12 April 2013

20 years an author

Original cover by historical artist
Chris Collingwood

20 years ago, in April 1993 I was accepted for publication with my first novel. The Kingmaking.
Dreams do come true - especially when you hit 40 years old - and then 60!
~ ~ ~ 

In the early hours of April 13th 1953 I arrived in the world; not sure if it was kicking and screaming or gently blowing baby-bubbles through my rosebud lips :) but I have a strong suspicion that the love of stories came with me from wherever my spirit had travelled from.

My earliest memory is feeling down the bottom of the bed with my feet for a pillowcase of Christmas presents; the second memory is coming down the steps of the Junior Library in Walthamstow's High Street in London clutching a Little Grey Rabbit story by Alison Uttley. I was three years old and was thrilled because it was one I hadn't read before.

Now, did that mean I literally had not read it myself, or someone had not read it to me? I have a feeling that I mean the first because I don't remember a time when I didn't read.... Mostly under the covers at night with a torch as I got older.
(How many of us remember doing this after "lights out"?)

I discovered that I could write my own stories when I found the delight of Pony Books.
Another April Celebration, possibly in 1963, because I was about ten when I realised I could fulfil my dream of owning a pony through the pages of Story when I received a copy of Jill's Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson for a birthday present.

Clear memories of that day!
It was gloriously sunny and I had a birthday party in the garden. I recall it because someone knocked the table over and all the food went on the floor. Mum was so cross (probably harassed, looking back!) 
The present, when it was put in my hand caused a down-turned mouth and a scowl. A book. How boring. A scowl which changed to a grim when I opened the parcel. 
I don't remember much about the rest of that birthday because I was reading my book. (So thank you Pat Marshal of Chingford, Mum's best friend. You'll never know, now, how much you changed my life.)

I started writing my own stories. I desperately wanted a pony but we couldn't afford one, so I made one up. She was called Tara, a lovely palomino. What a pity I don't have any of those scribblings now.  I do recall writing or reading for most of the time - even during school lessons, there must have been dozens of pieces of paper with scrawled handwriting...

My grandfather passed away on, I think, my thirteenth birthday, but I wasn't very close to him and remember feeling aggrieved that he had messed up my day. Poor granddad, and poor Mum, really. How selfish teenagers can be.

21st Birthday. I've still got the Beswick china horses given me, and the signed edition of Epping Forest by J.A. Brimble. Treasures indeed.

30th birthday - that was a good one because I had my lovely daughter, Kathy, by then. 

That old "Life Begins at 40!" saying? It's true!

For almost ten years I had been struggling with writing a novel about King Arthur. This was to be the "what might have really happened" version with Arthur rooted firmly in the mid fifth, early sixth century - between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Saxons. No knights in armour. No Holy Grail. No Lancelot, no Merlin, just a warlord who had to fight hard to gain his kingdom, and even harder to keep it.

The boy, who became
The man, who became
The king, who became
The legend.

The struggle to be published came to fruition soon after my 40th birthday. Around the 16th April I received a phone call from my new agent (now, unfortunately, my ex-agent) "Heinemann are offering you a three book deal. Congratulations."

Husband Ron, daughter Kathy and myself -
20 years ago celebrating Publication Day!
The book was The Kingmaking, the first in my Pendragon's Banner Trilogy, and I feel as proud of it today as I did then.

It is now Indie published here in the UK by SilverWood Books with superb covers designed by Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphic, and mainstream published in the US with Sourcebooks Inc 

If you want to write - stop talking about it, dreaming about it, 
thinking about it. 
Get on and write it. 
Maybe you won't get picked up by an agent or a big publishing house - 
but you sure as heck won't be 
if you don't get it written in the first place!

And for me, these 20 years later?

It is my 60th birthday tomorrow (13th April). I heard on the radio this morning that the new "Life Begins At" age is now 60.... Well, my life is certainly starting again, because the best birthday present I've ever had came to me early: my new home in Devon, England.

My husband had a modest lottery win on the opening night of the London Olympics. We spent the money on buying a house - our dream life - in the country where we could have land, stables, and beautiful scenery. We found it at Windfall Farm (not its real name, a pseudonym because of Internet Privacy).
You can follow our Escape to the Country* on my Devon Diary  Leaning On The Gate. We also have a new dog - Baz, and I am in the procrastination state of starting my next novel - Foals of Epona, the first in the Madoc the Horseman Series; a spin-off story about a character who has a small bit-part in the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy. 
So you see, after all these years, I'm still, in a way, writing pony stories....

Windfall Farm
* literally. We were on the UK show BBC TV Escape to the Country, one of the house Search shows. Our new home is the first place they showed us!

Two previous covers for The Kingmaking published by William Heinemann/Arrow Books (Random house UK) and St Martins Press US. Both are now out of print.

My thanks to Francine Howarth
for organising the online

 an opportunity for authors to tootle their trumpets about their work.
Please visit the link above for more interesting and exciting participants!

Giveaway Competition:
I person who left a comment would be chosen to receive a free copy of any of my books - and the winner is....
Christina Phillips!

~ ~ ~ 


  1. Congratulations on 20 years! It must be a great feeling.

  2. Wow! An amazing journey Helen. Thanks to you I found the courage to take the plunge and publish my book professionally with SilverWood too. I envy you living on your farm in Devon and just proves that its never too late to realise your dreams can come true!

  3. Thanks for taking part, Helen, and Happy Birthday for the morrow!

    Ha ha, pillowcases full of Christmas goodies. Crikey, that takes me back to the good old days of lots of small pressies and books amongst them. Ooooh yes, Little Grey Rabbit. Fab stories and I remember one cover had grey skies and falling snow, plus obligatory rabbbit. Can't for the life of me recall its title.

    Never did read any pony books as a kid, too busy with the real thing and getting my nose inside the Girls Crystal and the Schoolfriend: girls comic rags.

    Life begins at 40 they say, but no one says how at 60+ one starts longingly stepping further back in time hoping to hell the years will drag as they seemed to when we were kids, when we wished time would move on so we could be all grown up. ;)


  4. Francine: the Little Grey Rabbit could have been Grey Rabbit and the Snow Baby or Grey Rabbit Goes to the North Pole?

    Paula: I had a lot of ups and downs along the way, mind you!

    Derek: yes it is a nice feeling - makes me feel a bit old as well though!

  5. I love hearing about your journey through your younger years and your lifelong love of horses - we are of the same mind there! I was drawing them as early as I can remember! And I loved reading books about horses too at a young age. I'm so thrilled for you still about the house in Devon - no one deserves it more! And you have certainly blessed my life in having discovered both your brilliant writing and your friendship.

    Happy Birthday my dear friend!!!

    So is that your episode that is to air on the 16th? I see a Devon series on their schedule for that date. I'm hoping I can see it online!!

    Much love!!

  6. Thanks Cathy - SO looking forward to you and Ray visiting us here one day! No, that's not our episode, we'll be the very last one of the series. I'll let you know when it will be out (assuming they let ME know that is!)

  7. I'll be 51 next week, and I feel like I'm still 32 so it's all in how you look at things. Great journey for you, and congrats on your lovely home. The English countryside indeed.

  8. Anne sometimes I feel 160 especially when struggling up some of these Devonian hills!

  9. Triple congratulations, Helen. You've had a fab journey. My TBR list just grew some more.

  10. I hope you have a Happy birthday tomorrow, I loved reading your journey on being published.

    1. thank you Taylor - so far the day has been lovely (apart from the pouring rain outside!)

  11. Happy birthday tomorrow! I remember reading by flashlight ;o) And I couldn't agree more that life does begin at 40! ;o) Isn't being a writer the most enjoyable, exciting, demanding, wonderful and rewarding of careers? :o)

    Good luck to you and may you be blessed with many more years of continued success. I look forward to reading your work!

    Suzan Tisdale

    1. Thank you Suzan - I totally agree; the best bit of being a writer is meeting so many lovely, lovely, perople!

  12. I love pony stories - and the notion of combining ponies with history sounds absolutely wonderful.Congrats tomorrow - may there be tea and cake, and why not an armful of roses. Have two of your books on my Kindle, and have - after like ten pages - decided I have a fondness for pirates named Jesamiah (Gorgeous name!)

    1. Flowers today and tea (too early for cake, later on though I expect!)
      Hmm Jesamiah strikes again eh? *laugh*. The name just came to me, no idea where from!

  13. Happy Birthday, Helen! :)

    "but I have a strong suspicion that the love of stories came with me from wherever my spirit had traveled from." ....

    That is how I feel about my love of medieval history, the people and places. My soul aches with a need to be there even though it is impossible.

    1. I'm convinced that there is something from our past which "speaks" to us - after all, DNA is passed down from mother to daughter, father to son, so why not memory as well?

  14. Happy Birthday, Helen! I will turn 60 in July and have finally had a novel published (last August), although I have been writing since I was a girl. It's full steam ahead now, and your words certainly offer encouragement. I so enjoyed your post:
    'If you want to write - stop talking about it, dreaming about it, thinking about it. Get on and write it."
    That's what it is all about! Wishing you many more years of writing and blessings. Diane

    1. e-mail me - we can "chat more"!
      ( authorAThelenhollickDOTnet )
      I'd like to know about your book

    2. I'll do so, Helen! Thank you and for visiting my post!

  15. Congratulations and Happy Birthday Helen. I have enjoyed all your books and a big fan. I hope I will be reading your books for another 20 years and more!

    1. Thank you Gollygilly - and thank you for the fantastic compliment of Re-Blogging my post! :-)

  16. Happy birthday and congratulations! Another book series to check out... Thanks for posting about this

  17. I loved reading your story ... so upbeat and positive and what a wonderful 'journey' you have had. I like your 'get on with it' advice to other writers! I am a great prevaricator, so I need that sort of straight talking! Oh, and I love 'Escape to the Country'! Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you Jane - keep an eye on my FB page or Tweets for when "our" escape to the country" slot will be broadcast

  18. Helen, Congratulations and thank you for sharing your story. It is so refreshing to hear about the successes of those past their thirties! I've often wondered if I could have even written a novel before I was forty as so many of my life experiences go into my writing.

    1. *laugh* well I'm two lots of 30 now! :-)

  19. Hi Helen,

    Oh my gosh, I can't believe it was almost twenty years ago The Kingmaking was published! I have the book with the original cover :-) Love your take on the Arthurian legend so much. Am having a wee fan girl moment here!!

    1. I can't believe it either Christina - keep hold of the book if you have the original cover, Chris Collingwood art is worth a bob or two!

    2. Christina, congratulations - your name was randomly selected as the winner of my giveaway competition - e-mail me (or message on Twitter) your address, and what book of mine would you like?

  20. Thank you, Helen! What a lovely surprise :-) I've just DM'd you on Twitter!

    I have the original cover on the hardback copy, in very good nick!

    1. The book is on its way - might take a few weeks to get to you though :(

  21. Hi Helen, what a lovely post! I found you via the Historical Novel Spring book fair and really enjoyed your site. Thanks for sharing about your journey - it was wonderful to read!

    1. Hello Yangze - lovely to meet you, do call back to see what's new!


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