Beginner’s Pluck: Helen Blackhurst

Helen was a big reader as a child, but initially theatre interested her more than writing. “I didn’t write stories as a child, but I have these notebooks with dialogue of animals talking.”

After university Helen travelled in Australia, working in various places and visiting the outback. It was when she was in Alice Springs, camping on a service station that the story for her debut took root.

From Australia, Helen lived in London for a while, working in drama in prisons. Then in 1995 she won a Guardian scholarship to study at Trinity College Dublin. She took an MPhil in literature. “It included a module in creative writing. I started the novel as a short story, and afterwards I just kept going. It took seven years to compete.”

It took a further seven years to find a publisher. In that time, Helen has written a second novel, and has made a start on a third.

Meanwhile, she’s worked in outreach programmes, including at the Abbey Theatre, then trained as a drama therapist. She currently works in a child-counselling service in Coolock. “I really love it,” she says.

Who is Helen Blackhurst?

Date/place of birth: 1972/Nantwich, Cheshire.

Education: Lady Manners School, Bakewell, in Derbyshire. Manchester University, drama and English.

Home: Near Kells, Co Meath.

Family: Husband Slavek, James, 5, and Jonah, 3.

The Day Job: Drama therapy

Interests: I make organic face cream to sell in markets.

Favourite Writers: I like loads. The people I read to get inspired include Patrick White, Thomas Keneally, Haruki Murakami, and Virginia Woolf.

Second Novel: A Time of Rain Fish. It’s set in Arnhem Land in Australia in the sixties, when the mining companies were taking over the mission settlements.

Top Tip: I like to write blindly, to be in the unknown, so I don’t plan.

Twitter: @HRBlackhurst

The Debut

Swimming on Dry Land; Seren, €14.99

The Harveys’ marriage is in trouble. Michael is depressed, and Caroline wants excitement. She expects paradise when Michael’s brother Eddie lures the family to Australia.

But the couple and their daughters Monica and Georgie find themselves in an alien landscape. Distracted, Caroline leaves Monica to care for her sister. Then Georgie disappears.

The Verdict: Fascinating. Atmospheric and memorable.


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