Today we travel to the north of Italy to chat with Helen Pryke about how a rescue cat, an early love of reading, a mum’s encouragement, private writing space, bad allergies, the flute, working in the garden, CS Lewis, and caves in Tuscany come together as part of Helen’s current and present life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi, I’m Helen, and I’m a British author who’s been living in the north of Italy since 1990. I write historical fiction set in Italy, suspense set in the south of England, where I grew up, and I also write children’s books under the pen name Julia E. Clements. I live with my husband, two sons, and our gorgeous rescue cat, Pan.
How many published books do you have?
Quite a few! There are four books in my Healer saga (I’m currently writing the fifth). I’ve also published two suspense novels, a standalone women’s fiction, two short stories, and three children’s books. I’ve also published a few of my books in Italian. All this since 2016!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
I’ve always loved reading, ever since I was little, and used to write stories inspired by the books I read. My first story was published in the school magazine when I was 10, I still have the cutting! My mum always encouraged me to write, and often said I’d be published one day. My only regret is that she didn’t live to see it, she died when I was 18 from breast cancer.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
For the first time ever, I have my own study to shut myself away in and write! Pan usually supervises, curled up on a stool next to me, and I love having that space to myself. I need total quiet for writing, which isn’t possible when everyone’s home!
What are you currently reading?
I get through books very quickly, which is lucky as I have hundreds on my Kindle! My current book is Shadow Pursuit, a thriller by Alistair Birch, but that will probably change tomorrow!
What is your favorite season and why?
Autumn, although this year it’s been unusually warm and we’ve been inundated with insects, especially stink bugs! I hate the summer, as it’s very hot and humid here in Italy, and I get bad allergies in spring, and I don’t like being too cold either. I’m British, so I’m never happy with the weather!
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
In my Healer series, every book I write gives me the idea for the next one! While writing The Healer’s Awakening, one of the characters mentions an ancestor who was tried as a witch. It only took a few words to spark the idea for The Healer’s Betrayal, which takes place in Tuscany in the 1600s and tells us the ancestor’s story. It ended up being the longest book I’ve written so far!
Can you play a musical instrument?
I can play the flute, and used to play the violin when I was younger. I’d love to be able to play the piano, but never had the chance.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
Reading, or working in the garden. After living in an apartment for 8 years, we’ve now moved to a detached house with a decent-sized garden, so there’s plenty of work to do!
If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with an author from the past, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I’d love to meet CS Lewis, so we could chat about the Narnia books. I loved reading them when I was little, I still have my battered copies, and I’d love to know more about his inspiration for them, how he dreamed up the characters, and all the different stories.
What is your favorite time of day and why?
Six o’clock in the morning! It’s my quiet time, to sit down with a cappuccino and some biscuits, and do some reading, while everyone else is sleeping.
What is the most enjoyable aspect you’ve found through writing?
The amazing people I’ve met, some of whom have become close friends. Both authors and readers can be so supportive and lovely, and they keep you going when things are difficult.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve experienced to help create a scene?
After I wrote The Healer’s Secret, my husband, youngest son, and I spent 4 days in Tuscany where it’s set so that I could make everything more authentic. One of the scenes takes place in some caves, so we took a guided tour to experience it for ourselves. It was wonderful for adding authenticity – the moment when they turned the lights out and left us in total darkness was spooky! And I found some steps leading down to who knows where, which sparked my imagination and helped me create a particular moment in the story!
I’m currently working on book 5 in the Healer series, which doesn’t yet have a title. It follows on directly from book 4, and features Morgana’s daughter, Gemma. She has to leave Italy to escape the witch hunts, and ends up… well, you’ll have to wait and find out!
Tell us about your most recent book.
The Healer’s Betrayal is book 4 in my Healer series. Each book tells the story of one of the healers in the Innocenti family, and this one is about Morgana Innocenti. It’s set in the 1600s, a time of superstition, when people believed in witches and witchcraft, and women were persecuted and burned at the stake. It’s available to preorder from every online retailer, and will be published on the 2nd December. I do recommend reading the whole series, as every book is connected and little details pop up that you’ll recognise as the series progresses!
It was wonderful learning more about your books and writing’s life, Helen! I’ve added The Healer’s Secret to my reading list! Wishing you much success with all you do! – Camilla
The Healer’s Betrayal:
In an era of superstition and fear, it’s dangerous to be a woman—and even more so to be a healer . . .
Morgana Innocenti was born on the cusp of the 1600s, on the cursed ground inside the Grove. Deaf since the age of eight from a childhood illness, and able to see shadows where no shadow should be, she has learned to face any difficulty with strength and determination.
But a three-hundred-year-old vow of revenge, and a terrible secret revealed on her grandmother’s deathbed, throw Morgana’s life into turmoil, and nothing will ever be the same again. To protect her family’s name, she must marry a man she hardly knows, and trust that she has made the right choice.
While she settles into her new life, rumours arrive from England of witch hunters who leave a trail of death and devastation behind them as they cross the country. When her daughter is born with the mark of the devil, Morgana lives in constant fear that they will come to Italy.
She has no idea that she is about to suffer the ultimate betrayal. Before, she had to marry to save her family’s name. What will she sacrifice to save her daughter?
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