Today I have the pleasure of introducing Helen Christmas, a writer whom I have known for a long time. I’m delighted I could persuade her to take part in my Mystery Mondays series. Hello Helen and welcome. Please tell my readers what type of crime fiction do you write and why?
My books are mystery suspense thrillers which contain elements of organised crime, a topic I find exciting to write about and has fostered some of the most nail-biting scenes in the story. The first of my books, Beginnings, set in the criminal underworld of East London offered plenty of scope to bring in some powerful gangster characters. The book is a murder mystery (which also contains a love story) but as the saga progresses into the 90s, the criminal underworld becomes a lot more prominent with reference to drugs, burglary, violence, intimidation and eventually murder.
Who would you cast to play the characters in a movie?
I always used to picture the young Thandie Newton to play Eleanor, as her mother is Zimbabwean and her father English, so not only is she a very beautiful woman but has the right colouring (now in her 40s). There is an actor Ben Drew (also known as singer, rapper Plan B) who would be brilliant as an evil gangster in the latter part of the series and Billy Boyd (who played Pippin in Lord of the Rings) would be great as Peter Summerville, the gentle Irish Community worker.
Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
I would aspire to be like the main character, Eleanor, who is a sensitive and caring young woman with a big heart. She starts off in the series as a naive teenager who lands herself in a perilous situation, laced with tragedy, yet by the time we get to the second book, she is determined to fight injustice and to unite with others who are victims (like herself.)
I suppose there are different traits of me in quite a few of the characters. I can draw comparisons to Elijah, a boy gifted with artistic skills who studies to be an interior designer (I am quite artistic myself and work in design). He has a best friend, William, who eventually joins the army (I was in the OTC when I was at college) and a stepsister, Margaret who is very homely and loves cooking (also one of my passions).
What is more important in your books – the plot twists or the characters?
I personally, think the characters are more important – they form the essence of the series. I’ve noticed many reviewers say my book has wonderful characters, both good and evil and that it would make a great film so I am flattered by that. Having said that though, there are an awful lot of twists in the story too – so you get a bit of both!
Do you plot the entire novel and know who did it before you start, or can that change?
I had a pretty good idea of the outline plot before I started writing it but there have been a lot of changes. Some of the scenes in Book 3 Pleasures, for example, were never in the original synopsis but the ideas developed over time to add extra thrills to the saga. Pleasures has been described as the most gripping out of all three books. The fourth and final book (which promises to be even more exciting as well as romantic) is where all the final threads of the story are wound up and where I still refer to my original notes.
There is a fair amount of violence embedded in my stories but without being too graphic. Considering the scope for violent criminal gangs in the series, I’ve tried to tone it down a little (even though some of the threats are quite nasty). Without giving too much of the plot away, there is a scene of sexual violence in Book 2 Visions, which some may find upsetting and an imprisonment scene in Book 3 Pleasures, where the unfortunate victim is threatened with torture. It’s not a subject that sits comfortably with me so no gory details.
What are you working on now?
I am currently writing the 4th and final book of the series, Retribution and it’s progressing very nicely. The book spans the remainder of the 90s decades from 1991 to 2000 and with a final epilogue planned for 2012. There are so many characters now, the story has become very complex. I am sticking closely to the main theme which runs right through series and there are a lot of sub stories – but they are all connected. I discovered there were an awful lot of loose ends to tie up but they’re definitely coming together now.
What do you do when you don’t write?
I love walking in the countryside. My husband and I run a walking group where we are lucky enough to have the beautiful South Downs on our doorstep as well as the coast. I enjoy photography too with a stunning collection of views, taken on our walks and our holidays. When I’m not writing I like to get stuck into research, where I often visit the locations in my books; London for example and the countryside around Kent. Being a cancerian, I am a keen homemaker so I enjoy gardening and filling every available space with flowers. I also like reading, cooking and am a real foodie! I enjoy simple pleasures such as good company, fine wines, delicious food and books.
Who are your favourite independent writers?
I am a big fan of Marion Kille who writes passionate crime thrillers set in Chichester, which is our nearest big town. I also enjoy the work of an American author known as J K Accinni. Her books are an unusual style of dystopian science fiction and very gripping. I’ve read four books in her series and plan to read the rest. I also like contemporary romance by another English author by the name of Terry Tyler.
What is your favourite book?
It is still Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. The story is set in medieval times but such an incredible story; a real battle between the power of the church and nobility, against the common people. It contains wonderful characters you can relate to. Ken is a brilliant writer with a real understanding of the human spirit and he has quite possibly been my most inspiring influence as an author.