Secrets and Fries by Helen Cox #BlogBlitz

I am delighted to welcome Helen Cox author of Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner to take part in my Q&A Interview. Plus a chance to win a signed proof copy of book 1 – Milkshakes and Heartbreaks on Blog Blitz today

The Book

What brings Bonnie Brooks to The Starlight Diner? And why is she on the run?
As the front-woman in a band, Bonnie is used to being in the spotlight, but now she must hide in the shadows.
Bonnie only has one person who she can turn to: her friend Esther Knight, who waitresses at the Fifties-themed diner. There, retro songs play on the jukebox as fries and sundaes are served to satisfied customers. But where has Esther gone?
Alone in New York City, Bonnie breaks down in front of arrogant news reporter, and diner regular, Jimmy Boyle. Jimmy offers to help her. Can she trust him?
When the kindly owner of the Starlight Diner offers Bonnie work, and she meets charming security officer Nick Moloney, she dares to hope that her luck has changed. Is there a blossoming romance on the cards? And can Bonnie rebuild her life with the help of her Starlight Diner friends?

Good morning welcome to Chelle’s Book Reviews. Can you tell us a little about yourself and background?

I’m a Yorkshire-born author, journalist and poet. I’ve written professionally for over a decade and also have the privilege of co-coordinating the creative writing curriculum at City Lit, a charitable further education institution in London.

I love vintage, history, movies, art, prose and poetry and most importantly, dogs. I think I was given the soul of an over-enthusiastic Labrador. Like them, I’m prone to bouts of bounding excitement, like to eat a hearty meal without too much consideration over the portion sizes and am totally transparent about just how big my heart is. Consequently, I get on with dogs very well indeed.

When did you know that you wanted to become a writer? and how did you go about it?

I was writing from such an early age without any prompting, I sort of always knew it was going to be part of my destiny. As a child, I could be found lying on my belly underneath the dining room table writing and drawing on any winter afternoon. During the summer months I just did the same thing in the garden.

The ‘how did you go about it’ part is a little bit less straightforward. I came from a working class background and the idea that I would ever write anything good enough for people to read wasn’t really a point of view promoted around my parent’s house. Consequently, I spent a long time not believing in my abilities as a writer. I still did it because I didn’t know how not to, but I didn’t send anything off for publication, except a poem about the family dog which wound up in the local gazette.

When I was about twenty-five however, I decided I’d had enough of working as a banker, or waitress, or till clerk or any other job my 2.1 degree in Psychology could land for me just to pay rent. I saved as much money as I could from my wages and used the money to pay, in instalments, for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of York St John. I finished the course alongside a full time job and the most important thing I got out of it was that it made me believe in my work. It inspired me to chase jobs in that field and submit my work for publication. That was over a decade ago and since then I’ve been published in newspapers, magazines, websites, poetry anthologies and by both non-fiction and fiction book publishers.

Can you tell us what genre your books are and the audience you write for?

My books most readily fit into the romantic suspense genre, but there are a lot of other elements packed in there. In terms of audience, I just try to write stories that I think people will enjoy. Women are probably more likely to pick up my books because of the way in which the covers have been designed but a lot of my reviews have been from men who gave the book a try and really wound up enjoying it. So, I know I’m supposed to have a target demographic but it’s not really the way I work. I think my ‘ideal audience’ are just people who want to read a story that will make them think, feel, and laugh on occasion.

What is your writing process? and how long does it take?

Well, I’m not very good at being patient with myself so, my gut answer to your question is that it takes FOREVER.

In reality, it takes about a year to research and write a book. The editing and rewriting probably takes another six months.

I don’t have a set approach or process of writing. I like to be open to new ways of working or new sparks of inspiration. What I will say is that I don’t feel any loyalty whatsoever to the first draft of a story, or the first vision of what the plot is going to look like. I look at each piece of writing as a journey, over the course of that journey the writing is going to change until the destination is finally reached where all the various elements are working as hard as they can to engage and entertain the reader. If anything my ‘process’ is simply being willing to let go of ideas and words that don’t work, even if that’s the way I wrote them on a first try.

Are your characters based on anyone you know or are they just fictional?

My characters are not based on specific people but my experience of people, including myself, as a whole. My characters are a reflection of how I experience humanity and our society generally. My undergraduate degree was in psychology so I learnt a lot about what drives people’s actions during my studies. I couple this with experiences I have and embellish or distort an incident, a reaction or a mind-set to fictionalise and dramatize it.

I would say there are splinters of who I am in most, if not all of the characters I write about and I tend to rely on my own emotional truths to convey what I believe would be realistic but interesting interactions and relationships between my characters.

But on the whole no, sorry. Jack Faber isn’t based on someone real you can look up in the phonebook

Have you wrote about a personal experience in your novels?

Yes I have written about personal experience but not in the direct way a writer might in an autobiography. My works are fiction so although I may share similar experiences to some of my characters, our experiences are not identical.

Like Bonnie, I have had experiences of exclusion and poverty. Like Esther I’ve found myself in abusive and threatening situations. Sadly, I don’t think that I’m in a minority but writing about these issues has certainly helped me accept some of the experiences I’ve had and I very much hope it does the same for other people who read my books with similar personal histories, and makes them feel less alone.

What research do you do?

Research is an almost continuous process throughout the writing of a book. Taking the Starlight Diner books as an example, I read both fiction and non-fiction works about New York. I spent a lot of time looking at old maps of Manhattan and conducting interviews with people who live in the city in an attempt to get under its skin.

I also took a month-long, life on-a-shoe-string research trip to the States where I hung out in New York for a couple of weeks and then bus and trained it across to the Mid-West to better understand the background of my minor characters and the protagonist of the second book. Obviously not all of this is strictly necessary to write a book but it was just my process this time and if I’m writing about a place I don’t know, there really is no substitute for visiting that place and experiencing it first-hand.

Who would you like to co-write with and why?

I’d love to co-write with Maya Angelou, but sadly she is no longer with us. She is one of the most inspirational writers I have ever read. Every word on the page feels like it’s in the right place. She was so wise. She was a goddess.

What’s your favorite book?
The Princess Bride by William Goldman.

What’s your favorite food?
A tough one, and it changes, but hard to beat our Mam’s Sunday roasts.

What’s your favorite film?
Grease 2. No, Die Hard. No, Grease 2… can I have two favourite films?
Ha Ha good choices so I will let you

What’s your favorite song?

One song??? Is it even possible to make a choice like that? I can tell you that few things beat listening to Dolly Parton singing I Will Always Love You.

How can readers find out more information about yourself and your books?

I have an author blog at, I’m on Twitter @Helenography and I also have an author Facebook page and a mailing list. So lots of ways, and I always love hearing from readers.

Thank you so much for joining me today Helen

About Helen Cox
Helen Cox is a book-devouring, photo-taking, film-obsessed novelist. If forced to choose one, Helen’s Mastermind specialism would be Grease 2. To this day, she still adheres to the Pink Lady pledge and when somebody asks her if she is a god she says ‘yes.’

After completing her MA in creative writing at the University of York St. John Helen found work writing for a range of magazines, websites and blogs as well as writing news and features for TV and radio. She has written three non-fiction books and founded independent film publication: New Empress Magazine. She currently lives in York and writes novels.

Win a signed proof copy of book 1 – Milkshakes and Heartbreaks – Open Internationally.
Sign up to Helen Cox’s mailing list before 1st December in order to be in with a chance of winning –
As a thank you to signing up to the mailing list you will receive three short stories too.

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