Today, traveling all the way from Yorkshire, we are delighted to host author Helena Fairfax. Welcome, Helena!
Hi Heather and David, thanks so much for having me on your blog. I’ve brought you a present with me from Yorkshire – some English tea and a tin of biscuits. It’s great to chat with you again – I’ve been looking forward to seeing you both for ages!
Thank you so much! (Heather selects a biscuit and passes the tin to Dave.) So, Helena, what inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always wanted to write, for the simple reason I absolutely love reading books. I used to think as a child how great it would be to write a story that stays in readers’ minds long after they’ve put the book down.
Who is your favorite character you’ve ever written?
That’s a really hard question. My characters are so alive to me, I feel I’ll upset them if I choose just one! But if I have to choose, then maybe I would say I love Jack, who is the younger brother of my heroine, Sophie, in The Silk Romance. Perhaps you might think this a strange choice. Jack is a secondary character. He appears very little in the story, and when he does, he only has a few lines to say. But I love him because he’s a quietly determined young man who loves his family. I also like his gentle sense of humour and the way he teases his sister in an affectionate way. He reminds me of my son. Perhaps in a few years, when Jack is older, I may give him more of a story of his own.
That’s not a strange choice at all. We often find that characters we think will be minor end up taking on a life of their own! Your recent release deals with the silk industry in Lyon. What research did you do in order to write against this backdrop?
I studied French at university, and in order to try and improve my French I spent some time working as an au pair in Lyon. The children I looked after were three years old and one year old. I learned a lot of French nursery rhymes! I got to know the city of Lyon really well during my stay, and loved it. It’s a beautiful and romantic city, with a long history. It was a really happy time for me. But the terrible thing about being an au pair is saying goodbye to the children you’ve grown attached to. I cried all the way home on the train.
Then many years after I left university I took a job at a woollen mill in my home county of Yorkshire. It was here I learned about weaving. I decided to make my French hero, Jean-Luc, the owner of a silk mill, and Lyon the romantic setting for my story.
It sounds like you have an interesting life story! Now, when it comes to work, do you write in quiet isolation (like Heather) or to music (like Dave)?
Definitely in quiet isolation. I could never understand how my children, as teenagers, could do their homework whilst watching television, listening to their iPods or talking on their mobiles – or sometimes all three at once! I really need to be quiet.
Having said that, I have an anxious rescue dog who likes nothing better than to guard the house. Every five minutes she is up and down to the doors and windows, warning me about some non-existent danger outside. She’s sweet, but she can be very distracting!
Oh, we both understand about crazy rescue dogs! In fact, you could be describing Heather’s pug/terrier mix! And that makes us think of another question. Dave’s dog is a mix, mostly Yorkshire terrier. At night, he likes to sleep in a bed with someone and burrow under the blankets. Is he just weird or is there something in the Yorkshire DNA that makes one want to hide under the covers at night?
Ha! Good question! People in the south of England – or “them southern softies”, as we people up north call them – have certain stereotypical views of us Yorkshire folk, and of northerners in general. Apparently we like to eat pies, we own ferrets (don’t ask), we still wear clogs and flat caps, we’re very hard and blunt speaking, and in Yorkshire we are apparently very mean with money. So in answer to your question, a soft southerner might cower under the covers. A Yorkshireman is far too hard to do that, and would only hide under the bedclothes if he thought someone wanted to borrow a tenner.
Well, that explains things, then. So, on to the next topic! If you were a Disney Princess, which one would you be?
The old-fashioned Disney films are my favourites. Snow White was one of the first films I ever saw at the cinema, and I was absolutely terrified of the evil step-mother. Although I do love Snow White, even as a child I thought she was a little foolish to take a bite out of that apple. If I had to choose, I would love to be Cinderella. Who wouldn’t love a fairy godmother to come down and make all your dreams come true? And I’ve made my story The Silk Romance a kind of modern Cinderella story, with a charming hero, a ball, and a heroine who runs away.
And we had no idea how appropriate that question would turn out to be! We’re just a couple of Disney addicts. Let’s move along to… top 5 authors?
Oh, that’s a tough question, too. My books are like old friends, and now I have to cut it down 😦
If I really have to, then here’s my eclectic mix, and maybe some strange choices for a romance lover:
Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace is my favourite book ever)
Ford Madox Ford (Parade’s End is brilliant)
Philip K. Dick (anything by him, I love all of them, and any films of his books, such as Blade Runner and Total Recall)
Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse 5 made a lasting impression on me. I would love to have written that book)
Top 5 travel destinations?
Anywhere where my daughters are. At the moment the eldest is in New Zealand (I would love to go there to visit her) and the youngest is in London, which luckily I can visit often.
Berlin and Dresden. I spent a couple of years working in Germany, and I cried tears of joy when the Berlin Wall came down. It was a really emotional time. I love visiting eastern Europe- it’s like a whole world has opened up.
And I would love to take a train trip across America some time, from New York to San Francisco. That would be awesome! (Agreed!)
Top 5 movies?
This one is a little easier.
High Society, for definite. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it.
The Sound of Music.
A Night at the Opera
Au Revoir, Les Enfants (a French film, set in the second world war. It’s the most moving film I ever saw, and I literally cried for three days afterwards. Don’t ever watch it.)
And, of course, we have to have a rapid-fire round:
Barbara Cartland or EL James? Barbara Cartland. She’s a genuine British eccentric.
Cake or pie? I’m from Yorkshire, so it has to be pie.
Roller coaster or carousel? Carousel
Winter or summer? English summer, or anywhere where summer is warm, but not too hot. I’m a redhead, and always get burned abroad 😦
Tolkien or Rowling? Rowling
Coffee or tea? Tea
Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Daniel Craig. I wish!
Fabulous answers, Helena! Thank you for stopping by for a chat!
Thanks very much for having me, Heather and David. I loved your searching questions, and it’s great to see you both!
Jean-Luc Olivier is a courageous racing driver with the world before him. Sophie Challoner is a penniless student, whose face is unknown beyond her own rundown estate in London. The night they spend together in Paris seems to Sophie like a fairytale—a Cinderella story without the happy ending. She knows she has no part in Jean-Luc’s future. She made her dying mother a promise to take care of her father and brother in London. One night of happiness is all Sophie allows herself. She runs away from Jean-Luc and returns to England to keep her promise.
Safely back home with her father and brother, and immersed in her college work, Sophie tries her best to forget their encounter, but she reckons without Jean-Luc. He is determined to find out why she left him, and intrigued to discover the real Sophie. He engineers a student placement Sophie can’t refuse, and so, unwillingly, she finds herself back in France, working for Jean-Luc in the silk mill he now owns.
Thrown together for a few short weeks in Lyon, the romantic city of silk, their mutual love begins to grow. But it seems the fates are conspiring against Sophie’s happiness. Jean-Luc has secrets of his own. Then, when disaster strikes at home in London, Sophie is faced with a choice—stay in this glamorous world with the man she loves, or return to her family to keep the sacred promise she made her mother.
Are you intrigued? Want more? Here’s a bonus excerpt!
Jean-Luc drew back to his own side of the car and watched her crumpled figure in silence for a few moments. When he saw her hitch up one shoulder and shift even further away from him, his thoughts turned uncomfortably on her anger.
So she wanted him to kiss her. He wanted it, too, and wanted her. His body burned to reach for her, to pull her into his arms. For a split second, he wondered how it would be if he told his driver to change direction, to drive him to his apartment, where he could satisfy his hunger and make her his own. But it was a fleeting thought, quickly banished. He knew it would not make her his. She would be running again in the morning, and he would have lost her a second time.
Whatever barrier she had erected against him, he needed to understand it. And perhaps she was right; perhaps withholding himself was egotistical, too. God knew he had kept enough secrets in his life. He couldn’t expect her to trust him if he continued to conceal them from her.
He watched her as the orange streetlamps played over her bent head. He knew she distrusted him, was rebelling at his attempts to take control, but the idea of letting their relationship play out in any other way, of it sliding out of his iron grasp, was too terrifying for him to contemplate.
From time to time, and always at moments of high tension, Jean-Luc was subject to brief, intense flashbacks to his painful history. Now, suddenly, a vivid image of his mother lying collapsed, half-comatose, on the floor of their house in Paris came from nowhere to pierce his mind. So powerful a picture was it, his mouth went dry. He felt again the terrifying sensation of a world beyond his control and closed his eyes.
“It’s not true that I always get what I want.”
His words brought Sophie’s head up slightly, as his previous assurance had failed to do. She considered his claim for several seconds then shrugged, unconvinced.
“So, you don’t get what you want? The racing trophies, the fame and money, the glamorous women. Haven’t you got what you wanted? What else is left?”
Jean-Luc had wrested control over his memories, and his mind was now firmly in the present. His voice was perfectly steady when he answered. “Success isn’t always measured by fame and money. And there is a lot left. You, for instance.”
At last her head turned towards him.
“Four years ago you ran away,” he continued softly. “I didn’t get what I wanted then.”
She stared at him wide-eyed. The car had finally reached her apartment block, preventing any reply. She uncurled herself from her tense position and stretched her long legs out in front of her.
“I’ll see you to your door,” Jean-Luc said. He was out of the car and opening her door before she could protest. She climbed slowly out of her seat, and he kept his gaze resolutely averted as her long legs swung onto the pavement.
“Thank you for the evening,” she said stiffly. She hesitated a moment, her eyes at some point on his shirt front. “I’m sorry I lost my temper.”
Get your copy of The Silk Romance at the MuseItUp bookstore, or through Amazon, Kobo, or other major e-tailers.
Helena Fairfax was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now and that’s just as well, because nowadays she lives in an old Victorian mill town in Yorkshire, right next door to windswept Brontë country. She has an affectionate, if half-crazed, rescue dog and together they tramp the moors every day—one of them wishing she were Emily Brontë, the other vainly chasing pheasants. When she’s not out on the moors you’ll find Helena either creating romantic heroes and heroines of her own or else with her nose firmly buried in a book, enjoying someone else’s stories. Her patient husband and her brilliant children support her in her daydreams and are the loves of her life.