Sunday sit-down with… author Helen Bridgett
Like all of us, Helen has always struggled to keep the New Year’s resolutions that involved diets. But she did stick to her ambition of writing a book in a year. Now, she’s on her sixth – and her first foray into crime fiction.
North East local Helen Bridgett is much like the rest of us. She enjoys getting out and about around the Northumberland coastline, has a love of crime fiction, and will freely admit that she always tends to fail miserably with every New Year’s resolution that involved any kind of diet.
That’s why one 1st January, she decided to set herself a slightly different goal: to write a book. The Mercury Travel Club was born, a publishing deal soon followed and the characters that had once only lived in her mind began to take on a life of their own.
Up until now, Helen had very firmly stayed writing within the genre of romance. While she loves to read a crime thriller, she had never attempted to write one before. But, as they say, a change is as good as a rest – and in the absence of any actual holidays during the pandemic, switching up our work routines is about all the vacation we can expect for the foreseeable future.
Luckily for us, while Covid cases are still proving to be a hindrance in our real lives, we’ll now have another cracking distraction to read – because Helen’s brand new crime thriller, One By One, has just been released this week. We caught up with the author to get the low-down…
Your new novel, One by One, has just been released this week. What’s the book about?
One by One features Professor Maxie Reddick, who teaches Criminology at university. She’s an expert in criminal behaviour and also hosts a weekly podcast discussing local crime. You’d think she would also love cop shows and crime novels, but they really annoy her. She gets frustrated that they show crimes being solved fairly easily and criminals being locked up – but that’s not the case in real life. She reads real crime statistics and they show that nearly 90% of crimes are never solved. And those stats are getting worse. Professor Maxie Reddick knows this only too well after the death of her own sister. On her podcast, Maxie tells her listeners that she could probably do better than the police and then, one night, she has to prove it. A young woman has been attacked and she turns to Maxie for help.
It’s a little different from your past releases, which have all been rom-com novels. Why this foray into crime fiction?
I think that, like many people, I read several genres and often have two books on the go at once – one crime and then something lighter for when I just want a good laugh! With any book I write, I always begin with the main character and I’ve ‘known’ Maxie for a long time. I wanted her to be very real, a woman we could all relate to. She has a professional job, strong opinions and is far from perfect. Nevertheless, someone has asked her for help and she simply can’t let them down. She doesn’t have access to the resources that the police do, but neither is she hindered by their procedures. I hope that readers can put themselves in her position and can completely understand why she does what she does.
One by One is set in and around Lancaster University, instead of along the Northumberland coastline, where your other books have been located. Why the change of scenery for this one?
I went to university in Lancaster and the moment I created the character, I could see her wafting down the corridors of Lancaster and strolling around the campus. So, in some ways, it’s simply a place that I know very well. Also, across the series, I needed a place that had coast, country and deep, dark canal paths. Lancashire is great for all three, but I have to say that coming back to write about the Northumberland coastal villages is always a delight!
The common theme which links your romance novels to your new crime thriller is the strong women who find themselves in difficult or unusual circumstances. Is there an element of writing about women for women in your work?
I guess I want to make the characters in my book people you would have in your circle of friends. They’re never watered-down characters – they have important jobs, family commitments, they’re intelligent, sarcastic, funny, loyal and generally eat or drink too much! While I don’t only write for women, recently I read something by a male author and I was really distracted by thinking that his female protagonist simply wouldn’t say half the things he’d written. I want readers to find a character that is very real, and readers do tell me that they relate to Maxie. She doesn’t always do or say the right thing, but even when the going gets tough she can often see the humour in the situation.
Do you think women are represented properly in crime fiction?
There are several good female police detectives and fabulous female crime writers, so my challenge was to find an angle that hadn’t really been covered. I chose to create an amateur sleuth, but not a bumbling old aunty – someone who knew more about criminology than the average detective. I think one of the aspects that isn’t always represented in crime fiction is how few crimes against women are actually prosecuted and how women are made to feel when they’re being investigated. This is something that Maxie cares deeply about and something I have tried to do justice in my writing.
Was it always your ambition to become an author?
Before turning to writing, I worked in marketing. It was a creative role and I loved it for a long time but, as with all good things, one day it came to an end. I took redundancy and gave myself a year off before deciding what I wanted to do next. I’ve kept a diary for most of my life and I’d always wanted to write a book, so I decided to set myself a new year’s resolution: I would write a novel and give it to my sister as a Christmas present. That gave me a goal and a deadline. When I’d written it, I sent it off to publishers and, to my delight, it was picked up. Having written one book, I was hooked and I’m still going!
Other aspiring writers here in the North East may think you need to move away to become a successful author. What advice would you give them?
I’d probably advise them to come along to a local literary event, possibly at their local library. They’ll find many successful authors who live here and would never live anywhere else. I’ve found the writing community very close and helpful, they’ll always offer advice. On the publishing side, most contact is via email or Zoom right now, so location matters even less. The most important thing is to write that novel and complete it. So many times, people tell me they have a great idea for a book. But an idea isn’t enough – you need to turn that idea into an 85,000-word story. When you have your completed book then yes, you may then travel to meet your publisher or attend signings. But that’s the exciting part!
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the third in the Maxie Reddick series. Throughout the first two books, I hint that something happened to Maxie’s sister and whatever it was set her on her current path. In this third novel, we find out just what happened.
One By One by Helen Bridgett is available in bookstores and online now.