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Two women. Two villages. Different destinies.

ABOUT: Odeta's life has shrunk to a daily round of drudgery, running her father's grocery store in a remote Albanian village. One day a stranger from Tirana walks into the shop and promises her a new career in London. Odeta's life is about to change, but not in the way she expected. Journalist Kate lives on a quiet London street and seems to have a perfect life but she worries about her son Ben, who struggles to make friends. Kate blames the internet and disconnects her family from the online world so they can get to know their neighbours. On a visit to her home village in Wales, Kate is forced to confront a secret from her past. But greater danger lies closer to home. Perhaps Kate's neighbours are not the friendly community they seem.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Helen Matthews is the author of debut novel ‘After Leaving the Village’, winner of the Winchester Writers’ Festival prize for opening pages of a novel. Born in Cardiff, she read English at the University of Liverpool. After travelling, she worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management but fled corporate life to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University.

Helen has won prizes for short stories and has been published in literary journal Artificium. As a freelancer, she writes content for websites and business magazines and has, in the past, been published in The Guardian and had columns broadcast on BBC radio.

She is married with two grown-up children and lives in Hampshire.

For more on Helen Matthews

Twitter: @HelenMK7



Instagram: @helen.matthews7




1. What’s your ‘elevator pitch’ for your book?

When an enigmatic stranger persuades Odeta to leave her remote Albanian village and travel with him to London, her dream of a new life soon becomes a nightmare.

On the same London street, journalist Kate is tackling her son, Ben’s internet addiction with an extreme digital detox and trying to recreate the village environment of her own childhood. But as she tries to build a community with her neighbours, she stumbles on dark secrets behind closed doors.   


2. Who is your target reader?

I thought my readers would be mainly female - women who enjoy a gripping page-turner, expect it to be well-written, and aren’t too nervous to engage with gritty and unsettling contemporary themes. Since publication, I’ve been delighted to discover it appeals to readers of all ages and genders. A 27-year-old man wrote in his review: Absolutely fantastic. Was hooked all the way through. This is the first book I've been addicted to in some time, finished it in under a week - and I'm no bookworm! At the other end of the age spectrum, a friend bought my book as a gift for her 90-year-old mother (though I tried to dissuade her!) After Christmas, she wrote and told me My mum read your book in one day, thought it was excellent and has now lent it to her carer.

It’s taught me that people are more open-minded than I thought and can empathise with the different life experiences of others, even when these are harrowing.


3. When did you start writing your book and how long did it take?

My initial research and first draft took about a year, but with many re-structures and edits between then and publication. I belong to two excellent writers’ groups: one in Oxford and one local, where we critique and workshop one another’s work. I’m always open to feedback and suggestions to improve my writing.


4. What was the top challenge that you faced during the creation of your book?

Writing about dark and gritty topics means walking a tightrope. You can’t shy away from disturbing scenes, so you have to learn to handle difficult subject matter without being gratuitous. Above all, you must be true to your characters and, if they’d swear and use strong language in real life, you have to write it down. You can’t have them saying, “Oh, dearie me.” 

My other challenge was when feedback from different literary agents and publishers was conflicting – some suggested I cut scenes that other professionals loved! 


5. What publishing route did you opt for and why? (i.e. self-publishing, indie publishing, traditionally published with an agent etc).

The opening pages of After Leaving the Village won first prize at Winchester Writers’ Festival and part of my prize was an editorial meeting with a leading publisher. The editor reviewed six chapters, said I had a strong fresh voice for women's fiction and invited me to resubmit once I’d found an agent. I spent two frustrating years submitting to agents and received several requests for the full manuscript and several took the time to send detailed feedback, but I didn’t find an agent to represent me. I decided to look at small independent publishers as many accept direct submissions without an agent. I’d just started on this route when I attended The Author School and was fortunate to be offered a deal by new indie publisher, Hashtag Press.


6. Is this your first book? If not, please provide details of your others.

I have finished three novel drafts, which I’ve abandoned, including one I wrote for my MA in Creative Writing dissertation - it can’t have been that bad because I passed my MA! I’m glad those earlier novels didn’t see the light of day and remain unpublished because they definitely were not my best work.


7. Do you plan to write another book(s) in the future? Do you have details you can share?

I’m close to a final draft of my next novel. It’s contemporary suspense, with some elements of domestic noir, about a family in crisis escaping to France to rebuild their broken life. But new challenges emerge, threatening the family’s safety. Is this just a bad luck? A quirk of fate? Or is there something darker and more sinister going on? 


8. What/who inspired you to become an author?

My parents passed on to me their love of reading. My dad wrote short stories in his spare time and many were published and some broadcast by the BBC in their ‘Morning Story’ slot. I’ve been writing fiction since I could hold a pen. For me it’s an addiction and I get terrible withdrawal pangs, if I don’t write. When the ‘Writer at Work’ post-it note goes up on my door, my family has learned to keep away. I’ve won prizes for short stories, had articles published in magazines and a couple of columns broadcast on the BBC, but nothing compares with the thrill of having a novel published.


9. Do you have a ‘day job’ or do you work solely as an author?

I had a full on managerial career in the energy industry for many years but I fled corporate life to take an MA in Creative Writing. I knew if I didn’t break from my routine, I’d never become a writer. In theory I was a full-time student on the MA course but I took on a consultancy role alongside it that averaged 5-8 days a month and continued with that for three years. I then gradually changed direction and now I’m a freelance copywriter, specializing in HR, Employee Benefits and pensions. Self-employment fits perfectly with being a novelist. 


10. What are your thoughts on the current state of the publishing industry? Are you happy that it has evolved so fast in recent years? Do you believe self-publishing is a force for good?

Small presses, independents and self-publishing have given opportunities to writers who might otherwise never have broken through. Some self-published writers have become bestselling authors. Thankfully the gatekeepers of traditional publishing have woken up to the need for new voices and schemes for BAME writers, and other under-represented groups, are finally springing up.

None of us has the right to be published but new routes, such as Kindle direct publishing give many more people this opportunity. I do believe that self-published authors who put their work ‘out there’ should take responsibility for the quality of their books and make sure they are professionally edited and proofread. There’s no point in polluting the world with error-filled, badly written books. 


11. What’s next for you?

I’m continuing to promote After Leaving the Village and my main focus for the next few months is on giving talks and attending events. I have dates booked through to March 2019. I’ve been appointed an Ambassador by the anti-slavery charity Unseen that works towards a world without slavery and I’m thrilled to have the chance to raise awareness of the evil of human trafficking, alongside prompting my book.

My new novel will be ready soon.


12. If you could get a glowing review from three people who would they be and why?

Firstly, I’d love to have my book reviewed on one of the BBC’s programmes such as A Good Read or Open Book. I’m passionate about raising awareness of modern slavery, which is the main theme of the novel, and the BBC has a great reach.

I’d also like a good review from one of the many novelists I admire, who write about the dark side of contemporary issues. This is a tough one but I’m going to choose Louise Doughty.

As a feminist, my third choice is a young female activist, who is both brave and inspirational in advocating for women and children’s rights through education – Malala Yousafzai.


Thank you Helen!

For more on Helen Matthews visit her website




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