helen with booksOn the rare occasions when anyone asks me about my writing, this is what they ask:

Will you read my novel?

Probably best not to. I’ve lost friends through reading their novels.   Instead how about uploading your writing and getting feedback from potentially millions of readers by joining Wattpad?  Margaret Atwood has written passionate about this global sharing site – you can read her article here.  Alternatively if you have a bit of cash to spare, you can send your manuscript to The Literary Consultancy, or a similar service, and get a proper report from a more balanced and tactful person than me.

Can you give my novel to your agent?

No, but if you’ve written a good novel you’ll find an agent eventually yourself. Keep the faith.  Publishers and agents need writers. Don’t get hung up on getting an agent though, concentrate on making your book as brilliant as it can be – then you’ll have agents fighting over it.

How can I become a writer?

Have an idea, think what makes this idea a story rather than a theory or an anecdote, then chose who will be your central character and start writing.  Don’t stop until you finish the story of this person. Make sure the person and what is happening in their mind stays central to your story, but most importantly finish it.  If I could sprinkle any magic writing dust over my students it would be to give them the power to finish everything they start. That matters more than anything.

Is it worth doing an MA in Creative Writing?

Yes, definitely. Not because you’ll be taught how to write (not possible), but because  you’ll get time to devote to your writing, you’ll meet others who are as passionate about becoming a writer as you, and because by  leaping onto a course you’ll have made a commitment to yourself as a writer.

Did you like the film of My Summer of Love?

Yes, very much. I thought it a beautiful film and I was lucky that a talented film maker liked the book and made it into a film. Still being the author of a book that being adapted into a movie is disturbing. You’re the birth mother and your baby has been adopted and taken far away  by wealthier flashier parents  – who wonder who the hell you are and why you’re hanging around.

Why do you write radio and film alongside novels?

I have lots of ideas that don’t quite feel like novel ideas. Some are visual or sound-based ideas, that I think will be  better expressed in wordless ways   I’ve loved films almost as long as I’ve loved books and can’t understand why any storyteller wouldn’t want to explore the dominant way we tell tales in the twenty first century.

What form do you prefer?

Novels.   They’re the hardest but to try and get the interiority of a character, their thoughts and secret self is the best buzz – if you can get it right.  You really feel like a magician. Everything is down to you.

What would you have been if you’d not been a writer?

When young I was secretly attracted to being an actress and I studied drama at university, but I was scared and nervous about going on stage. Only later when I went to work for the Royal Shakespeare Company did I realise that’s all part of it. All the best actors get nervous.  Perhaps there’s still time…


  1. Ruth Ainsworth

    Hi Helen

    I heard your from Fact to Fiction last night and really enjoyed it. There was a section in the middle when the coach is talking to the players about being confident enough to play your equals. I’m taking a course in Transactional Analysis at the moment and it seem to strike a cord. We are about to do some presentation in front of one another and its scary…we’re contemporary’s, all professional women of one sort or another…and yet to stand up and present seems so daunting…

    I’d like to quote that section of your piece…first, would that be ok? and second, is there a transcript I can buy?

    Warm Wishes


    • HelenCross

      Hi Ruth

      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you liked Fact to Fiction. I will find a transcript of the drama and send it to you – no need to buy of course. Good luck with your course. Transactional Analysis sounds fascinating.

      Best wishes

  2. Geoff Jones

    Hi Helen
    Used your ‘shells lesson’ in a schools’s worksop but used Welsh love spoons instead. Followed up with short 10 min short stories writing with amazing results – the students really went for it with one of them using the love spoon as a tribute – to his fictional sister who had died of cancer – by pushing it into the soil on her newly dug grave. Others too came up with equally pleasing results.
    Shows that sticking to the Custard Factory Course in the dark wet month of Feb 2014 was worth it! Many thanks Helen.

  3. Olivia

    Hi Helen,
    You recently taught a session at BCU about how to teach writing in schools in a creative way. I loved the shell activity that we completed and wondered if you had any other ideas for me to use for an observed lesson. It will be for a year 3 or 4 class and the lesson is English. Thank you in advance and I look forward to hearing from you. If you could email me any ideas that would be much appreciated.

  4. Carmen Estévez Phelan

    Hello Helen,

    I hope you are well.

    I have had some trouble getting the right Helen Cross. I thought you had gone into medicine dealing with children’s epilepsy. Then you were listed as a broker. But I know who the real Helen Cross is and she is a writer. I see that you have two more books out since I took that writing course with you at Arvon. Congratulations!

    Anyway, I want you to know that I am self publishing my book “Checkout Girl Harassed by Love Struck Customer” which A Woman’s Write named as the winning novel in 2012. You may not remember but it was you who suggested that I make my short story into a novel.

    I know this is terribly cheeky of me but I wanted to know if you would be willing to write something positive about my book that I could use on the cover. I have never done this before and I don’t feel comfortable asking you but as you were so encourageing I thought I would ask you to help me. If this is impossible, I understand.

    Thank you for your encouragement. It is still with me.

    All the best,

    Carmen Estévez Phelan

    • HelenCross

      Hi Carmen

      Yes, that’s a super idea to publish your book. I still remember it. It’s so hard nowadays for new authors to find mainstream publishers, so why not just do it yourself? The technology is on your side. If you send me your manuscript I will respond. Good luck with your exciting new venture!

      • Carmen Estévez Phelan

        Hello Helen,
        Thank you so much for responding. I read about “not sending you a novel .. and the losing friends part” after I had already written my note to you. I checked back a few days ago and saw nothing and it was then that I read the introductory paqragraph to this page. Gulp!!! I will definitely get my manuscript on the way.

        All the best,

        Carmen Estévez Phelan

  5. Laura J. Blake

    Dear Helen,
    I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you at Hotel La Tour last night. As an aspiring writer, it was extremely helpful (and inspiring) to learn how you found success as an author. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to meet you again at such an event in the future.
    Best Wishes,

    • HelenCross

      Hi Laura

      It was a real pleasure to meet you too. I enjoyed the event very much. I’m sure we’ll bump into one another again, and until then best of luck with your writing.

  6. Lise Olson

    Dear Helen,
    I have been training actors for many years and listening to radio drama as long as I remember. ‘Rowena the Wonderful’ was one of the finest I can remember. Do you know if the BBC plans to run it again ? I would love to hear it again and have my students listen this time.

    • HelenCross

      Hi Lise

      Thanks for your comments. I’m so pleased you liked the play. I’m sure they will rerun it, but I’m not sure when. I could try and send you a copy if that would help.

  7. Teresa Gallagher

    Hello Helen,
    I’ve been working as an actress on BBC Radio dramas for years and been an avid listener for even longer, but only rarely does a production stop me in my tracks. Such was the case today with your beautiful ‘play’ ‘Rowena the Wonderful’. Your writing came together with a superb production team,actress and real life excerpts, to create an example of all that is wonderful about radio and I thank you hugely.
    Kind regards,
    Teresa Gallagher

    • HelenCross

      Thanks so much for your comments Teresa. I’m so pleased you liked it. Yes, the production team were amazing, Dominique brilliant, and the family pretty incredible too. I feel humbled by them all. I’ll listen out for your dramas.

  8. cath

    Hi Helen

    I attended your creative writing session (for PGCE Primary students) at Birmingham City Uni last week and its really made me think about how I can develop/implement some of your ideas in a classroom setting. So much so I am looking to do a piece of research about how writers have impacted on the Primary Curriculum and wondered if you could suggest any further reading around this (including your good self of course!) ideally contrasting approaches to teaching literacy in the classroom. Your article in TES springs to mind but if you could suggest any further reading focusing on contrasting approaches by other writers that would be most appreciated! Regards, Catherine :)

    • HelenCross

      Hi Cath

      I’m so pleased the session was useful for you. Your further research sounds very interesting. Check out Sue Horner’s report for the Arts Council, which looked at these issues – as Sue used to be in charge of developing the curriculum she has an interesting and informed view:


      Also look at her bibliography at the end to see other articles of interest relating to approaches to literacy in the classroom.

      If you want to chat further that’s fine by me, as I’m often around BCU on Wednesdays when I teach the MA in Writing.

      Good luck – it’s important work.

  9. Bev J Sage

    Hi Helen,
    Its a joy to discover your words and work. In truth I stumbled on you whilst looking for a way to reconnect with the lovely Sara Conkey. We met through BBC. Bristol and I was a guest on her beautifully sensitive award winning radio programme about loss and death. My story has taken a few more fascinating, roller coaster, heartwarming bends which I sense Sara may appreciate, After all girls who’ve shared a love of Hot Chilli Bright Orange Lipstick for more than ten years need to be in touch!! I obviously leave this to your discretion and hope you don’t mind the ask.
    All the very best
    Bev Sage x

  10. Mary Ellen Flynn

    Dear Helen–I am the American woman who lives in Kings Heath. I also chatted with you last Saturday at the Writer’s Toolkit. Like Ali Oxtoby I was able to listen to Blue Eyed Boy (on the radio 4 iplayer, however). The history and stories of the individual people fascinated me. The manner in which it was told inspired me though, and I might have to try something like it myself. Thank you! Mary Ellen

    • HelenCross

      Hi Mary Ellen. It was good to see you on Saturday and thanks for listening to the play. I’m doing a short blog article for the BBC Writers’ Room about the process of writing and making the play, which might be of interest to you. It should be up on their website by the end of the day. Much credit for the success of the play should go to the producer, Mary Ward Lowery who created the distinctive style of the piece. If you do want to write for radio, listen to lots of plays and then try and find a producer whose work you admire to work with. It’s all possible. Best wishes. Helen

  11. Ali Oxtoby

    Hi Helen,
    Good to see you at the Toolkits conference! The only reason I heard your radio play today, ‘Blue Eyed Boy’ was because I was ill in bed. Such a surprise when I heard your name. A fascinating story. I loved the mix of fact and drama.

    • HelenCross

      Hi Ali, it was great to see you too, and thanks for getting in touch about the play. Thanks for listening, I”m glad you enjoyed it. I hope you are feeling better now – everyone round here has a fever so you’re in fashion. Hope to bump into you again soon. Best wishes Helen.

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