Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Meet Helena Harper

Helena Harper is a native of England, but she grew up in a household that did things somewhat differently to other English households, because her mother was German (her mother had met her father in Hamburg at the end of WWII, when as a British soldier he had been stationed there). This mixed background has had a profound influence on Helena and her understanding of so-called national divisions and whom we call an 'enemy' and whom we call a 'friend'.

From an early age she loved to read and write, particularly fantasy stories, and later she enjoyed studying foreign languages. At Surrey University she studied German, Russian and International Relations and spent considerable periods of time in Germany, Austria and Russia as part of the course. After university she went into banking, but soon realised that was a big mistake. “I felt like I was being suffocated,” she says of the experience.

She then spent a year teaching languages at a private school in London, and enjoyed it so much she decided she would get properly trained. She did a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Exeter University and then started her career as a modern languages teacher, a career which has lasted twenty years. During that time she has continued to write, concentrating primarily on fantasy stories for young children. However, in the past few years she has also discovered the joys of writing poetry for adults, and her first two books are poetry collections: It's a Teacher's Life...! and Family and More – Enemies or Friends?, which have been inspired by her professional and personal life.

Helena is now a private tutor and translator. She is continuing to write children's stories, and illustrations for her first children's picture book are now being done. Her aim is to see the book in print before the year is out. Many people ask Helena why she likes to write. She feels she can best express it like this:

The blank page calls,

the heart responds,

imagination spreads wide its wings

and launches into infinity...

Fingers dance,

words flow,

the page fills,

the soul takes flight

and the spirit sings.

Copyright © Helena Harper

I asked Helena some questions. so we could get to know her better.

  1. Can you tell us a little about yourself? (i.e. Pets? Where you live? Special interests of hobbies?)

I live in the UK, quite near London, in a county called Surrey. I was born in this county and – apart from periods spent abroad when studying my foreign languages – have always lived here. Although it's very much 'communter' country and very densely populated, there are still lovely pockets of countryside and quaint, historical villages. I'm within easy travelling distance of one of the neighbouring counties, Hampshire, and the village of Chawton, where Jane Austen lived for the latter part of her life. I love Jane Austen's stories – don't you?

Besides reading and writing, I enjoy walking, playing tennis, doing Pilates, dancing and spending time with my niece and nephew.

  1. What inspired you to write your book? My book “It's a Teacher's Life...!” is based on my own experiences as a teacher and came about after I'd written some poems whilst on a retreat, including one for the cook who was producing some wonderful meals for us. It reminded me of one of the cooks at the school where I worked and I thought I could adapt the poem for her and then I started to think of other 'school' poems I could write about.

  1. Do you have a favorite poem, if so tell us why? No, I can't say I have a favorite. They are all so close to my heart.

  1. Tell us a little about your writing schedule. What do you find most difficult, easiest? I have to fit my writing around my tutoring and other commitments. I write whenever I find some time to write, which could be any time of the day. The easiest thing is coming up with an idea, the most difficult thing is then sorting out the details of the story.

  1. What are your future writing plans? I hope to get my second collection of poems, Family and More – Enemies or Friends?, which at present is an ebook, published as a paperback, and the illustrations for my first children's picture book are being done at the moment. I have another picture book that I would like illustrated after that and I will be looking for suitable publishers.


  1. Helena, why pictures books and not for older kids? I'm asking because so many writers believe picture books are a breeze but that's not so and I'm sure as a tutor you understand how much goes into writing one.

    Are you planning on writing for middle grade or older at some point?

  2. Helena, nice to meet another poet. Do you read a lot of poetry? Lately everything is an excuse for me to go look for and read more poems. Do you have any favorite authors?

    Margaret Fieland

  3. Nice job with this post, Nancy. Helena is a fine writer I'm finding out. She also did a GREAT feature post on yours truly on her blog today.

    The Old Silly

    ps - Hey - please do me a favor - whatever you can, maybe post an announcement for me on VBT - my former blogs are gone - zapped by the evil Google Nazis - long story that I will not go into for fear of exploding in rage, but - new site is at http://theoldsilly.com

    I'd post it myself but VBT is glitching on me and I can't post anything or even get into my data to edit anything! AAARGH!!

  4. Thanks, Nancy, for helping us meet Helena.

    Helena, I enjoyed learning about you the persona and the writer.


  5. Hello, Lea - you're right that picture books aren't a breeze. The first version of the story which is being illustrated at the moment was written about 13 years ago and it has undergone numerous revisions since, but I just love writing about animals, spaceships, suns, stars, sunbeams, flowers, depressed brains and other fantastical characters, which is why I write for young children. It's my way of 'escaping' I suppose. I have written some longer, early reader stories, but I don't plan at the moment to write for older children. However, you can never say never in this life, can you? So, who knows?

    Margaret, until 3 years ago I never thought of myself as a poetry fan let alone a poetry writer. I write the type of poetry that I like to read - poetry that conveys a clear message or thought and is easy to read. That doesn't mean to say that the poem has to contain simple vocabulary, though. I can't say I have any favourite poets, but I recently had the chance to read the book 'She Wore Emerald Then' by Carolyn Howard Johnson and Magdalena Ball and there were some fantastic poems there.

    Thank you, Marvin and Vivian, for your comments and thank you so much, Nancy, for your post.


  6. I've had the pleasure of reviewing Helena's Family and More - Enemies or Friends? It's absolutely wonderful and insightful. It brings to light a social problem that most of us never have to think of or deal with. I highly recommend it.

    I love the poem about writing in this post also. Helena is a talented writer.

    Thanks for a great post, Nancy.

    Karen Cioffi

  7. As a retired teacher I can relate to Helena's book. It's a must read.

  8. Helena, thanks for being with me today. You made my blog very special. I'm looking forward to Friday.

    Thanks to everyone for your posts -- you're a great group!

  9. Helena,
    I knew you are a very interesting person. I enjoy reading about you and your work!

  10. Thank you, Karen, Kathy and Liana, for all your comments. It's always encouraging to hear positive comments from readers and it's much appreciated!