Friday, 20 September 2013


Please give a huge welcome to our special guest lovely author Helen Hollick on this our finale of our Spectacular Virtual Blog Launch. We've had a blooming marvelous time with you all and would like to thank all of you for coming along to the best event of the year! Thanks for being such great sports and now I give you Helen, who I must add helped me so greatly when i was just starting out!!!!!!

Thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this exciting project – I’m honoured to be here!

In 1993 I had the dream of becoming a published author. For ten years I had worked on a novel about King Arthur. This was not the more familiar Knights in Armour, Holy Grail, Lancelot, Guinevere and Merlin story though, I wanted to write a novel that was more historically based: the what might have really happened view of Arthur. My manuscript had been laboriously typed out on A4 paper - twenty years ago there were no word processors and computers, nor cut and paste, delete or save!  I had submitted it, a hefty wedge of paper, to a London agent, and was waiting for a response to her hint that she might have a publisher interested. I had to wait until returning from a family holiday (and celebrating my 40th birthday) to hear more: I’d done it! William Heinemann wanted a three book deal for the Arthurian trilogy. Apart from being over the moon with excitement that my many, many years of wanting to be a writer had finally happened, I’d had no idea that the manuscript I’d written would make a good portion of a trilogy! (Shows how ignorant about writing I was then!)

The submission became The Kingmaking, and the first half of Pendragon’s Banner – and I was soon to discover that the scariest part of becoming a ‘real writer’ was having to get on and write to a deadline! Book three, Shadow of the King was wanted – and I hadn’t a clue what to write, nor the confidence to get going with it. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I had been with Arthur for over ten years, and now I had to kill him off (we all know that Arthur dies in battle!) This was like planning an assassination of my friend, lover, partner and mentor. I couldn’t do it.  In the end, I wrote the last chapter first and then went back to chapter one, thus resurrecting him: the ploy worked.

My Pendragon Banner trilogy is different to other stories about King Arthur. I had never liked the traditional tales as they didn't seem real to me. I saw Arthur as a man who had to fight hard to gain his kingdom, and fight even harder to keep it.I also became frustrated with the portrayals of Guinevere – from simpering maiden to blonde bimbo. As I had never liked the character Lancelot (who has no grounding in history, but was invented for the French versions of the tales) I couldn’t see why this silly woman would give up Arthur and her crown for this insipid man! One novel I read had me so cross with her that I threw the book across the room. That was it, I wanted to write my version – with Gwenhwyfar as a capable woman who knew how to use a sword when she had to!

My next novel was Harold the King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US). I wrote it because I was fed up with English history starting at 1066 with William the Conqueror. We have a rich history prior to the Norman Conquest– yet the history books brush the Celtic, Roman and Anglo Saxon periods under the carpet. I wanted to redress the balance a little, tell the story of the events that led to the Battle of Hastings from an English point of view. My research started with the fact that Duke William had no right to the English throne and that Harold II was the lawful, legitimately crowned King of England – and incidentally was the first king to be crowned in Westminster Abbey, not Duke William who usurped the throne!

While writing Harold I met Queen Emma, who was wife to two kings and mother to two more (one being Edward the Confessor). I became so intrigued by her I decided to write a novel of her early life – and so A Hollow Crown came into being. When the US edition was published a few years later, entitled The Forever Queen, it was a better version, I think, as the publisher, Sourcebooks Inc, wanted me to cut it by 40,000 words (almost a book in itself!) and the re-edit did it the world of good. I’m thrilled that it made the USA Today bestseller list. But I get ahead of myself….

Disaster struck my writing career soon after Crown was published in the UK. Interest in historical fiction had taken a down-turn and authors were falling on their pens all over the show. Some – those with good agents who backed them – survived, others didn’t. I was one of the unlucky ones. I was dropped in the UK by Heinemann and my agent in the one foul swoop. I spent two weeks sobbing, then picked myself up and decided to carry on via self-publishing. I claimed my copyright back and re-published with a small indie company with their even smaller mainstream imprint. Unfortunately it turned out to be not all it presented itself to be, for the company went bust. Looking back, although the staff were lovely and did all they could, the M.D was not far short of a crook (few of his authors received their royalties, some never even saw their books.) When I compare the quality of the novels that are now produced for me by Assisted Company, SilverWood Books, I realise just how shabby this previous ‘publisher’ was. Going indie/self-published created an enormous and very sharp learning curve though!

Quality production for SP or Indie books is vital. Too many writers who go down this route do not realise that to be accepted as equal to mainstream authors their work has to be impeccable – and this doesn’t just mean the writing, plot and correctness of grammar and punctuation. That, obviously, has to be good, but it is also essential to ensure that the novel is produced to a high standard, one that matches page for page, any mainstream book.

There is one thing that my personal experience has taught me. A book is only as good as it is written, as good as it has been edited, and as good as it has been produced.
There is an ocean of difference between poor-quality, unedited, incorrectly formatted self-published books and any of the Big Boys… in fact, some self-published novels being produced now are even better than those published by the traditional houses. This is because those of us who take our writing – and self-publishing – seriously, do so with a professional eye. We are determined to prove that we mean business, that we are capable, respectable, worth-reading authors, and are taking care to produce quality books. This means that it is essential to have a professional editor. Sorry, your sister who is a teacher is not suitable. Yes she could proofread for you, but there is a technique for writing – author’s voice, point of view changes, continuity, show not tell…. And the layout of the text must be correct. No mainstream book will have a Comic Sans font or the text left justified or double spaced. To set your book like this is letting your book, your characters, and you as a successful writer, down.

I am the UK Indie Review Editor for the Historical Novel Society. I truly can’t believe that we have so many incorrectly printed novels submitted to us for review. I’m sorry but if, as an author, you cannot produce your book as a high standard, quality publication why should I bother to read it, let alone recommend it?
I do confess that I made errors with my first foray into the Indie World when the publisher that went bankrupt published the first edition of Sea Witch – my diversion into writing historical adventure yarns based around my pirate character, Jesamiah Acorne. I had no idea that the text I submitted to them would not be formatted and set correctly. Instead, they printed it as I had written it – in Comic Sans. The opening paragraph had somehow become centred, and I had not proof-read it thoroughly enough so the dreaded typos had nudged their way in. Sea Witch was put right by SilverWood Books, along with the next two voyages in the series, Pirate Code and Bring It Close – enhanced by the wonderful covers that my designer, Cathy Helms of produces for me.

I did make an error with the fourth voyage, though, Ripples In The Sand.
I had taken too long to write it, having had to change publisher, re-edit and oversee the publication of all my previous novels, re-market myself, and then move house. By the time the novel was completed I had readers demanding the next edition of Jesamiah’s exploits. I had promised the book would be ready by Christmas. My usual editor was unwell so I sent it to another person, who was unknown to me. And he did not know me or my writing style. The book came back as a bit of a mess. Yes the edits were grammatically correct, but my writing style is not always ‘correct’. I had to put a lot of it back as how I wanted it, which messed up the punctuation and some of the continuity became scrambled. I thought I had rectified everything though, and stupidly, I decided to publish. Only to find there were still errors dotted about. Most, readers would not notice, but I knew they were there, so I re-edited and re-published. All of which cost more money, but I take pride in my work and respect my readers enough to give them the enjoyment they are entitled to. Any remaining errors I apologise for!
Moral of the story: don’t rush publishing a book!

If you want to be regarded as a good, high-standard, worth-reading author, then ensure your books look, feel and are of the highest quality. Leave  your readers wanting your next novel, and the next … and the next...

Helen’s books are all on her website:

And her most recent publication (in conjunction with her editor, Jo Field) is Discovering  the Diamond in paperback; a little book that contains tips for writers. Especially aimed at Indie and Self-Publish it covers all the dos and don’ts mentioned above.

main Blog:
Twitter: @HelenHollick

Giveaway: a choice of any one of Helen’s books – giveaway open worldwide.
 (The winner will receive a book of his/her choice via Amazon)


  1. Absolutely wonderful interview. So honest and such wise advice. Helen, you deserve real serious success now. And you actually have it. I shall be reading all of these in due course.

  2. Thank you Carol - I've been through several ups and downs these last few years publishing-wise, so I'm more than willing to share them if doing so will help a few potential authors avoid the pitfalls.

  3. Your message may sound harsh,but how I wish I had read it before I published my debut novel in 2011! The only criticism it received in its professional reviews was that it was too long and the copy was 'a bit rough.' Readers were not that charitable. When I reread it I was mortified. The trap was the fact that it was selling above the norm for a self-published debut, so I did nothing until two books later. Yes, I was in way too big a hurry, partially due to my age. But being 70 is no excuse for being sloppy. Thank you for reminding us that friends and family, no matter how educated or intelligent, are not substitutes for one experienced editor. I now have an editor who specializes in historical fiction engaged for my work-in-progress and as soon as I can afford it, I am going to have her edit the ones already on the shelf. I do not want to be remembered by a sentence describing the Countess of Lennox as a suburb manipulator, or Ferniehirst Castle as the Earl of Westmoreland's place of refuse. Thank you for your important post.

  4. Helen has always been helpful and willing to help up and coming authors like myself. She gave me some great advice, nagged me to death about editing until I finally listened!!Thanks for all your help Helen, eternally grateful.

  5. LOL Linda - I had to read 'suburb' twice - my brain read it as superb straight off - couldn't understand what was wrong until I went back to read again. Which SO proves a point doesn't it!

    Thanks Paula for the nice compliment & for hosting my article here