Helen Jacey is the author of the Elvira Slate 1940s detective crime series. She is married to Patrick, who is an artist, and has one son, Jack now in his late twenties who works in post-production editing. Helen writes,
“In my twenties I managed aid programmes for NGOs in the UK and Eastern Europe but I had a deeply buried dream to become a writer and after some years, the muse was calling loudly! Giving up my career was a risky move as I was giving up economic security and a high level of responsibility in a job I also loved. But it was time for a change, and deep down I knew I would always regret not giving myself a chance at a doing something that felt more true to me. To manage the transition I embarked on a two year part-time Masters in Screenwriting at the University of London. This programme really was a life-changer and certainly was the launch pad I needed. Contacts, a peer network, confidence, and of course, immersing myself in my writing projects.
I’ve been writing as a freelancer since 2002, when I graduated from the MA. I didn’t set up Shedunnit Productions until 2018. Starting my own business felt like a natural evolution of all the many writing roles I’ve had over the years – as a screenwriter, script editor, story mentor, international expert on female characters and university lecturer. But I am a strong believer in everything happens at the right time. Shedunnit Productions’ timing is perfect for where I am right now as a creator.
I got started with a big leap of faith, a load of hard work and a steep learning curve. I also had a lot of support, encouragement and help from my family, friends and mentors. My first novel Jailbird Detective was the first big project for Shedunnit, so that was very much the focus of the first year. I made a book trailer with friends, published the book, learnt as much as a could about independent publishing, as well as marketing strategies to help me reach readers. From working in management all those years ago, I had some transferable business skills, which have certainly helped.
I like having a vision and being in charge of making it happen. I’m a goal-orientated person and have a ‘can do’ attitude. I don’t like waiting on people’s decisions. Having a business totally empowers you to go for what you want and do it your way.
Not having enough time for everything can be a challenge. Gone are the days too in which I can just write, so compartmentalising time for the writing is tricky. For me, I prefer to understand something properly before I do it, so need to read and research, but on occasions I’ve had to just jump in. I now treat anything challenging as necessary growing pains.
Launching Elvira Slate Investigations, my 1940s female detective crime series, and finding fans has been absolutely fantastic experience. The message that the series is ‘noir with a female gaze’ has really hit home with so many people – those who love crime fiction, or vintage fashion, and certainly women of all ages who want to see a female sleuth in a 1940s world. I think the branding has worked really well, from the name Shedunnit, to the look we have created, from the covers to the website.
I had a terrible error on my first print run of my second book, which I just hadn’t seen on the front-piece so it was entirely my fault. The launch party was a week away when a friend, who is also a journalist and was writing a review of the book, called me and told me she’d spotted the fateful error. My stomach turned over as I had no idea how I’d get the new books printed in time for the launch, which was a big event in itself. Amazingly, it was possible (with some expense) so it was all right on the night. The first print run became a rather large pile of review copies, or rare editions as I prefer to think of them.
It’s easy to fit work around my family because my son is grown up, and my husband is an artist who shares the same values about creativity being so important to one’s mental health, and he also has the same hard-working ethic as me. I think having a younger family and a start-up business would be incredibly challenging.
Looking to the future, I’d love Elvira Slate Investigations to become a best selling novel series. I can’t see that I would ever give up my business. I like having challenges and being creative. For me, writing is my passion and making Shedunnit Productions a success is my future.
Before setting up Shedunnit, I have had a lot of fantastic experiences due to the success of my writing book The Woman in the Story: Writing Memorable Female Characters. A huge honour for me was being asked to give a key note lecture in honour of Liv Ullmann at the inaugural Liv Ullmann symposium. Liv Ullmann is an actor who I’ve always admired. It was a lavish event in Norway, with Liv herself in the audience.
As far as Shedunnit Productions is concerned, every time I get a message from a fan saying how much they connect the character of Elvira on a personal level, I am over the moon. This means more to me than anything. I wrote her because she didn’t exist, and I strongly felt she needed to. These messages are like gold to me.
Find out more about Helen’s books at https://www.shedunnit.com/
Linked in: @helenjacey