The Reading Hour – Helen Stringer

Welcome again everybody!

Have you noticed that Vanadian Avenue is changing rapidly? Our blog is maturing and we are not afraid to introduce more and more new topic to our readers. Last month, we have created a new section dedicated to our travel and playfully named it ” One castle  a day”.  Today, we would like to invite  you  to take a look at yet another column: The Reading Hour.

The Reading Hour  will be dedicated to books and writing. As we have mentioned many times on our blog, Mal and Rita have been writing professionally for years, having our articles published in magazines, on CD’s and online. What we have failed to tell you, is that we also have been creating our own stories, writing novels and novellas since the first grade. Sadly, we have never found an agent and  never published anything in traditional form, but who knows, things might change next year! There are some works in progress, one fantasy themed, one dystopian and maybe, just maybe, if we are lucky enough, you may find something written by us in Barnes and Noble 🙂

Since we are addicted to books and have several published writers as close friends, we thought that interviewing them would be a perfect start for The Reading Hour.  Helen Stringer, a popular YA author, became  our first victim and  she was forced to answer 14 very strange questions we gave her.

We have written about Helen nearly two years ago when she visited UK during her book tour promoting “The Midnight Gate”. Helen has been extremely busy in the last 24 months: she has released another book entitled “Paradigm”, got involved in the making of the supernatural drama “The Gloaming” and currently works on her third book in Belladonna Johnson Adventures series.

You can find  the review from her book tour  here:

Now ladies and gents, have fun reading!


The Reading Hour: 14 (un) easy questions for Helen Stringer

Helen Stringer and  the American cover of the "Spellbinder" novel (aka The Last Ghost in the UK)
Helen Stringer and the American cover of the “Spellbinder” novel (aka The Last Ghost in the UK)

Vanadian Avenue:  Do you remember your first short story or book you have ever written? What was it about and how old were you?

Helen Stringer: I can’t remember the first ones. I was always telling stories to my sister. She’s only 15 months younger than me and we shared a room. I also had a vast collection of Barbie dolls whose sole function was to act out my stories (they were usually hair-raising adventures that involved a high body count). I do remember telling my sister that there was an evil genie that lived in the toilet, and if you didn’t get out fast enough after you flushed, it would jump out and pull you down. Scared the living daylights out of her.

Vanadian Avenue: Paranormal, s-f, fantasy, ghost stories, young adult – your books are not easy to qualify. This is your chance to tell us what literary label is the correct one.

Helen Stringer: It really depends on the book. Spellbinder, Midnight Gate and The Blood Binding were middle-grade fantasy (the US term “middle-grade” refers to readers from about 10-13). Paradigm is science fiction aimed at the teen market, which would make it YA, although lots of adults seem to enjoy it too.

Vanadian Avenue:  Imagine your home library is on fire and you only have time to save three books. Which books would you choose and why?

Helen Stringer: What a dreadful thought! I would definitely save Pride and Prejudice. I never tire of reading it, it’s just so well-written and such a great observation of human behaviour. When books continue to enchant generations of readers hundreds of years after they were originally written, it’s generally because there is something universal in the characters. I’d also save Macbeth for the same reason. It’s my favourite Shakespeare play, by far. The final one would probably be Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. A lot of people think his books are just pulp detective tales, but there is so much more to them than that.

Vanadian Avenue: You made your official debut with “The Last Ghost” (also known as “The Spellbinder”), the first book in Belladonna Johnson Adventures series. Belladonna is not your typical heroine: she not only talks to ghosts but also lives with them…

British cover of  The Last Ghost
British cover of The Last Ghost
British cover of The Midnight Gate
British cover of The Midnight Gate

Helen Stringer: Yes. I wanted to do something different with the ghost story – create a character for whom they were not only real, but comforting. Belladonna’s parents died in a car crash a year before the action of the first book begins. But what could have been a tragedy is just a re-adjustment for Belladonna because her parents are still there, at home, looking after her. The only difference is that they can’t leave the house (ghosts have to choose a place to haunt), which forces Belladonna to be more independent. She’s also shy and somewhat introverted, never quite sure who is alive and who is a ghost. The kind of girl who keeps her head down and tries not to attract attention. When the ghosts all disappear and she realizes that she is the Spellbinder, she discovers a strength in herself that she didn’t realize was there. Of course, the fact that she is forced to work with Steve Evans, her opposite in almost every way, helps her find the confidence that she needs to defeat Dr. Ashe.

Vanadian Avenue:  Both “The Last ghost” and “The Midnight Gate” received wonderful reviews. Is there going to be a book three in the series? Will Belladonna ever find an arch enemy, somebody like Draco Malfoy to Harry Potter?

Helen Stringer: There is going to be a third book. It’s tentatively titled “The Lost Lands,” but that will probably change.  I’m three chapters in, so there’s a way to go yet! Belladonna does have an archenemy, but she doesn’t know it yet. (It’s not Sophie Warren, though.)

Vanadian Avenue: Your books are often mentioned alongside Jana Oliver (“Demon Trappers” saga), Holy Black (“Spiderwick Chronicles”), Tony Diterlizzi (“Wondla” saga), Frederic S Durbin (“Dragonfly”) and Jasper Fforde (The Dragonslayer series), as prime examples of literature that mixes magic with modern times. Did you expect this form of fantasy story telling to gather so much following and fanbase?

Helen Stringer: Fantasy stories have been a staple of children’s literature for well over 100 years, but we do seem to be in the middle of a “golden age.” I read lots of them when I was young. My favourite author back then was Alan Garner. His stories were darker and had more of an air of menace than many others. Most of them were set in and around Manchester as well, so he was writing about a world I recognized. I try to do the same with the Spellbinder books, which are also set in the north west of England.

Vanadian Avenue:  Let us mention two other great writers – Y S Lee (“The Agency” series) and Trenton Lee Steward (“Mysterious Benedict Society”) who base their novels around strong female characters. Belladonna, Elsie, Alma, Carolyn – your female characters are equally smart and self-reliant despite being young or adult, good or bad. How important is it for you to have strong female characters in a book?

Helen Stringer: It’s very important. When I was growing up, there were very few strong female characters in children’s fiction. The girls in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe series spent an awful lot of time crying and being nurturing. Alan Garner’s heroines had a bit more spunk, but it’s only relatively recently that really strong female characters appeared, who drove the story, rather than followed it. When I was young, my heroine was Elizabeth I – a woman who was fearsome indeed!

Vanadian Avenue: We have to admit that your newest book came as a huge surprise to your fans. “Paradigm” is completely different from everything else you have written so far – it is much more complex, darker and self published!

Helen Stringer: I wanted to go somewhere else for a while. Away from children and more towards the adults they might become. I’m also very interested in things like climate change, fracking, oil exploration, and all the other things that are affecting our planet. In most dystopian worlds, the collapse is the result of a single event, but I’ve always thought that our self-destruction would be slow and many-faceted. The result of negligence more than anything else. It is self-published, not because of any of those things, but because the traditional publishing industry is locked into the idea that “boys over the age of 12 don’t read” (that’s in quotation marks because that is exactly the way one agent put it to me in an email). As a result, they don’t want male protagonists in books aimed at older kids. It was even suggested that I turn Sam into Samantha! I was gobsmacked, really – an industry that is already struggling just giving up on an entire gender! Apart from the fact that if Sam became Samantha, then Alma would have to become a guy, and we’d have that same-old-same-old relationship dynamic that we’ve seen a thousand times before.

Paradigm cover
Paradigm cover
Stack of books - do you have a copy yet?
Stack of books – do you have a copy yet?

Vanadian Avenue: Tell us more about Sam – you gave him very unique talents and a classic car! Was writing about a male leading character any different or harder than before?

Helen Stringer: Not really. I was in rock bands when I was younger and then went to film school, both things that are dominated by guys. So I’ve not only been around them, I’ve also been a genuine friend (as opposed to interacting only in a sexual/attraction situation). I’ve seen how they behave together, how they often conceal their real thoughts and feelings, and what lengths they’ll go to in an effort to maintain an outward bravado while dying inside, particularly when they’re younger.

Vanadian Avenue: Is it true that you filmed a live action book trailer for “Paradigm” with entire filming crew and actors in California? Is so, where can we see it?

Helen Stringer: Yes. I want the trailer to be more like a movie trailer, so we spent three days in LA shooting entire scenes from the book, then an additional day back up in the Bay Area shooting the fabulous ’68 Pontiac GTO. It belongs to a guy who restored it from the ground up and the result is just gorgeous. I haven’t finished editing the trailer yet, but I’ll let know as soon as it is available.

Paradigm trailer clapperboard - picture by Katie Ferguson
Paradigm trailer clapperboard – picture by Katie Ferguson
Paradigm trailer being shot in the California desert - we love the red GTO!
Paradigm trailer being shot in the California desert – we love the red GTO!
Greg Albanetti as Sam and camera. Helen's favourite picture taken by wonderful photographer Katie Ferguson
Greg Albanetti as Sam and camera. Helen’s favourite picture taken by wonderful photographer Katie Ferguson

Vanadian Avenue: “Paradigm” is an excellent stand alone publication but it could also be the beginning of a new series for young adults. Are we going to see Sam again? Do you plan on creating a sequel?

Helen Stringer: It was supposed to be stand-alone, but a lot of people have been telling me they want to know what happens to Sam next. I’m thinking of taking him to the East Coast…which will be largely underwater and raining almost constantly.

Vanadian Avenue: Your next project is entitled “The Gloaming” but it is not a book. Can you tell us more?

Helen Stringer: The Gloaming is another ghost story, but the audience is adults not children, and I’ve decided to produce it as a six-episode web series, instead of as a book. The reason for that is that the more I thought about the story, the more I saw it playing out in my head like a movie. The story is about a man who has been in a coma for over 30 years. He’s in a long term care hospital, but no one ever visits. The only other person in the room is his ghost, Alex, who looks the same age he was when he had the accident. Alex can’t move on until the man in the bed dies. But he doesn’t die. He is suddenly occupied by something that has broken through the dimensional barrier and wakes up. A side effect of this is that the young ghost becomes corporeal again – so now there are two of him, an old version and a young version, only the old version isn’t really him. Alex runs and discovers that even though he’s alive again, he can still see all the ghosts. Now he has to learn to live in a world that’s changed almost beyond recognition from the one he knew, as well as discover what has taken his old body.

Vanadian Avenue: For Kickstarter campaign, you managed to gather an impressive group of collaborators including actress Tinkabell Lovelace, Josef Richardson (FX specialist) and writer David Jackson. Can you explain our readers how the campaign works and what the final product will be like?

Helen Stringer: The first thing we had to do was break down the script and create a realistic budget for the series. Then we had to shoot a video of me explaining what we’re trying to achieve, and anything else that would help people understand the story. That included the lead actor, Greg Albanetti, reading the opening chapter of The Gloaming that I wrote when I was still considering writing it as a book, and a mock-up of the title sequence. Once we’d done that we had to come up with rewards for people who pledge money.

The way that Kickstarter works is that when people are interested in being a part of a project, they pledge money toward the total budget. The money is not charged – it’s held by Amazon Bank until the full amount is raised. If we fail to raise the full amount by November 17th, the production doesn’t get any money and nobody’s card is charged. This system was designed to give the backers confidence that projects they back will actually get produced. Then there are the rewards! There are all kinds of thank you gifts for people who pledge $5 or more, including bookmarks, autographed scripts and books, a personalized ghoulish screensaver, visits to the set while we’re shooting, and even a dinner and séance at LA’s legendary Magic Castle. We were recently able to add an extra reward for everyone who pledges $25 or more: a limited edition Gloaming poster created by Marvel and DC illustrator, Bob Wakelin.

Logo used For Gloaming Kickstarter Campaign. The project is now being rewritten and  being prepared for re-launch
Logo used For Gloaming Kickstarter Campaign. The project is now being rewritten and  prepared for re-launch
The Gloaming series photo-shoot: Tinkabell Lovelace (as Veronica)  and Greg Albanetti (as Alex). Picture by Eric Staniford
The Gloaming series photo-shoot: Tinkabell Lovelace (as Veronica) and Greg Albanetti (as Alex). Picture by Eric Staniford

Vanadian Avenue: Is there anything you’d like to tell to your readers and fans? Any other plans for the future?

Helen Stringer: I think I should let all the fans of the Spellbinder books that Belladonna and Steve will be having another adventure soon – I’ve started the third book in the series: “The Lost Lands.” This one was inspired by British legends about mysterious islands that appear and disappear off the coast, and we’ll discover more about Belladonna’s Aunt, the Wild Hunt, Steve’s real mother, and what effect that little piece of Darkness will have on Belladonna.

Vanadian Avenue: Thank you so much for answering our questions and good luck!

Helen Stringer: Thank you!

Useful links about Helen:


Official site: Blog:

MacMillan (publisher):

Official website:
Article about Paradigm:

If you have any questions about Helen her projects or books, please drop us a line and we will arrange her to contact you.Helen is known for taking a great care of her fans  so don’t be afraid and contact us at rdabrowicz at yahoo dot com.
No spam, you have been warned 🙂

As a good friend of ours said “Helen’s writing is the best thing since the invention of the wheel and French sliced bread”
Who can argue with such a recommendation?

See you soon,
Rita and Mal

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