All About Helen Watts
Helen Watts began writing fiction in 2012 after spending 25 years working as an editor and educational publisher. “Writing was always a key part of my job,” Helen told us. “But I wasn’t one of those people who always dreamed of writing a novel one day. My first book kind of found me. I felt compelled to write it because it was based on such a powerful and moving historical event that was relatively unknown in the UK. It was a story I simply had to retell.”
That story became One Day In Oradour (Bloomsbury 2013), Helen’s debut novel for readers aged 12 and over. Set in France in the Second World War, the book earned her a nomination for the Carnegie Medal for an outstanding book for children as well as an Extraordinary Award at the Southern Schools Book Awards in 2014. Helen has recently adapted the novel for the screen.
“As a Classics graduate with a passion for history and a background in educational publishing, I guess it is no surprise that I combine the two and write mainly historical fiction for young readers,” Helen explains. “I try to write the kind of stories that I love to read myself: stories that make you think, ‘Wow, that really happened’, or which leave you wondering where the facts end and the fiction begins.”
Helen’s second novel No Stone Unturned (age 8+) was published in 2014 and stars a teenage Traveller girl who unravels the dark secrets behind a tragic railway accident. Taking the reader back and forth to Victorian times, the story was inspired by an abandoned quarry that Helen discovered while walking her dogs in fields close to her home. The book was shortlisted for three awards, including the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award 2014 and the Warwickshire Junior Book Awards. Since then, Helen has also co-written two collections of folktales and legends from the First World War, teaming up with the UK’s first storytelling Laureate, Taffy Thomas MBE. She is currently working on a sequel to No Stone Unturned and a Young Adult novel set on Alcatraz in the 1950s.
Helen is married with two teenage children and lives in a small village just outside Stratford-upon-Avon.
Helen’s School Visits
Helen offers interactive author talks and creative writing workshops. Her sessions can be tailored to suit individual needs, age, group size and venue, but are mostly suited to children in Key Stages 2, 3 and 4.
Helen’s talks and workshops make use of slides and some involve video clips. Helen would therefore need access to a lap top and a projector or other appropriate screen, plus audio speakers. For workshops, participants will also need pens, pencils and paper and somewhere comfortable to sit and write.
Author talks: Helen’s talks usually last from 45 minutes to 1 hour and explore the true stories, people, places and events that have inspired her books. Helen always tries to make her talks as interactive as possible and will include an author reading as well 10 to 15 minutes for questions and time for a book signing. There is no maximum audience size for Helen’s author talks, although as Helen uses audio visual aids, schools are asked to ensure that all children will be able to see the screen.
Creative writing workshops: Helen’s workshops usually last from 90 minutes to 2 hours and usually begin with a shortened version of her author talk (around 30 minutes), followed by practical writing activities in which the children can plan and develop their own stories working independently or in pairs or small groups. Helen always allows time at the end of the session for volunteers to share their stories and as with the author talks, there will be time for questions as well as a book signing.
The maximum group size for a workshop is 35, as the smaller the group the more time there is for the children to receive some one-to-one feedback from Helen on their story planning and writing.
Half-day or full-day workshop visits can also be arranged. For example, some schools like to book Helen for a whole school author talk, followed by a series of workshops with different classes.
Helen is happy to discuss the focus and the content of her workshop with the school in advance, but examples include:
Creating historical fiction – blending fact with fiction (focusing on One Day In Oradour and/or No Stone Unturned)
Using places as a starting point for writing (focusing on One Day In Oradour and/or No Stone Unturned)
Writing stories in the style of a legend (focusing on The Ghost of the Trenches)
One Day In Oradour (A&C Black/Bloomsbury, 2013) For 12+
In 1944, the small French village of Oradour-sur-Glane was wiped out in a single afternoon by an SS regiment. Only a handful of people escaped, including just one seven-year-old schoolboy. This hard-hitting and deeply moving book tells the story of what happened on that fateful day.
“Powerful, moving and almost unbearably tense … With a twist in the tale, this is a story which leaves the reader surprised, inspired and profoundly moved.” Young Writers
“This is definitely one of those stories which does more than any History textbook ever could to make history feel very real. We’d definitely read other fictionalised stories by Helen Watts.” The Historical Association
“Watts has written a symphony with words. Young adult readers and adults, especially those studying or with an interest in World War II will find this book a must read.” Inis, The Children’s Books Ireland Magazine
“A profound WW2 book not to be missed.” Julia Eccleshare, Children’s Director of the Hay Festival
No Stone Unturned (A&C Black/Bloomsbury, 2014) For 8+
Kelly and Ben are both outsiders. She is a Traveller. He lives on a farm, home schooled by his parents. Mysteriously drawn to one another, the two teenagers spend the summer exploring an abandoned quarry, intrigued by rumours that it is linked to a devastating fire that destroyed the Palace of Westminster over 170 years ago. But they unearth more than they bargained for, including the shocking truth behind a rail tragedy in which lives were lost and families were torn apart.
“A fabulous historical mystery.” The Bookbag
“From the word go I couldn’t put the book down – there is something truly magical yet real about it. … This mesmerising book is full of substance … a fascinating read, picking up momentum until it becomes irresistible.” Sandy Holt, Arts Editor, Stratford Herald
“The historical detail of Victorian life is spot-on. There’s a lot going on in this story yet the strands interweave perfectly to produce an engrossing read which moves seamlessly between past and present and shows how we are never free of the past … the book handles the issue of bullying and being different with great understanding.” Parents in Touch
The Ghost of the Trenches and other stories from the First World War (A&C Black/Bloomsbury, 2014) For 8+
Trapped soldiers are saved by an army of angels, a haunted U-boat terrifies its crew, a village remembers a lost son, and an officer sees the ghosts of a long-finished war. A collection of 14 folk tales, legends and ghost stories from the First World War. Fascinating, moving, sometimes scary, these are stories told by soldiers and the people they left behind, on both sides of the conflict.
“It’s a gem of a book.” Parents in Touch
“The tone manages to be informal without being in the least bit prosy, yet it has a certain gravitas, and it is perfectly in tune with the subject.” The Historical Novel Society
“From the haunted U-boat to the ghost of the trenches, Watts and Thomas have brought together a compelling and moving collection of ghost stories from both sides of the conflict.” Lancashire Telegraph
First World War Folk Tales (The History Press, 2014) For 14+
This hardback collection for young adults and adults, shows how elements of truth can become legend, how people often attempt to explain the strange and the mysterious through stories and tales, and how storytelling can ease the pain and the burden of war. Chapters include: The Legends of the Fallen; Supernatural Sightings; Tales of Extraordinary Folk; Humour from a Dark Place and When Truth Becomes Legend. Interspersed among the folk tales are poems, diary extracts, soldiers’ postcards home and song lyrics.
“The stories are beautifully re-told.” Facts & Fiction magazine
Recommendations & Reviews
“Helen has proved very popular working in Warwickshire Libraries with general audiences and school groups, most recently as part of our Fantastic Fun With Words festival in 2016. She is an engaging speaker and informative about the background to her books. She is always well prepared and offers a range of general talks or workshop-style sessions to suit different audiences.” Stella Thebridge, Principal Librarian: Schools and Reading, Warwickshire Library Service
“It was fabulous as always!” St Benedicts Catholic High School, Alcester
“Helen is a lovely person and very interesting to listen to. The students really enjoyed it.” Librarian, Kineton High School, Warwickshire
“It was very appropriate for our age. Helen spoke well to us, not patronising or forceful yet not understated. She described everything so well.” Year 9 pupil, Sibford School, Oxfordshire
“Great session, varied presentation…More able and older students thought it was fantastic and the staff really enjoyed it. Would very much like to book you again another time.” Anthea Hamilton, Head of English, Kingsley School, Leamington Spa
“We had a wonderful day when you came. The children have now finished their stories and have produced some brilliant work.” Alexandra Lilley, Literacy Coordinator, Alveston Primary School, Warwickshire
“The talk was informative and inspirational.” Rose Borgeat, St Albans High School for Girls
To Make a Booking
To make an enquiry about Helen, or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Trevor Wilson on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org