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Guest blogger: Helene Young

29 July 2012

A word, if you would?

Did you read under the bedclothes by the light of a torch?

I did! I even managed to get myself banned from kindergarten because I refused to put my book down and nap in the afternoon … I wasn’t trying to be difficult, but sleeping seemed like a waste of time to me when there were good stories to be read.

I’m a writer because I’m also an avid reader and that reading habit started with my parents. Dad worked away from home as an engineer on gas and oil tankers. Part of his strategy to stay connected to his young family was writing children’s stories he posted home to Mum. As the youngest in my family I heard those stories long before I understood them, but I never tired of the words. It was only when I went to school that I discovered most parents didn’t invent stories for their children …

This year I’m a ‘Reading Champion’ as part of the National Year of Reading 2012. I signed up because literacy is such an important part of providing quality of life. In many of the remote areas of Australia that I fly to with my day job the road to literacy is a slow work in progress and the potholes in that road can swallow whole classrooms of children.

This week I was fortunate to spend two days at Trinity Bay State High School as a guest of their Writers’ Festival. The students I taught ranged from eleven year olds through to sixteen-going-on-twenty year olds.

It was wonderful to see thirty-five heads bent over their writing, imaginations running wild. The sheer inventiveness of their work was mesmerising. Some were clearly out of their comfort zones, while others were revelling in the challenge. We talked about point of view, characterisation, dialogue versus narrative. We examined how to use all the senses. We delved into the differences in gender. We discussed compelling stories. But for me the most important thing we talked about was daring to dream.

There are so many challenges, so many choices for our young people today and it must be bewildering trying to navigate their way to a safe harbour. It’s fact that good literacy allows choices and choices allow dreams to become reality. Would I have dared to dream that I could fly an aircraft or write a book if I hadn’t listened to stories curled up on Mum’s lap? I doubt it. Stories inspire me, uplift me, transport me and I’m so very grateful that I had a childhood filled with books.

At a recent library chat I was surprised to find that many of the audience hadn’t set foot in a library until, as adults, they took their own children for a visit. It made me even more grateful that my story-obsessed parents let me read by torchlight and bought me books every Christmas and birthday. Long live the written word—even if it is on an e-reader!!

When did you start to read? Were you a late starter and are now reading furiously to make up for lost time? Did your family have books stacked in the corner? Join in the conversation to go in the draw to win a copy of Burning Lies. (The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Shiona.)

Find Helene at:


Burning Lies

‘Lies, all lies. It didn’t matter how attractive he might be. She didn’t really know this man … He was living a lie and she didn’t know why.’

Kaitlyn Scott is searching for the truth about her husband’s death, even if that means revisiting the most painful day of her life. But what she uncovers is a criminal willing to stop at nothing to keep his secret.

Ryan O’Donnell, an enigmatic undercover cop, is investigating arson attacks when he is drawn into Kaitlyn’s world. He tries to fight his attraction for her, hoping the case might put his own demons to rest, but it only threatens to push him over the edge.

With Kaitlyn and Ryan on a collision course, the arsonist seizes the chance to settle some old scores. As the Atherton Tableland burns, the three of them are caught in a fiery dance of danger and desire, and not everyone will come out alive.

Set in Australia’s tropical far north, this is an explosive story of peril and passion by the author voted by the Romance Writers of Australia as the most popular novelist of the year, and by the Australian Romance Readers Association as the most popular romantic suspense novelist two years running

  1. 31 July 2012 9:23 am

    Na S, I hear you! I could do with a dedicated six hours for reading added to every day and I’d be happy! Except then I’d still want more…. Sounds like you read very widely and enjoy every minute of it.

  2. 31 July 2012 9:22 am

    Kaetrin, lovely to hear that you’ve read to your son since birth. I was trying to convince a young colleague of mine that he should be reading to his wife now so that their baby will be born knowing the sound of his voice and the beauty of words. I’ve passed your comment on to him as proof this can work!

    Reading can become one of those guilty pleasures when we’re caught up in careers and families so it’s lovely that you’re finding the time to enjoy.

  3. 31 July 2012 9:18 am

    Louise, when they closed the South Brisbane library we had to move to Annerley library. I love the idea that you and I may have stood side-by-side browsing through books long before we became writers! I did invite my English teachers to last year’s launch but neither of them could make it. I would love to be able to publicly acknowledge their impact on my life. How wonderful that you could do that!

  4. Na S. permalink
    30 July 2012 2:41 pm

    I think I’ve always been a reader even since I could read. I remember books filling up every corner of the house and they still do. I read pretty much everything growing up from comics, to encyclopedias and series, and varied the genres. Now I just wish there was more hours in a day because there are so many books I want to read 🙂

  5. 30 July 2012 12:07 pm

    I can’t remember not reading as a child. I went through a few years as an adult when I didn’t read much but as a child and teen, I read all the time. I don’t remember my parents reading to me or anything but I can’t remember not loving books.

    I have a 9yo son and we read to him from birth. Bedtime stories were a special time when he was younger and as he got older he started to read the stories to us, and now, he has reading time. He’s not intimidated by a big book – the bigger the better in his view! 🙂 He listens to audiobooks too and he has a wonderful imagination – I can’t help but think that all the books and reading/listening have contributed to that.

    Best for your newest release Helene 🙂

  6. 30 July 2012 11:57 am

    Great blog Helene! I can remember being curled into a corner with a book while my friskier siblings played rough-and-tumble, then sneaking books in under the mozzie net at night with a torch – first sci fi which I stole of my brother, and then later more ‘adult’ books which I’m sure my mother didn’t even know he had! Still, it led to a love of romance and erotic writing, so it all ended well 🙂 I well remember my regular Saturday morning trips to the Annerley library, and how my grade 9 English teacher encouraged my love of Shakespeare. I tracked her down and invited her to my first book signing, because she really had inspired me. Great night. Very happy memories there.

  7. Sue Rees permalink
    29 July 2012 8:54 pm

    Yep. I read under my bedclothes with a torch too, and borrowed my older sisters’ romances, including Georgette Heyer and Violet Winspear. I’ve inherited all of my eldest sister’s Georgette Heyer books and reread them to this day.
    I love your post about helping out at schools. I’m an English teacher, and for me, enticing kids to love reading is the goal. Currently sharing Shakespeare with my 10s and 12s. Literacy is the number one consideration today. Btw, my son is a pilot too, and helped me overcome my concerns about flying by taking me up several times (though I still don’t handle steep turns well! 🙂 ). Great post. Thanks, Helene.

    • 30 July 2012 6:14 am

      Sue, I owe a very big thank you to a couple of my teachers for inspiring me. I’m sure your 10s to 12s are loving Shakespeare. At the school this week a group called Poetry in Action performed. Shakespeare mades an appearance in what was a very funny and clever session.

      I’m glad your son cured your concerns about flying! I do miss steep turns – the airline would be very perturbed if I banked my Dash past 30 degrees with 74 passengers on board 🙂

  8. Zoe Y permalink
    29 July 2012 8:20 pm

    I used to be huddled up to the crack in the almost closed door reading by the little bit of light that it let in. Mum used to tell me all the time “you’ll ruin your eyes!” for reading in the half dark… Used to go to the school library every second day if not every day to change my books.

    • 30 July 2012 6:09 am

      Lol, Zoe, that sounds cold!! Hope your mum wasn’t right and your eyes survived!

  9. 29 July 2012 5:38 pm

    Barbara. my mum used to buy the Women’s Weekly for the serialised stories and I read them as well.

    Great to hear you’ve adopted an e-reader. I was chatting to a friend this morning who told me that going to the library had become too difficult for her (she’s in her late eighties) but now her grandchildren have given her a kindle she’s reading again and loving it.

    Well done on keeping up with all the books in the ARRA site! I’m very jealous 🙂

  10. Barbara permalink
    29 July 2012 3:16 pm

    Hi Helene

    I can’t remember books in the house but my Mum and Nan always had weekly magazines that had more stories in them than they do today and there was always a serial… this was in the UK…. after I left school I always got my books from the library… I even remember when my babies were born (45 years ago) I would get books out and when they had their nap I would have my cuppa, lunch and a read lol…… these days I don’t go to the library so much but buy ebooks ….. as I have to keep up with all the books that are put on ARRA…. the TBR pile gets bigger each week

  11. 29 July 2012 2:37 pm

    I can relate to reading under the covers 🙂 and although my dad didn’t tell stories (except to cover up his extra-marital activities), my grandmother used to tell her grandkids stories about fairies in the bush and how they saved the animals and lost children. Mum loved reading and there were always books in our house. I loved libraries, especially the one at Toowong and I was distraught to read that it’s no longer a library. I went to school at Corinda but we went to swimming lessons at the Toowong pool and afterwards it was a race to get to the library and back to the station before the train came. Sadly, the library at Sherwood was a tiny, dusty room with ancient titles, but I still frequented it.

    Helene, that’s great that you are able to impart your love of reading and writing to school students.

    • 29 July 2012 5:33 pm

      Sandy, the library I used is gone as well. It was a draughty old building at South Brisbane which is now some sort of boutique office space I think. I used to freeze in winter while I procrastinated over my choices…

      I know you work hard with the Bundaberg Writers Festival to spread the joy of reading and writing, so well done to you!

  12. Yvonne Bauer permalink
    29 July 2012 2:10 pm

    I have always been a reader and I think it really helped with my schoolwork, but not the late nights under the covers with a torch, LOL. My eldest daughter is an avid reader and my youngest claims she doesn’t read, but she devours photography instruction books, but that is NOT reading apparently.

    • 29 July 2012 5:31 pm

      Lol, Yvonne, sounds like your youngest is highly selective! You’ve clearly passed on your love on reading which is such a wonderful gift for children.

      Thanks for dropping by the blog 🙂

  13. Shiona permalink
    29 July 2012 12:27 pm

    Apparently I was reading Enid Blyton’s “Noddy”books at three and I haven’t stopped reading since. My parents were both huge readers and our bookshelves were crammed with encyclopedias, reference books, English classics and a full range of fiction – with a lot of Aussie authors in the mix. My mother often added romances to her reading list. My Dad had introduced her to Georgette Heyer when they first met, so we had all of her books and I devoured them. I would love a dollar for every time I have read The Old Shades and Devil’s Cub 🙂
    Helene, Burning Lies sounds riveting. Good luck with all your releases and well done on your mission to stimulate young minds to let their imaginations run free.

    • 29 July 2012 1:52 pm

      I love Noddy, Shiona! My other childhood favourite was Pookie the White Rabbit.

      How wonderful that your dad introduced your mum to Georgette Heyer! He must be a very enlightened man.

      Thanks for your good wishes. I’m off to Melbourne to chat the Cheltenham library this week so I’ll enjoy that too!

  14. lynette williams permalink
    29 July 2012 12:19 pm

    we always had books in the house when I was growing up I started reading my mothers romance book from about 14 years old I have always bought books for gifts for my children -& grandchildren your new book sounds very interesting & it is always good to read books set in aus.

    • 29 July 2012 1:50 pm

      Lynette, I read Victoria Holt and Georgette Heyer because they were on Mum’s shelves. Then my sister brought Violet Winspear home and so began my love affair with romance!

      Buying books for pressies is mandatory in our house. My local Collins Bookseller at Smithfield has a one hundred percent success rate and finding me the perfect gift!

      Good luck in the draw for Burning Lies!

  15. 29 July 2012 11:41 am

    It is family lore that I could read on my own before my older brother (who is 4 years older than me) and I honestly don’t remember a time where I didn’t love reading. I thank my mum who loved reading too and who turned the weekly trip to our local library into a combination adventure/treat and was so skilful that she only needed to threaten to cancel that trip for whatever bad behaviour I was indulging in to cease immediately. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money mum always paid the library fee (libraries here didn’t become free/government funded until I was in high school) and for our birthdays and Christmas we always got a special book. Even though he took a while to get moving on the whole reading thing (personally I think he just liked the fact that people would read to him when he couldn’t do it himself) once my brother got the hang of it he too became a voracious reader too.

    • 29 July 2012 1:46 pm

      Hi Bernadette, I was a shocker at the library as we were limited to six books and I could never decide!! My parents also used the threat of no books, no library visits to encourage good behaviour. It never failed 🙂

      I also think they worked out that allowing reading in bed brought them precious extra sleep as while I woke with the sun I happily stayed in bed with a good book!

      Sounds like your brother worked out the easiest way to enjoy stories 🙂

  16. 29 July 2012 11:17 am

    I had three older sisters so I was a very advanced reader (but a terrible speller!) My mother used to take us to Tyrell’s second hand book shop in Sydney to pick out books. I still have a very battered Greek Myths and Legends (illustrated). There’s a grisly picture of Medusa in it. I have Burning Lies Helene. It’s next on my tbr list! 🙂

    • 29 July 2012 1:41 pm

      Keziah, having access to older aged books was one of the joys of being the youngest – and there were a few not so joyous aspects. When I eventually appropriated my brother and sister’s library cards I thought I’d won lotto!!

      And if Mum had realised I read Story of O when I was twelve she’d have had a melt-down 🙂

  17. Jenny permalink
    29 July 2012 11:04 am

    I used ‘Okay, no story tonight!’ as a disciplinary measure, just once on my son. Never again – he was SO distressed and upset. He is seven now, and while not a huge reader yet, he is a lover of story. We’ve just finished a graphic novel version of Gulliver’s Travels and are going through Grimms Fairy tales at the moment. At cafes we receive nostalgic smiles from (mostly older) mums as they sit close by and hear me reading.

    Another little story is that my own mother was a Matron at the Victorian school for the Blind. One of mum’s jobs was to wander through the dormitories at night and poke the tummies of all those cheeky braille-reading children who didn’t need a torch!

    • 29 July 2012 1:39 pm

      Jenny, what gorgeous stories! Thanks for sharing them.

      I laughed out loud at your mum’s nightly chore. If someone had told me learning braille would have added more reading time I think I would have tried to master it.

      My dad had advanced macular-degeneration by the time he passed away and the thing that hurt him most was not being able to read. I’m now a little obsessive about insisting friends have amslar grids on their fridges and regular check their eyesight.

  18. 29 July 2012 10:43 am

    Well done, Louise, they are great stats. I bet you know your way around the local library 🙂

    Hope you enjoy Burning Lies. I was delighted to find my books are in school libraries – I didn’t expect that – in the over fifteen year old age group.

    • louiseforster permalink
      29 July 2012 11:09 am


  19. louiseforster permalink
    29 July 2012 10:40 am

    Hi Helen, love the sound of Burning Lies. I’m happy to say that out of a family of 7 adults and 3 (reading age) children, 9 are avid readers. YAY! I’ll ad Burning Lies to our list 🙂

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