I am delighted to introduce today's Author in the Spotlight
Helen Irene Young
25 April 2017
Hi Helen and welcome to Jaffareadstoo....Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for The May Queen?
A photograph of my grandmother aged about ten at Fairford carnival. On the back someone has written Irene as spring, carnival 1935. First prize awarded by David Niven. In the image she is squinting at the sun behind the photographer, she looks shy, but her smile is warm and inviting. I think that’s what made her win. She had a quiet strength. It’s something I knew I had to write about. It’s something I knew May would have had too.
Without giving too much away – what can you tell us about the story?
It’s a coming-of-age tale of one girls search for love and belonging. As a young girl May lives in Ma’s shadow, bearing the brunt of her fierce temper but always at her side. Things change when war comes. May makes a new life for herself in London and although branching out by herself, she is still Ma’s girl. It is only later, when she returns to the past and her small town, that she is able to re-evaluate her place in it as someone new.
The May Queen is your debut novel, have there been any challenges in getting the book to publication and if so, how did you overcome them?
Many! But that’s the fun isn’t it? The biggest challenge was finding the inner strength to continue. I had agents ask to see the full manuscript but then tell me it wasn’t for them. I had Indies ask too, only to say the same. My good friend Karen Hamilton (whose book is publishing next year with new imprint Wildfire) told me to write down any positive comments I received, because it’s so easy to focus on the negative and forget the good. That was sound advice. I have always been quite headstrong though and I think it worked to my advantage when dealing with rejection. I knew I’d never give up.
Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. How did you feel about them when the book was finished? Did they turn out as expected?
They worked out better than I expected, for me at least. I adored May and her friends. Ma was the most difficult to write because she had aspects of my own mother and grandmother who both died some years back. It was hard going back to that. It made it very personal. I was happy to close the book on May though in the end. I left her in a good place. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend who’s gone to live in a faraway land – bittersweet but beautiful
Which character in the story did you identify with the most?
May, of course. She was me, but wasn’t. She made me laugh and cry. Seriously, she did actually make me cry. I remember in one scene towards the end I started crying as I was writing. I think it was relief more than anything that I was taking her on the absolutely correct journey. I really went there.
Are you a plotter...or ...a start writing and see where it takes you, sort of writer?
Plot is all. It doesn’t have to be locked in because things will change as you move through the narrative, but for me, you absolutely must have an idea of where you’re heading. On the Faber Academy course, Richard Skinner said that a narrative is like a river, sometimes it flows fast and others not, but beneath the surface there are always obstacles (rocks, unseen curves) that determine its pace. That’s something I think of often when I’m plotting. You have a responsibility to keep the river moving; otherwise you’ll end up in stagnant water.
Do you write the type of books you like to read and which authors have influenced you?
Always. You are only as good a writer as the books you have read and then, only on a fine day with a fair wind behind you. I swear by regular doses of Anton Chekov, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Henry Green, Elizabeth Taylor and Irène Némirovsky. They’re masters of the everyday and on the whole, share an ability to turn a phrase with the lightest of touches.
What’s next ?
Where rather! Bogotá, Colombia, 1948 and a broken architect trying to build something new. My narrative centres on an event (El Bogotazo) that changed the country forever and is told through the eyes of British architect, Luke Vosey. I’ve had the absolute best time writing this novel and getting to know my second home (I have family there). I only hope others will enjoy it too.
About the Author
Helen Irene Young is the author of The May Queen (published by Crooked Cat) and a digital editor. She attended the Faber Novel Writing course and splits her time between London, Wiltshire and Colombia, when she can get there. The May Queen is her first novel.
Visit Helen's website by clicking here
Huge thanks to Helen for sharing her thoughts about her novel, The May Queen with us today. It's been a real pleasure to have your company today.
What did I think about it ..
The consequences of family secrets, and of those events which are sometimes best left buried, is the focus for this family drama which uses as its focal point the troubled years of the Second World War.
When the book opens, in the summer of 1935, we are introduced to May, and her family. Her father works as a gardener at the local manor house, May’s mother is a rather brusque sort of figure and Sophie, May’s older sister has brought disgrace upon the family. May is a young adolescent, just on the cusp of young womanhood and her burgeoning relationship with Christopher, the young son of the manor owner, forms the basis for much of the early part of the novel.
The author has written a considerate and thoughtful coming-of-age story which follows May through the formative events which shape her life during the years of the war, and which will see May grow into maturity and understanding. The story is divided into three distinct sections and the author has done a good job in making each section easy to follow and enjoy.
The author writes well, I enjoyed her turn of phrase and the way she allowed the story to develop at its own pace. Nicely presented with an interesting cover, this is a debut novel by an author who I am sure will go on to develop her writing skills in each successive story.
Best Read With...A glass of home made lemonade and a slice , or two, of cake...