk Romance was a reaction against the cold northern climate, my last two full-length novels have embraced the wild, romantic landscape of the north. 

My latest novel, Felicity at the Cross Hotel, is set in the Lake District. The hero is Cumbrian and the heroine comes from the south of England. Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South is one of my favourite novels, and in creating my hero I realised I'd given him similar characteristics to her hero, John Thornton. Northern men are often said to be down-to-earth and quiet, and my hero Patrick Cross fits that description. He's also quite proud and stubborn when he needs to be, which is another northern characteristic!

I also loved the setting to Felicity at the Cross Hotel, so much so that the landscape becomes a character in its own right. If you've ever been to the Lakes you'll know that on fine days it is glorious. The weather can change rapidly, however, and the lakes that sparkled in the sunshine can quickly appear dark and threatening, and the mountains shrouded in mist. It's one of the most beautiful and mysterious landscapes I've ever visited.

As a writer based in the North, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?

I think marketing and promoting is difficult and time-consuming no matter where in the UK you live. Most of my books are indie published, which can present its own difficulties, but luckily most readers recognise these days that many self-published books have all the quality of writing, editing, and cover artwork of books published in the mainstream.

There is lots going on in the north for writers. I live near Bradford, and on 26th August this year I'll be at the second Bradford Indie Lit Fest, along with around forty other indie authors. (The event is free, and tickets can be obtained here )

The newsletter from New Writing North is also an excellent source of events and tips for northern writers.

I haven't found the promoting aspect any more difficult than it would be for writers elsewhere, but one thing I do find harder is getting my work to agents. The publishing industry is heavily London-centric. Agents don't travel north often, so when they do, it's worth taking the opportunity of travelling to see them. Last year I went to an event for writers at Manchester Metropolitan University, for example. You can read my write-up of it in this article in Comma Press 

In your research for your books, did you visit any of the places you write about and which have made a lasting impression?

I've visited all the places I've used as settings. Setting plays a big part in my books, whether it's Richmond Park in London – setting for The Antique Love - or the fictional country of Montverrier in A Year of Light of Shadows, which is based on the real country of Monaco. All these settings have made an impression on me, for very different reasons. Richmond Park because of its history as the oldest Royal Park in London, Monaco because of its association with Grace Kelly, whose films I love, and the Lake District because it's one of the most stunning landscapes in the world. I don't think I could single out one. They are all unique!


If you were pitching the North as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?

I used to love travelling the globe, but as I've got older I've realised just how much there is to see and explore in Yorkshire, and just what I take for granted. I'd pitch the county as a place to live because there is a home to suit everyone – whether that's a house by the sea on the coast, a flat in a city like Leeds, a cottage in the countryside like the Yorkshire Dales, or a place in a historic city like York.

As a place to work, most areas of Yorkshire have excellent public transport, which makes the commute relatively easy. The cost of housing is cheaper here, too, than in the south. My daughter's flat in London could buy a whole mansion where I live.

And as a place to write, there is nowhere I'd rather be. I walk the Yorkshire moors every day with my dog, rain or shine, and it's on this wild landscape that I dream up most of my ideas. Yorkshire isn't short of places to go for inspiration, from ruined abbeys to Roman walls, to the city life of Leeds and Bradford. The person who is bored of Yorkshire is bored of life (to borrow a quotation!)

What are the ups and downs to being an author?

The ups are definitely the readers and authors I've met along the way. I now have friends both locally that I meet up with, and friends across the world – people who I'd never have met if I hadn't started writing. I feel as though I have found my tribe!

Other "ups" are finally writing The End on a book (a brilliant feeling!), having a book accepted for publication, and - especially – getting an email from a reader to say how much they enjoyed your book. Sharing a story is what we write for, and when readers say how much they've loved it, it means an enormous amount.

The downs are the amount of time spent marketing and promoting, and learning how to do that effectively. I wish I could do away with that side altogether and just concentrate on writing. Writing is also very often just a sheer slog. Quite often I sit down at my desk and wish I could just read someone else's wonderful book instead of working away at writing my own. But then when the book is finished, I feel a massive sense of achievement.

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?

The community of romance authors is incredibly supportive. When I first started writing, I relied on the author groups I'd found online, and I've made many friendships through them. I didn't know any other romance authors locally when I first started out. The RNA has a "Chapter" that meets in Harrogate, but the times weren't always convenient. I asked in the Romantic Novelists' Association if anyone would like to meet up informally, and there is now quite a big group of us northern romance authors that meets for lunch in Hebden Bridge every couple of months or so. We call ourselves "Authors on the Edge" – on the edge of Lancashire and Yorkshire!

How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?

I mentioned Bradford Indie lit Fest above, as well as New Writing North. Last year I gave a workshop at Todmorden Lit Fest, along with fellow romance authors Marie Laval and Sarah Mallory. The festival was organised by Calderdale Libraries, and I've found most local libraries are very keen to promote local authors. Keighley Library, near where I live, runs several reading sessions and workshops.


Local newspapers are also very supportive. I was featured in Bradford's Telegraph and Argus on release of A Way from Heart to Heart, and there was an article about my research with Penrith Divers' Club in the Cumbrian News & Star when I was writing Felicity at the Cross Hotel. "Romance Author Seeks a Hero" was the headline!

I've found promoting the romance genre in bookshops isn't easy, though. Despite the existence of professional organisations such as the Romantic Novelists' Association, there is still a tendency for bookshops to look down on romance novels. When I asked my local bookshop if they'd like the leaflet showing all the nominees for the RNA Awards, they told me they didn't stock "that type of thing"!

Thanks so much for hosting me in your Close to Home slot, Jo, and for your interesting questions. It's been a pleasure talking about Yorkshire!

My latest book, a feel-good summer romance called Felicity at the Cross Hotel, is set in the north, in an old Tudor hotel in the beautiful setting of the Lake District.

Here is the blurb:

A quaint hotel in a romantic landscape. The Cross Hotel is the perfect getaway. Or is it?

Felicity Everdene needs a break from the family business. Driving through the Lake District to the Cross Hotel, past the shining lake and the mountains, everything seems perfect. But Felicity soon discovers all is not well at the Cross Hotel …

Patrick Cross left the village of Emmside years ago never intending to return, but his father has left him the family’s hotel in his will, and now he's forced to come back. With a missing barmaid, a grumpy chef, and the hotel losing money, the arrival of Felicity Everdene from the notorious Everdene family only adds to Patrick’s troubles.

With so much to overcome, can Felicity and Patrick bring happiness to the Cross Hotel … and find happiness for themselves?

Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she's secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global Ebook Awards, the I Heart Indie Awards, and the UK's Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme Award. 

Helena is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She's grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

You can find out more about Helena by clicking on the following links:

Warmest thanks to Helena for being our lovely guest today and for talking about her writing and for sharing her love of Yorkshire with us.

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close to Home feature

Coming next week : Melinda Hammond



  1. Thanks so much for hosting me, Jo and Jaffa. It's a rainy day in Yorkshire today. Your lovely post has brought some sunshine!

    1. Always a pleasure, Helena. Thank you for being our Close to Home guest today x

  2. Fabulous, thanks for hosting Helena, always good to know more about her and her fab books. :)

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Jane, and for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it. Have a lovely weekend!

    2. Hi and welcome, Jane. Thanks for visiting Jaffareadstoo and for your lovely comment.

  3. A great post, and lovely to see Authors on the Edge get a mention! I was already looking forward to reading Felicity at the Cross Hotel, and now I know the hero is inspired by John Thornton I'm looking forward to it even more! x

    1. I love the idea of featuring northern writers. John Thornton is the best northern hero ever :) Looking forward to our next Authors on the Edge meet up! Thanks so much for your kind comment, Kate, and for dropping in!

    2. It's been such a delight to feature such a talented bunch of northern authors. Thanks for all your comments , much appreciated

  4. Just want this add that if there are any Authors on the Edge who haven't been my guest on Close to Home, then they would be very welcome to get in touch with me via my blog email.


Thanks for taking the time to comment - Jaffareadstoo appreciates your interest.