People use artefacts to relate to their world emotionally, as well as technologically. I like to explore this emotional and aesthetic relationship in my stories.
Helen Loney is an archaeologist by training and education, but the
books she is writing are historical mystery and action/romances. One series,
set in Victorian London, involves Lyster Clemens, a spinster who is housekeeper
and librarian for her eccentric Uncle in Victorian London. Their house is
burgled; the investigating policeman, James Harris, who now works for CID, is an
expat American, once a sheriff in the west. Helen has much experience writing
scientific papers and monographs, but fiction is a different beast.
What sparked this story?
Probably my childhood following my parents around the west during
the summer. They were geologists, and we spent a lot of time in Death Valley,
visiting ghost towns and old mining towns. As well, my experiences as an
American living in England have influenced the story.
How does your own scientific education affect your writing?
Oddly, archaeology hasn’t really played that big a role so far,
except that I like to put 19th century scientific philosophy into Lyster’s
mouth. What archaeology has probably contributed the most is driven me to write
something I don’t have to provide all the answers for. Archaeology is a pretty
tightly controlled discipline at the academic level. With fiction I can dictate
my own narrative that is not necessarily logical or rational. That said, I
really have to have an accurate timeline, and I’ve spent a lot of time working
out how long things take. I have thrown footnotes in the bin, however.
Do you think scientific training changes the way ‘what if’ questions
are asked and answered? Or is it just
refreshing to be able to break away from that rigor and speculate without
needing cause and effect?
Archaeology really is about connections and lateral thinking. We
have very strict evidence-based interpretations and conclusions. Fiction frees
me from that. I think you can’t get away from cause and effect, but I do like
to allow for random accident, or just unexplainable events. However,
archaeology is really about the connections between the material world and the
mental one (cultural/social whatever), and I think that really adds to my
writing. I’m very aware of how people use artefacts to relate to their world
emotionally, as well as technologically. I like to explore this emotional and
aesthetic relationship in my stories, for instance, using mundane tools or
clothes as triggers for memories and emotions.
Where are you in the publishing process? Are you waiting to finish a
series and then query? What route are you considering – traditional, small
I’m trying to prepare my first novel for querying, which is
daunting. I went to the National Writer’s Conference in Birmingham (UK) last
month, thinking I’d be relegated to the starry-eyed amateur chair, and instead
was encouraged to submit to an agent really as soon as I could. I ought to send
it to a couple of beta-readers, though it has been through my husband a few
times, but part of me thinks I should just send the current draft when it’s
done, hopefully by September.
I am drawn to traditional publishing. I thought about
self-publishing, but it doesn’t really interest me, at least, not yet. I also
have discovered I don’t like to read on-line, it’s hard on my eyes and I tend
to skim, which is a pity with fiction. I want hard copy, and if I’m honest, I’d
like my WIP series to be in graphic novel form at some point. I’m going to try
and query the first in the series, whilst I’m finishing the second.
Do you think your academic presence will help or hinder publication
of your books? Or are you considering a pen name?
I’m considering a pen name. One of my friends, a Romanist, who is a
pretty successful fiction and screenwriter was toasted over the academic coals
for publishing a children’s book about a female Gladiatrix under her own name. It
would give people a chance to spell my name right! I think I would worry that
people might be: a) offended because I am writing in some particular
events/people into some of the narratives and it might be obvious if they knew
my name, and/or b) I would get criticism for my louche approach to 19th century
evolutionary theory. Hah!
Not content with one series, Helen is also writing the adventures of
the Duchess of Sedgely, Alice Isadore (Izzy) Wildsmith, who disguises herself as
a man and joins the Union Army to follow her older brother into battle. There’s
also a novella about James Harris’ time as a Sheriff in Eastern California
before he came to London, a tie-in to her Lyster Clemens series.