Tag Archives: Helene Young

Counting down


Flyer01CTWF LitDin

Hi all,

This is a very exciting time in the lead up to the festival. I mean look who is coming to dinner –  Geraldine Doogue – wow!

To get us all into the swing of celebrating the written word Cairns Tropical Writers Festival Committee invite you all to our fundraiser Writing, Reading and Music with Seaman Dan and Catherine Titasey – happening Saturday 23rd August – yes this Saturday. Visit http://www.cairnstropicalwritersfestival.com to get your tickets. You won’t get afternoon tea unless you have booked, paid and bring your ticket with you.

Seaman Dan launches his latest book Steady Steady – he may sing asong or two and Catherine Titasey will read from her book My Island Homicide.

To find out more about the fundraiser, Geraldine Doogue and her book – The Climb, Iain McCalman, Helene Young, Andrew Matthews and all the other amazing festival events and personalities visit http://www.cairnstropicalwritersfestival.com

Coffee with a Leprechaun.


Denise 230546_10150597260150414_5973119_n

Hi all,

It’s been rather a long time between posts, but the taxes and other horrible “stuff of life” things are behind me. This will be my last Virtual Coffee interview because I’m moving on to Virtual Business lunches. Not all writers write within the creative realm – in Cairns alone there are many writers who utilise the written word in graphic design, web content, promotional leaflets, etc. Heck putting together a restaurant menu requires well chosen words to tempt the palate. So, in thinking of making the transition from Coffee to Lunch I had to put my grey matter to work. Which local wordsmith would help me make the move?

I’m delighted to bring to you my Virtual Coffee interview with Cairns’ own leprechaun – Denise Carter. I know leprechauns are typically naughty little men who run around Ireland causing havoc, but Denise Carter is Irish and has been known to cause havoc! So I use a little artistic licence?

Doesn’t she look gorgeous in this photograph?

In keeping with the theme of this blog I asked Denise to meet me at the bottom of the rainbow. The invite stated – Next time you see a rainbow in Freshwater Valley make your way out. So, the opportunity presented and we found ourselves standing beside a pot of gold, I brought take-away coffees with the lids firmly fixed because rainbow rides can be very bumpy.

We dug a well in the centre of the gold coins – big enough for two bodies; climbed in, shouted the magic word (only Denise and I knew that), and set off. We rose slowly above the cane fields, getting a little damp from the soft rain but the view was stunning. I had to make sure I didn’t run out of rainbow before the end of the interview.  

I asked Denise what she’s working on.

“Currently, with my journalism hat on, I’m working on stories for Hit (our entertainment section) and the arts pages, and for Cairns Eye magazine. My most recent work is on Tim Ellis, an artist who worked in the film industry in the UK for twenty years, before hightailing it to far north Queensland to Port Douglas. In the past year he has turned his passion to painting and has his first exhibition at Cairns Regional Gallery which opens on 14th September 2013. I’m also writing a feature on ex-Cairns fashion student Mia Zielinski, who works cross media, using film and theatre as a platform for her fashion designs. It’s great working on stories on the arts end of the spectrum as I get to meet such interesting and inspirational people all the time.”

“I am happily procrastinating writing two book manuscripts; one, a YA novel about a contemporary Nancy Drew – type investigating a murder and the second one is about a girl, who waits, a lot.”

I laughed because Denise has such a delightful way of delivering her “funnies”. She continued without pausing for breath.

“I am also procrastinating my second semester of English honours at James Cook University  – I have deferred the semester – but I am researching for my thesis, which basically means I’m just reading about writing, because it’s going to be something about reading and how it leads to writing, or authors and how they write about other authors – I think I am driving my supervisor to drink – and I might join him.”

I then asked Denise what recent successes she had enjoyed.

She smiles that enigmatic smile and went on to say,

“A couple of years ago I was nominated as a finalist for the Romance Writer’s media award for a feature I wrote on romance author Barbara Hannay. It was a big surprise and a thrill to get the nomination. I didn’t win but had such a fun night in Melbourne at the awards with the romance writers, who really are such nice people. It was also great to be there at Helene Young’s table when she took out the Ruby Award along with Barbara Hannay. Then…” Denise pauses to gather her thoughts on yet more successes.

“In 2010 I was a finalist in the Queensland Media awards for my very cheerful feature on global climate change called, Mankind’s Last Chance. It was a very important feature to me because I felt very passionate about the issue, and had the chance to interview scientists from all over the world, and learn the truth – which wasn’t very pleasant, and yes, a tad inconvenient. But the Tableland will do well, so we can always climb a mountain.”

Denise went on to describe her best moments as a writer.

“I’ve had great moments as a writer if you count everything as being a writer from songwriting to journalism and beyond. ” (Which I do).  “When I was eighteen, I came third in a national songwriting competition in Ireland, which was a great thrill; mixing with the people I knew only from the radio and TV and being named as a composer. Not bad.”  She squirms a little as she recalls a memory from school. “In school, it was a bit embarrassing to have a teacher read out my composition in class but I do remember writing it and how it had actually scared me while I was writing, so it kind of stuck in my head. It stuck in other people’s heads too because a fellow student used the essay in her leaving exam.” Well they do say it’s the highest form of flattery!

“It was great writing my first theatre reviews for a magazine in Dublin, and even more wonderful when I was finally paid, and attended opening nights of the best shows in town and mix – or at least watch, the famous. It’s always great when you finish any article and you know it’s finished because there’s not a word you want to change and there’s a certain satisfaction in that. Of course, if you read it the next day, you will want to change it but thankfully it’s gone to print and it’s too late.” Denise laughs, “You have to learn to let your babies go.”

By this time we were high in the sky almost at the top of the rainbow – looking out towards the Coral Sea and Green Island on the horizon. The rain slowed but thankfully hung around long enough to prevent a rough landing. Denise had even more best moments to tell me about.

“It was great to find my first job in journalism, and to spend ages on my first news story and then to see it in print. My flatmate at the time had it framed – I think I since used the frame for something more worthwhile; a photo of my mam and dad.”

We move onto worst moments. Denise’s cheerful demeanour is not dented too much – she takes it in her stride.

“The worst moments as a journalist come when the person you are writing about doesn’t like how they have been portrayed. It certainly doesn’t happen often from the arts and feature writing perspective as much as it would happen in news, but it still happens. When it does it’s pretty deflating because you really are trying to be honest and give the best representation possible. Naturally, you’re not trying to hurt someone’s feelings. Mostly it happens because the person has told you things they didn’t mean to but only realise it when they see it in print, and then they can take their frustrations on you.  I think sometimes people forget you’re a journalist and they’re being interviewed. Then, sometimes, even though it’s no fault of the journalist an error can creep in through a mismatched headline or during the subbing process, but you can’t take it too much to heart or be too vain about it.” She shrugs her shoulders and says, “You have to swallow your pride and get on with the job.”

Having had such an interesting writing career I wondered what advice Denise would give to an aspiring writer.

“A writer is something you are already, rather than something you do for a living. I was always a writer in the sense that even when I was very young, I kept a journal. On holidays when my friends were reading books I would go and buy a note book so I could write. It has always been an essential part of me. Over time, I have written poems, songs, essays, reviews, news, features, a column, a blog, academic essays and now a thesis (hopefully) and maybe one day I will finish a book manuscript. Writing is a continual learning process, and it can be very fulfilling. I guess the advice there is to take heed of old adages like keep a journal and one day the journal may keep you.

Writing for work and to a deadline can take the fun out of the creative process but you learn to live with deadlines and it makes your writing better, faster and less self conscious. It can even, weirdly, help with creativity. My features editor told me my best features have been written in two hours bashed up against a deadline.”

Maybe the take-away from that is set deadlines for yourself – even if no one else is setting them for you. It brings some discipline.

After finding ourselves somewhere over the rainbow – on the descent, Denise says,

“The flip-side is if you work at writing, the last thing you want to do is to write for fun. It helps me if I change the way I write – from a computer at work to a notepad and pen at night. Writing is personal as much as public, so you choose what you want it to be and to what degree. There are some things I would never give up to the public eye as they are too personal. And nobody can actually stop you writing.”

Finally as the rainbow faded from the sky, Denise told me why she writes.

“I write for a newspaper, so it’s my job, and it’s a privilege because sometimes it doesn’t feel like real work at all. Other times it most certainly does and is very tiring. But it’s better by a long chalk than any other work I’ve done. When I was a PA and bored most of the time, I wrote to amuse myself, little poems here and there, and for self-expression. It comes naturally and it also helps to get all of the madness out of my head. So, I guess I write for all of these reasons; for work, therapy, pleasure, and to try and put my world into some kind of context.”

The rainbow disappeared and so did the gold – I watched one of Cairns’ most delightful and engaging personalities disappear down the road and felt very privileged to have spent time with Denise Carter.




Coffee with clouds and daffodils.


Me on Roo Bin EsqueHalf Moon Bay LR

Hi all,

I’m letting you all in on a little secret. I know Helene has told everyone she has been sailing – she has – but that was her stunt double. The real Helene has been with me in Grasmere in the Lake District on the west coast of England. Her stunt double did such a brilliant job that even Zeus didn’t work it out. Not too sure about GW though – I think he just played his cards close to his chest.

As a writer of romantic fiction I thought Helene would enjoy a short romantic visit to Grasmere. William Wordsworth’s grave is in the beautiful little church yard of St. Oswald’s; it is springtime and despite a long, cold winter there is, ” a host of golden daffodils” , bending their heads in the chilly breeze. A weak spring sun filters through the new green leaves; it rained early this morning and the earth smells damp, the mosses are vibrant green. As idyllic as this is, it’s too cold to stay out especially for two far north Queenslanders. We take the short walk to The Grasmere Gingerbread shop – this is a must do – the best gingerbread in the world bar none. Laden with our purchases we aim for Greens Cafe for coffee and lemon drizzle cake or sticky toffee pudding or brownies. Anyway something naughty to go with our coffee.

As we get comfortable I ask Helene what she has been working on recently, she takes mouthful of coffee as she gathers her thoughts.

“At the moment I’m putting the final touches to the promotional campaign for Half Moon Bay so that means writing guest blog spots, organising bookmarks, library chats, and book club meetings … and still find time to write the next book.” She pauses, “It’s the business of being a writer.”

Our chocolate brownies arrive – they’re huge – we’ll have to have a walk around the village after this. Helene goes on to mention her book launch, “We had such a great night last year, for Burning Lies, at the North Queensland Aero Club we thought we’d do it all again, so put Friday 24th May in your diary and come along. RSVP’s are essential for catering purposes.”

I had such a great time last years as well so I’ve already RSVP’d I don’t want to miss out.  We move onto more details of  Helene’s recent success.

“My new Australian suspense story Half Moon Bay, will be released on 22nd May by Penguin Australia.” She pulls out the proof copy from her bag and reads the back cover blurb.

“Ellie Wilding has been running from her past, but when the residents of Half Moon bay call for help she knows it’s finally time to return home. As an international photojournalist, she’s used to driving in to war zones, but she’s shocked when it erupts in the sleepy hamlet on the north coast of New South Wales, threatening all she holds dear.

Battle-weary Nicholas Lawson walked away from his military career leaving unfinished business. In a coastal backwater, that decision returns to haunt him. He remembers all too vividly his last lethal assignment in Afghanistan when Ellie’s sister, Nina was shot and killed. Ellie’s been in his dreams ever since, even if she doesn’t remember him…

As  a storm rages and flood waters rise, Ellie struggles to save her community. But who can she trust? Nick Lawson the dangerously attractive stranger with secrets, or an old friend who’s never let her down?”

I could go a stiff drink now – however if you want to know a little bit more ahead of the launch visit Helene’s webpage to read the first chapter on the ‘books page’.


Helene enlarges a little on the plot for me. “In this story, set in a coastal hamlet, I dropped into northern New South Wales somewhere near Yamba and Angourie, you’ll meet a surfing, flying, photographing heroine and a wounded hero to die for.” She sighs, “I think I still have a crush on Nick. I love the idea that someone could cross the invisible line between right and wrong in pursuit of justice. It was fun writing it.”

I ask Helene to tell me about her best moment as a writer so far. She smiles broadly and says,”The best moment for me so far has been winning my second Romantic Book of the Year award in 2012 for Shattered Sky, which is the second book in my Border Watch Trilogy. It’s a story very close to my heart and was wonderful just to be short listed let alone win the award. Then in complete contrast to that my worst moment was so disheartening. Shattered Sky didn’t sell particularly well. There were some compelling reasons for this such as the Red Book Group, including Angus and Robertson and Borders, went into liquidation the week Shattered Sky was released. Brisbane had its worst flooding for decades and Cyclone Yasi pummeled the North Queensland coast at the same time. All of that led to my publisher Hachette declining my third book in the series.” Obviously the hurdle was overcome but Helene goes on to expand on the business side of being a publisher. “The book was already written and my editor loved it, but sales and marketing couldn’t make a business case for it. It was a a hard lesson I needed to learn. Publishing is a business and there’s no room for sentimentality at the sharp end. Thankfully Penguin Australia loved it and was prepared to take me on. Burning Lies released in July 2012 with a reprint released late April 2013.”

We decide to pay up and go. There is still some blue sky outside – this is the Lake District – so we have to take advantage of it.

As we wander through the village Helene says she’s happy to talk about her experience with publishers to other writers, “Because we need to remember that, just like any other job, it’s okay to change employers along the way. After I’d changed publishers I was amazed at how many other writers had been through similar experiences.”

We wend our way back to the churchyard, it’s such a tranquil spot. I ask Helene what advice she would give to an aspiring writer. She had this to say, “Write what you love to read. Remember that rules are for fools and the guidance of wise men. I always cringe when I hear another writer saying, ‘No you must do it this way.’ And my pet hate is, ‘You can’t write until you’ve plotted your story.’ I haven’t plotted any of my four books and have no plan to start.” I’m so relieved to hear Helene say this – I’m a none-plotter. She continues, “It doesn’t work for me but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Listen to your voice and remember the book will only be written when you put your bottom on a seat and your fingers on the keyboard.” Telling it like it is.

Time to begin the journey home but before we go I have one last question for Helene and it’s the most important. “Why do you write?”

“I started out writing because I wanted to tell stories that entertained, that transported, that possibly even made people think differently about a subject. Having opened that tap I don’t believe it is possible to turn it off now and I love the satisfaction of bringing people and places alive for my readers.”

I’ve enjoyed this interview immensely I love the Lake District – it has a special place in my heart and I know Helene has that same connection.

Remember the book launch for Half Moon Bay is Friday 24th May at North Queensland Aero Club. Get the details from Helene’s website http://www.heleneyoung.com