Author Q&A: Helen Phifer

Today on Becca's Books, I'm thrilled to be welcoming the fantastic Helen Phifer to the blog for an author Q&A.

First of all, could you introduce yourself to readers? Tell us a little bit about you and the books that you write.
Hello, thank you so much for inviting me Becca, it’s lovely to be here chatting to you. I write thrillers about police woman Annie Graham and her ability to see ghosts and attract every serial killer in the country.

In which genre/genres do you write?
I sit quite comfortably in the contemporary horror, detective genres.

Tell us about your most recent book, and where can we find it?
My latest book is The  Girls in the Woods which is available as an ebook at the moment and available on Amazon and most digital retailers.

Are there any particular themes which you try to incorporate within your books?
I love writing spooky stories, so I like to incorporate something scary alongside the crime aspect of the story which complement each other.

How do you hope to make readers feel while reading your books?
I want them to feel so drawn into the stories that they can’t put it down and have to keep reading. I also want them to be scared enough that they think about going to the toilet on their own in the middle of the night. I always know I’ve enjoyed a book when I have to wake my husband up to come to the toilet with me.

If you had to choose three words to describe your most recent book, what would they be?
Scary, Exciting, Unusual.

When it comes to creating your characters, are they completely fictional or do you gather ideas from the people you know in real life?
They are ninety percent fictional although I do pinch bits of people I know to make them special.

How do you choose the settings of your books?
I always wanted to read a series of books set in an area I was familiar with so I decided to set the Annie Graham series in my home town of Barrow-in-Furness and use the beautiful Lake District which is right on my doorstep as a backdrop.

Have you visited any of the areas which you’ve written about?
All the time, I’m lucky enough that I can drive to some of my favourite places in the Lake District within thirty minutes and I do. There’s nothing like sitting outside a coffee shop in Bowness or Windermere plotting my next book.

Who are some of your favourite authors?
Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Graham Masterton, Angela Marsons, Caroline Mitchell, Mark Billingham, John Connolly, Val McDermid. The list is endless.

Do you like to plan strategically, or do you let the characters lead the way?
I do plan, I like to sit down and plot what I think the story is about. However once I start to actually write there’s no telling what’s going to happen because the characters do start to take over.

If you could sit down and have lunch with any author, who would you choose and why?
It would have to be the mighty, one and only Stephen King. I need to thank him for scaring the crap out of me in my teenage years and for inspiring me to become a writer. I would love to find out if he still follows the charts and whether he minds that I’ve knocked him off  his number one spot in the contemporary horror chart quite a few times.

Is there a particular part of the writing process which you enjoy more than others?
The plotting and the first draft. I love it when I get a new idea and know that this is going to make a great book, I also love the freedom of writing a first draft. There’s so much joy in writing a story just for yourself, the hard work comes when you have to start editing.

When it comes to the cover of a book, how important do you feel they are?
Hugely important, for me I like them to tell me about the story I’m about to read. Although you should never judge a book by its cover it does help if it stands out.

How do you keep track of your writing progress? Do you use daily word goals? Do you aim to get a set number of chapters written?
To keep a track of my progress I use my huge whiteboards and post it notes. I’m the post it note queen, I can’t really use daily word count goals or set a number of chapters because I lead such a mad, hectic life. I work shifts and have too many kids. So what I do is write as much as I can, whenever I can. I don’t believe in putting yourself under pressure, unless there’s a looming deadline.

Tell us the top three books you’ve read so far in 2016.
I’m afraid to say I have a huge list on my Kindle of books to read, but the only ones I’ve read so far this year are The Silent Twin by Caroline Mitchell and The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryzanda which I loved. I’m so busy writing my own books at the moment I can’t wait to take a couple of week off to catch up with my reading.

When did your love of writing first begin to blossom?
I think as soon as I could read, I would sit down and make little paper booklets with my stories in. However it really took off after I finished reading a book, I can’t even remember who wrote it and I thought to myself ‘I could do that’ so I did.

How did you celebrate your most recent publication day?
I’m embarrassed to say I was working so I didn’t really have chance to do much. I have a new book coming out in September so I’m going to take the day off and drink champagne like I’ve been promising myself.

What are your thoughts on the book-blogging community?
They are amazing, I think we owe them so much because there is nothing like a recommendation from someone who has read your book and recommended it to others. So a huge thank you to you all from me.

Which, if any, other genre would you like to try and write in?
Dark Crime Fiction.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far in your writing career? 
I think seeing my books pushing Stephen King off his number one spot will always be my favourite. That and seeing the paperback of The Ghost House on the shelf in WH Smiths for the very first time will always stay in my heart.

Are you working on anything at the moment? If so, tell us a little bit about it.
I’m currently working on a brand new straight crime series which is very exciting.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
To never, ever give up. It doesn’t matter whether you are published or unpublished you are a writer and you should be very proud of that. The only difference between them is  a published writer is an unpublished who never gave up.

What do you class as a successful writing day?
Getting to my office as early as possible where I can stick the kettle on, stare at my whiteboards and then get cracking without being disturbed for a couple of hours.

Writing in an apartment in New York City or writing in a cottage in the English countryside?     
An apartment in New York City with a view of the Rockerfeller Centre and the Empire State Building would be just perfect.

Writing with a cup of tea or writing with a cup of coffee?
It has to be coffee, every single time.

Writing with a sandwich or writing with a cupcake?
A cupcake to go with my coffee, but I’m forever trying to diet so it’s usually a cereal bar.

Writing with music or writing in silence?
Music, I try and do a playlist for each book.

Writing outside in the sunshine or writing inside as the snow falls?
Inside with the snow falling and the fire burning.

And lastly, if someone told you that they wanted to be a writer, what would you tell them?
To write what you love and to never give up no matter how disheartening it all might seem at times, because when you type the end on a piece of work there is no better feeling.

About the Author
Helen lives in a small town called Barrow-in-Furness with her husband and five children and has done since she was born. It gets some bad press, but really is a lovely place to live. Surrounded by coastline and not far from the beautiful Lake District. She has always loved writing and reading, she loves reading books which make the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Unable to find enough scary stories to read she decided to write her own. 

Her debut novel 'The Ghost House' was published by Carina UK in October 2013 and went on to become a best seller along with the rest of the Annie Graham series. The Secrets of the Shadows, The Forgotten Cottage, The Lake House and book five which is soon to be released The Girls in the Woods.

You can find Helen Phifer on Facebook | Twitter | helenphifer.com


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