We sat down with our very own Helen Aitchison to talk about her newest release, The 31 Days of May.

What inspired you to write this book?
The 31 Days of May is inspired by each of our desires and needs to find our place in the world. To have acceptance and find our fit, and find our people. Themed around mental illness, loss, and that support can come from a number of sources, including the kindness of strangers.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Around three months.

Do you feel being published before has changed your writing process?
Absolutely. I feel I have developed as a writer and in my ability to edit. However, it’s so much easier editing other people’s work! When I first started writing, I would put pressure on myself to cram in writing where and when I could (alongside a full-time job, volunteering, and other life commitments). Now, I try to be less strict and recognise that my best work will pour out when I feel my creativity isn’t forced or set to an unrealistic timeframe and expectation I have given myself. Strong characters, powerful messages, and relatable emotions are my focus. Plot doesn’t have to be mind-blowing. A simple concept can make for an excellent story, driven by characters who stay with you for a long time.

What were you most looking forward to during the process this time around?
I’m looking forward to readers’ interpretations of the characters. Some (as with all of my fictional books) are based on real people. Within the book, the protagonist, May, is a character that requires a level of reflection, analysis, and understanding. I’m hoping people ‘get her’ and the themes of the book — which, at times, are heavy.

Was there anything you were dreading doing again during the publishing process?
No, it’s always a pleasure that I am grateful to have. The only thing I find difficult (never dread it) is the editing rounds. Sometimes, I have almost forgotten what happens in my books as I have likely moved on to writing the next book, or non-fiction work with my business. Getting my head back into character can be challenging and requires me to be disciplined and have quiet space.

If you could set the scene for this book in one sentence, what would it be?
A book of overcoming adversity, finding our place, and finding our people.

What was your hardest scene to write?
The 31 Days of May was the most emotional book I have written (despite writing The Dinner Club through personal grief). I found many scenes difficult and upsetting to write. I felt the desperation, loneliness, confusion, and loss the characters experienced. Sometimes, it could be a very simple sentence, but it comes from personal experience or an empathy, and I felt every word, every emotion. A few of the scenes between May and Trish were difficult to write — both the poignant scenes and the friendship scenes. Trish was my late mother-in-law, so it was bittersweet writing about such a wonderful person and character. There is also a scene with Anne and May in the care home, and that also made me sob!

Favourite quote from the book?
‘I spent my entire life trying to fit in, like a square person in a round world. I fitted with you, then you changed shape.’

What do you hope for readers to get out of the story?
I hope they feel empathy or that they feel validated. The themes in the book are real and impact on people — none of us are immune from some of the themes in The 31 Days of May. I hope readers relate to some characters; their journey, and that perhaps it reminds them that we are all different, and that’s okay. Sometimes, we just need to be a little more patient, accommodating, and kind. I also hope that readers see there is always hope, and support and friendship can come from the most unlikely of places.

The 31 Days of May is out now in ebook and paperback. You can get your copy here if you haven’t already.