Interview with Helen Lowe
Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, blogger and broadcaster. Her first novel, Thornspell, was published to critical praise in 2008 and subsequently awarded both a Storylines Children's Literature Trust "Best in Year Award" and the Sir Julius Vogel Award for "Best Novel, Young Adult" in 2009. The Heir of Night, the first novel in her adult The Wall of Night series was published in 2010, jointly winning the Sir Julius Vogel Award for "Best Novel" in 2011, and subsequently being awarded the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The Gathering of the Lost, the second Wall of Night novel, was published in 2012 when Helen was Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury. She is currently working on Daughter of Blood, the third novel in the Wall of Night series. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog, on the first of every month on the Supernatural Underground, and occasionally here on SF Signal. You can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we
What is a typical working day for you?
I usually start the day by writing three pages longhand—it doesn’t have to be about the work-in-progress but it very often is. I find it a great way to work through “wrinkles” in a story before I start writing again. I then meditate, have breakfast, check overnight emails (with publishers in the Northern Hemisphere most correspondence comes through overnight), and go for a walk, usually in that order, so I have the rest of the day clear for sitting down at the computer and sticking with the writing. To help get started I usually go over what I wrote the day before and then “write forward.”
What are your three favourite books of all time – and why?
Only three—that makes it very difficult! But my usual “top three” are Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, simply because from first reading, at around age 9, through until now, I have always enjoyed it. But every reading also gives me something different from the story, which is amazing. I have to say The Lord of the Rings, because it had such a profound influence on my imagination and also my inspiration and motivation to write stories “just like that.” The third novel I like to mention is Aldous Huxley’s Eyeless in Gaza. I found it such a difficult book to get into, but it taught me that it can be important to persevere, because the story started to come together around half to two thirds of the way through, and when I got to the end I thought: “that may just be the single best book I’ve ever read.”
What author do you most admire and why?
Ah, there’s another tough question. Effectively I’ve just mentioned three authors I very much admire, but I’m trying to think if there’s one whom I admire ‘above and beyond.’ But you know, on reflection, there really isn’t. Completing a book is a major achievement in and of itself, so I admire anyone who can not only do that and get it published, but write a story that “speaks to me” in terms of subject matter and moves me when I read it. There’s so much diversity in writing style as well, but I couldn’t say there was one writer or one style I esteem above all the others whom I admire. I am going to mention another author whom I greatly admire though—while underlining that there is still no ‘the most’—and that is the (primarily) children’s and YA author, Rosemary Sutcliff. I think she has a wonderful voice and made so many historical periods, but significantly the Roman-British, live through her writing—and not just for one generation, but for several now.
What tips would you give to aspiring writers?
None! Well except to find your own way to make this whole writing malarkey work. The reason I am increasingly adamant about this is because I feel it can be as dangerous to give advice as to be swayed by it, since what is “so right” for me may very well be “so wrong” for someone else. And very often is. Each writer needs to find his or her own writing style and work habit—and the only way to discover and internalise both is to first start writing and then stick with it: to write, write, write. All the rest is, at rock bottom, just so much white noise from the collective “monkey-mind.”
What’s your most memorable experience at a literary event?
I actually haven’t been to that many literary events and so far, although they have all been enjoyable, none have quite made it beyond pleasant to “memorable,” But I am hopeful that it’s going to happen.
If a movie was made of your life, what three songs would you want on the soundtrack?
I have honestly never thought of a movie being made of my life! Having said that, fellow Fantasy author John R Fultz titled last year’s interview with me as “She Writes the Night”, the allusion being to the Danzig song "She Rides", which features the refrain "She rides the night..." That was kind of fun! Songs I personally like a lot (amongst very many), although I don’t regard them as “themes” for my life, are Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and Puccini’s “Un Bel Di” from Madame Butterfly.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
An easy question at last, :-) Start now with the writing and don’t stop for anything!