A tormented mother. An abandoned girl. A deadly game of survival.
What happened to Ellie?
Traumatised by events, Ellie’s mother, Laura, can’t bear to stay in the Welsh seaside town where she lives with her partner, Gareth. She escapes to London, breaking all ties with him, and refusing to tell anyone her new address.
After two years of living alone and working in a mundane job, Laura buys an old campervan and joins a singles holiday. Here, she meets Miriana, a teenage girl who bears a chilling resemblance to Ellie. As Laura uncovers Miriana’s story, she’s shocked by the parallels to her own life.
But stories can be dangerous, and someone out there will stop at nothing to prevent the truth about Ellie from coming out…
Did or do you like to read comic books/graphic novels? Which ones?
As a child I adored comics and read those published in the UK, such as Beano and Dandy, and magazines for girls with story strips like Bunty and School Friend. I’m sad for today’s youngsters that they no longer exist. They were great for the imagination. They seem to have been replaced by children’s comics with a commercial link to films or merchandise.
I know graphic novels are really popular but the only ones I’ve read in recent years are stories by Posy Simmonds (Cassandra Darke, and Lulu and the Flying Babies). Simmonds used to be the cartoonist for The Guardian newspaper where she specialised in satires, poking fun at the chattering classes and debunking social pretension.
Whom did you inherit your love for books/reading from?
I grew up in a house filled with books and my parents passed on their love of reading to me. From a very young age, my mum used to ask me quiz questions about books to distract me while she was washing my long, tangled hair. My dad, who was quite a lot older than my mum and had known some famous authors, such as Arthur C Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey) when he lived in London, wrote short stories in his spare time. Many won prizes or were published and a few were broadcast by BBC radio in their ‘Morning Story’ slot.
When you need a murder victim or someone you can diagnose with a serious disease or someone who is involved in a fatal accident do you sometimes picture someone nasty you have met in real life and think ‘got you’ LOL?
Until recently I’d have said: ‘No, my characters are always entirely fictional.’ Then a horrible woman expelled our rescue puppy, Homer, from the doggie daycare centre she owned. Homer is a former street dog so he can be boisterous and lively but this woman never gave him a chance to settle in and chucked him out within fifteen minutes of arrival! So, in the novel I’m currently working on, I’ve given an evil character her name and perhaps she’ll meet a violent death.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
I usually choose first names according to the age of the characters. If I’m writing about a woman in her late thirties, I’ll check the popular girls’ names for babies born around 1984. Sometimes a character’s personality changes as they develop in the book and the name I originally gave them no longer suits. If I need to change a character’s name, I’ve learned from bitter experience to be careful using ‘find and replace’. Let’s say there’s a character called ‘Ella’ and you’re changing her name to ‘Lydia’. If you do a global replace, without putting a space before, and after, the name ‘Ella’ strange words like ‘umbrlydia’ will creep into your manuscript!
Do you write other things beside books (and shopping lists)?
Ha ha – yes, I’m a listomaniac and my ‘to do’ lists are legendary in the family. Want to know what clothes we took on holiday ten years ago? Or what we gave people for Christmas in 2019? I’ll still have the list in a notebook somewhere.
I write short stories and flash fiction, as well as novels, and some have won prizes or been published in magazines. I also love writing travel articles and blogs. My travel pieces usually tell a story based on bizarre experiences or quirky characters I’ve met along the way, most recently, in India, Cuba, Thailand and Albania. A couple of years ago, I realised I had enough short stories and travel pieces to make a short book so I decided to have a go at self-publishing. I called it Brief Encounters: a collection of short stories and travel writing and published it on Kindle. It sold quite well and became a category bestseller. You can view it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082861YRR
Sadly I haven’t travelled much outside the UK for two years for obvious reasons.
If a movie or series would be made from your books, would you be happy with the ‘based on’ version or would you rather like they showed it exactly the way you created it?
I have great faith in the ingenuity of creatives in the film and TV industries. I’d be more than happy to see how someone else’s vision could improve my book. The only thing I wouldn’t like would be to see a ‘Hollywood ending’. At one time Hollywood movies always had to end on a note of ‘happy ever after’, though I notice this has now changed. Personally, I prefer endings to be more nuanced or thought-provoking so readers/viewers can carry on thinking about the story and the characters afterwards.
Who would you like/have liked to interview?
I’ve taken part in a few literary festivals, often as part of an author panel, but once I was asked to interview Sunday Times bestselling crime writer, Tim Weaver in front of a live audience. Being the chair and interviewer was a lot more relaxing than being the interviewee. If I could choose a literary figure to interview I ought to say Hilary Mantel because she’s a towering figure in contemporary English fiction. But I think she might be too intellectual for me and I’d be in awe of her. So I’m going to choose Maggie O’Farrell. Her most recent book Hamnet was a brilliant, award-winning retelling of history and part of Shakespeare’s life based around his son, Hamnet who died aged eleven, probably of bubonic plague. Maggie O’Farrell has always been an excellent writer but she started off writing women’s suspense fiction. Her novels are beautifully crafted and I like the way she’s changed genres throughout her career and her writing has become stronger and stronger.
Do you have certain people you contact while doing research to pick their brains? What are they specialized in?
I write psychological suspense which is a genre within crime. It’s often light on police procedural detail because it focuses on the characters and not on a detective or investigator. There’s always some police involvement in my books and I’m lucky to have a close family member who is a response officer in the police and has checked facts for me. The Girl in the Van has crime scenes that needed more rigorous reviewing so I used a consultancy service offered by Graham Bartlett, a former police commander. His advice was brilliant and I highly recommend him. This service may be of interest to other authors so here’s his website: https://policeadvisor.co.uk
The Girl in the Van includes a horrific crime called (in the UK) ‘county lines’ where young people are groomed and lured into drug trafficking – transporting drugs from large cities into smaller towns and rural areas. I’m an ambassador for a UK anti-slavery charity Unseen so if I have questions about modern slavery or human trafficking, they answer them for me.
Is there someone you sometimes discuss a dilemma with?
My husband is an avid crime reader and brilliant at technical details. For a previous book he was able to explain to me what combination of materials are flammable and what might happen if someone left a power tool switched on in an old building. This sounds a bit kinky so don’t laugh – in The Girl in the Van there’s a scene where someone gets tied up with duct tape. I asked my husband to bind my wrists this using the same tape I’ve described in the book so I could try to work my hands free. I couldn’t.
I’m lucky to have author friends and critique groups to talk through writing dilemmas with and they are great at spotting glitches and plot holes.
What is more important to you : a rating in stars with no comments or a reviewer who explains what the comments they give are based on (without spoilers of course)
Authors understand that reviews and star ratings are for readers and reviewers should understand this, too. I often read social media posts by authors who are understandably upset because they’ve been tagged by a reviewer in a negative review. This isn’t reviewing, it’s trolling. Let’s face it, we all love to see five stars and know readers have enjoyed the work we’ve sweated over for months and years. But readers have different tastes so that’s not going to happen across the board. I adore comments where a reader says they were on the edge of their seat, or that they couldn’t put my book down. When there’s a low rating, it would be really helpful to know why. It could be that the book’s just not for them. My most frustrating review said: ‘I haven’t read this book. It wouldn’t download onto my Kindle Fire.’ He then gave me a one-star rating. I mean come on, what has my poor book ever done to him?.
Thank you, Helen Matthews and Rachel’s Random Resources.
About the author
Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her first novel, suspense thriller After Leaving the Village, won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade will be published by Darkstroke in September 2020.
Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine.
She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France. Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.
Instagram – @helen.matthews7
Website – https://www.helenmatthewswriter.com