Helen lives in Worcester with her husband, two teenaged children and two rescue cats. Her first poetry collection was nominated for the Forward Best First Collection Prize. She has published three other poetry collections and her short fiction has appeared in magazines including Ambit, Feminist Review and Stand. She holds a BA (Hons) in Humanities.
Helen's debut novel The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson was published in March 2019.
Helen tweets @Jemima_Mae_7
Helen's favourite novel is Dracula by Bram Stoker, and her favourite novella is Reunion by Fred Uhlman. Her top poet is Sylvia Plath.
The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson
Published on 7th March 2019.
Signed copies available on my website here.
Page 100 of The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson...
I flicked his wrist with a magazine. ‘You’re certainly not coming if you’re going to gloat. And I don’t want you gossiping about them, either.’
‘I wouldn’t, I promise, but you must let me come!’
‘Maybe. I’ll think about it. But only if you swear to behave.’
That evening, Simon insisted on cooking dinner.
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘No reason. Does there have to be one? I like cooking. Call it a general thank-you for letting me stay and being so considerate and everything.’
‘I’m not aware I have been, particularly.’ ‘You’ve made me feel welcome. You don’t mind the racket of my typing. You don’t want to know every detail about my life.’
‘Maybe I do, I just haven’t asked.’
‘Comes to the same thing. I think you would ask if there was something you especially wanted to know.’
That wasn’t true. I’d brushed aside as irrelevant, as none of my business, the things I most wanted to know: what sort of girls did he fancy? Did his friends and family wonder where he was? What did he really want from me?
He nipped out to buy the extra ingredients he needed to make his meal, refusing to let me see the contents of the carrier bag when he returned.
‘No fun unless it’s a surprise,’ he said with a grin. So I let him get on with it, torn between expecting burnt offerings or something worthy of MasterChef.
‘Go and change into something spectacular,’ he called out. Spectacular? I had a couple of good dresses I’d bought in the days when I was described as a “breakthrough fresh voice"...
Helen's second novel Old Bones will be published on 18th January 2021. To whet your appetite, here is the current page 100 in the manuscript... currently being edited... enjoy!
The bed is lumpy, the room an awkward L-shape, but it’s hers. Her spinster’s single bed, a framed photograph of her parents, taken shortly after they got engaged, her mother awkwardly drawing attention to the solitaire diamond on her finger. The same ring Antonia would have worn if she’d married Philip.
No ring, no Philip. Throwing herself instead into her schoolwork, determined to make something of herself; but even then it was always in the back of her mind that if she did well, found herself a good job, Philip would realise the mistake he’d made and come back for her. This was enough to spur her on even when she suspected teaching was a mistake, that she hadn’t the necessary strength of character to take charge of large groups of children. She thought she would be safe in an all-girls school. No one prepared her for how feral girls could be once they were with their own kind, away from the civilising influence of home and parents.
Bullying was not taken particularly seriously when Antonia began teaching. She knew who the bullies were and which girls they would choose as their victims and did her best to deal with both until she realised that she, too, had been marked as a victim. She was called in to the see the headmistress on more than one occasion, accused of having lost control of her class.
‘They pick on me,’ she said, shrinking beneath the headmistress’s barely tolerant expression, her fingers irritably tapping on the desk.
‘You are the adult, Miss Littlehales. It’s your responsibility to make them respect you even if they don’t like you.’
She wanted to be liked above all else, her craving for affection turning her into a figure of fun. She was the soft teacher in whose classes girls knew they could misbehave with impunity. They knew she would never complain about the obscene drawings of her chalked on the blackboard. She suspected they knew, too, that one day her pent-up frustration, the constant little humiliations, would cause her to lose control in the most spectacular fashion.
The final train journey home was the bleakest of her life. She didn’t write to tell Diana she was coming home. Sick leave, she claimed; rest and recuperation. The weeks turning into months, a new rhythm established, the school further and further away.
She is safe here, in this room, with her dolls and her faded photographs and the memories that shimmer in the air like particles of dust.