Helen Harper

Books, books, books, books, books…

I’m not sure there’s ever been a time in my life which hasn’t been coloured by books. I love writing and to have the opportunity to do it full-time is beyond amazing but, first and foremost, I’m a reader. Urban Fantasy is naturally a huge love but I’ll read almost any genre. Right now I’m working my way through the Booker longlist, punctuating it occasionally with the odd UF joy or crime thriller.

When I was a kid, I was somewhat of a prodigy as far as reading went. Not in Maths (I never actually properly learnt my times tables – I think I found them too mundane to bother with) or Science or History, although one school I went to between the ages of 8 and 10 did teach Latin and I discovered a remarkable affinity for it (I’m not sure dead languages count though). I used to lie awake at night, terrified that I might die before I got to the end of my book. How would I ever cope if I didn’t find out what happened because I was in the ground?

I don’t recall ever being taught how to read. It was just something I always seem to remember doing, as if I emerged from the womb with the desire to pick up a good novel. I have distant recollections of being irritated at being taught to read in school when I already knew how and I have an incredibly vivid memory of the first time I was given a book which didn’t include pictures (Enid Blyton. I was her biggest fan. Fortunately all the explicit and implicit racism passed me by). I read Lord of The Rings when I was eight, skipping out all the ‘boring’ parts which didn’t include Frodo or Sam. I re-read it when I was nine, adding in Pippin and Merry’s chapters. I finally read every section when I was ten then bumbled along to a new school where the class were reading The Hobbit. I was bitterly disappointed.

As a teenager, I think I had a pretty healthy social life and yet I still went to the library two or three times every week. Oh, the joy when I was finally allowed to select books from the adult floor! I became a massive of fan of Jeffrey Archer and Michael Crichton and Stephen King. Some books I loved so much that I read and re-read them until I could almost recite them word for word. There was one book, the name of which is lost to me now, which was a trashy but hugely fun romance about a young woman kidnapped and taken to a sheik’s harem. It was a charity shop buy so there were no problems about reading it as often as I wished. Imagine my shock when I borrowed a book with a plot about politics in the Middle East where a side story involved a politician’s daughter being kidnapped for a harem and there were two full pages describing her ‘preparation’ for her deflowering which I knew I’d read somewhere before. Two minutes of investigation revealed exactly where they’d come from. The heavy political tome had plagiarised directly from the light-hearted romance. To this day, I regret that I didn’t do anything about it.

Even in this day and age, libraries are amazing places. In my early twenties, when I moved down to England and didn’t yet have a permanent address and so couldn’t join the local library, I spent whole afternoons scouring charity shops for things to read. Mills and Boons featured a lot! A lot of my reading ‘problems’ stem from the fact that because I read so quickly, I forget many books as soon as I put them down (assuming I don’t re-read them a gazillion times, of course). I swear, in pre-Kindle days, I once bought the same thriller three times because I’d forgotten I’d read it already. Twice.

The reason I’m including all these book related musings today is because I’ve just taken a new job. It’s only temporary and only part-time but it’ll give my brain time to clear itself. I can get very mugged up in the plots that I’m writing until the lines between reality and fiction are no longer clear! Anyway, the job is in the library of my old school. The person they had employed for the new school year wasn’t able to take up the position so I’ve stepped into the breach until someone permanent can be found. I’ll be helping primary kids to choose books and become more adept at reading, and aiding secondary kids with research for essays. The truth is that I can’t wait. Two full days a week surrounded by thousands of books? And then the rest of the week writing my own? Does life get ANY better?
Photo by faungg’s photos

Helen Harper

Bloodrunner

At school, I was never the person who enjoyed PE. I’d do just about anything to get out of it, from ‘forgetting’ my kit to having my period six weeks in a row. Sport and me just didn’t mix. I was chubby and lazy and, quite frankly, I’d rather have curled up with a book and exercised my mind instead.

This sad state of affairs continued for a long time. I attended Stirling Uni in Scotland, which actually had a very strong sports department. One week, on a whim, I started going to circuit training before I hit the pub. I was pretty slim at that point but I still couldn’t even do sit ups. I quickly gave up. When I got older, with a decent teaching job, I tried to take my health more seriously and got a gym membership. I would faithfully attend aerobics lessons and attempt the treadmill. I found it all excruciatingly boring and I’d celebrate at the end of each session by buying myself a vast pack of salt and vinegar Kettle chips and chocolate. Needless to say, I only put on weight.

Not long after I moved to Malaysia, however, I came across bootcamp. A local company was offering a week of free sessions. It was at a ridiculous hour – 5.45am – 6.45am – but it meant I could still get into work with plenty of time to spare. I went along and hated it. For some unfathomable reason that I’m still not sure about, I bought a follow up month. I still hated it. And yet I still kept on going. After a long painful year, I realised I actually enjoyed it. Even getting up at stupid o’clock was becoming fun. I can’t say for sure when the change happened, but happen it did. I made lots of friends and, when the company began running obstacle races, I started taking part. Who knew that exercise could be fun??? In fact, I kept bootcamp up for four years, quitting only when the recurring back problems it gave me forced me out.

I’m not particularly fit at the moment. I still go to the gym and I still enjoy it but I’ve had a lot of time off exercise this year for all sorts of dull and uninspiring reasons. I’m still a big fan of those obstacle races though. This is why last night I found myself at Bloodrunner, a nearby 10km run with obstacles thrown in. And werewolves. (Yes. Volunteers were dressed in werewolf outfits. For a UF writer, it was somewhat bizarre.) It was nice that it ran at night though – it’s seriously hot in KL and that sun does my poor Scottish skin no favours at all.

I didn’t manage the course very quickly. In fact, my companion, whose legs are longer than a damn giraffe’s, had to wait a ridiculous time for me to meet him at the end. In my defence, I was held up on a narrow single file trail for quite some time. I’d still have finished long after him without it though. I complained a lot in my head. My legs were really sore. At the end, there was the almost inevitable run in with an ex-student who’d just finished too and looked as fresh as a daisy – while I was on the verge of collapse.

But today I feel good. I’m justified in lazing around all weekend. I’m tempted to go searching for the dates of this year’s Zombie Run. It’s almost like research with fitness thrown in at the same time.

My teenage self would be horrified at all this. But there’s a quote I used for the opening of Bloodlust (and back when Amazon used to include what readers had highlighted on author’s book pages, it was the part most often noted) from Jim Rohn: You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.

Now, where are those salt and vinegar crisps?

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