Get to know the author: Helen Aitchison

Posted on 26/10/2022

Helen Aitchison, author of The Dinner Club, is a writer from North East England. She is the director of a Community Interest Company, Write on the Tyne, which provides creative writing courses and mentoring with a focus on engaging marginalised people. Helen also teaches for her local council, is a freelance writer for StoryTerrace and an on-line journalist for Radio Gateshead.

Helen has 20 years’ experience in the health and social care sector, from frontline support work with victims of domestic abuse to senior management for a national charity supporting homeless and vulnerable adults and young people.

Find out what Helen’s writing weak spot is and what she’s done to improve on it, plus the answers to other writing related questions.

  1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

    Three years ago after writing a blog for work, reigniting my love for reading and after winning a place on a local play-writing course.

  2. How long does it take you to write a book?

    60 days – 12 months.

  3. What is your schedule like when you’re writing?

    Often erratic and unbalanced! Once I start something, I become impatient with myself and want it done. This can be both a strength and weakness as I place a pressure on myself at times that is not necessary. I’m learning to be kinder to myself and get a more balanced life.

  4. Where do you get your ideas for your books?

    From life experience (my own and other people’s around me), from my 20 year social care work, from the media, politics, social injustice. Sometimes an idea comes from nowhere and just keeps growing until I acknowledge it could be something and make scribbly notes for the future!

  5. What does your family think of your writing?

    I’m very thankful that my family are my biggest fans. They have all encouraged me from day one. My partner and family are there at all steps of the creative process, from reading my drafts, through to being the first to see the cover designs, to attending author events and my Dad now checks in every book shop and library he passes, enquiring about The Dinner Club!

  6. What do you think makes a good story?

    Relatability with the world, characters and plot. Even if the story is not in our own time and the characters are not human, there are universal emotions and scenarios that make a story resonate. This produces a connection and response to the story and characters, whether it is characters we love or loathe and situations the characters are in that frighten us, sadden us or make us happy. That connection is essential and drives a story forward.

  7. What is your writing weak spot and what have you done to improve on it?

    As a new writer, whose university study was very different from creative writing and associated degrees, I’m not the best at grammar. However, I think that can also be motivating to new writers who may feel you have to have qualifications in English language, literature and creative writing. The most phenomenal grammar skills, without the imagination for story and character, are of little use when writing a book. Imagination is key and luckily, I have that in abundance.

  8. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

    When I began writing three years ago I bought a second hand laptop from Ebay. It cost £80 and on it, I created The Dinner Club and my upcoming book, The Life and Love (Attempts) of Kitty Cook. I have since upgraded but kept my second hand laptop, it was where it all began and has sentimental value to me now!

  9. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

    Three and a further five or six ideas!

  10. Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

    When I first began writing, it was a stress release for me. Having a creative outlet from a chaotic, stressful day job quickly became something that made me feel empowered, in control and I soon fell in love with writing and bringing characters to life. There is something massively cathartic for me in writing. I have written through personal struggles and writing about characters own adversity and overcoming trauma has felt like validation to things myself, people I care about, the many people I’ve worked with over the years and strangers reading my work have experienced first-hand.

  11. What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

    Many of the protagonists in my manuscripts and short stories are male. As a female, this doesn’t feel difficult for me and in some ways, I prefer to write about male characters. The male characters (like the female characters I write about) always have two sides of their persona; a soaring strength and a visible vulnerability. I hope all characters display a personality and life experiences that are relatable to all genders. I have deliberately chosen to talk about single fathers, widowers, mental ill health, addiction, homelessness, relationships, friendships and feeling unaccepted in my stories, as well as subtle ways to challenge gender stereotypes.

  12. How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?

    I am still a part-time writer but writing has reinvented my life. I now work full time in creative writing teaching as my own business, as an author writing my own novels and as a freelance ghost-writer for StoryTerrace.

  13. How do you select the names of your characters?

    Many of my characters have the name of people in my life. The Dinner Club names were selected mainly on names I liked or that I felt were right for the character. I have a baby name book and a list of names that I jot down. I have been known to make a list in cemeteries of names that I like, whilst I visit love ones lost!

  14. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

    There are parts in my work that relate to real life behaviours, sayings, quirks, aspirations and challenges of real people. Only people close to me would know these, but I also hope that they resonate with readers through their own interpretations and life experiences. In each book I have written, there are two names that are always in there somewhere; as surnames, names of streets or places. I also put yellow roses in everything I write, which symbolise my late Grandmother.

  15. Do you believe in writer’s block?

    Yes, I believe our mind can only process so much and when life, stress, events, world concerns, families and work infiltrates us constantly, we all have a limit. In those times, just like with a day job or a caring responsibility, we need to have a break, not put ourselves under pressure and return to the task another day or the next week.

Helen’s debut novel, The Dinner Club, is available in ebook and paperback now. Find the link to your preferred retailer here.

You can find out more about Helen and connect with her over on Twitter or Instagram.

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