Guest Spotlight with Helena Fairfax: How my imaginary characters became real people, and everything else I learned from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme

We’re delighted to welcome another guest to the Saturday Spotlight in the form of Helena Fairfax. We have interviewed several published and aspiring writers in the past but asked Helena if she’d like to be interviewed or go ‘freestyle’. Helena decided to give the latter a whirl so, as the title says, this is everything she’s learned from her time in the RNA’s NWS and an insight into her writing world. Over to you, Helena …


Have you ever sat on a grimy commuter train, looked round at all the other pale, exhausted commuters, wet clothes gently steaming in the fug, then closed your eyes and thought, ‘I wish, I wish I was in the south of France?’

A few years ago I was escaping inside my own head in this way, when I had an idea for a romance novel. Every morning after that, rammed next to my fellow sufferers on the 7.25, I’d try and make my idea come alive in my notebook. In my lunch hour, I’d sit round the back of my factory, joining the lads from the estate on the canal. Whilst the boys fished in the drizzle for whatever lurked in those murky depths, I’d be crossing out everything I’d written that morning and scribbling down some more. Instead of dealing with production deadlines and irate customers, I was in the south of France with my red hot boss. It seemed like a sort of game – my characters were something to keep me amused during the dreary nine to five.

And then I joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, and to my surprise, my gorgeous French hero was no longer just a pleasant daydream in my head. To my reader at the RNA, this was a real, breathing character, who needed a motivation and a goal. My wispy daydream was a mere outline, my reader told me, and needed to shape up. This was my first, delightful experience as an aspiring writer. I’d found a reader who was taking my character seriously, and was helping me put solid flesh on his fragile bones.

I submitted twice to the New Writers’ Scheme. Here’s a list of some of the other lessons I learned that changed me from a daydreaming scribbler to one who finally became a published author:

 To the readers who buy your book, your characters aren’t just ideas in your head. They are living and breathing people. They MUST have clear motivations and reasons for their behaviour. Readers expect to know WHY they act the way they do.  What is it in the characters’ past that has made them this way?

 A romance story has to contain emotional tension.  As my reader said, ‘It’s about why the hero and heroine, so obviously attracted to each other, not only won’t admit they have fallen in love but feel that they can’t….Your hero and heroine should have goals that are in direct opposition to each other.’

 There must be a situation which forces the hero and heroine together.  If not, why don’t they just say goodbye on page four, if their goals are in opposition to one another?  What will force them to stay together throughout the course of a whole novel? 

 Emotional conflict must be sustained throughout the course of the novel.   To quote my reader again: ‘When you’re structuring a romance, you should be thinking about the plot not so much as moving your characters from A to B but as a series of situations that test their fears and bring their goals into conflict.’    I learned how much skill is involved in keeping this emotional conflict sustained in an interesting way! 

 The synopsis.  It’s vital that the synopsis shows: characterisation, motivation, cause of emotional tension, and reason why the characters are forced together.

 The dreaded rewrite.  After taking my reader’s advice the first time I submitted, this meant that I had to substantially rewrite my manuscript.  But I took heart from my reader’s last words:  ‘This is a story with lots of potential and although it does need some restructuring, and yes, some extra work, I’m sure it won’t be as bad as you think once you get started!’  And my reader was right.  At first, I was daunted, but now I never mind rewriting.  As a perfectionist, I enjoy the feeling that I’m manipulating the words to get the best story I can.

 Handling rejection.  Of course I was disappointed the novel wasn’t right at first, but the accompanying letter from the RNA’s president gave positive advice: ‘Always bear in mind that most published authors have experience of rejection.  All writers, published and unpublished, need to be tenacious and determined…Have faith in yourself!’

 I resubmitted the entire novel the next year.  This taught me another great lesson – in order to get a book written, you have to sit down and WRITE.  No excuses or prevarication.  If I’d missed the scheme’s deadline, that would have been it.  Now it wasn’t just a pleasant hobby. I had to force myself to write, whether I felt like it or not, in order to get the book finished on time.

In May last year my daydream finally became reality, with the release of The Silk Romance. The months of agonising and toil over my novel, times in which I felt inadequate and had moments of swearing I’d never try and write a book again, were all forgotten that day, and I had a massive smile on my face.

Of course I’m still agonising over my notebooks, but now I write much faster, with fewer rewrites, because through the RNA I’ve learned several work-changing lessons.

The Silk Romance is a contender for the Joan Hessayon Award at the RNA’s summer party in May, and I intend to be there, partying my party stilettos off!


If you’d like to find out more about the French hero I daydreamed about, here’s the blurb to The Silk Romance:

How do you choose between the people you love most?

Sophie Challoner is sensible and hard-working, and a devoted carer of her father.  The night her grandmother throws a party for her in Paris, Sophie does something reckless she can never forget. 

Jean-Luc Olivier has retired from his glamorous life as a racing driver to run a silk mill in Lyon.  Years after they first met, fate reunites Jean-Luc with Sophie in this most romantic of cities, and he’s determined not to let her go a second time.

But is Jean-Luc still the same man he was? It seems he has a secret of his own.  And when disaster strikes back home in London, Sophie is faced with a choice—stay in this wonderful city with the man she loves, or return to her family to keep a sacred promise she made her mother.


Available as an e-book.

Amazon US:

Amazon UK:

MuseItUp Publishing:


Also available from iTunes and lots of other e-book places


You can find Helena on her blog:

on Facebook,

on Goodreads:

or on Twitter @helenafairfax


Thanks very much for having me today, lovely Write Romantics. It’s good to get to know you all, and thank you for being such welcoming hosts!


Thank you for joining us Helena. And good luck with the Joan Hessayon!

Julie & The Write Romantics


16 thoughts on “Guest Spotlight with Helena Fairfax: How my imaginary characters became real people, and everything else I learned from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme

    • Thanks, Jackie! I learned so much with the NWS and am still learning all the time. I don’t think there’ll ever come a day when I’m tired of writing! Thanks so much to all the Write Romantics for having me today!

  1. Thank you for sharing, Helena. It’s always very motivating to hear from other NWS members and all about their writing journey.
    Good luck with the award nomination and see you at the conference!
    Helen R x

  2. Great journey story, Helena. and I love the idea of you sitting outside the factory, dreaming of romance, adventure and sexy French heroes – sounds like a great way to spend your lunch hour 🙂

  3. Great post Helena. All the advice you give here is so true and so wise, from thinking about characters and their conflicts to the endless rewriting, and the handling of rejection (that’s a tough one!) I love the image of you dreaming about your novel in your lunch hour whilst sitting near the canal where a bunch of lads fished in the drizzly rain! The Silk Romance is a great romance,and the hero you gave life to is a very attractive one indeed. I loved the story and the characters.

    • Thanks so much, Marie! I’ve never forgotten that advice from my reader regarding focusing on the conflict. And I love to fall in love with a hero. The perfect escapism! Thanks so much for coming by!

    • Thanks for your great comment, Penny. I wish I could keep my reader at the RNA to read through all my manuscripts 🙂 I couldn’t have written my novel without her advice and am so glad you also found it useful. Thanks for dropping in!

  4. Hey, Helena. I was doing my taxes yesterday and didn’t get around to much on our author loop. So glad I found this today. You’ve nailed so many of those things, we as writers must get. You seem to have learned them so much faster than I. Vermont Escape is the fourth book I’ve written, so yeah, I’ve always been a slow learner. The most important lesson you mention IMHO is to keep on keeping on. We can be our own worst enemy. The only one who can really defeat us is ourselves if we give up. So happy that we both found MuseItUp! Good luck with all your books.

    • Thanks, Marsha. I do my own taxes, too. What a drain on our time! But here in the UK Her Majesty doesn’t like it if we don’t pay, and I’d hate to upset her! 🙂 I hope she’s at least bought both our books! I’m also happy to have found Muse, not least because of the great friendships. Thanks very much for your lovely comment!

  5. I enjoyed your post, Helena. How wise your were to heed the advice of your RNA reader. Everything about your book sounds luscious, from the intriguing title, the lovely cover and characters in your blurb, especially when we know they meet in Paris. Wonderful. Good luck with your book and congratulations.

    • Thanks for coming, Wendy, and for taking the time to leave a comment. I owe a lot of people thanks for my book, and it really wouldn’t have shaped up the way it did without the RNA’s scheme. And I owe thanks to the wonderful Charlotte Volnek for hte cover, who also did my cover for The Antique Love. Thanks so much for your kind words, Wendy, and for coming by!

    • Thanks so much, Ros! I’m indebted to the people I’ve met through the RNA, and continue to rely on them for advice. Romance writers are such a supportive group of people! Thanks for coming by and taking the time to comment 🙂

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