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…
the page fills,
the soul takes flight
and the spirit sings.
Copyright © Helena Harper
1. Have you always been interested in writing poetry? 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.
2. So, what prompted you to write your first book “It’s a Teacher’s Life…!” 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.
3. Do you have a favourite poem? 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.
4. What prompted you to write your book “Family and More – Enemies or Friends?” I had the idea one day whilst driving to work. I was just thinking about my family and other people in my life who’ve had a big influence on me, one way or the other, and suddenly the idea popped into my head that I could write a second collection of poems about them and the lessons I’ve learnt from them.
5. Why is it called “Enemies or Friends?” That’s got a lot to do with the fact that my mother is German and my father was English, and I just couldn’t get my head round the fact that, had I been born a few years earlier, all my German relatives would have been my ‘enemies’. To me they could never have been ‘enemies’, just ‘family’. It got me thinking about how futile it is to talk about so-called national divisions.
6. What did you find the hardest about writing your book(s)? Finding the time to finish them and then the editing, the endless checking and re-reading – it drove me crazy!
7. What was the easiest part? Just writing the poems – I was totally absorbed by the process and really enjoyed it.
8. How do you describe your style of poetry? 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.
9. What’s the attraction of writing poetry as opposed to writing children’s stories? 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.
10. When you’re not writing, what are you doing? Tutoring, translating, reading, walking, playing tennis or dancing, doing Pilates, spending time with my niece and nephew.
11. What are your future writing goals? 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.
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!
Purchase the book HERE.
Who influences us in our lives? How do they influence us? Whom do we call an enemy? Whom do we call a friend? And why? Why do we have relationships at all? These are the questions Helena Harper eloquently asks in her collection of poems that examines the relationships in her own life. She has had to rethink her definition of ‘enemy’, not least because her father was English and her mother German and they met in the aftermath of World War II in Germany. She has also been forced to rethink her definition of ‘friend’. If we learn something from someone that helps us to grow and develop as human beings, becoming more understanding and compassionate in the process, then surely most people we meet in life will be our ‘friends’? Through the memories and experiences of the people in Helena’s life, others can hopefully reflect on their own and maybe come to understand themselves and their relationships better.
Purchase the book HERE.