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Friday, July 12, 2013

Taking Tea with...HELENE YOUNG (and a giveaway)

This week I have Australian romantic suspense author, Helene Young, to join me for tea. 

My dear Helene, do come in...

Hi Alison, thanks for having me around for a chat! Congratulations on the multiple award nominations for GATHER THE BONES. You must be delighted.

Thank you. I know how much an award nomination means to me but you must be thrilled that your last book, BURNING LIES, has been nominated for a RUBY Award (and your other books have also  garnered enormous kudos)? What does nomination (and winning!) awards mean to you?

I am thrilled and a little overwhelmed to have the final book in my Border Watch trilogy join the first two on the RUBY shortlist. Winning the award in 2011 and 2012 made a great deal of difference to my confidence level. When Wings of Fear won in 2011 I was struggling to find a home for BURNING LIES and the RUBY helped secure me a place with Penguin Australia. Knowing that readers had connected with my stories continues to be a humbling, but uplifting feeling. BURNING LIES is also on the short list for the Daphne du Maurier awards in America so it’s wonderful validation for my almost ‘orphaned’ story!

(Helene has a copy of Burning Lies to give away to a lucky commenter...see below)

Helene, I know you have recently made a lifestyle change and I will come back to that shortly, but first I have always wanted to know more about your former career. You are/were a commercial airline pilot. I remember the horror when the first woman in Australia flew a commercial plane. You would think it was going to drop out of the sky! When did you become a pilot and what was your experience of being a woman in what was (and still is?), a man's world?

I remember very clearly the battle Deborah Lawrie (Wardley) fought against Ansett and the establishment to earn the right to pilot a commercial jet aircraft in Australian. At the time I was in high school and couldn’t believe that women were still being shut out of the airlines. Her very public court case also may have been the reason my Career Guidance Officer suggested I might like nursing instead of flying…

Having left school in 1980 I didn’t start flying until 1989 (I had a lot of fun in the intervening years!). Those with long memories will remember 1989 as the year of the pilots' strike. It wasn’t the most auspicious start to a career, but being a woman worked in my favour. I did my training at Archerfield Aerodrome in Brisbane where there were about 120 working pilots of which one was a woman. The owner of the flying school had a teenage daughter who was an aspiring pilot and he was keen to have a female mentor for her. Once I finished my Instructor training he employed me and I’ve been flying ever since. Industry wide about 5% of working pilots are women. In the Qantaslink base in Cairns 20% of our pilots are women. The odds of going to work with a crew of four women are pretty darned good and I love it!

Helene at the controls of a Dash 8
Like most industries there are glass ceilings, but I’ve had some wonderful men who’ve mentored me and I’m now a Check and Training Captain with the airline. Although of course I’d love to see the participation rate continue to grow.

Please have a cucumber sandwich and tell me about your recent "seachange"? How is your dog adapting to life as an "old sea dog"?

Zeus, the old sea dog, basking in the sun
Yum, I do love a cucumber sandwich! Our seachange was 12 years in the planning and execution and we’re now both enjoying our life afloat. Zeus has settled in well, but the obvious difficulty with no longer being able to pop out the dog flap to inspect the bushes in the back yard has made for some sleepless nights… However it’s a sunny winter in Cairns so he spends a large part of his day snoozing on the back deck in the sun. Marina life has a definite rhythm all of its own!
Your latest book, HALF MOON BAY, has been on a bit of a journey of its own since you first wrote it. What was the inspiration behind the story and how did it change from the original concept?

I finished the first version of HALF MOON BAY in 2005 and it was a finalist in the RWA Emerald Award in 2007. The current version looks very different with much more action and a more solid romance.

One of the main inspirations for HALF MOON BAY came from growing up at Currumbin Beach and seeing the way a community of retirees could find themselves facing huge changes as the tide of development swept their beach shacks aside. Council corruption was a given at the time and that sense of injustice stayed with me. The characters of Ellie and her sister, Nina, owe much to my sister and her friends who were all journalist with high ideals and incredible dedication to their jobs.

In the rewriting of the story before I submitted it to Penguin I also delved more into the trauma of war on both the armed forces personal and the war reporters so strengthening that part of the story was essential. But I think the thread that has always fascinated me is how people cope when someone they love or trust has crossed the invisible moral line in pursuit of justice or the truth. For Ellie finding the truth about her sister may mean she has to accept Nina is not the wise and ethical woman she looked up. I think we can all relate to that sense of betrayal and I hope Half Moon Bay resonates with readers.

Thanks for chatting!

And thanks for being such a wonderful guest, Helene. You must fly...!

More about

Ellie Wilding has been running from her past, but when the residents of Half Moon Bay call for help she knows it's finally time to return home.  As an international photojournalist, she's used to violence in war zones, but she's shocked when it erupts in the sleepy hamlet on the north coast of New South Wales, threatening all she holds dear.
Battle-weary Nicholas Lawson walked away from his military career leaving unfinished business. In a coastal backwater, that decision returns to haunt him. He remembers all too vividly his last lethal assignment in Afghanistan when Ellie's sister, Nina, was shot and killed. Ellie's been in his dreams ever since, even if she doesn't remember him…
As a storm rages and floodwaters rise, Ellie struggles to save her community. But who can she trust? Nick Lawson, the dangerously attractive stranger with secrets, or an old friend who's never let her down?
 Find Helene at

(Comments close 17 July - if you wish to be included in the draw please leave an email address where you can be contacted)


  1. My career changes haven't been nearly as exciting as Helene's. But I think I may've taken the careers counsellor's advice too literally back in Year 12. She said we'd have at least three major career changes, unlike our parents' generation. Well, I've been a bank officer, commercial litigation law clerk, general manager and 'on the tools' in our small cabinetmaking business, executive assistant and of late, a personal trainer and writer. But I would've loved to have been a police detective. :)

  2. Sandi, thanks for dropping by. I do find it fascinating that previous generations stayed in one job for their whole life. Can't imagine doing that!

    Sounds like you have plenty of experiences to pour into your writing. And personal training must provide lots of wonderful anecdotes and insights into so many different lives!

    If you wanted to be a detective does that mean you write crime and suspense novels now?

  3. Of course sometimes career changes are thrust upon us! The best thing that happened to me was being hurled sideways off the corporate hamster wheel :-)

    I think you are right, Sandi, the younger generation is less likely to stick to one job/career in their lifetime. Good thing or bad thing? I'm not sure.

  4. Executive PA to nursing, then world backpacking adventure combining both, back to nursing, back to EA, then to antiques restoration and sales in Victoria and Cairns, then finally writer and photographer. My favourite 'insult' being 'Life for you has just been one long 'work experience'.

    Changing careers is good, as is learning anything new. Looking forward to reading Half Moon Bay. I'll now go below and try to prove I'm not a robot :-)

  5. Great tea time talk, ladies.
    My big change was went from running a wholesale warehouse to being a stay at home writer. Medical reason forced the change, but being able to write full time was the silver lining in that cloud.

  6. Wow, KM, you have a few tales to tell. The great thing about a nursing qualification is its portability. Sadly I faint at the mere mention of blood...

  7. Suzi, I so agree. As I drove home the day I lost my job, through the vale of tears I realized that the man had done me a favour. I love being a full time writer - well I was until a "40 hours pm" role with a not for profit came up... but its good to keep the mind (and professional qualifications) ticking over.

  8. Alison & Helene,
    Great interesting interview.
    WOW Helene. I'm inpressed with clever people in all areas of life.

    Alison, Nursing and Banking were the alternatives offered as well at my time. I too had the gift to look AFTER people but not the blood/slicing/needle side. Never would have made a good Junkie, can't give a needle to save myself. Uggh.

    Shut out of the airlines you say? ... doesn't surprise me for those days. I Think Guidance Councillors were a joke back then. In 1975 I was told at a local Council Interview, for a Architect/Design coarse (down to me and 2 males) "... Impressive grades and art-talent dear, but we'll put you through this internship and in a few years you'll get married and leave."
    So I was knocked back.
    At the time I didn't see it as a positive in my life- I was devastated. But...I went on to be Checkout Supervisor at Several Retail stores,(NSW & WA) met my DH, travelled to the other side of Australia and took up my love of Art- inbetween looking after children & running local Play-groups & P&C's.
    Everyone says "One door closes another opens"
    True, but I think the key is to keep a close eye on the next door, sometimes I think they are easily passed-by in our search for the perfect!

  9. Not only inpressed - but IMPRESSED too lol.

  10. From the perspective of a lifelong career woman, I think we still associate our careers as being part of ourselves. When I have been between jobs, I have felt a real loss of identity. I deal with GenY regularly and they demand the balance of work and family that so many people who started work before the 90's have struggled to find. Its wonderful to see people in the over 40's group now planning a second stage of life which includes work with personal fulfillment.

  11. KM, you certainly packed plenty of living into your career! I've lost track of the number of times I've heard 'jack of all trades then, uh?' I'd like to think I have another couple of careers ahead of me still!!

  12. Suzi, that sounds like a pretty good silver lining but I hope your health issues have been resolved. Thanks for dropping by :-)

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  14. Marianne, it must have stung to be passed over like that... I think you're right about keeping an eye open for doors of opportunity. Sometimes other people open them wide and ask us in, but sometimes there's just a chink of light that we need to investigate.

    Thanks for sharing :-)

  15. Sasha, that's so true. Most pilots I've worked with very definitely see themselves defined by their career and struggle with retirement. A balance is important and perhaps later generations will do that better than we have!!