Everyone has a story to tell; each one of us a writer of poetry – some, without even realising. That stream of consciousness that runs in our veins? It’s poetry waiting to be written. We believe in the power of words, and that power is what urged us set up PoetsIN.
It’s because of those inner streams, that we bring you this regular interview feature, Writer Profiles. An interview with a writer. Some you’ll know, some you won’t.
This week it’s another great friend of PoetsIN, after donating her time to perform at our July fundraiser in London. She rocks. Her name is Helen Gould.
So sit back with a rare steak and glass of Chianti and read this week’s writer profile.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Helen Claire Gould, and I write science fiction, fantasy and the occasional horror story. I also write poetry – but only really as a dabbler!
How would you label your writing and/or poetry if forced to label it?
My writing has a strong awareness of ecological issues, such as overpopulation, climate change, drought, and desertification, and it often has fantasy elements, or a scientific background aspect, so ‘ecological fantasy’ or ‘science fantasy’ (an old label for science fiction with a fantasy aspect, e.g. telepathy) would fit the bill. Though I’m not sure where that leaves those occasional horror stories…
What is your relationship with words and how has that evolved over time?
I learned to read at 7 – my mum taught me, as I’d been having trouble learning at school. My dad tried to teach me maths, but I now know that I had dyslexia, dyspraxia (the co-ordination version) and dyscalculia (the maths version). At the time, my mum thought it was to do with the way they were trying to teach me (they wanted us to recognise whole words, which a dyslexic person can’t do without being taught first to break words down into the component sounds – it works for non-dyslexics as well!). As for my teachers, when I couldn’t get a sum right, they thought I must be either lazy, trying too hard, not trying hard enough, or I had a mental block. My games teacher said I was stupid, because I couldn’t throw or catch a ball. I used to wait till the games lessons had started and then walk off the common and go home – I can’t say how much I hated that teacher, because I knew I definitely wasn’t stupid. But by the time I was 9 I was top of the school for English and bottom of the school for maths. It’s hard to be so good at one and so poor at the other. Over time, I would say my passion for, and competence in, language has developed. In 1995 I became a student again, and studied English and Geology A levels so I could go to university. The first time around, I didn’t even pass English; I had 8 books to learn for English A level, 5 books for French and 4 books for German. With hindsight, that’s too many for a dyslexic person, because I have to read every word – I can’t skim or scan – and you wouldn’t want to in that situation. The second time, in 1997, I was doing English Language and Literature, and it was more suited to my particular talents. I came 5th in the country. Co-incidentally, I had my son the same year, lost my dad, and went to Uni – and I also passed my maths GCSE, which was harder for me than the two A levels put together, but I got a B, the highest mark available on the Intermediate tier. Those achievements have driven me on, and eventually I self-published my work.
How long have you been writing and performing?
I started writing when I was about 14. I’ve written ever since, but it was an on-and-off process, and was controlled by how much time I had. Once I got a computer, I found I could finish stories. I don’t write every day even now, as I have various things I do which are part of my business as a writer – for example, I write and deliver workshops on writing fiction and self-publishing, and I run a spoken word night in Peterborough, Fiction Fix. I have to do publicity for that, and when I’m publishing my books, I work on that. But there’s really a lot of variety in what I do, and that’s what I love most about it. Every day is different. I’ve discovered I especially love performing, and I try to bring a passion to it.
You kindly agreed to donate your time to play at our Fundraiser. Is mental health something you feel strongly about?
It is. I have personally suffered from depression several times. The first time, I was about 20 and had split up from a boyfriend. But it wasn’t really about him – he was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’d had such a hard time at school, and my parents separated when I was not quite 14, and I’m pretty sure the depression was related to that. I suffered another bout in my early 20s and again when I had 4 miscarriages, and again in my 50s, when I had a minor accident and couldn’t walk properly for nearly a year. I have osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, plus mild diabetes and IBS, but I try to go out for preferably a couple of walks every day. It’s important for me to keep that up. I also live with my husband and son, and they both have depression – so they have good and bad days. So yes, I feel very strongly about mental health issues, and I have used writing as a therapy myself in the past.
Please describe your writing process.
I’m mainly an outliner, i.e., I may start off writing something new just to see where it’s going, but as soon as I can see the direction it’s taking (and when the time is right) I jot down an outline of what I want the story to do. I build it up in layers, adding more detail at this point, and then split it up into chapters. At this stage there are probably three or four lines in each chapter. As I add the next layer of detail, I split the chapter into scenes, assign a viewpoint character, and keep building up the detail. When I feel ready to write some more, I start writing the actual scenes. It usually takes me about a week to write a chapter, depending on how long it is. My chapters tend to be at least 5,000 words, sometimes more. Once I have a working first draft I redraft, looking at specific aspects, such as characterisation, pacing, real-time writing or reportage, and introducing sense impressions. These are the things that give the shade and texture to writing, and they allow me to build in the passion.
Some of us write our best stuff when in a rage, heartbroken or fighting depression. Are you affected in similar ways and do you use writing as a venting mechanism?
Definitely. After the second miscarriage (they occurred over a period of four years) I produced The Healer (this is a working title). I didn’t realise the significance of the title till years later, though! I also started a local branch of the Miscarriage Association, which helped.
If you had the chance to perform one poem or read one excerpt to someone that sums you up, which is it?
At the moment it’s probably the scene I read out at Nambucca from The Stallion. That might change, but it was sparked by such a powerful dream and I believe I’ve managed to imbue the text with the passion and terror I felt in the dream, and that it’s one of the pieces I perform best. I don’t have a reading of it up on YouTube yet, so no link, but there are links to the book trailers for my novel Floodtide and another reading, for a charity anthology I contributed a story to a couple of years ago, at the end of this interview.
If you could collaborate with anyone out there (alive or dead), who would it be and why?
That’s a very difficult question to answer, since I never think of collaborating with anyone else. I’ve never tried it, and don’t feel any impulse to do so. I’m very much my own woman, and I always think it would be very difficult to work with someone else on something as personal as writing. That probably goes back to my teenage experiences – as a result of them, I’m a bit of a control freak. I think it’s because when my parents split up I felt I had no control over anything. I have an obsessive need to deliver my workshops as professionally and best-prepared as possible, too. But I’m happy to perform my work as part of a team, along with whoever I’m with, especially at Fiction Fix or a book launch.
Who are your writing influences, heroes and villains poetically, musically and/or lyrically?
I have been massively influenced by Andre Norton, a science fantasy writer dubbed the grand old lady of SF. I’ve also enjoyed the writing of, and been influenced by, Tanith Lee, Jack Vance, and CJ Cherryh at times. I like the poetry of Thomas Hardy, but have quite a few different influences including Thomas Mann whose novella Tonio Kröger I studied for German A level. Musically, I love Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Family – influences from the 60s, when I was growing up – and have a nostalgia for a lot of 60s music. But I must say that I often feel the words of songs have been made to rhyme at the expense of the sense of the story – because every song tells a story. It slightly spoils my enjoyment of songs like Riders on the Storm…though the whole track is very atmospheric. I just think songwriters should be as careful as to how they say what they want to say as a prose writer would be.
What quote/song/poem inspires you the most and why?
I particularly love Family’s Me My Friend, which is from the album Music in a Doll’s House. The chorus is,
‘But I wish, me my friend,
I could sail through the stars,
Have the gift to transform
My whole being, my whole form,
To a world of dreams,
That’s me to a T as a science fiction and fantasy writer!
Writer’s block, is it real or a myth?
I’m sure it’s real for some people. But I always have a lot of different projects on the go, and if I can’t write on one project, I go and do something on another, even if it’s only research. I’m a great believer in writing what comes. If you can see the pictures for a particular scene, you should go and write it while the vision is there. That’s also how I write: I see pictures, and I write down everything in them. Then I move on to the next picture.
Finish this sentence: Words and music are the epitomes of…
Feeling alive, connecting with the world.
What’s next for you?
I had a book launch this week in Peterborough, where I read from and launched my third book, She… (There is a subtitle too!) Basically it’s three short stories (one even longer than The Stallion) from the point of view of women, but as I put it together I realised that all three of the viewpoint characters are mothers, and that their experiences of motherhood are a teensy weensy bit unusual. It’ll be a fun night, with readings from some of my writer friends, a game and competition, finished off by a reading from me. We start at 8 pm, and finish around 10 pm.
My next project after that is the start of a series of novels about a genetically-enhanced species of humanoid, the Zarduthi. The series is called The Zarduth Imperative, and the first book is Discovery, the second is Flagship. They were one book, but it’s very large and I don’t want it to look silly on the shelf, so I split it. I hope to bring that out next year.
Fiction Fix, my spoken word night continues with a 2nd birthday meeting on Sunday 2nd September at The Draper’s Arms, at which there will be readings and cake. And I start a new series of workshops at the end of September at Long Sutton and Boston Libraries, in addition to the ongoing workshops at Spalding Library. The workshops cover fiction writing and self-publishing. I also hope to get my work up on other publishing platforms than just Amazon.
Thanks again to Helen for donating her time to our Fundraiser, and for answering our questions here, too. We’re sure you she is a lovely human being. You can find Helen’s site at Zarduth.com and she has a Helen Claire Gould YouTube channel. She is also on Facebook as Helen Gould.