Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Meet Middle Grade Author Helen Laycock

Carpinello's Writing Pages welcomes from the UK author Helen Laycock and her MG adventure Glass Dreams.

First, a bit about Helen:

Helen Laycock is a writer of nine books of Middle Grade children’s fiction and poetry. She also has to her credit two contrasting short story anthologies and a book of humorous poetry for adults. She is a voracious writer and has enjoyed success with short stories and poetry in writing competitions. Her work is also included in a compilation of flash fiction and poetry produced by her online writing group and, in the near future, competition successes of a poem and a piece of flash fiction are each to feature in separate forthcoming publications.

Why did you pick to write books for Middle Grade readers?

In the UK we call Middle Grade ‘Primary’. I was a primary school teacher for many years, so the books I read to my class introduced me to the genre. I had to think about how to teach the students to write creatively, too. It was so rewarding. I analysed what worked and, as I taught them, so my own skills improved.

I began to get a feel for what the children were interested in and what they would enjoy. There really is nothing better than watching thirty children transfixed by the coming to life of print on a page. As I read, I used to invent voices for the characters and would tease by stopping at a high point which would be met by moans and pleas as they were desperate for me to continue. This was good training as it encouraged them to include high points and delicious chapter endings in their own writing. ‘Just one more chapter,’ they would beg… and I’d usually give in! What they seemed to enjoy were the page-turners: mystery, adventure and excitement, and, of course, a splash of humour never went amiss.

I suppose exposure to these types of stories began to fuel my own imagination and when I began to write, I just seemed to fall straight into this genre.

What types of books do you like to read?
Nowadays, since I have given up teaching to spend more time writing, I don’t really read many children’s books myself. I’m not a huge fan of current trends where vampires or dystopia feature. Actually, I very much enjoy crime stories and thrillers. I love that surge of adrenaline that enforces a rapid-reading-rush through to the climax. I will quite often take a gamble on a new author. There is so much undiscovered talent out there. I also enjoy true-life stories. I put a lot of store by book recommendations by other readers; that’s a great way to delve into other genres. For example, I read recently The Unfortunate Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, a Man Booker Prize long-lister, just because a friend was raving over it. I really enjoyed it, too, despite it not fitting into my usual genre preference.

When you are not writing, what do you like to do?
That’s a good question. I never seem to not be writing. I do something every day that’s writing-related, even if it’s spending time on promotion and networking – something I’m not very good at, but have to do.

I have always written poetry. As well as putting together a couple of books of light-hearted poetry for children and adults, I also have a huge collection of serious poetry which I dip into and add to for poetry competitions. For now, that remains unpublished, purely because, in order to submit, one of the requirements is that they should not have been visible in the public domain beforehand.

I have written short stories for years. Mainly I write them for adults – and again as competition entries. I have published two collections as ebooks and have two more on the way.

I volunteer in the village library where I seem to have taken over the children’s section. I enjoy putting up wall displays, very much as I used to do as a teacher. I do get a bit carried away with detail sometimes and think I am designing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel!

I also go walking a lot, wiggle at Zumba and enjoy meeting up with friends. As a busy mother, I seem to spend a lot of time being a chauffeuse, too!

Tell us about Glass Dreams and how the story came to be.
For a long time, I had in my mind an image of a dilapidated caravan hidden in the woods and I knew it would become part of a story. I toyed with several ideas about who could be hiding there and why. Finally, I came up with the idea of a runaway, but as my idea took shape, I realised that the caravan would merely play a fleeting role in my story. It would become the place where the two main characters would meet, each of them using it as a refuge for their own reasons. So, the identities of Jake, newly orphaned, and Khala, the troubled circus performer, took shape.

From that point, the story told itself. Characters from two different worlds had collided and needed some shared purpose for the relationship and plot to flourish. Jake’s past was one of mystery. His only known relative, Grandma Mo, had been like a mother to him and, upon her death, had left him a clue to find a crystal ball. Why she should have owned such a thing is inexplicable. The crystal ball is pivotal. It is the link to the past and future and connects the children inextricably.

The focus of the story is at Fantazi’s Circus which, unequivocally, squashes any suggestion of the idea of joining the circus as romantic.

 Here's a peek at Glass Dreams:

Runaway, Jake, has no idea what adventures are in store when he meets circus performer, Khala, hiding in a ramshackle caravan. 
Should he tell her about the mysterious box he has been warned never to open? Khala also has a secret to share, but can she trust Jake? 
Fantazi's circus is a place of danger, but with the help of Cedric the dwarf and his beloved Chihuahua, Audrey, the children unravel the truth and are utterly astounded at the biggest secret of all.

Have you written other books? If so, tell us a bit about them.

Mainly, my children’s books are what you would describe as Mystery/Adventure stories. In all of them, the main characters are children, alone for much of the action, and mostly both girls and boys feature. In each book, there is some difficulty, often a secret or danger and I try to incorporate surprises, twists and turns. I love thinking of titles that don’t quite give the game away:

Glass Dreams, as mentioned, has a crystal ball at its centre and is set at the circus where dreams certainly can come true


Salt takes place at a quintessentially English seaside town which is reminiscent of Cornwall, a magical place where tales of pirates and caves abound.

Mandrake’s Plot bears reference to the grotesque caretaker of a mysterious Scottish boarding school set high in the misty Scottish mountains, the ‘plot’ being both a plan and a strange patch of garden.

Martha and Mitch is the sinister tale of what happens when an orphan boy meets the heiress of a millionaire’s toy empire.

Song of the Moon concerns the bizarre disappearance of the local neighbourhood witch, Mrs Moonsong.

The Secret of Pooks Wood tells the story of what happens when twins, Lily and Ollie find a magical snow globe whilst stranded over Christmas at their great-uncle’s manor house.

Two of the books snuggle together in their own light-hearted adventure category: These are the adventures of a tiny man, Mr Charlie Chumpkins and its sequel The Further Mishaps of Charlie Chumpkins.

The last book for children, A Mouthful of Chuckles, is a book of funny poetry.

My adult books are:

Peace and Disquiet
Light Bites 

A Bellyful of Laughs (Poetry)

I also have four pieces featured in the One Word Anthology by Talkback Writers.

What’s next for your writing? Are you working on a new story?

Ideas are forever wriggling their way into my head, no matter what I am doing. They might be story ideas or a line of poetry and I simply have to write them down. I’m having a little break from children’s fiction for now while my brain recovers and I am just focussing on writing competitions. Tackling a whole new book is all-consuming. I tend to live in it as though I am on a film set and when the characters are active, I have to type lightning-fast as they lead the plot. Sometimes I even have to do their bidding in the depths of the night. I frequently feel just like a scribe!

My last book, The Secret of Pooks Wood, was a challenge to write. It was the first time that I had used a time shift in a story, i.e. where a character perpetually finds herself appearing at different periods in her life. This was quite a difficult concept to get right and, at times, I had to stop as everything seemed to knot itself up and I couldn’t find the end! I was very pleased with the finished story. I read it aloud to my daughter and, at the conclusion, we both cried!

I always have something in the pipeline. I began writing my first thriller some time ago, although I have been stuck with it for quite a while. As soon as my Muse appears, I can get going again.

What advice do you have for other authors?

I found a notebook invaluable. I have a special one made of hand-made paper and I get it out for every book I write. It’s surprising what details come to you in the middle of the night. I’d jot down things that I should have included or wanted to include later and then I’d refer back to these notes as I was typing. I also jotted a summary of each chapter as I went along so that I could read through the plot quickly up to the point I was at. Highlighting and colour-coding text on the computer screen were invaluable, too. They made great markers when I had to remember to go back to something that needed attention.

On a writing level, every writer will tell you the same thing: edit, edit, edit. You will ALWAYS find a mistake, even though you may think the manuscript is perfect. As a writer, you become blind as you almost know the words off by heart. Editing is not only about typos, however. It’s about continuity and consistency, too.

Anything else you want readers to know?
What is lovely is feedback and recommendation. When you consider how many hours, days, months or years it can take for a writer to get a book just right, it is very much appreciated if a reader can take just five minutes to leave a review. To get a positive response can put a writer on Cloud Nine for some time. That’s why we do it. We want readers to have a good time, but if you don’t tell us, then we assume that we have failed… and spend our days and nights miserable and lonely locked up in our draughty garrets.

Where can readers find you and your books?
Well, everything is neatly gathered together on my Amazon UK Author Page; US

As well as that, I have a Facebook page and always appreciate new ‘Likes’!

I occasionally Tweet and additional followers would be welcome, too:


  1. Fascinating to read - I've known Helen (in a virtual sense) for some time and she's a very talented and modest person.

  2. Interesting article you have written. Thank you for hosting the kid lit blog hop.

  3. I met Helen after we had made friends on a writing forum. Not only is she a great author and poet but she's also a lovely person.

  4. Thank you, indeed, to Cheryl for hosting - and thank you, both, for your comments!

  5. Great to discover a British children's book author. As I have fraternal twins I'm quite keen to have a look at The Secret of Pooks Wood. And as usual great interview - thanks

  6. Ah, twins are a fascination of mine, Kriss! There are, indeed, a couple of sets in The Secret of Pooks Wood, but you may also like to have a look at Glass Dreams. I shall say no more...

  7. Interesting interview, though I'm always amazed to read when (children's) authors don't read much other children's literature.

  8. I'm currently working my way through a huge pile of children's books, Zoe, as inspiration for the next wall display in the children's area of the local library.

    I am looking at character-led books, where the character's name features (to an extent!) in the title: Molly Moon, Clarice Bean and The Wimpy Kid are all in the heap. I think I find it less pleasurable than reading adult books only because I make notes as I read; it's a bit like doing homework! These notes then become kernels for display ideas. I want to inspire the children to read the books featured, so I look for details I can draw their attention to.

    I liked this quote from Molly Moon:

    'Z. Molly's favourite place. The X to Z section was right at the far end of the library where the room narrowed and there was only space for a short shelf.'

    I like to keep an eye out, too, for new titles as they come out and I have come across quite a few undiscovered children's authors via the Internet.

  9. Great interview. Thank you, Cheryl for showcasing the creative mind of Helen Laycock. I love all your responses to the questions, Helen. You truly inspire me to keep on writing.


    1. How wonderful to be described as an inspiration, Mario!

      I think we all have creativity inside us. Remember what it was like to be a child? Our imagination could take us on fabulous adventures. Sadly, when we reach adulthood, a lot of us lock up that magic door which takes us to places where anything can happen.

      That’s how writers are different, and lucky – we still have the key! I hope that every time you turn yours, you find the unexpected…

  10. I love the premise of the book - it sounds great! My sister has been repeatedly asking me to read "The Unfortunate Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" ~ I really need to get on that one! lol Wishing you a Merry Christmas!

  11. Thanks, Renee!

    I hope you had a good Christmas, too.

    I'm looking forward to working my way through my pile of Christmas fiction, as well as catching up on my Kindle reading.

    Having my nose stuck in a book is much healthier for me than having it buried in a box of Christmas choccies (as it has been for the last few weeks)!