Monday, 23 February 2015

Monday Moments with Helen J Rolfe and The Friendship Tree

My Monday Moments are with new Crooked Cat author - Helen J. Rolfe. 

Helen's debut novel- The Friendship Tree - launches tomorrow, Tuesday 24th February. Though she's excitedly making preparations for the launch, she's popped in today to answer some interview questions so that we can get to know her. 

Since it’s your first visit to my blog, can you give my readers a little background about yourself, please…

Where are you from, and where do you live now?
Hi, I am from the UK but have only recently returned from 14 years in Australia. There, I spent 9 years in Melbourne and another 5 in Sydney. We are now based in Bath, which is beautiful.

Wonderful. I've never been to Bath - Australia neither - though they're on my 'To Go To' list. 
Can you tell us a few more things about yourself that might not be covered in your bio?
I studied a Bachelor of Science at Bournemouth University, gaining a degree in Strategic Systems Management. I went on to become a computer programmer at Norwich Union and then travelled overseas and worked for another large insurance company. While I wish I’d studied something that I loved, I will never regret the path I followed because it ultimately led me to be where I am today…husband and kids included! I also think that the experiences I have had so far in my life have helped generate ideas for stories, settings and characters.

You’ve a Contemporary Women’s Fiction novel coming out soon with Crooked Cat Publishing - The Friendship Tree. ( BTW- Great cover!) Please give us a little hint of what it’s about?
A friendship tree binds a community together when the past resurfaces.

The Friendship Tree is about the importance of love, friendship and trust and it’s about facing up to life’s challenges, not running away.

Are you a plotter, or a pantser, when it comes to creating your novels?
I’m more of a plotter…at least most of the time! I like to get a basic idea down first, then expand on my characters and work out the details of their appearance, personalities and their quirks. I enjoy the research stage, too, and once I have everything together I start my first draft.

I think it’s important to be flexible as you’re writing that first draft, though, because ideas do come to you as you progress and find your characters acting in ways you hadn’t predicted!

I tend to have a vague idea of what my main characters might look like early on in the manuscript and then I go trawling the image sites for the perfect ones for me. Around the ‘printed-out’ images, I plan their characteristics etc. Do you have any particular tricks that you use for initial character building?
I’m the same! I know roughly what I’d like the character to look like and then I trawl images so that I can work out the finer details. I think that it’s important to have a clear idea in your mind of who your characters are, especially the protagonist(s).

Your settings for The Friendship Tree are Australia and the UK. Have you used places that you’ve actually visited, or are they amalgams of places that have impressed you at some time or other?
The majority of The Friendship Tree is set in a town called Brewer Creek, which is a fictitious town in the Central Coast of New South Wales. I based Brewer Creek on towns that I have visited in Australia (not necessarily New South Wales). I have also included Sydney and London, both of which I have visited and loved.

Is The Friendship Tree a traditional romance in that it has a happy ever after ending, or is it like some I’ve read recently where it’s more of an exposition of characters moving forward; getting on with their lives but the ending isn’t quite so rosy as an HEA romance?
I will say that The Friendship Tree has a happy ending but I wouldn’t say that it’s a traditional ‘happy ever after’…more of a satisfactory ‘happy for now’. There are some less rosy moments in the book but I think that overall the story is uplifting and positive, and the characters all learn something about themselves and each other by the end.

Do you have a large cast of characters in The Friendship Tree if some of the themes are family and friendships?
The cast isn’t really huge, given that Brewer Creek is a small town, but there are certainly a few storylines running in parallel about some of the characters.

Did you have the characters names immediately after you started the manuscript, or have they changed as you wrote it? Do you have any favourite way of choosing character names?
The Friendship Tree centres on Tamara Harding’s journey, but originally her name was Jenna. I changed her name because my male protagonist is Jake, and I decided that names beginning with a different letter would be better.

I also had Jean Abbott, who runs the milk bar in Brewer Creek. Deciding I had too many ‘J’s’, I changed her name to Daphne…not a good idea to do a ‘change all’ in Word, though, as suddenly I had Tamara pulling on her ‘skinny Daphnes’ and Jake’s bum looking great in his ‘faded Daphnes’!
I've made a few errors in the past with 'change all' in Word, too, and won't do that again!
I write historical and contemporary work and find I don’t need to do very much research for my contemporary work but need a lot for my historicals. Did you need to spend much time doing focused research for The Friendship Tree?
The research stage for this book wasn’t too laborious because Brewer Creek is fictitious. However, I did have to be more careful when I was writing about Sydney and London, as they are real places.

Tamara Harding is a PR account executive and Jake Manning is a vet, so there was a certain amount of research surrounding their careers as I haven’t worked in either industry. I enjoyed the research though, and my author friend, Rachael Thomas, who owns a Dairy Farm in Wales, was able to help with a few technical details about cows.

What else did you write before The Friendship Tree?
I studied journalism while I was still working in I.T. and then began work as a freelance journalist writing for womens health and fitness magazines. I covered so many interesting topics from tai chi, Pilates and pregnancy, to depression, and back pain.

I joined the RNA in 2012 and as a result I met the other Write Romantics who have become good friends. Together, The Write Romantics released Winter Tales, an anthology of winter and Christmas stories at the end of 2014. The stories are written by the ten members of The Write Romantics, plus other generous published authors. All proceeds from Winter Tales go to our two nominated charities, the Teenage Cancer Trust and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Winter Tales is still available now, via Amazon.

What’s in store for your writing in the first half of 2015?
I’m busy finalising my next two books ready for submission, and I hope to get started with planning and working on the first draft of book number four.

For fun. What are:
The three things you miss most about living in Australia?
1. Friends, of course.
2. I miss the wide roads…we have a lovely 4WD but I’m thinking we should’ve chosen a mini!
3. The balmy nights of 35 degrees, sipping on a glass of Sauv Blanc.
The three things you miss the least?
1. Slathering on the factor 50 sunscreen every day, for at least six months of the year!
2. Killer spiders and gruesome cockroaches.
3. I can’t think of anything else!!

Did you ever feel that your novel, The Friendship Tree, would never be published?
All the time! I had my fair share of rejections, but each time, I listened to feedback, kept learning the craft of writing and reworked The Friendship Tree into a much better novel. I hope readers enjoy the story. The Friendship Tree will be released on February 24th.

Thank you so much, Nancy, for inviting me onto your blog. I’ve enjoyed my visit!

Great answers - thank you! It's lovely to get to know you, Helen, and you're welcome anytime. 
Helen's short story, 'Christmas in July' appears in the anthology 'Winter Tales', which is a collection of stories put together by the blog group The Write Romantics and other incredibly generous authors who are helping to raise funds for The Teenage Cancer Trust and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
You can find out more about Helen J Rolfe at:

About The Friendship Tree...
Is running away ever the answer?
Tamara Harding left the UK to join family in Australia, but more importantly, to put ten thousand miles between her and her ex, Bradley Cox. She is soon drawn in to the small community of Brewer Creek where she becomes the coordinator for an old fashioned Friendship Tree – a chart telling people who they can call on in times of trouble.

As she vows to start over, she meets Jake Manning – and life gets more complicated than she could ever have imagined. Jake is the direct competitor for the family business, and a man with a dark secret, and Tamara struggles to fight her attraction to him as she deals with secrets of her own and an ex who refuses to give up.

When danger descends on Brewer Creek in the form of Jake’s own past, Tamara soon realises the Friendship Tree does a lot more than organise fundraising events and working bees; it has the power to unite an entire town. But will Tamara see past the complications and allow herself a happy ending with Jake?

Or will she run away again?

 Pre-Order from Amazon

Best wishes with The Friendship Tree, Helen, it sounds wonderful and thank you for visiting today.



  1. Great interview. I enjoyed getting to know you, Helen.

  2. Thank you, Miriam :-)


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