Queensland Writers Center – WQ

Author profile – February WQ


Hélène Young

Hélène Young’s first published novel, Border Watch, will be published by Hachette Australia in March this year. With a job as a pilot, Hélène finds inspiration all around her.

‘I live in a tiny slice of paradise in Far North Queensland on a beach north of Cairns. My day job is flying for a regional airline as a Captain on the Dash-8.’

What is the synopsis of Border Watch? ‘When terrorists penetrate deep into Northern Australia, the only things standing between them and a successful attack is feisty Border Watch captain Morgan Pentland and aloof Customs agent Rafe Daniels. Both Morgan and Rafe will have to overcome their own personal animosity if they’re to prevent carnage on Australian soil.’

What inspired your story in Border Watch? ‘It started with three different ideas … a boat of asylum seekers landed at Holloways Beach, which is quite close to where we live … then, I found a body washed up on my local beach. While there was nothing sinister in that discovery, it did make me wonder about the possibilities. Lastly, several pilots I flew with had been involved in the Coast Watch operation flying Dash-8 aircraft and protecting our vast borders … from there it was just a matter of exploring the options, meeting the characters, and putting their story down on paper.’

What is your writing background?

‘I’ve always loved writing and [my] family valued the written word. My dad worked away from home and posted stories he’d written back to Mum so she could read them to us.

‘After travelling overseas for several years I settled on aviation for a career. I still managed to write – Flight Safety Magazine for QantasLink, The Troppo News for the Cairns Yacht Club – but it was really when we moved to Cairns that I started writing fiction with any intent. I joined a number of writing organisations – Romance Writers of Australia (RWA), QWC, Romance Writers of New Zealand (RWNZ) – and started learning about the craft.

I used the contest circuit of the RWA to get feedback and critiques and they were invaluable in helping me identify my strengths and weaknesses.’

How do you balance writing in your life?

‘It’s a tricky little highwire I walk some weeks. When I’m working away from home I have down time in hotels and that can be productive, or completely distracting … when I do get a day off I can lose myself completely in the story and tap out 5,000 words … I did find the editing process a little harder to organise … I move any deadlines forward by at least a week, which ensures roster changes won’t create havoc.’

When did you start writing your first novel?

‘I wrote my first novel in 1999. It then sat in a filing cabinet drawer until my husband … insisted I should send it “somewhere”

… it was rejected [but] it did come second in the Emma Darcy Award, a competition run by the RWA, and that encouraged me to keep writing. Border Watch is my fifth completed novel. The three in between will hopefully reach the shelves one day!’

What’s your writing process?

‘I thought I was a panster – a ‘seat of the pants’ writer. I suspect I liked the freedom of that … then I realised I edited out many, many words before the manuscript got anywhere near finished … I’m a pilot, so that makes me a tad retentive on a good day. Maybe that actually [makes] me a plotter?

‘The truth, as they say, is somewhere in between … I definitely have a vision of where I want the story to go and what the theme is, but the characters still need to cooperate!’

How did your publishing contract come about?

‘I pitched to Bernadette Foley from Hachette at the RWA conference in 2008 and she asked to see the complete manuscript for Border Watch … she sent me some wonderful feedback and I took her advice on board and reworked the manuscript.

‘Next time I submitted it she saw enough potential to take me on board with the Hachette Australia team. They’ve been polishing the work ever since … I had no clear idea how many people would be involved in the book. I feel as though it’s had many helping hands along the journey to publication.

‘The moment when Bernadette slid the first cover flat across the table was definitely a highlight. Seeing the gorgeous design made it seem much more real.’

How much of your novel has elements of your real life in it?

‘Border Watch is set in North Queensland and a lot of the action takes place in Dash-8 aircraft very similar to the ones I fly, so real life looms large in my work … I’ve flown with many pilots … so their wonderful stories provided accurate background information. Any day when I go to work I can be flying over those same crystal-blue waters … With the best view in the world out my window I’m constantly amazed that someone pays me to look at it.

‘I hope my writing entertains, I hope it informs, but mostly I hope it transports the reader to somewhere they may not have been and may never have

the opportunity to go.’