A drowned child. Estranged sisters. A once-perfect home.
Silence echoes louder than truth.
When seventeen-year-old Rachel’s baby brother drowns and her older sister, Imogen, escapes to live abroad with Simon, her musician boyfriend, Rachel must face the family’s grief and disintegration alone.
Twenty years later, Rachel is a successful businesswoman, with a daughter of her own, supporting her parents and their elegant Georgian home, The Old Rectory, that shackles them to the past.
Simon’s sudden death in Ibiza brings Imogen back, impoverished and resentful. Her family owes her, and she will stop at nothing to reclaim what she believes is rightly hers.
The rift between the sisters seems permanent. While Imogen has lived a nomadic life, filled with intrigue, in Spain and Tunisia, Rachel’s has appeared stable and successful but, behind the veneer, cracks are appearing. Now, she is vulnerable.
As the wall of silence and secrecy crumbles, danger stalks Rachel’s family. She must re-examine her baby brother’s death, find out what happened in Tunisia, and fight to hold onto everything she’s achieved –or risk losing it all.
When and where do you prefer to write?
If I’m working on a new novel and excited about the plot and the characters, I need to capture the ideas while inspiration is flowing fast. So I start writing first thing in the morning and will continue into the afternoon or evening with only a fifteen minute break for lunch. Sometimes I write until late at night. I’ve tried coffee shop writing and it doesn’t work for me so I usually write at home but I will move around different rooms. I have a study where I can look out at the world through my window. Other times I’ll work in my daughter’s bedroom or in the dining room (no view to distract me) and, in summer, I love working in the garden as long as I can position the sun umbrella to keep the light off my laptop screen.
Do you have a certain ritual?
Not really, but occasionally I’ll do a writing sprint by setting the timer on my phone for an hour and writing at full pelt to see how many words I can get down in that time.
I try to remember to do foot stretches while I’m at my desk because I broke my ankle a couple of years ago and have to keep up with exercising and circling my foot so it doesn’t seize up!
Is there a drink or some food that keeps you company while you write?
If I stocked up with food and drink at my desk, I don’t think I’d ever get up from my chair. There’s a saying about writing a book that the only way to do it is ‘to attach the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair’. That’s me. So to make sure I don’t sit for hours, I go to the kitchen and make a drink – usually tea, peppermint tea or coffee.
What is your favourite book?
There are so many great books, it’s always so difficult to pick one, but a few years back I read the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, a quartet of book(s) including ‘My Brilliant Friend’, ‘The Story of a New Name’ ‘Those who Leave and Those who Stay’, and The Story of the Lost Child’. These books had a huge impact because they drew me in and I became lost in the story. It took me back to that wonderful sensation you get as a child when you first develop a passion for reading.
Do you consider writing a different genre in the future?
I’m drawn to writing slightly dark psychological suspense because I’m fascinated by characters who are not what they seem, by unreliable narrators, by how a life can change in an instant and by good people doing bad things.
If an idea came to me for a story or characters that would work better in a different genre I’d absolutely embrace it.
Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
Never. But, like all authors, I may take snippets of body language or behaviour from people I know and use them to flesh out a fictional character. Or I might use an incident someone has told me, or snatches of overheard conversation, and put them in a book
Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
It’s rare for me to be without my notebook but if I don’t have it with me I might use the voice recorder on my phone to capture ideas. If I’m researching a location and want to get it accurate, I take photos on my phone or shoot some video so I can watch it back later and trace my character’s journey.
Which genre do you not like at all?
I’m not a fan of fantasy and sci-fi. There are so many fascinating books that explore the human psyche and contemporary issues – I prefer to engage with those.
If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
Now you’re asking! If I could combine this challenge with moving my writing into a different genre, it would be fantastic to write historical fiction and work with Hilary Mantel. I’d love to know how she does her research and how she achieves such precision in her prose. I’d be quite scared of her towering intellect, though.
If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
So far all my novels have been partly set in foreign countries and the research demands have been quite varied. Lies Behind the Ruin was set in and around Limoges in France. The scenes in Limoges were totally accurate, right down to the interior of the cathedral and the apartment block where one of my characters lived. I then invented a nearby fictional village called Sainte Juliette where most of the action happened but I hope it had the feel of a real French village.
My first novel After Leaving the Village opens in Albania where one of my characters is from. I initially researched Albania using guidebooks, maps, YouTube videos and Google earth. Then I realised I needed to go there, so I went with my son. We had an amazing few days in Tirana and the villages around Berat, we spent time with a local family learning about the rural way of life. We had an interpreter because they spoke no English. Albania is a hidden gem and not well known on the tourist trail. I think that might have been a research highlight.
In Façade I have some chapters set in Ibiza, and some in 1990s Tunisia, but wasn’t able to make recent visits. For Ibiza I had help from a friend who was a holiday rep over there for many years. For Tunisia I drew on my experience of visiting a friend who was working there, which gave me a fascinating glimpse of Tunisia off the beaten tourist track.
Thanks for these great questions, Els. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you and I hope you enjoy reading Façade.
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