Thursday 11 April 2013

Writer - Helene Richards

I'd like to welcome you to my interview with writer, Helene Richards.  Enjoy.

Helene Richards

Hello Helene, can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Helene Richards and I live in Williamstown, Victoria, Australia.
How long have you been writing?
For the past 25 years.
What first got you interested in writing?
I enjoyed writing at school and won several awards at both primary and secondary schools. After my second child was born, I went to a single-term writing class, where I met another local writer who invited me to join her writing group.
Do you attend a writing group?
I am in the Williamstown Writers’ group. I was one of the three founding members of this group, which began in the 1980s.
Why do you attend a writing group?
There are many benefits to being part of a writing group – you feel less isolated; you learn from other writers; the workshopping and hearing other writers’ work stimulates critical thinking; each coming meeting gives you a stimulus and a deadline for producing a piece of writing; the meetings encourage and motivate you to improve your writing quality and output; other members provide details of writing seminars, opportunities for publication and awards; the positive feedback improves your confidence and the negative feedback challenges you to improve; the group provides contacts and support for solving problems; you have people to celebrate your successes with.
What is the most valuable thing you have taken away from your writing group?
The bond between the members - the Williamstown Writers share a special camaraderie, a unique mixture of understanding, humour, and goodwill, which I think is formed through sharing our writing. Whether fact or fiction, every story we write reveals something about ourselves, exposing a vulnerability, or revealing some aspect of our personal history, our times of happiness, misery, grief, pain and joy. Thus our understanding of each other is deepened, and the growth of friendship accelerated. We jump over the usual barriers of different age, gender, culture, politics, values, beliefs and interests, and mesh together to form a united group. 
What genre(s) do you write?  What drew you to this/these genre(s)?
I write fiction, creative non-fiction, non-fiction and poetry – these are the types of writing I like to read.

Are there any genres that you don’t enjoy writing?  Why?
I don’t enjoy writing or reading science fiction; it requires too great a leap of the imagination for me.
What types of things do you write?
Mostly poetry and short stories and an occasional article.
Have you ever had anything published?  
I have had two non-fiction books (co-authored with Sheila Freeman) published – ‘Bullying in the Workplace: An Occupational Hazard’ (HR Publications 2010, HarperCollins 2002); ‘Money Management for Women’ (UNSW Press, 1999), as well as articles, poetry and stories published in anthologies, magazines and newspapers.

Have you sent your writing to agents/publishers?  Have you received any rejections?
The proposals for our non-fiction books were sent to a number of publishers and picked up immediately. I have also send sections of a novel I’ve written to publishers but the novel was universally rejected.
Would you consider self-publishing/e-publishing?  Why/why not?  Are you interested in eBooks, or do you prefer the old fashioned paper-made books?
I actually run a small publishing company (HR Publications) from my home, mainly producing memoirs, anthologies, local histories, etc., that cannot get mainstream publication. I have not published any of my own work (apart from anthologies in which some of my work is included) but may consider it in the future. ‘Bullying in the Workplace: An Occupational Hazard’ is obtainable as an ebook. I don’t have an e-reader myself and do prefer to read an old-fashioned paper book.

Who/what influences your writing?  Where do you get your inspiration from?
I can’t think of anything that influences my writing. Inspiration comes from various places – a newspaper article, the book I’m reading, a television documentary, an overheard comment in the train, something that happens to a friend or acquaintance, a story told at a dinner party…
How do you come up with your characters’ names and personalities?
As I think about the story and develop the plot, the characters develop the personality traits and characteristics that allow them to ‘fit’ with the story and behave accordingly. I start off with various names but often will change them to better fit the age, personality and ethnicity of the characters, which I may adapt as the story changes.
What is your writing routine?  
I don’t have a writing routine and have to fit my writing in around other things –  domestic duties, grandparenting, my publishing work, my volunteer tutoring, and so on. I am most creative in the mornings but rarely get spare time then. 
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
I generally have some idea of where the story is going and I do a general outline first. Sometimes the story goes according to the outline and sometimes it changes radically over time.
Do you have an editing process?  Do you have someone else read over your work?  Do you read your work aloud to yourself in front of the mirror?
I am an editor so generally I edit automatically as I go. I like to print off the story and edit from a hard copy. Usually I will do four or five drafts before I am reasonably satisfied, then I will read it to the writing group for feedback and rewrite in response to their feedback. Sometimes I will give a story to my husband for editing and comment.
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
I enjoy the (rare) feeling of finishing a story and being really pleased with the writing. I like least having a story rejected after spending so much time writing and rewriting.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t worry too much about the detail and the editing with your first draft – just write and ‘go with the flow’. The fine-tuning can be done later.
Have you ever attended an open mic night for spoken word performers, and either an observer or a performer?
I have attended lots and performed at two. I enjoyed the positive feedback but am not a natural speaker or performer and it is a nerve-wracking experience for me.
Have you ever entered any writing competitions?  Have you ever won?
I have entered writing competitions. I have won quite a few and been placed or short-listed in several.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
Not particularly important, though I enjoy getting positive feedback when I do share and I also like having something published because it means that the professionals think it is good.
Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
I love reading, watching films, going to the theatre and art galleries (one of my sons is an artist), mentoring other writers (I tutor in creative writing at our local University of the Third Age), and socialising with family and friends. 
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. ‘Pride and Prejudice’. (Or ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ – for the money!)
What types of things do you read?  Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
I read widely – biography, fiction from the classics to crime and thrillers to chick-lit to young adult, as well as non-fiction – so it would be difficult to pinpoint which books, if any, impact on my writing.
What are you working on at the moment?
A biographical short story (creative non-fiction) for a particular competition.
Would you be able to provide a short piece of your work?  
This is the beginning of a very short story (474 words in total) that was published in ‘The Secret Life of Suburbs’, the Williamstown Writers anthology that won the 2009 FAW Community Writers Award.
© Helene Richards
The stone angel was lying on an odds-and-ends table at the garage sale, and her chiselled, calm face caught my eye as I walked past.  It was love at first sight - I had to have her, no matter what the consequences.
I paid $12 for her and another $5 for an ancient shopping trolley to carry her home, almost all of the $20 Gary had given me to buy beer.  He was not impressed and I copped a black eye. Knowing he would get violent, I had taken care to hide her behind some pots in the back yard before I went inside – she was worth a few bruises.
I put a hook on the back wall and she has been hanging there ever since, gazing sightlessly down at my pitiful assortment of plants. I spend hours pottering about with them, though; at least they are a touch of green and, as I water, weed and prune, I talk to her.
"One day," I say, "I'll have a real garden, not this motley collection of cuttings stolen through fence posts or wheedled from neighbours." I love the colour and vibrancy of the flowers and foliage, the contrast they provide to the greyness of my life, and delight in every new bud and green shoot.
I often stand and look up at my angel in silent communion. There is the merest hint of a smile about her mouth, and her face is smooth, serene and untroubled. As mine used to be. I try not to look in the mirror any more, knowing that my face shows all of its thirty years, and reveals the physical and mental scars of the six years I've been with Gary. Looking at her makes me aware of what a weak, pitiful creature I have become.
Thank you very much Helene.