Sunday, November 14, 2010

Picture book "Pep, Polish and Paint" coming soon!

I'm really excited to announce that my first children's book, Pep, Polish and Paint, will soon be published - after numerous revisions and illustrations and many doubts as to whether it would ever see the light of day, AND 15 years after the first version of the story was written! Click on the BookBuzzr widget in the side bar to see the beginning of the story.

Here is the blurb: "Sammy is a sun with a really big problem. He's lost his shine and just doesn't know how to get it back! But three spaceships – Jimmy, Jenny and Johnny – think they've got the answer. Sammy isn't sure that anything will help, but what has he got to lose? And as the spaceships argue, something totally unexpected happens...

A wonderfully imaginative story that shows that anything is possible when we decide to take action, as ACTION is the key to unlocking the power that lies within us all."

Download space quizzes, wordsearches and crosswords here.  Colouring sheets coming soon!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Introducing gifted poet, Magdalena Ball

This month, I'm honoured to be able to feature fellow poet, Magdalena Ball, on my blog and her latest book Blooming Red.

Blooming Red is a poetry chapbook that explores the holiday season as you have experienced it, but rarely read about it. It’s real, insightful, beautiful, sometimes intense poetry that cuts deep into the emotions, nostalgia, loss, love, greed and goodwill. There’s nothing syrupy or overly mystical here, though there is plenty of wonder and mystery. It’s Christmas poetry for the rational.  

The book is co-authored by Magdalena Ball and Carolyn Howard-Johnson, both award-winning poets, and features original watercolour artwork by Vicki D. Thomas. The book forms part of the celebration series that the authors have been producing. These are small, beautifully presented and illustrated books of themed poetry priced very inexpensively, with the aim of providing a much deeper, more powerful alternative to a card for special occasions. The books make wonderful gifts (no need for an additional card), and can be paired with flowers, chocolate, or small toiletries to make a perfect, budget friendly gift. Other books in the series include Imagining the Future: Ruminations on Fathers and Other Masculine Apparitions for men, Cherished Pulse featuring love poetry (ideal for Valentine’s Day), and She Wore Emerald Then for mothers and other women.

I, myself, have been privileged to read She Wore Emerald Then - a book that has a marvellous variety of poetry about what it means to be a mother (and a daughter). Maggie's poems in the book have a wonderful cosmic quality to them and, at times, combine both the sublime and commonplace, which had me smiling. Maggie is a very gifted wordsmith and has a brilliant understanding of the art of poetry. If you are looking for an unusual Christmas gift, then Blooming Red would most certainly suit the bill. Here are a few poems to whet your appetite!

Memory Trick

I wanted to manufacture a memory
knit with organic yarns of kid mohair, boucle, alpaca
in colours like blue sky, mulberry, ecru, lime
knubbly and pathological
wrought with nostalgia and wrung
through time’s dryer
waving and flapping
cobblestones and chimney path
in the tired hours when your eyes
strain to bring back what you’ve lost.

A Christmas memory, perhaps
green scented and fresh
rosy cheeks, winter of course
though inside there’s warmth, abundance,
fire and care.

Down deep
where the plaques and tangles of
dead brain cells
mix with the living
we click our needles
in sync
wrapping wool round godlike fingers
mixing reality with invention
until, there
before your startled eyes
the scarves and stockings
bright weaves
cashcotton history
soft, inflationary
so real, you touch it.

Carol to the Universe
Take down the tree
tinsel trash tidied
broken baubles swept
garbage bag wrappings
through greedhaze
glitter snowglobe
lights off
into the new
A carol to the universe
held in one breath
between motion
and inertia
kiss of the godless
earth mother lump
to her quantum
every tap of the keyboard
a newbie springs forth.
No need for
leather clad rulebooks
ark over flood
fatherly edicts
no sacrifices in blood
This is a rational zone
so many years on

Find out more about Maggie at


Check out this post tomorrow at for useful writing tips and information. A really informative blog!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book signing for "Family & More" on 25/9/10, Waterstones, Peacocks Centre, Woking

My poetic memoir Family & More - Enemies or Friends? has just been released and I'll be doing a book signing at Waterstones bookshop in the Peacocks Centre in Woking, Surrey on Saturday 25th September between 12pm -3pm, so if you happen to be in the area and feel like popping in just to say 'Hello" please do!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In conversation with UK author, Judith Kerr

I was privileged last weekend to meet UK children's author, Judith Kerr, at the Lightbox Museum in Woking. The Lightbox is at present hosting a marvellous exhibition about children's books and their illustrators, from the late 19th century to the present day.

Judith Kerr, as the author and illustrator of The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Mog, the Forgetful Cat is, of course, featured in the exhibition. And running concurrently is a whole series of talks, so that if you're interested you can meet some of the featured illustrators/authors in person.

I jumped at the chance to see Judith Kerr, and to hear her talk about her childhood in Berlin and how her family was forced to flee to Switzerland, because of her father's outspoken criticism of Hitler and the Nazis. Her father fled first to Prague and then to Switzerland, and - about two weeks later - the whole family left Germany. Judith eventually came to England in 1936 via Switzerland and Paris and has stayed here ever since. She has written about these experiences in her autobiographical novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and two further novels. 

After she had talked about her escape from Germany (which happened just in time, because the day after they had reached Switzerland the Nazis won the election and they went to the Kerr's house in Berlin to confiscate the family's passports), and had read a passage from her book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, the audience asked a variety of questions about her parents, the escape, her Jewish background and whether there were any plans to resurrect Mog, the Cat - to which Judith responded with a quiet but emphatic 'No!'  It was fascinating listening to this petite, elderly lady with the quiet voice but very clear diction who answered questions with a disarming openness. When one of the children in the audience asked why the grandmother's dog in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit jumped off the wall, she replied that the dog was 'a very stupid dog!' He loved running after tennis balls, for instance, and mistook anything white and round - like a light bulb - for a tennis ball and would be found jumping up and down trying to 'catch' the light bulb!

An hour flew by and at the book signing afterwards, I told her of my mother's own flight from East Prussia to Hamburg at the end of World War II (which I've documented in my poetic memoir Family & More - Enemies or Friends?).  Judith Kerr was fascinated, and when I offered her a copy of my own book, I was honoured that she accepted it. What a gracious lady and what a most interesting afternoon!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meet inspirational writer and communications specialist, Debra Eckerling, creator of Write On! Online and Write On Track LA

It's my pleasure today to feature writer and communications specialist, Debra Eckerling. Debra is the creator of Write On! Online, a community for writers and she recently expanded her online presence by creating Write On Track LA which is “personal training” for writers.

"Writing is exercise," Debra says. "I train authors, experts, and entrepreneurs, so they can organize, articulate, and complete their writing projects.”

I asked Debra to talk about her sites and explain some of the biggest barriers writers encounter as they strive to reach "The End." 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A collection of life stories told with tenderness, fondness and humour...

I just received another review of my book Family & More which I wanted to share.

"Helena Harper’s Family and More offers an interesting insight into a wide spectrum of human relationships. It is a collection of life stories told with tenderness, fondness and humour, yet interspersed with a powerful critique of the futility and unnatural nature of warfare. A child of ‘fused’ parentage, Harper questions the way in which labels such as ‘enemy’ are attached to others. Ultimately, she questions how one’s identity is constructed and stresses the importance of individual strength of character in the face of adversity. A charming read, each verse emphasises the good at the heart of the human relationship and stresses the importance of optimism and hope. " 
Lady Teviot, President of the Federation of Family History Societies in the UK and owner of genealogical research company, Census Searches Ltd.

Thank you, Lady Teviot!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Announcing official release of "Family & More - Enemies or Friends?"

I am delighted to announce the official release of the paperback edition of my memoir in verse Family & More - Enemies or Friends? Please find the blurb below.

Family and More is a beautifully lyrical collection of verse, in which Helena Harper recalls the people who have touched her life and taught her precious life lessons. As the daughter of a German mother and English father, who met in Hamburg at the end of World War II, she explores notions of national and emotional boundaries, the horrors of war, self-discovery and love, returning time and again to that oldest and most emotive of themes: the infinite power of the human spirit.

Besides heartwarming tributes to both parents, she describes the exploits and personalities of various German and English relatives, from her gifted, energetic maternal grandmother and heroic maternal grandfather whom she never met, to her two uncles, 'human and fallible both' – the hard-working, sun-loving German one, who nearly died at Stalingrad, and the charismatic, conservative English one. A much loved colleague, a devoted physiotherapist and difficult boss are also amongst the people described.
Many of the people she writes about are now dead, but as you read this collection you will notice that what stands out above all is a sense of life-affirming love and optimism. You are left at the end knowing that every encounter we have in life can be a force for good and, if we see with the heart, our man-made divisions will seem both absurd and insignificant. A moving celebration of our common humanity.
Title: Family and More: Enemies or Friends?
ISBN-13: 978-1907172649
Publisher: Pen Press,
Pages: 95
Price: £6.99, $10.99
Availability: Can be ordered from all good bookshops and available online:
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Amazon CAN:
Barnes & Noble:
Please click on the BookBuzzr widget on the left to read extracts from the book or go to my website
I believe that the people we encounter in our lives all have something to teach us and that, ultimately, everything we learn can be a force for good. What have you learnt from the people in your life?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Endorsement of "Family & More - Enemies or Friends?"

My niece showing her own
happiness (one of the
photos in my book)

I was so happy the other day to receive this endorsement of my poetic memoir Family & More - Enemies or Friends? and I just wanted to share it.

Incisive observation of the impact families have on our conditioning (5 stars)
"Helena captures the impact family members (and friends) have on our lives and our conditioning. The flow of her words draws you in and before long, you begin to feel a part of the family, experiencing what it was like for her being a daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece and an aunt. There are family 'leadership' lessons to be had on many levels in the wonderful verses. Helena has brought back forgotten leadership wisdom - so apt and so much needed in the 21st Century."  Kwai Yu, CEO, Leaders Cafe 2020 Ltd
Read the review yourself here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Advance copies of my poetic memoir "Family & More - Enemies or Friends?" now available

I am delighted and excited to announce that advance copies of my poetic memoir Family & More - Enemies or Friends? are now finally available from my publishers at, ISBN 9781907172649, price £6.99. Formal publication will probably be at the end of August.
This is the front cover of the paperback version - a little different to the ebook. The photos at the top are of (from left to right) my mother, my adopted Aunty Thelma racing round Brooklands at the age of 15, and my maternal grandmother with my sister (aged 7 months). Any thoughts?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Klutzy Kantor by J. Aday Kennedy

Today I am really pleased to be able to review Klutzy Kantor, a picture book by J. Aday Kennedy, "The Differently-Abled Writer," as part of her virtual book tour. I am inspired by J. Aday, as she has managed to become a children's author, despite being a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic (a result of complications after having caught spinal meningitis), and she is now making her dreams come true, one story at a time. She has also contributed five essays to Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Now to the review: Kantor is a young, clumsy, flying horse who keeps crashing into and tripping over things. But one thing he is good at is solving riddles. When he says that he wishes he weren't so clumsy, his friend, Agra – an old flying horse - tells him that the leprechaun, Cobbledom McSweeney, will grant a wish to anyone who defeats him in a battle of wits. Kantor sets off to find the leprechaun who asks him to solve a riddle about four ants. But Kantor has to be careful, because the riddle is not all that it seems. This is an amusing story with delightful illustrations that are sure to keep children entertained. I very much liked the character of Cobbledom McSweeney and was highly entertained when Kantor crashed into him as he sat atop his rainbow, causing them both to slide down the rainbow and land right in Cobbledom's pot of gold! A charming story which illustrates the benefits of developing the talents that each one of us has and also shows that lying doesn't pay in the end.

By the way, if you'd like to listen to Klutzy Kantor's song, "Go Me!" go to the Klutzy Kantor book page on J. Aday Kennedy's website. It teaches a dance and the dance steps are listed on a pdf download.

Klutzy Kantor
Paperback: 24 page picture book
Publisher: Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc
(April 14, 2010)
ISBN-10: 978-1616330511
ISBN-13: 978-1616330514
Price: $10.95

Suggested reader age: 4-8


Win 1 of 5 Prizes and you get to choose!

2 T shirts, 2 mouse pads or a poster


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For More Chances to Win
* Leave a comment at a stop on the tour and get a separate entry for each.
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* The first winner named will have first choice of prizes, the second gets second choice and so on. Up to 5 winners can be named.


Klutzy Kantor Tour Schedule, June 2010

Monday 7 - Donna McDine Write what Inspires
Tuesday 8 - Dallas Woodburn's Writing Life
Wednesday 9 - Mayra Calvani My Secret Bookcase
Thursday 10 - Brigitte Thompson The Business of Writing /
Friday 11 - Kathy Stemke, The Education Tipster
Saturday 12 - Klutzy Kantor Klutzy Kantor's blog (Interview with Jack Foster, Kantor's Artist)
Sunday 13 - Helena Harper Helena Harper Poet & Children's Author
Monday 14 - Peggy Fieland Margarette Fieland: Poetry and Prose
Tuesday 15 - Steve Tremp BREAKTHROUGH BLOGS
Friday 18 Margot Finke Hook Kids on Reading

Find out more about J. Aday Kennedy and her writing here:


Blogs -


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Interview with author Nancy Famolari

I am delighted this month to feature fellow author Nancy Famolari. Nancy lives with her husband, five horses, two dogs and five white cats on a farm in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. Her stories and poems have appeared in Long Story Short, Flash Shot, Fiction Flyer, Lyrica, Alienskin Magazine Clockwise Cat, and Matters of the Heart from the Museitup Press. She has written 3 novels – Summer's Story, Unwelcome Guest at Fair Hill Farm and her latest venture, The Lake House. This is the blurb.

The lake house has been empty for ten years – the scene of a brutal murder. Undeterred by the story, Mark and Tory buy their dream house, but when they move in strange things happen. While exploring the house on the first afternoon, they find a hunting knife wedged in a closet under the stairs. Could this be the murder weapon?

Tory, a romance novelist, becomes fascinated by the unsolved murder. The owner's beautiful, young wife was found stabbed to death. The police say it was a burglary gone wrong, but she doesn't believe it. Alone at the house during the week, while Mark works in New York, Tory feels the presence of the murdered woman. When she asks questions, the townspeople become antagonistic. Only Andy, the newspaper editor, tries to be helpful. After someone shoots at her, Mark tells her to stop the investigation. But she has to know: is she crazy, sensing the presence of a ghost, or is the town covering up a brutal murder? As her investigation continues, more accidents happen. Is someone trying to frighten her away, or is she the killer's next target?

I asked Nancy a few questions about her latest book.

How did you get the idea for Lake House?
When my husband and I were looking for a house in Pennsylvania, we found one we liked on the Internet. I called the realtor only to find that the house had been sold and was going to settlement the day I called. Subsequently, we went to Pennsylvania to see other properties with the realtor. During the day, he told us the story of the house. It had been vacant for ten years because of a murder that occurred there. A young couple purchased it and hoped to live there permanently, but couldn't afford to give up their jobs in New York. I thought this story had all the makings of a good mystery, so I used it as the basis for Lake House.

Who is your favorite character?
Tory is the obvious favorite. She grows a great deal during the course of the novel, finding that she can trust her instincts and act on her own. She starts the book rather timid, but by the end has definitely become a strong individual. I also like Chess Devon, Chief of Police. She's a tough lady keeping order in Montbleu, while fending off the advances of her ex-lover, Inspector Bartlett Thomas.

I must admit to a fondness for my minor characters. They remind me of people I know in the Endless Mountains, some of whom are real characters. I had great fun bringing them into Tory's story. I particularly like Hank and Eddie, the men who deliver the mattress. For me, they are quite typical (with a little exaggeration) of the men who do odd jobs in small towns. Living for the hunting season is a very real way of life in the mountains.

What did you find difficult or easy about writing The Lake House?
The Lake House
is my most ambitious novel to date. It's long for me, nearly 300 pages. I have a complex plot and a sub-plot. Keeping the mystery moving while developing the romantic sub-plot was a challenge. I had to make a very detailed time-line, rewrite some sections several times. I'm happy with the result. I hope my readers are.

The easy, enjoyable part of writing The Lake House was the development of the background and minor characters. I love the Endless Mountains. It is a truly beautiful spot. Putting an amalgam of local characters into the story was great fun. While the minor characters aren't built on any individual, their mannerisms are shared by many people here.

Do you plan to write another murder mystery?
The Lake House is actually the second book in a series I've planned – the Montbleu Series. The first book, Murder in Montbleu, is just about ready to published. I plan to do that later this year. Two other books in the series are in draft form. I hope to edit them and get them ready for publication in 2011. After that, I'm not sure whether I'll continue the series. It depends on whether I get new ideas and on whether readers are interested.

Thank you so much, Nancy. I wish you success with the book and the series!

The Lake House
ISBN: 978-1452817941
Publisher: Createspace
Available from:
Price: $12.50

Find out more about Nancy at:
My Space:

Learn from new and experienced authors. Join Writers on the Move's June 2010 Authors' Tour.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Introducing author Heidi Thomas


It's my pleasure this month to feature author, Heidi Thomas, on my blog. First, let's learn a little bit about Heidi's background.
Heidi was raised on a ranch in isolated eastern Montana and has had a penchant for reading and writing since she was a child. Armed with a degree in journalism from the University of Montana, she worked for the Daily Missoulian newspaper, and has had numerous magazine articles published. A tidbit of family history, that her grandmother rode steers in rodeos during the 1920s, spurred Heidi to write a novel based on that grandmother’s life. Cowgirl Dreams is the first in a series about strong, independent Montana Women.

Heidi is a member of Women Writing the West, Skagit Valley Writers League, Skagit Women in Business, and the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She is an avid reader of all kinds of books, enjoys hiking the Pacific Northwest, where she writes, edits, and teaches memoir and fiction writing classes. Married to Dave Thomas (not of Wendy’s fame), Heidi has no children, but as the “human” for two finicky felines, describes herself primarily as a “cat herder.” You can find out more about Heidi at

I was intrigued to learn more about Heidi's grandmother and other women like her who weren't afraid to flout convention and do what they wanted to do. This is what Heidi told me.
“A petite young woman mounts a 750 to 900-pound steer, and hangs on to nothing but a rope tight-wrapped around one hand. That she stays on this bucking, twisting, snorting beast for ten seconds, eight seconds or even two seconds, seems a miracle. This is the intriguing picture of my grandmother I have carried in the back of my mind since I was a little girl.

My grandmother, Olive May “Tootsie” Bailey, grew up the daughter of homesteaders during the early 1900s in the Sunburst-Cut Bank area of Montana, near the Canadian border and east of the Rocky Mountains. Although she no longer rode in rodeos when I came along, “Gramma” was an avid horsewoman and ranch wife, equally at-home on the back of a horse as she was in a dress and heels. She and my grandfather, Otto Gasser, were partners in rural Montana ranching as well as an urban family of friends.

The 1920s were the heyday of rodeo, where the cowgirl was as much a part of the festivities as the cowboy. The first cowgirls learned to ride out of necessity to help on their family ranches. At an early age they learned to ride horses, rope cattle, and stay in the saddle atop an untamed bucking bronco.

In 1885, Annie Oakley, a diminutive sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, paved the way for other women to be recognized in the rodeo arena. Two years later, Bertha Kaelpernick was allowed to enter a horse race in Cheyenne’s Frontier Days only because the arena was so muddy the cowboys refused to participate. To entertain the crowd, she was coerced into riding a bucking horse. Despite the terrible conditions, she managed to stay in the saddle, and put the men to shame. She continued to compete and often beat such legendary cowboys as Ben Corbett and Hoot Gibson.

Following in Bertha’s footsteps years later, Prairie Rose Henderson of Wyoming forced the Cheyenne organizers to allow her to ride. She went on to become one of the most flamboyant cowgirls of the era, dressing in bright colors, sequins and ostrich plumes over bloomers.

Lucille Mulhall, whose father, Colonel Zack Mulhall, ran a Wild West Show, was described in a 1900 New York World article as “only ninety pounds, can break a bronc, lasso and brand a steer, and shoot a coyote at 500 yards. She can also play Chopin, quote Browning, and make mayonnaise.” Both Teddy Roosevelt and Will Rogers have been credited with giving Lucille the title “cowgirl.”

Between 1885 and 1935, many women proudly wore that title and competed with men, riding broncs, steers and bulls. They also roped and tied steers (usually wearing long divided skirts) alongside their male counterparts. In early rodeos, women and men competed in the same arena, drawing from the same stock. Women rode broncs, steers, bulls, and did steer roping as well as trick riding, Roman races and relay races.

I know that my grandmother, Toots Bailey Gasser, rode steers in small Montana rodeos. Other cowgirls, such as Marie Gibson, also from Montana, rode steers, bulls and broncs throughout the US, Canada and even London. While each cowgirl had her specialty, most participated in multiple events.

Vera McGinnis, Tad Lucas and Fox Hastings were probably best known for trick riding. This demonstrated numerous types of stands and vaults, performed while the horse was galloping at top speed. Other maneuvers included crawling under the horse’s belly, hanging just inches from the mount’s pounding hooves.

In the Roman race, the cowgirl would stand with her right foot on one galloping horse and her left foot on the other. (The horses would have had to be very well trained to stay together, and the rider obviously had great balance and strength.) The relay race required three laps around a track, and the rider had to change horses, and sometimes saddles, after each round. If they weren’t required to change saddles, many cowgirls perfected the “flying” change, leaping from the back of one horse to the other without touching the ground. Vera McGinnis is credited with inventing this move.

After Bonnie McCarrol and Marie Gibson were killed and several other women badly injured in rodeo accidents, cowgirl bronc riding became increasingly rare in the West, leaving only relay racing open to women competitors. But women’s rodeo gradually eroded nationwide for several reasons:
• Small, local rodeos were no longer financially lucrative and livestock was in short supply in the 1930s, leading to the demise of the Wild West shows.
• Men held the central control of the sport.
• Many well-known women rodeo stars retired.
• World War II, with tire and gas rationing, did not allow travel as in the past.

From the mid-1930s until the late 1940s, cowgirls became mere props in rodeo, “glamour girls” whose beauty and attire were emphasized instead of athletic skill. In 1948, 38 women formed the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) to give women an opportunity to compete in calf roping, barrel racing, and trick riding. In 1968, barrel racing finals were finally included in the men’s Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) National Finals.

In 1981 GRA changed its name to Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) and today has more than 2,000 members. It sanctions 800 barrel races a year in conjunction with men’s PRCA rodeos. But women still do not compete with men. As an entity of its own, Professional Women’s Rodeo Association (PWRA) puts on events in women-only rodeos that include bareback riding, breakaway and tie-down calf roping, bull riding, and team roping.

It’s been a long time coming, but as Rene Mikes, a corporate accountant from Denver and a bull rider, says, “It’s not a guy sport anymore.” But despite the heroic efforts of many women, including Cowgirl Hall of Fame and world champion bull rider Joni Jonkowski of Montana, women for the most part still do not compete with men.”

Cowgirl Dreams is available at (for autographed copies) or from


Writers on the Move May2010 Tour. Join in for writing, marketing, and book tips.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Win a free ebook of "It's a Teacher's Life...!" each week

Great news for fans and soon-to-be-fans of my book It's a Teacher's Life...! There's a contest running each week on my Facebook page You can enter just by becoming a fan and saying "Hi" on the wall. Or, if you already are a fan, simply leave a comment.

If you don't win one week, then simply leave a comment the next, and you might get lucky! Feel free to use the page to pay tributes to your own teachers or to share your own teaching experiences, if you are part of that crazy profession! Good luck!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Introducing Heather Paye – an inspirational young writer, heading for success

It's my pleasure this month to feature a young and up and coming author, Heather Paye. Heather first started writing when she was about six years old. She started out writing lyrics, and when she was nine started writing short stories. When she turned ten, she moved on to full-length novels. At the age of 12, she started writing poetry as her love of that style of writing developed from her mother.

Currently she is working on a book series of nine, with the first installment finished and due to be released onto bookshelves soon. The first draft of the second installment is almost finished. Her novel "A Gift From Above" which she wrote for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2008 was published March 28th, 2009 - a tribute to her parents as it was published on their anniversary. She's a part of many organizations and author groups.

Besides the book series she is working on, Heather has also been compiling an anthology of poems for Mother's Day, entitled For You, From Me. Besides Heather, a whole host of other authors have contributed poems, so there is sure to be something to appeal to all tastes! The poem below is by Heather and appears in the book.

Because You Mean So Much

Because you’re so important,
I think you’re heaven sent.
You’re a Goddess
Saving all in distress.

Because you mean so much,
I value your every touch.
I’d do anything for you,
Just so you’re not blue.

Because you are so meaningful,
I give you every piece of my soul
To command, to control, to use.
When I am your crutch, you shall not lose.


Heather will be hosting an online launch party for the book at the official webpage on April 15th from 1-5 PM Mountain Standard Time. There will be all sorts of goodies given away at the party, including a bunch of discount coupons, so drop by if you can! Although not absolutely necessary, Heather would very much like anyone who might be interested in attending to RSVP, by sending an email to

The book will be available at and directly from the publisher at


You can find out more about Heather and her writing here:

And to find out more about other authors, both new and famous, and to get useful tips & information throughout April, go to

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Introducing Kathy Stemke - writer, teacher, dancer and much more!

Today it is my pleasure to feature fellow writer and teacher, Kathy Stemke, on my blog. Kathy has a passion for writing, the arts and all things creative. Hanging her hat in the North Georgia Mountains, she has been a dancer, choreographer, teacher, tutor, writer and an antiques dealer for many years.

As a freelance writer Kathy has published several articles and is a contributing editor for The National Writing for Children's Center. Kathy’s first children’s e-book, Moving Through All Seven Days, is now available on Lulu. Kathy's second children's book, Trouble on Earth Day, is slated to come out in 2010! She recently signed a contract for her book titled, Sh, Sh, Sh, Will the Baby Sleep? with Guardian Angel publishers.

Today I’d like to feature Kathy's article writing by giving you the opportunity to explore some of her articles yourself. Here are some examples.

All of us have enjoyed dancing around the living room to music when no was looking. These are uninhibited moments in response to music. In fact, moving to the beat of the music is an innate quality found in all human beings. Infants and toddlers bounce to the music without any instruction at all. We need to provide children with a safe environment to explore and learn all they can about how their bodies can move to music... More

Do you need cash to pay bills today? Don't panic! It's important to have a plan. Americans have too many possessions. Go through your house and gather the things you can live without. Do some research to find their values and sell them in the right market. A booth in a flea market for a weekend is inexpensive and can help you get a decent price for your objects. If you have something rare or valuable, an on-line auction will help you get what it's worth. Craig's list is good for selling used funiture, and garage sales are great for selling inexpensive items... More

The lights dim and there is a profound hush that rolls over the sold out crowd. Hearts beat loudly with anticipation as the curtains slowly open. A solitary light beams down on a strong, regal-like black woman adorned with a beautiful head wrap. She deliberately unwraps the headpiece an uses it to scrub the floor. After illuminating her trials and sorrows in movement, she eventually rises toward a life of freedom. This dance, depicting the courage and determination of an African American woman entitled, Cry, is the type of choreography that will immortalize Alvin Ailey. For the past fifty years, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), has not only recorded the history of the African American experience through modern dance, but has also touched the lives of children and adults with their physically awe-inspiring, technically exact and powerfully expressive performances. Internationally, they are known as cultural ambassadors of good will, promoting the uniqueness of black Americans and the preservation of the American dance heritage... More
As you can see, Kathy's articles cover an extremely wide and diverse range of subjects, reflecting the character of the woman herself!

Kathy Stemke's websites:
Educationtipster blog (used most)
Moving Through all Seven Days ebook purchace on Lulu:
Articles sites:

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Introducing Dallas Woodburn, an inspirational young writer

Dallas at Write On! Summer Camp 2009 (Back row, on the left)

Today, it is my pleasure to introduce Dallas Woodburn, 22, who is the author of two collections of short stories and a forthcoming novel. Dallas is not only a gifted and prolific writer, she is also passionate about encouraging others – particularly young people – to read and write. She has written more than 80 articles for national publications including Family Circle, Writer’s Digest, CO-ED, Justine, and The Los Angeles Times, and she writes a regular column for Listen magazine. Dallas is the founder of the nonprofit organization “Write On! For Literacy” that has donated nearly 11,000 new books to disadvantaged children. Her latest endeavor is starting a publishing company, Write On! Books, that publishes the work of young writers. In addition, she hosts frequent writing contests, teaches writing camps for kids, and is coordinator of the Young Writers Program at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Dallas graduated last year from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Creative Writing and Entrepreneurship. Contact her at her website or blog

I was fascinated to find out more about Dallas and what advice she would give to fellow young writers, just embarking on a writing career.

Dallas, how long have you been writing? Has it always been a passion for you?
It’s funny, but looking back it’s difficult for me to remember a time before I loved to write! I learned to read when I was four years old, and I gobbled up books. Like many kids, I made up stories; I was compelled to write my stories down. I think this was largely due to the fact that my dad is a writer. Every night, my parents would read me bedtime stories, and every morning I would come downstairs and see my dad writing. As a result, I was very aware that someone had written the books I so loved to read. And I decided that I wanted to be someone who writes books for other people to enjoy.

What started you writing for publication?
I published my first book, There’s a Huge Pimple on My Nose, when I was in fifth grade. Pimple is proof that with a lot of hard work, a lot of perseverance – and, yes, a lot of support, too – a small idea can snowball into something bigger than you ever dreamed. My snowball began as a snowflake when I applied for and received a $50 grant from my elementary school to write, publish and sell a collection of my short stories and poems -- but I think here's what set my proposal apart: I would use the profits to repay my grant, so the school could offer an extra one the following year. My first printing, done at a Kinkos copy shop, was modest: twenty-five staple-bound forty-page books. Actually, they were more like thick pamphlets, but no matter – to me, they were books, my books, the most beautiful books I had ever laid eyes upon. J.K. Rowling wasn’t more proud of her first Harry Potter hardcover edition.

My fellow students and teachers, bless them, acted as if Pimple was at the top of the New York Times Best-Seller List. The first twenty-five copies promptly sold in a couple of days. Can you imagine what a turbo-boost this was to a fifth-grader’s self-esteem? I was pursuing my dream, but I wasn’t pursuing it alone – my family and friends and teachers were right there with me. So I went back to Kinkos, ordered twenty-five more books – and soon sold all those as well. After three more trips to Kinkos, where the workers now knew me by name, I searched out a publishing business and ordered a few hundred glossy-covered, glue-bound, professional-looking books. My little forty-page dream evolved from a snowball into a blizzard, with newspaper and radio interviews; appearances at literacy events all around California; even a “Dallas Woodburn Day” at the Santa Barbara Book Fair. I still have to pinch myself, but Pimple has sold more than 2,200 copies and I repaid two school grants.

Do you have a set time when you write, or just whenever you get the urge?
I try to write every single day – I am most productive and happy when I have an established routine. Even if I don’t feel like writing, I tell myself to write for just fifteen or twenty minutes, and usually by the end of that time I am in the groove and write for longer. My goal is to write 1,000 words every day. I am a night owl, so it is not unusual to find me at my computer writing after midnight, when the world is quiet and I am alone with my thoughts.

Do you like to write in complete silence or does it have to be noisy?
I like a little bit of background noise, whether it is music on my computer or the quiet hum of conversations around my at a coffee shop.

Keyboard or pen?
I used to be strictly a keyboard girl, but lately I’ve been writing freehand in big spiral notebooks in coffeeshops. I’ve found writing with pen and paper makes me feel less inhibited and more creative. In the evening, I go home and transcribe everything from my notebook to the computer, and do my first round of editing as I type things in. The process is working well for me right now.

What do you think is the hardest part about being an author?
Rejection is something that ever author has to deal with. As a writer, I joke that I could wallpaper all four of my bedroom walls with all the rejection letters I have received from editors! The important thing is not to take it personally. For whatever reason, you or your writing just wasn’t a right fit for that publication at this specific time. That doesn’t mean that they won’t love the next piece you send to them! When I get a rejection letter, I first read the comments to see if there is any advice I can glean or ways I can improve for next time. Then, I submit my story or essay or article somewhere else. It took me more than a year to find my literary agent. A year of rejection, rejection, rejection – until finally, I found my perfect match. My agent understands my writing and has faith in my career. I just had to have the patience and perseverance to find her!

Have you ever had writer's block, and if so how do you get rid of it?
One of the best things for me to do when I am facing writer’s block is to step back from the story and get away from the computer a bit. I love to go volunteer at schools and teach writing activities to kids. This is one of my favorite activities – it gives me great joy and fulfillment. Whenever I am feeling discouraged or creatively drained, going to schools and speaking to students inevitably recharges my batteries and gets me excited about writing again. So much energy and enthusiasm! It’s contagious! I also frequently post tips for busting through writer’s block on my blog

How do you invent your characters?
Usually my characters start with a kernel of a personal experience or emotion that I am going through, and then pretty quickly this spins away from me and becomes a character separate from myself. Even if the eventual story is going to be written in third person, I usually like to write at least a couple pages in first person from the character’s perspective to get a sense of his or her voice. I don’t censor myself during this process – I just let the words flow freely and see what voice develops for the character.

Some people say that you need to live life before you write a book, do you think that it’s experience that writes a book or imagination?
I think it’s a combination of both. I definitely think you are never too young to be a writer. As a child, I wrote stories based on things I was dealing with and thinking about at the time – everything from pimples to race issues to magical stuffed animals coming to life. I think the book is incredibly relatable to kids because I was a kid myself when I was writing it – that said, many adults enjoy it, too. In my fiction writing, I tend to combine experience and imagination by taking a setting I know well or an experience that happened to me, and fictionalizing it. I imagine how a situation could have unfolded differently, and write about it.

The first article I had published was for Justine magazine, a publication for teens, and it was a true-life account about how I was “sweet sixteen” and had never been kissed. The editors loved my honest voice and the piece resonated with a lot of readers. I have always tried to see my young age as an advantage in my writing, rather than a disadvantage, because it allows me to write about things like teen issues with a great deal of authenticity. As a teen writing for a teen publication, I wrote an article that I would want to read! I would encourage other writers to put themselves in this mindset – what insights and lessons does your particular background and experiences give you? How can you use these traits as an advantage in your writing life?

What do you recommend to aspiring authors?
Write every day, read as much as you can, and enjoy the process! As John Wooden says, “The journey is better than the inn.” In addition, publishing my books has taught me not to be afraid to take risks, and to take the initiative when you have an idea and make it happen yourself rather than letting fear and doubt make you wait. Because, why wait? Take small steps towards your dreams, and small steps can snowball into amazingly big opportunities!

Thank you, Dallas, for a most interesting interview!
You're welcome, Helena.


Tour with VBT-Writers on the Move through February. New and famous authors, plus useful information. http://tinyurl. com/yhkt7v8


Monday, January 11, 2010

Meet Dana Donovan, author of the paranormal Detective Marcella series

Every month I feature a fellow author on my blog, and this month it's my great pleasure to introduce Dana Donovan, author of the paranormal Detective Marcella series.
I asked Dana a few questions about his books and writing.

Q: Dana, how long have you been writing, and do all your books fall into the paranormal fiction genre?

A: Thanks, Helena, that’s a good question. My love for writing started early. As an adolescent and more so in my teen years, I liked writing poetry, finding inspiration in the song lyrics of Lennon and McCartney. For the longest time I wanted to be a songwriter myself, but that never happened. Instead, poem writing gave way to a thirst for more full-bodied compositions. Then one day I sat down and began writing what would become the first book in the Detective Marcella series, the Witch’s Ladder. That was ten years ago. Ten books on the supernatural later, including four more in the witch’s series and yeah, I guess you can say that I have established myself as a paranormal mystery writer.

Q: You have some favorable book reviews on the Internet. One in particular is a review on Skinny. The reviewer (Michael Sorensen--Miren Publishing Group) says of the book, "This was just too out there." Do you agree with that?

A: Oh sure, and why not? I don’t see the sense of writing paranormal fiction without pushing the boundaries some. In fact, I don’t believe there should be any boundaries. I know that drama, thrillers and suspense fiction have their place. Many readers like believable scenarios that keep within the realm of real life. I understand that, but then there are a lot of us who prefer to suspend our perception of what is real. With the paranormal, it is easy to do that, and yet still somehow believe that what we are reading could happen under the right circumstances.

Q: Where do you get your ideas for your books?

A: Funny, that’s a question I get a lot. The truth is that I don’t know where these ideas come from. As a kid, my teachers would often remark in my report cards that I was exceptionally curious. I’m still that way now. I think about parallel realms of reality and ask myself what if? Almost anyone who has ever lost someone close to them will tell you that he or she has “felt” the presence of their lost loved one in their hours of grief. So what if a spirit or ghost tries to touch our lives when we are most receptive to them? If I can entertain that possibility then I have no problem supposing that a more psychical relationship between our worlds can exist. From there the rest is easy and the story feeds on itself.

Q: Are you saying you believe in ghosts and the supernatural?

A: I am saying maybe. You know there are some very notable scientists and physicists out there promoting something called String Theory, which in essence allows for the existence of alternate universes to coexist within our own. To them it’s science. To me it sounds decisively paranormal. Who is to say? A few hundred years ago, predicting the weather three days out would get you hanged in Salem.

Q: Tell me about your protagonist in the witch’s series, Tony Marcella. What’s he like?

A: Tony is an enigma of sorts, a guy who loves his work more than anything, or at least he thinks so. The truth is he has regrets, only he doesn’t know where to place them. He is smart, if not sophisticated, sensitive and easy-going. It is his relationship with Lilith, the witch in his life, that exposes the cracks in his otherwise rock solid persona, and a relationship, which has allowed me to exploit the paranormal in a way that readers can relate.

Q: So what now? Will we see book six of the Detective Marcella witch’s series released anytime soon?

A: Yes, I’m sure we will. It might not be the next book released, but it won’t be long. Lately, I have been working on an outline to a sort of quasi Si-Fi. I know it is out of the box for me, but it will have a paranormal twist at the end, I assure you. In the meantime, I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to tell you a bit about myself, and as a gift to you and your readers, I would like to offer my book “Skinny” for download in any ebook reader format you choose. The link to it is - remember to use the promo code JM98M to check out. For more links to my books check out

Helena: Thank you, Dana, for such an interesting interview and your generous offer. It's been a pleasure!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

School Heads - a bane or a blessing?

In my twenty years as a secondary school teacher, I've worked under five different Heads, and all of them except one (who left after I'd been at the school for only one term!) have most definitely been a bane. The problems I've encountered with Heads seem to be very widespread, according to what I hear from fellow teachers. Why is this so? What is it that seems to lead, almost inevitably, to Heads behaving like petty dictators, who can't tolerate an ounce of criticism and – at the first sign of such - like a painter with his canvas 'brush out what they don't want to see'. (from my book It's a Teacher's Life!)

What leads to Heads being apparently bereft of moral conscience, treating teachers (and sometimes parents as well) without compassion, destroying their self-esteem, and putting ever-increasing workloads on their shoulders through crisis management and a total inability to plan effectively and organise themselves and their resources efficiently?

In the U.K., the board of governors of each school is responsible for appointing a new Head and from my personal experience, they frequently do a bad job! Perhaps because they believe they know best and won't see behind the facade that a candidate puts up (despite the advice of an experienced, outgoing Head); or perhaps because the majority of governors aren't teachers and have no real idea what teaching is all about; or perhaps they just choose someone to fill the post, whether the person is suitable or not, because they can't face going through the whole process again! It's not unusual for the selection procedure to be repeated because of a lack of good quality candidates.

Even if the appointment of a Head is initially welcomed by staff, when the person actually gets into the job, there can be a rude awakening. It seems almost as though the position corrupts. As a colleague of mine has often said – Heads have too much autonomy, there aren't enough checks and balances, and it goes to their heads. Perhaps, also, there isn't enough training for new Heads to learn about the management demands made on them, and someone who is a wonderful teacher won't necessarily be a good manager, and a good Head definitely needs to be both!

Being a Head is certainly not an easy position to hold. Perhaps certain Heads resort to being bullying despots simply to cover up their inadequacy and feelings of insecurity in the job. All the more reason, therefore, for the selection procedure to ensure the right person is chosen. I think in the U.K. the selection procedure definitely needs to be reformed and the staff in each school should be involved in the process. Prospective candidates need to make a presentation to governors, but why can't they do this to the staff as a whole? When there are school inspections, the whole staff meets the team of inspectors informally over tea. Why can't there be something similar for headship candidates? Why should it all be left up to the governors to decide?

These are just suggestions, but I believe something needs to be done to ensure that the person who is given the job, is someone

“who’ll know what it means
to be a boss;
someone who remembers
what it’s like to be human,
who can manage
resources and people
with realistic sympathy
and organized efficiency,
someone who creates
real, genuine respect —
but who am I kidding?
That’s the stuff of fiction, isn’t it,
not fact?”

(from “The Boss” in my book Family & More)

My hope is that one day this will be much more fact than fiction in the majority of schools.


Have you had a similar or different experience to mine? Please share!