Thursday, May 13, 2010

Welcome Helena Harper

Helena Harper is a native of England, but she grew up in a household that did things somewhat differently to other English households, because her mother was German (her mother had met her father in Hamburg at the end of WWII, when as a British soldier he had been stationed there). This mixed background has had a profound influence on Helena and her understanding of so-called national divisions and whom we call an 'enemy' and whom we call a 'friend'.
From an early age she loved to read and write, particularly fantasy stories, and later she enjoyed studying foreign languages. At Surrey University she studied German, Russian and International Relations and spent considerable periods of time in Germany, Austria and Russia as part of the course. After university she went into banking, but soon realised that was a big mistake. “I felt like I was being suffocated,” she says of the experience.
She then spent a year teaching languages at a private school in London, and enjoyed it so much she decided she would get properly trained. She did a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Exeter University and then started her career as a modern languages teacher, a career which has lasted twenty years. During that time she has continued to write, concentrating primarily on fantasy stories for young children. However, in the past few years she has also discovered the joys of writing poetry for adults, and her first two books are poetry collections: It's a Teacher's Life...! and Family and More – Enemies or Friends?, which have been inspired by her professional and personal life.
Helena is now a private tutor and translator. She is continuing to write children's stories, and illustrations for her first children's picture book are now being done. Her aim is to see the book in print before the year is out. Many people ask Helena why she likes to write. She feels she can best express it like this:
The blank page calls,

the heart responds,

imagination spreads wide its wings

and launches into infinity...

Fingers dance,

words flow,

the page fills,

the soul takes flight

and the spirit sings.

Copyright © Helena Harper

Blurb for 'It's a Teacher's Life...!
A Collection of Poems Set in a Girls' Private School' and summary of contents.

No doubt you remember your life at school as a pupil - the long lessons, stringent rules and chaotic classrooms - but what was it like from the teacher's perspective? Did they savour the experience of setting and marking our homework? Did they get a kick out of writing our reports? And, most intriguingly, what did they get up to in the staffroom?

If you've never been there yourself, you need to follow Helena Harper into this alternative world of coffee addiction, frantic marking, lesson-planning and inspections. She answers all of your questions and more, and her insightful, evocative and often sardonic descriptions leave you more appreciative of the trials and tribulations (and the occasional pleasures) of being the dragon in front of the whiteboard.

It's a Teacher's Life...! will open the eyes of the pupils who always thought that teachers didn't exist outside of school hours... On the other hand, with such a long roll-call of meetings, assessments and after-hours activities, perhaps they were right all along!


The School Ethos — gently does it: kid gloves needed!

The Workplace — old and new: in harmony or at odds?

The New School Year — meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings! Brains creaking, creaking, creaking, creaking!

The Staffroom — a blessed haven, a refuge from all this teaching insanity!

The Lessons — rush, rush, rush! Sigh, sigh, sigh!

The Workroom — moaning, groaning, gossiping...moaning, groaning, gossiping...moaning, groaning, gossiping...

The Duties — brightening every teacher’s day

The Prize Giving — examination success applauded, independent thought neglected

The Carol Service — angelic voices and appearance: would it could always be like this!

The Trips — definitely, definitely, definitely not a good idea! Infamous risk assessments hanging like lead around the neck...eating and drinking, blinking and breathing must go in...hang it all, where’s the bin?

The Open Afternoon — uniformed angels painting the school in such a beautifully perfect light!

The German Teacher — hawk-like eyes, bubbling laughter, prejudice and French her common foes!

Matron — a cup of tea, a kind word, a listening ear: all provided with TLC

The Cook — Joy, her name, and joy her very nature (an unsung hero of everyday life)

The Caretaker — Emilio from Spain in the land of rain, glorious rain

Amy, the Able — Queen of Resources, organised, efficient, expert and skilful (another unsung hero)

The Inspection — smoking-hot photocopiers, senior managers and HODs on their knees...

The Exams — eyelids growing heavy with hours of sleep denied...

The Reports — the once a year chore, delight bursting forth in every breast at the joy of the long nights in store...

The End-of-Year Bash — bleary eyes shaking off tiredness for one last evening of merriment true

Martha:  Helena, I love the concept of your book. I'm a teacher myself and what a wonderful gift this would be. Have you always been interested in writing poetry?
Helena: Actually, no! I've always loved to write, but my first love has always been writing fantasy stories for young children. I wrote poetry at school, of course, and every so often when I was on holiday, but it wasn't a regular thing.
M;  So, what prompted you to write your first book “It's a Teacher's Life...!”
H:  Well, I've been a teacher for 20 years and about three years ago, when I was having a lovely holiday at a beautiful place in the country, I was inspired to write some poetry, and when I came home, I then had the idea to write some more poems about my life as a teacher. Each poem would concentrate on a different aspect of school life, such as the lessons, what went on in the staffroom, school trips, exams, report writing, and so on. I also wanted to pay tribute to some of the support staff who do so much to keep a school running, but are often forgotten about e.g. the cook, the caretaker/janitor, the nurse, the school secretary – the unsung heroes of life is what I call them.
M: Do you have a favourite poem?
H: No, I can't say I've got a favourite. Each one is written from the heart and it's impossible for me to single one out in particular.
M: What did you find the hardest about writing your book(s)?
H: Finding the time to finish them and then the editing, the endless checking and re-reading – it drove me crazy!
M: What was the easiest part?
H: Just writing the poems – I was totally absorbed by the process and really enjoyed it.
M: How do you describe your style of poetry?
H: Easy-to-read, easily accessible free verse. I want people to be able to read and understand what I'm writing about from the word go. I don't like things to be hidden in obscurity. I write simply as I'm inspired to write. The poems I've had published in my two collections are really stories and character sketches that just happen to be in verse. One of the reviews on Amazon talks about me developing a new form of poetry, called the 'anecdotal poem', and I think that describes my style of poetry very well.
M:  What's the attraction of writing poetry as opposed to writing children's stories?
H: When I write poetry, I can concentrate on the rhythm and sound of the words and use vocabulary I wouldn't be able to use in my children's stories. It's a marvellous linguistic challenge - the sound of words has always been something that's fascinated me. It's one of the reasons I studied modern languages. When I write my children's stories, it's more about escaping into a wonderful world of fantasy, leaving the mundane 'real' world behind – I find it wonderfully exciting and liberating.
M: When you're not writing, what are you doing?
H:  Tutoring, translating, reading, walking, playing tennis or dancing, doing Pilates, spending time with my niece and nephew.
M: What are your future writing goals?
H: The illustrations for my first children's picture book are being done at the moment and I will then get the illustrations done for my second picture book. I'm really looking forward to having my children's books published and going into schools to talk about them. Having been a school teacher for 20 years, I'm no stranger to the school environment, although it will perhaps be a little strange that I will be going into schools first and foremost as a writer rather than a teacher, although everyone can learn something useful, I hope, from my stories.

I'm running a contest at the moment on my "It's a Teacher's Life...!" facebook page where I'm giving away a free ecopy of the book each week. To qualify you just have to leave a comment like "Hi" on the wall. This is the link

Wow, you are one busy lady. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your book with us.
For all of you readers out there make sure to pick up a copy of Helena's book for your favorite teacher.


Available in paperback from all major online retailers. Can be ordered through any bookstore. Stocked by Haslemere Bookshop and Weybridge Books in the UK.

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  1. This is gorgeous Helena -- I love the idea of teaching themed poetry, and a ready market with schools too. I wonder if you do school visits and readings--they're always keen to get writers in to talk, and with such an appropriate, fun, and relevant theme, you'd be a hit. Great stuff.

  2. What a clever idea - the book cover looks as fun as the book sounds. I enjoyed your poem about the blank page.

  3. Helena's background is so interesting. I loved hearing more about her. Love the poem. Great interview, Martha.

  4. Helena, I wish I'd had a teacher like you!

  5. Martha, thank you so much for doing such a wonderful feature!

    Maggie - your idea re school visits and readings is certainly one to think about. I hadn't thought so much about doing that with my "It's a Teacher's Life...!" book, as the book is primarily aimed at teachers and written from a teacher's point of view. However, some of the poems could appeal equally to both older pupils and teachers. Thank you for the suggestion! (Love your poem about fathers by the way that was highlighted in yesterday's post.)

    Thank you, Jane and Nancy, for your comments. People do say that the book has a lot of humour in it (my physio said that he found it "hugely hilarious") although there are more serious undercurrents as well! Jane, if you want to read extracts from the book, you'll find them here or here


  6. A poem about a blank page? Seinfeld was a show about nothing and look how successful that was. Why not a poem about a blank page?

    Stephen Tremp

  7. Why not indeed, Stephen? Couldn't agree more! :-)

  8. I taught for nearly 30 years, and every year we did a unit on writing poetry because I like poetry. In fact when I went through my mother's things, I found a book of poems she saved that I wrote when in 3rd grade.

    Thanks for an interesting read.


  9. Great post. I read Family and More--Helena is a gifted writer and poet.

    And, I also agree with Stephen. I love Seinfeld.

    And, I forgot the name of the book - I think it was something like what men know about women. It was a book of blank pages and the author struck gold with it. If this doesn't prove a picture is worth a thousand words . . .

    Writing about the blank page is a wonderful idea.

  10. This poem is such a good example of how well simplicity works for children. Thank you for the day's upper.
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Tweeting resources for writers at

  11. Helena, Thanks for being my guest today. It was such a pleasure to host you and learn more about you and your writing.

  12. Thanks for an interesting interview.
    I love poetry because of the play on words and the simplicity of thought, also. Great poem!

  13. Darcia - you're too kind!

    Vivien - what a charming story about your mother saving your 3rd grade poems! I think children can write some lovely poems because of their simplicity.

    Karen - your comment made me laugh! I haven't come across that book you mention about what men know about women, but that certainly does prove the power of the blank page!

    Carolyn - you're welcome.

    Kathy - I know that you are a poetry lover, too. Thank you so much for dropping by.

    Martha - thank you again for doing such a wonderful feature and allowing me to be your guest. I enjoyed it!


  14. Helena, I have enjoyed reading your interviews as part of the VBT posts. Your writing has a wonderful way of capturing the readers' attention. YOu have a gift!

  15. That is very kind of you to say so - thank you so much for your comment!


  16. Wow Helena you are a real inspiration! I love the concept of your book and will spread the word about your contest!

    All best wishes,
    Dallas :)

  17. Thank you, Dallas!

    All the best

  18. Love the cover! We have so many teachers in our family. I know they'd love this book. Sounds like a great read :)

  19. Hello, Mari, and thank you for dropping by! I have to say that I like the cover, too! If you're interested in reading extracts from the book, then you can here or here

    Hope you enjoy it, if you manage to read some of the extracts.



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Virginia Beach, Virginia, United States