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An Interview with Helen Summer, author of Semi-Detached

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Helen Summer is the author of three sports books: Running Crazy (true stories from people who have run over 100 marathons), Are You Tough Enough? (featuring the toughest sporting challenges in the world), and The Man Inside the Machine (approved biography of Steve Edwards, one of the World’s most successful multi-marathon runners). More recently turning to fiction, she has now completed a romcom entitled Semi-Detached — a light-hearted tale of two divorced couples whose pasts won’t let go of them — or is it them who can’t let go of their pasts? Helen has also written articles for numerous sports publications, women’s magazines and county magazines. She has a son, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter, and has recently moved from Dorset to Devon. When not writing she can be found strolling the South West Coastal Path or helping out at her local independent lifeboat station in the shop, not at sea!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I’ve always loved reading and writing, but it was reading Anne Frank’s Diary that made me want to write. I was a similar age to the author at the time and so inspired that I immediately took up pen and paper and started to write. Then the sun came out and I didn’t consider writing again until some 25 years later!

What inspired you to start writing this book?

I’d completed a creative writing course that covered all aspects of writing, including fiction and non-fiction. As part of that course I’d started writing a romcom and was encouraged by my tutor’s comments. However, personal circumstances saw the book unfinished and it was to be some years before I picked it up again and decided I liked it enough to try and finish it, which I did this year.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I’m a bit of a title geek. I can be anywhere, any time, and something suddenly pops into my head and I think, ‘That’s a great title for a book!’ and then I try to fit a story to the title. I actually have a notebook just for titles. Semi-Detached, however, never made it into the notebook, as the title and the story arrived pretty much simultaneously.

Describe your dream book cover.

A cartoon-style semi-detached house, a middle-aged woman and an old-fashioned bicycle, complete with weave basket on the front!

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I was a legal secretary for most of my working life, with a few years out working for the Dyslexia Institute and in a bookshop.

Most of my readers wouldn’t know that in my youth I was a county athlete who then became a coach at the unusually early age of 19. This was due to an enforced retirement from active athletics following the discovery of kidney disease and associated problems, which resulted in a nephrectomy shortly after my 21st birthday. Between the ages of 19 and 21, I was in and out of hospital and my parents and coaches at the athletic club I belonged to felt it was vital to keep me involved in the sport to keep me out of trouble!

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

As the writing of the book took place over a number of years, I would have read too many to mention, although this did include instructive writing books. However, my reading habits when writing are the same as when not writing and range from romcoms to classics, from crime/thrillers to biographies, plus any non-fiction that interests me enough. My real go to though perhaps are nature books. I’m a huge fan of the natural world and find books on the subject always bring comfort, joy, fascination and awe in equal measure. Oh, and I also love humour!

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

The one thing I hope readers take away from reading my book is a smile. I envision my perfect reader as someone like me—someone who has been through the ups and downs of life, struggled and succeeded, won and lost; a person for whom life can be testing, but is also full of joy and love.

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