Guest Post & Giveaway: Writing What I Know by Helene Young

I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Helene Young to my blog today. It's been no easy task what with Helene's writing commitments and idyllic sailing life and then me being sick and my own full-time work obligations taking precedence over my blogging, but I'm glad we've finally got there - especially since Helene has kindly offered to give a copy of Northern Heat away to one lucky participant of the conversation at the end of this post. I would also like to just take this opportunity to thank Helene for making time for me in her busy schedule and also providing the photos included in this post.

For those of us avid Australian readers, Helene is no stranger but for those who aren't familiar, Helene is a multi-award winning author, whose idea for her ‘Border Watch’ series started early one morning when she discovered a body washed up on the beach. That incident planted the seed of an idea for a novel focusing on the terrorist threat to Australia and Wings of Fear (Border Watch) was born and went on to be voted Romantic Book of the Year in 2011.

Five more books have followed since then with Shattered Sky being published in 2011, Burning Lies in 2012, Half Moon Bay in 2013, Safe Harbour in 2014 and her latest, Northern Heat on 27 May 2015.

Helene has recently taken a leave of absence from her role as a Regional Flying Manager with Australia's largest regional airline, having worked in aviation for over 25 years. She recently appeared in "Judith Lucy is All Woman" in an episode showcasing women in aviation.

She has twice won the highly coveted RWA's Romantic Book of the Year, first in 2011 and then in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Crime and Suspense. She has also been nominated in the Ned Kelly and Sisters in Crime Awards and her last novel, Safe Harbour, was voted Australia's 2014 Favourite Romantic Suspense Novel. This is the fourth time that Helene's stories have won that award.

A motivational speaker and writing mentor, you'll now find Helene sailing the Coral Sea with her husband aboard their catamaran, Roo Bin Esque (pictured above) and hopes to one day travel around the world in it.

Northern Heat is available for purchase from the following links:


Marcia, thank you for all the support that you give to writers through your reviews and interviews! It’s lovely to be visiting your blog today and to be able to share a little bit of my writing craft with you and your readers.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given in the course of my writing career is to ‘write what you know’, but please rest easy when I’m writing scenes of people being killed - I most certainly don’t have first hand experience of that! What I do know is aviation, sailing and regional Australia.

We moved to Cairns in 1997 for me to work as a pilot with QantasLink. I fell in love with North Queensland, with the people, the pace of life and the land itself. Cape York has a wild timelessness, as though it tolerates the humans who’ve had the temerity to put down their roots in her rich soil. I was privileged to have a view of that land from the air ever day I went to work. I never tired of seeing the navy blue of the Coral Sea dotted with the sandy cays of the Great Barrier Reef, strung together like a strand of freshwater pearls. I loved driving up the Cape in our battered old four-wheel drive and enjoying the serenity of the creeks and streams, the rainforest, the open savannah land and the pristine beaches.

When we moved into our house in Trinity Beach an older gentleman from over the road was on our front door step before we’d even finished hauling the boxes inside to welcome us to the neighbourhood. It felt like home from the very start. Walking our dog along the Esplanade brought something different every day from crocodile spotting, to robust discussions about the ineptitude of politicians, to impromptu gardening sessions because the council had dumped the mulch in the wrong spot and all hands were needed to move it to the correct garden beds for the working bee on Saturday morning.

When I started to write it was inevitable that my stories would include North Queensland and flying. The opening scene for my Border Watch series grew from the experience of finding the body of a man washed up on our beach. Whilst there was nothing sinister in his death my imagination started playing the ‘what if’ game. At the time I was flying with crews who’d previously flown for Coast Watch, which provided the airborne surveillance around our vast coastline. They shared their amazing experiences and were always happy to help ensure the accuracy of technical aspects of the stories.

I was also working in the Flight Simulators in Sydney training our pilots. That gave me the opportunity to crash land a Dash 8, with its undercarriage collapsed on one side, on a beach. That later became a pivotal scene in Wings of Fear (Border Watch). 

Whilst none of the characters in my books are real, the settings are almost always grounded in somewhere I’ve been. I’m sure it’s possible to write stories using Google Earth, but for me I have to have visited the place before I can bring it to life in my stories. The exception would be the scenes in Kabul in the opening of Half Moon Bay. To write those scenes I interviewed guys who’d been to Afghanistan with the Australian Army. One showed me video footage and photos that he’d taken. The guys talked about what the air felt like, what it smelt like. How the heat in summer was oppressive even while they could see snow on the highest peaks in the distance. They described the gut-churning, spiraling descent into Kabul so the aircraft presented the smallest target to a missile. They talked about the poverty, the people, how they felt when they knew they were coming home. They gave me the small details that enabled me to see Kabul through their eyes.

I’m always humbled by how generous people are with sharing the experiences of their careers and their lives. I’ve talked to policemen and women, to fire fighters, lawyers, chefs, sport coaches, doctors, stockmen, nurses, defence force personnel, counsellors and teachers all in the name of research. 

I was also surprised and very touched after the publication of my first book to receive emails from people who’d taken the time to go and explore Trinity Beach and find my heroine’s house. I’d deliberately chosen an empty block of land and then constructed Morgan’s home in my imagination. It made me appreciate that if I am writing about a real setting accuracy is important, as it will make it more vivid for my readers.

My latest book, Northern Heat, is set in Cooktown, a small settlement in Cape York at the end of the sealed road. We’d visited Cooktown many times in the sixteen years we lived in the north and I loved the eclectic mix of people, the rugged beauty of the area and the complexities of living somewhere so remote. My hero, Conor, lives aboard his beautiful yacht. We’ve been living aboard our catamaran, Roo Bin Esque, for two years now so when I was writing the scenes on Conor’s boat I was very much writing from the heart – although our boat is very different to Conor’s!

Writing what I know also allows me to connect with places and people in a deeper way so I will always be grateful for that early advice when I set out on this writing journey.

If you’re a writer is it important to you to have visited the places you’re writing about?

If you’re a reader does it make the story more believable if the setting is real or doesn’t it matter, provided the writer has brought the setting to life?

Join in the conversation and we’ll put your name in the draw for a copy of Northern Heat.

Thanks again for having me around for a chat, Marcia!

About the Book

In steamy northern Queensland, Conor is rebuilding his shattered life. Working at Cooktown's youth centre has given him the chance to make a difference again, and the opportunity to flirt with Dr Kristy Dark. The local GP is hiding her own secrets and struggling to raise her feisty teenage daughter alone.

When a severe cyclone menaces the coast, threatening to destroy everything in its path, tensions come to a head – and the weather is not the only danger. Cut off from the world and with her life on the line, Kristy will have to summon her courage and place her trust in Conor, or they'll both lose someone they love.

And to further whet your appetite, have a look at the fabulous book trailer:

Helene also loves to connect with her fans so if you'd like to do so, you can find her at the following links:

Website    Facebook    Twitter    Instagram


  1. Lovely interview, thanks Marcia. It was great yo learn more about Helene! As a reader I like reading about places I've not been. It adds another destination to my list. As a writer I think my writing is more authentic if I have been there or can draw on something visual to use.

  2. Hi Melissa, thanks for dropping by. I think I'm a bit the same. I do like discovering new places when I'm reading and in some cases the stories make me want to book a holiday and go visiting! I had a lovely discussion with Fiona McIntosh about whether writers can write about somewhere they've never been. It may work for some but I prefer to write about places I know.


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