Helen, how long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I’ve been writing all my life, really: articles, stories, the occasional poem – and novels. I love words – reading, writing, teaching English, trying to learn languages. I won an article-writing competition in primary school.
Hide and Secret is a young adult fiction book that addresses the complex issue of asylum seekers – why did you choose this as a key theme?
We worked for some years in the Middle East, and I met a number of people, including children, who had escaped persecution of one sort or another. I became increasingly aware, not only of the complexity and desperation of many of their situations, but also of how easy many of us have it without realising. The Bible tells us repeatedly to welcome strangers.
Why did you want to write fiction?
There are lots of wonderfully retold Bible story books for children, and some lovely fantasy novels for older children and young people, but I haven’t found many novels about real youngsters in real situations, who want to live out their faith and who are willing to be different. So Ruth and Chris and their homes and school are as real as I could make them.
The book also deals with bullying and the challenges of moving to a new school – and country! – what advice would you have for young people facing such challenges?
Bullying: if it’s words, listen but don’t respond. Bullies are not happy people. There is usually a bad reason that makes them persecute other people. Pray for them, as well as about them. If it’s more than words, tell an adult.
Moving is hard, but it makes us adaptable. Everyone’s different. Don’t look only for people like you. Try to be a friend as well as to make friends.
What do you hope readers – children and adults – will take away from the novel?
I hope they’ll take away a better understanding of the plight of asylum-seekers, a determination to help newcomers find their feet and the certainty that God is on their side.
Without giving too much away, what was your favourite scene to write and why?
I enjoyed Ruth and Chris’ scary encounter with the Somerfield gang at Cramond beach. I love the place, and I allowed Joe to resolve the situation without his even having to speak.
Did you have to do any research for the novel?
No, because it takes place in Cairo and Edinburgh, cities and cultures that I know well.
How does your faith inform your writing?
Although I didn’t have the privilege of a Christian upbringing, I became a Christian when I was 14, so I did experience some of the situations that my heroine, Ruth, faces, trying to live out her faith at school and among teenage friends. I realised that being a Christian made me different and gave me a new set of values.
How did you find the publication process?
At Instant Apostle, they don’t allow the moss to grow, and I appreciated the promptness. I valued a warm welcome from all the team. It felt like a real privilege that someone was reading my work and prepared to take it seriously. I love the cover of the book.
The book is fiction: the places are real but the people aren’t. But even fictional characters need to have some general knowledge and be grounded in real life in order to be credible. That part of it was a tricky, thin line to tread.
Did you get input from friends and family for Hide and Secret or was the book something you felt best to work on alone?
I worked on it alone, though my family, friends and writing group have always been supportive of my writing.
What are you working on now?
I have two half-finished novels on the computer: one is a possible sequel to Hide and Secret, though written from Christopher’s point of view instead of Ruth’s. The other is a novel for adults, 50,000 words of which I wrote during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last year.
Finally, what is your favourite book and why?
It’s a series: the Tillerman novels (Homecoming and Dicey’s Song etc) by Cynthia Voigt, because she understands so well how children and young people think.