Interview With Helen Moss!
Updated: Jan 6, 2021
I have been in correspondence with Helen Moss and , kindly, she has agreed to an interview, so here it is! You can also go to her websites, there is a link at the bottom!
1. Who was your favourite character that you have written and who was it inspired by? I do love all of my characters - even when they are behaving badly! They always feel very real to me when I’m writing, and I miss them when I have finished a book or a series. Emily Wild in the Adventure Island series may just be my favourite, as she is always so enthusiastic and resourceful and she never gives up trying to get to the bottom of a mystery. Emily wasn’t really inspired by a specific person; she’s the girl that I would have loved to be when I was younger (although I was nowhere near as brave or clever!) Another of my favourite characters is the three-legged, one-eyed stray dog, Titch, in the Time Dogs series. She is tough-talking, always on the lookout for a free meal and looks after Number One - but she is very funny and she has a big heart. Titch was inspired by a rescue dog that I met one day. She had lived all her life with a homeless man on the streets of Manchester, who had sadly died. She was very streetwise and was partial to extra-hot takeaway curry, but turned out to be a loyal and loving pet for her new family! 2. What were you reading at aged 10-11? I read anything I could get hold of, and worked my way through the shelves of the local library. I particularly enjoyed a lovely long series, where you could get to know a world and the characters became your friends (this was the feeling I was trying to recreate in Adventure Island). There were classics like Narnia, Ann of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie and The Chalet School series. You won’t be surprised to know that I especially loved mystery books, like The Famous Five series, although my favourite Enid Blytons were the ‘Adventure’ series (Castle of Adventure, Mountain of Adventure etc). I really felt that I was part of those adventures and longed to have a mystery of my own to solve!
3. Which person inspired you to write? If I had to pick one person it would be my Grandma. She was a great reader and loved detective fiction - especially Agatha Christie novels - and historical romances. At Grandma’s house, I would curl up in the comfy chair in the kitchen and read all day, and was also allowed to read in bed, far too late into the night. She would even bring me hot water bottles and coffee and cheese to snack on! We loved to make up stories together, and she would type some of them up and print them out, which made them feel very special. Our first book was called The Second Footman. It was inspired by reading the guidelines for how to organise your servants in Grandma’s old copy of Mrs Beeton (a famous Victorian book on cooking and household management). Mrs Beeton said that you always had to keep an eye on the second footman (who would usually be a young junior servant) as he was likely to be caught distracting the housemaids from their work and generally getting into trouble and cutting corners. We always used to joke that it was the Second Footman’s fault if anything went missing or got broken. In our story, the second footman wins the love of the young rich lady of the house - it’s very romantic! Grandma and I were ahead of our time as it could easily have been a script for Downton Abbey!
(The picture above is of Helen's first book with her Grandma) 4. Which of your ‘ Adventure Island’ books did you most enjoy writing? I really enjoyed writing The Secret Room and bringing together the family history of some of the residents of Castle Key who were minor characters in previous books - like Old Bob and Mrs Loveday. I also enjoyed The Dinosaur Discovery, as it was interesting to have some scientist characters - but actually I enjoyed writing all of the books. Although they all have the same setting and main characters, each one has a different theme.
5. Why did you base your ‘Adventure Island’ series in Cornwall? I had happy memories of family holidays in Cornwall, and also of The Famous Five, which is set there. My sister and her family lived in Penzance during the time that I was writing the books, so I always had a local informant! 6. Did you base any of your characters on a family member? Most of my characters are a mish-mash of different bits of people I know. I will borrow a mannerism here, or a worry or passion or a character trait there, often without even realising I’m doing it. Jack and Scott Carter in Adventure Island have a lot of elements of my two sons in their characters, and they were a similar age when I started writing those books. One would be more logical and cautious while the other would rush headlong into danger! And like most brothers they would argue and wind each other up a lot, but when the chips are down, they are there for each other.
7. Do you ever wish you could rewrite one of your books? 8. If so which one and why?
I would like to go back and rewrite the first few chapters of The Whistling Caves, the first Adventure Island book. With hindsight, I think i should have got to the action more quickly. Also, I would edit some lines here and there in all my books to avoid using words or phrases that I’m not comfortable with any more. But I don’t think I would rewrite a whole book. It would be too hard!
( Detailed plot outline - first page, for The Mystery of the King’s Ransom )
9. When you are writing a book do you find that it helps to do other creative activities as well? Yes! When I was writing Adventure Island, I had very tight deadlines, so I didn’t have time to do anything else. But ideally, I like to spend time doing other creative things that are completely different to writing. My favourite is sewing and quilting. I find that it’s a great balance to writing, because it involves being creative without using words! 10. Do you think you will write a story or book based in Covid times? I don’t have any plans at the moment, but I could imagine doing that one day. It’s been such a strange time and many people have found themselves in difficult or unusual situations, which is always a good starting point for a story. 11. When you sit down to write, where do you start? I usually start with a vague idea for a character or a setting or the overall concept for a story. I open a file on my computer and just write any bits of information that I can about it -sort of thinking out loud. At the same time I’ll be brainstorming ideas on bits of paper and in notebooks. It’s not very organised at first. I’ll also start reading, doing background research, trying to find elements that will feed into to the story (for The Secrets of the Tombs series, the research was a big part of it as I was looking for real historical figures and events to weave my story around). At a certain point I start trying to work out the main strand of the plot. In a mystery book, this will all be tied up with the crime or misdeed. I have to know what dastardly deed has been committed and who did it and why. That is the key to the whole story. Then I think about how they did it and what mistakes they made. These mistakes from the trail of clues that the detectives will follow. In a way, the planning involves working backwards from the end of the story to the beginning. I then write a very detailed plot outline to follow, although I do make changes as I go along - themes and motifs always emerge as you get into the details of the writing.
( A brainstorming stage- very complicated! )
12. What do you do when you get writers block? There are quite often sections that prove difficult to write. It’s often the parts that link one big scene to another, or where there’s a lot of information that needs to come together. If I’m struggling, after a while, I give up on that bit and just write in a brief sentence or two as a placeholder and move on to the next section. Once the story is moving along again, it’s usually easier to go back and fill in the gap properly. Sometimes it turns out that it only needs one or two sentences anyway. I find the hardest section will often be the first chapter of the book. That is the part that I will go back and change most often. More generally, when I’m stuck on a scene or just not feeling very motivated, I will go out for a long walk (with my two border collies, Storm and Maia, when they were younger. They are fourteen now and only like to go for short walks, so I have to go on my own). It’s amazing how the steady stride of a walk, and just being outside in the fresh air, helps to shift stuck gears. I call it a Ponder Wander!
13. What advice would you give to young writers who are interested in writing stories? Here are few of my top tips!
Write a story that you would love to read yourself.
Keep a notebook and pen handy at all times - you never know when an idea will strike, or you will hear a snippet of an interesting story in the news or just a phrase that you’d like a character to use.
Like any other skill, writing improves with practise. You don’t always have to write full stories. You could give yourself a daily (or weekly) challenge, such as writing a two-line description of everyone you meet in a day, or trying to capture the exact feeling of being nervous or lonely or laughing with a friend, or the conversation between characters from two different books.
Keep a file of all your writing - either on the computer or in a paper folder. It helps to see how you are building up a collection of work, and it’s interesting to take a piece of work out a few months later and see how it reads. Do you still like it? Would you change it now? Can you edit and polish it to make it shine?
When writing a story, you may often get off to a good start and then suddenly run out of steam and wonder where the story is going, and it never gets finished (I know I do!). To help with this, try to work out your main character(s)’s goal - what do they really want or desire (for example, this might be to solve a crime, uncover a family secret, find a missing person, save the world from an alien invasion, help a friend in need or win the Cutest Puppy Prize in the village show.) Trying to reach this goal is the driver for your story. All the action and events are the steps along the way - with many obstacles to overcome to achieve the goal - (including any antagonists who are working against your hero). In most stories, the hero will achieve their goal at the end, but it could be that there’s a twist and they find out that their goal wasn’t what they really wanted after all, but they get something more important and learn something new.
When you edit your story, try reading it out loud (maybe to your dog!). It’s a great way to see how it flows and also to catch mistakes!
Happy writing! If you want to find out more about Helen Moss, you can go to her websites:
We hope you enjoyed this interview, and that you felt it helped you decide to read the series!