Helen completed a Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing & Editing at the CAE in 2001. Through this Diploma she got eight credits recognised, which enabled her to pathway to Deakin University and obtain a Bachelor of Arts in less than three years (24 credits in total). This proved to be an excellent pathway and she’d recommend short courses to anyone who isn’t sure what they’d like to do, or who feel intimidated by longer courses.
Helen is working on her first novel while she is promoting her first book, The Worry Front.
The Worry Front is a collection of 11 stories exploring themes as the medicalisation of the human body, familial and sexual relationships, animal relationships, and male and female struggles against gendered social roles and attitudes. The prize-winning novella, Quarry’ explores one man’s struggle against the ‘predator’ status society imposes upon men and male sexuality.
How was your experience writing and publishing The Worry Front? How long did it take you to write and publish it?
The stories in this collection were written over a period of a decade or so. Each story took countless hours to draft—and they never seem finished! Much of writing involves stumbling around in the dark: it’s hard work, but if you keep at it, you almost always end up somewhere, though seldom where you expect! Most of the stories were published in Australian or American literary journals over this decade. After 2012, I was lucky enough to get a grant from the Australia Council, which allowed me to work on the collection full-time for a year. I wrote the novella Quarry’ in this period, and it went on to become one of five winners in the Griffith Review’s Novella Project Competition in 2015. I submitted the collection to publishers for a number of years before it was picked up by Margaret River Press. It then took a year—including five months of very intensive drafting—until it was finally in print. Things move slowly in publishing, but it’s great to know that my stories now live on in the home of a book!
What are you reading now?
I’m currently re-reading Charles D’Ambrosio’s short story collections, and I highly recommend them, The Point and The Dead Fish Museum. I’ve also just read Fiona Wright’s Small Acts of Disappearance, which is a memoir about her struggles with anorexia: a very intelligent and poetic rendering of what this disease means to those trapped within it. This book is also about the relationship between ‘hunger’ and writing.
What is your advice for recently graduated students?
Beware whose advice you take! Saying that, I’d advise:
Stick to your guns when it comes to the things that you care about, and be wary of anyone who tells you that you shouldn’t or can’t. You might not be able to pursue what you want right now, or not exactly the way you want to, so make the best of whatever situation you have and keep aiming for your ideal.
Look for opportunities for support in whatever institutions are associated with your field. I was lucky enough to get a one year mentorship through the Australian Society of Authors in 2013, with the wonderful Melbourne novelist Andrea Goldsmith: she has stuck with me since then, though she had no obligation to. She even did me the honour of launching!
Mentorships with experienced, genuine people are invaluable.