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WOW Interview – Helen Summer

The Words of Wisdom Interview – a series of interviews with writers and artists, to discover their methods, dreams and inspiration.

No.4 – Helen Summer

Helen is an author living in Christchurch, Dorset. She started writing in 1997, initially writing children’s stories and short stories aimed at the women’s magazine market. She embarked on the Writers Bureau correspondence course, which she completed in two years.  She also became Press Officer of the athletic club where she coached.

She was introduced to a publisher at a half-marathon race in Majorca. That publisher turned out to be John Blake who then invited Helen to write a book about people who’d run over 100 marathons. That book turned into ‘Running Crazy’, published by John Blake Publishing in March 2012, available on Amazon,  all good book stores and some sports shops.

Tell us a little about your background?

I had a secondary school education in the seventies (hot pants and miniskirts first time round being my specialist subjects); went on to technical college and completed my Private Secretary’s Certificate, which included shorthand, a skill that allowed me to finally outwit my brother from reading (and later reciting at the dinner table) the confidential diarised ramblings of a seventeen year old; and eventually became a legal secretary.

How did you become interested in writing?

I’ve always loved reading and writing.  Indeed, from the moment I learned to form letters on lined paper with a pencil, I fell in love with words.  From perfecting the shape of each letter to putting them together to form words and then sentences, transferring the thoughts in my head into stories or simple recordings of events, gave me a wonderful feeling of satisfaction.  It still does.

What advice would you give other writers in terms of marketing and promoting their work?

Do it!  It is vital, however much you hate it – if you want to sell any books that is.  Use Facebook and Twitter and other stuff I don’t know about – and set up a blog.  If, like me, you are not social-media savvy, employ someone who is, even just for a short time to get you started.   I used Liz Gordon of Brilliant Fish, who was, err, brilliant.  I am also a great believer in letting people get to know you as a person.  You can do this through giving talks about yourself as a writer and/or the subject matter of your book – use any means possible, think of links – my book is about running, therefore giving talks at marathons or sports venues is an obvious way to meet people who are likely to have an interest in my book.  Even if they don’t have an interest, once they have met you, chances are they will buy it just to see what you’ve written because they have met you personally.

What are you currently working on?

Very exciting question this one, as I’ve just received my second book deal from John Blake who published my first book, ‘Running Crazy’.  The working title of my second book is, ‘Toughest, Bloodiest & Hardest Challenges in the World’ – this is probably self-explanatory but it’s basically about hard core physical challenges, such as Ironman (double triathlons), Tough Mudder (participants face obstacles with names like ‘Arctic Enema’ (dive into ice-filled dumpster and suffer brain freeze) and ‘Electroshock Therapy’ (run through suspended wires loaded with 10,000 volts, you will get shocked), to name but two, the Somme Estuary race (run out when the tide is out, but return before the tide catches you), and other such relaxing ways to spend your free time – and your money. Research so far has opened my eyes exceedingly wide and fuelled my belief that I am made of very flimsy stuff indeed.

Do you have a preference for writing fiction or non-fiction?

I always dreamed of being a fiction writer, I still do.  But when you meet a publisher out of the blue and he asks you to write a non-fiction book for him, you don’t say, ‘I’m sorry, I only want to write fiction’ – you grab his arm off and get on with it.   If I’m honest, I like the variety and relish the challenges of doing both.  I actually enjoy the research involved in non-fiction and speaking to people who have experienced incredible things and who are just so inspirational, whilst with the fiction, I love giving my mind free rein to wander and roam at will.  That creative part of the brain never ceases to amaze me.

How do you see the future of publishing?

I work part-time in an independent bookshop so I have seen first hand just how difficult it is for them to stay in business against the conglomerates and supermarkets, not to mention e-books and online suppliers.  I want to think that there is room for both paper books and e-books.  I think a lot of people who bought into Kindle initially, have returned to paper books if the book is a real favourite read or just because there are some books out there that are so beautifully produced, they are lovely objects to have in your home, to pick up at will and leaf through, not just for you but for visitors too.  A beautiful book adds colour and personality to a home.  I am an optimist by nature so I believe that so long as publishers move with the times, they will survive.

Who is your favourite author?

There can’t be just one, but in the interests of time and space I will go with my first – AA Milne.  I loved Winnie-the-Pooh as a child, I loved reading it to my son when he was a child and I still love reading it as an adult.  Eeyore’s character just entertains and amuses me so much.  We all know an Eeyore.

Which book has influenced you the most?

I thought you said this was an easy questionnaire, Adam!  I suppose I must say Anne Frank’s Diary because when I read it, I was the same age she was when she wrote it – and was influenced to believe that I too could write an entire book at fourteen.  I actually got to about four pages before I decided I needed to go for a bike ride – and no, I didn’t ever finish it – and I didn’t try to write another full-length book until I was forty!

Books or Kindle?

As I’ve said above, I believe there is room for both, but if I had to choose one or the other, it has to be books.  Like most book-lovers, it’s the smell, the feel, the sound of pages turning, like a comforter.  A book engages all the senses in a way that words on an electronic screen simply can’t.

Can you summarise your basic philosophy in life?

Yes – I believe life – especially a healthy life, is an enormous gift.  I believe that we each hold our own life in our own hands, and that it is up to each of us to make our life exactly what we want it to be (in as far as we are able realistically).  There are always things in life that we can’t control, such as ill-health or the behaviour of others, and bad or sad stuff will always happen – BUT everything else we can control and it is up to us to make our lives the best we possibly can in the circumstances we find ourselves.  I discovered quite late that my life was mine and it wasn’t down to other people to make me happy, it was down to me.  I am also a firm believer in balance – balanced diet and balanced life-style – and water – lots of water!

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