Helen Black grew up among a large extended family in Pontefract, a small
town in West Yorkshire. Her Dad was a miner, her Mum worked in local
At 18 she went to Hull University where she went to gigs and drank a lot
of lager. Three years later she left with holes in her Doc Martins, a
tattoo on her shoulder and a degree in law.
She has now written four books featuring Lilly Valentine, all published by Constable Robinson.
When I was a practising defence lawyer, the question I was most frequently asked was how did I feel if I thought my clients were guilty.
The answer, of course, was I didn’t feel anything much. When a defendant tells his brief that he didn’t do it, no matter how improbable the story (and trust me, I’ve heard some corkers over the years), that, as they say, is that.
We don’t question. We follow instructions.
Only once did I have any real concerns when a young person was charged with an offence so violent, I worried what would happen if I managed to secure his freedom, allowing him to walk out of court and do it all over again.
That was one trial I squirmedmy way through, reminding myself that my client might well be innocent. The police after all, do fit people up and they do plant evidence ...
From those sleepless nights, the idea for my first novel, Damaged Goods
, was born. If a child were accused of the ritualistic murder of her own mother, how far would the lawyer go to discover the truth? My answer was that Lilly Valentine, tough talking northerner, would go very far indeed.
What I didn’t know when I wrote that first book, was that Lilly would still be going strong. In truth, I wrote it for fun, having never attended a creative writing course or indeed having picked up a “How To book”. I didn’t in my wildest imaginings think I’d find either agent or publisher and yet here I am this year, publishing Blood Rush
, the fourth book in the series.
How did that happen?
First and foremost I have to thank Lilly herself. She’s argumentative, stubborn and disorganised. I often wonder why on earth she’s so popular. My agent, Peter, says that whilst she is a royal PITA, she is exactly who you’d want to call if you found yourself with a smoking gun in your hand and the police kicking your door off.
He also says he suspects she’s a minx in the bedroom, at which point I remind him that she’s not real and he needs to get out
In Blood Rush
, Lilly is struggling with a new law firm and a new baby. The last thing she needs is a difficult client. Enter Tanisha McKenzie, a member of a notorious girl gang, accused of the vicious assault on a member of a rival crew.
With the police determined to make an example of Tanisha and the local drug baron wanting her to disappear, Lilly finds herself drawn into the most challenging case of her career and the most dangerous.
I’m told that this is my darkest work to date and I certainly scared myself witless writing it.
Why is it that violent females instil more fear in us than their male counterparts? Perhaps the perversion of expectation unsettles our collective psyche? We rely on women in society fulfilling certain roles; the nurturer, the soother, the gentler sex. When this is proved to be nothing but a fallacy, our foundations are rocked and we seek redress and re-order.
To say everything I wanted to say in Blood Rush
, I pushed my writing skills to the limit and I’m really looking forward to receiving reader feedback. Did I pull it off, I wonder? I’m sure they’ll let me know.
In many ways, I’m even more nervous about putting my next book out there. It will be my fifth and is my first standalone novel.
That’s right, no Lilly Valentine to hide behind.
Eighteen months ago, my husband suggested I write a story set around the London Olympics. I laughed it off, as you do, but then my creative juices started to flow and I soon met my main character, Joe Connelly, a man coming to terms with the end of a sporting career, wondering what exactly to do with his life. Days later, the title Twenty Twelve
jumped up and punched me on the nose.
It’s been a blast to write. A rollercoaster ride through terrorist attacks, political intrigue and my hero being forced from his comfort zone when he finds himself at the heart of a plot to bomb the games.
I think there has been some concern that I might have enjoyed myself just a little too much, that my separation from Lilly might lead to divorce. But no. As much as I’ve enjoyed the process of writing Twenty Twelve
and can’t wait to see it on the shelves next year, I’ve missed Lilly. I need to ask her what she makes of the situation in Libya, if she saw the last episode of Waking the Dead or what she’s had for her tea.
Then I remind myself that she’s not real, and that I need to get out more.