5-4-3-2-1: Helen Maslin

By Jim Dean, August 10, 2015

We’re delighted to welcome Helen Maslin, whose debut novel Darkmere is going down very well with lots of readers, to the site today to tackle our 5-4-3-2-1 feature!


Five items of swag I’d love to see made…

Hmm…it seems that I’m allowed to demand a list of things I covet from other people’s books, so I’m answering this question more or less, as a game of dressing-up.

First, I’m going to need The Dress from Lobsters. You know – the one that starts a girl-war…

‘It was cream and gold and entirely made of sequins, except for the rows and rows of cream feathers that made up the bottom of the skirt. It had a drop waist and was lined in pale turquoise silk. A dress Daisy in The Great Gatsby would wear to a party, or Tallulah from Bugsy Malone would appear in for cocktails. A movie star dress.’

I’ll need shoes too, of course, and I think the enchanted silver shoes from I Coriander would go nicely with my new dress…

‘I pulled open a drawer at the bottom and there they were, the most magical pair of shoes in the world. They were like glass. They were like diamonds. They were like stars.

Oh, I thought, what harm if I just tried them on?

The shoes fitted as if they were made for me. I stood marvelling at their beauty. How long I stood like that, I do not know.’

And wouldn’t it be a nice touch if I could help myself to some of that Midsummer Eve scent that comes in a glass bottle engraved with a moon and stars, from I Capture the Castle…?

‘The air was scented; it smelt a bit like bluebells but richer, deeper.

‘What does it smell of, exactly?’ I said. And Rose said:


Okay, now I’m worried I might get cold, so I’m going to need a coat or a cardi – or even…

‘Something fluid and silvery grey went slithering to the floor, where it lay in gleaming folds. Ron gasped.

‘I’ve heard of those,’ he said in a hushed voice, dropping the box of Every-Flavour Beans he’d got from Hermione. ‘If that’s what I think it is – they’re really rare, and really valuable.’

‘What is it?’

Harry picked the shining, silvery cloth off the floor. It was strange to touch, like water woven into material.’

Dressed like this, I should probably go out for something to eat. Maybe I’ll go to Paris, where I’ll be greeted with my final item of swag – the macarons from Anna and the French Kiss…

‘Bin after bin of macarons in every flavour and colour imaginable. Grass greens and pinky reds and sunshine yellows. While Mer debates over cakes, I select six.

Rose. Blackcurrant. Orange. Fig. Pistachio. Violet.

And then I notice cinnamon and hazelnut praline, and I just want to die right there. Crawl over the counter and crunch my fingers through their delicate crusts and lick out the fragrant fillings until I can no longer breathe.’


Four relationships I love reading about…

I’m going for father figures here. There’s something especially heart-warming about the crusty old bachelor-type and the scrawny orphan learning to trust and – eventually – care about each other.

Tom Oakley and Willie Beech in Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. So much sadness in this one…but so much kindness and understanding too.

Hans Hubermann and Liesel Meminger in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Poor Hans deals with Liesel’s nightmares every night and he does it tactfully and uncomplainingly. He had to sleep in that damn chair for most of the book.

Charles Maxim and Sophie in Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. Charles and Sophie go on a quest to find Sophie’s mother – and all the time I just want her to realise that she already has the best parent in the world.

Brimstone and Karou in Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Here, the crusty old bachelor figure is taken to the extreme – Brimstone is an actual monster. He still loves Karou enough to put up with a lot, though. And his advice about ‘inessential penises’ remains a rule to live by.


Three classics I wish more people were reading today…

The Blue Castle by Lucy M. Montgomery – written in 1926. Although this one doesn’t seem to get as much love as Anne of Green Gables, it’s my favourite. The unashamedly swoony story of a downtrodden spinster called Valancy Stirling, who is told she has a terminal illness and decides to spend her remaining time in being as happy as possible.

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons – written in 1938. Again, less well-known than Cold Comfort Farm, this later book has much of the same quirkiness, humour, sadness and romance. It’s also a book about spinsters marrying up or down…or simply getting a dog instead.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim – written in 1921. Four women go on holiday and have a thoroughly nice time. This book is very lovely. In the introduction to my copy, it says: ‘Only an incorrigible pedant would try to judge it at a deeper level.’ So don’t.


Two pieces of advice you’d give yourself if you could travel back in time to before you became a published author…

Make more notes on your process. Seriously. By the time it’s finished, you will have no idea how you managed to write a book. Where did you start? Where did the ideas come from? How did you do this thing? How can you ever hope to do it again?

Also – there is no need to be so wary of bloggers, reviewers and readers. They will turn out to be some of the nicest people on the internet. In fact, why not go to YALC and meet some of them? It might turn out to be your best day ever!

One TV show you can watch all day long (when not busy writing)…

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell!

Just when I thought nothing could replace Poldark, Strange and Norrell came along and replaced him brilliantly. I didn’t think the show could be as good as the book, but some bits were even better – like the ships made of rain and the horses made of sand! I loved the magic and the darkness. And the romance and the library and the enchanted dancers. Most of all I loved Strange and Norrell themselves. They were already in my head when I was making a list of relationships I love reading about, but Norrell didn’t quite fit the father figure-type – he suffered too much from professional jealousy. But there were so many other moments which showed their concern for each other and their pride in each other’s achievements. I could watch these two forever.

What do you think?