Helen is the Director and founder of the Writing Tree. She writes speculative fiction, romance and fantasy novels and short stories. She has an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from York St John University, and a PhD in Social Policy from the University of York. She has combined work in education with her writing for most of her career.
As well as her role at the Writing Tree, Helen teaches creative writing for Converge, a project at York St John University which offers educational opportunities for people who use mental health services.
Extract from ‘Knowing 1’
When Berta was a child with wrinkled socks, and shoes with a strap and a buckle that never shone bright enough, the other children made fun of her. They made up rhymes and songs about how useless and stupid she was and chanted them while playing games she was never otherwise a part of.
One day, when Berta was swinging on the back door of her grandmother’s house, scuffing her not-shiny shoes against the dirt, she asked the question out loud that had been chiming round her head for months.
“Grana, why do the other children hate me?”
Berta’s grandmother looked up from the fish she was boning. In the memory her eyes were like tiny jet beads, hard and penetrating. In reality her eyes were blue, soft like butterfly wings and flecked with gold. Those eyes weren’t right for that moment. The Knowing changes what your mind’s eye sees. So Berta remembered black.
“They don’t hate you. They’re afraid of you.”
“Same difference.” Berta jumped up, grabbed hold of the top of the door and clung on for as long as she could… two and three and four and five and seven and-
“Why do you care what they think of you?”
She let her fingers slip from the rough wood and dropped. “Don’t care. Just wonderin’.”
“You wouldn’t wonder if you didn’t care.”
Extract from ‘Race for Love’
23rd August, 2078
It’s nearly five a.m. I can’t stop pacing. I’m not nervous. Not exactly. Not flutter-tummy throwing-up nervous. It’s energy. Overflowing, unstoppable energy. It makes my skin tight and my scalp itch and I can’t stop moving.
In four hours, I leave for the arena. I know I will win.
The walls in the Croydon kids’ care home were pale yellow, like watery egg yolks, the ones that are a disappointment because you always hope for a thick, orangey one. I didn’t hate the colour. It just was. I didn’t know any different. My first memory is of playing in the yard with the other kids, the squeals and shrieks and the nobbly prickle of gravel under my knees. That’s it, just a flash; I couldn’t tell you what we played or who I was with. After that it’s a jumble of days: classrooms, dormitories, running. There’s always been running.
I believed with my fierce little five-year-old heart that if I ran fast enough, I could fly. I could push myself through the air so hard my feet didn’t need to touch the ground; I’d take off and soar up, up, over the playground wall, over the fence. I’d circle with hawks and eagles; I’d glide over mountaintops and oceans. If only I could be light enough, fast enough. Run like the wind. Every day, I’d try but the playground was small and it always ran out before I could get fast enough. I would end up slamming into the cold woven metal of the fence, so hard sometimes that I’d bear the tiny diamond pattern of it as indents on my skin. I didn’t mind.
You can read the full version of both these stories, for free, at Helen’s website.