Interview with “The Dinner Club” author Helen Aitchison

Hi Helen and welcome to my blog. Thank you for giving me a chance to talk about books and writing with you today. I know that writing wasn’t your lifetime dream. So, my first question is:

Eve: What inspired you to start writing?

Helen: A number of situations and circumstances were the catalyst to me starting my writing journey. It was never something I ever dreamt of, until the last three years. My colleague wrote a book and I bought it to support him. I loved it and his book helped me get back into reading, which I had stopped doing for over a decade. Then I was asked to write a blog for my previous job. It was around domestic abuse and the political reasoning at the time for the Domestic Abuse Bill. The blog turned out to popular on line and I received some positive feedback. It led me to enter a competition to win a space on a local playwriting course with Live Theatre, Newcastle. I secured a space but before I started the course, I went on holiday and read a book that made such an impact on me that I wanted to write. The Five People you Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom was the book. It’s so beautiful and moving. I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I finished reading it and I wanted to write something that would make someone feel how I did, reading Mitch’s book. I even use a quote from the book in The Dinner Club.   

Eve: In your debut novel “The Dinner Club”, there is a set of relatable characters. On your website, you share that your writing is inspired by your own life experiences, as well as those of the people you have encountered in your career in the health and social care field. 2. Are there therapeutic benefits to modeling a character after someone you know?

Helen: We are so shaped by our life experiences and I feel my 20 years working in health and social care, alongside personal, life experience has gifted me with rich, valid and relatable writing material. In particular around human psychology, social issues and struggles and circumstances we are all vulnerable to, such as death, illness and heartbreak. It also makes me feel I can describe and connect readers through positive and motivating situations such as friendship, love, hope and acceptance. That’s really what The Dinner Club is about. The essence is life experiences, fragility and making every moment count.

Without a doubt there are therapeutic benefits of modelling characters on people we know. We honour people who we may have lost or those who are a significant part of our lives. What better a tribute to someone, alive or passed, than to be in print forever.

For me personally, writing through grief and basing a character on a loved one lost, was cathartic. My writing has many real life people in it, from a saying someone has, to the physical description of someone, to personal adversity that someone I know has overcame. Those people have been and are part of my world and I want them involved with my storytelling.

Eve: If you were to write a spin-off about a character / characters of “The Dinner Club”, which would you pick?

Helen: I’m asked a lot about a sequel to The Dinner Club. It was never meant to be part of a series but people have looked me in the eye and said they aren’t ready to let the characters go. It’s wonderful and I’ve went from a “No, there won’t ever be a sequel,” to “Maybe one day.”

If I was to write specifically about one character, perhaps Cara. She was my least favourite character to write about (and has the least amount of input into the book out of the main five), but there is something in her that screams potential and so many elements of her life that await her.  

Eve: I smile every time I see your cute cat Eric’s lovely picture on Instagram. Have pets ever gotten in the way of your writing? Maybe you have a funny story to tell about Eric?

Helen: Thank you Eve, he’s a little darling. We got Eric during the pandemic, he was a homeless rescue in foster care. As a person who struggles to relax and my life before the pandemic was always 100mph, he was a calming, soothing influence. However, he has never been a quiet cat and you can hear him announcing his arrival into the back garden from inside the house, with all windows closed! I’ve never heard anything like it!

He is naturally nosy and loves walking across and sitting on computers, like many cats.

As we got him during the pandemic, many of my meetings for work were via video conference. Eric gradually “met” colleagues on-line and everyone loved his cute face and back story. However, one day I was on a Teams video meeting, with quite a few colleagues about some serious matters and Eric jumped up onto the laptop. There were smiles as I tried gently to coax him away from the screen. Obediently he turned to face me, however he showed all colleagues his anus and furry scrotum for a good ten seconds before I managed to move him away! It was quite the topic of conversation for a good year or so with work colleagues!

Eve: I can imagine – absolutely hilarious! As you know, I’m owned by two ginger cats, and I know how much humour and inspiration they bring into our lives. You are an avid reader. What books do you enjoy reading?

Helen: I do enjoy reading and if I get into a book, I devour it. I’ve read many books from the on-line writing community over the last 18 months (around 100) and I also read non-community books. My favourite genre is thrillers but I enjoy most commercial fiction. I’m not a fan of erotica or horror and I don’t tend to enjoy sci-fi and fantasy so I am choosy about what I read there (like your romantic fantasy books – they are so beautifully written and engaging).

I love non-fiction books that are biographies / memoirs / auto-biographies. I read a lot of books about prison, in particular Alcatraz after visiting it and also miscarriages of justice. Themes of adversity, resilience and recovery interest me and I enjoy personal accounts that raise awareness of social issues.

Eve: Thank you for your kind words about the Neglected Merge trilogy. Since you mentioned books about prison, I’ve recently read a book written by a prison officer. Neil Samworth in his book “Strangeways: A Prison Officer’s Story” shares his experience of working in prison in Manchester. It made a deep impression on me. Please share your future writing plans.

Helen: My second novel, The Life and Love (Attempts) of Kitty Cook will be published in March 2023, with UK based Cahill Davis Publishing (Publisher of The Dinner Club). This is inspired by my own dating disasters and has Bridget Jones vibes to it, with a few more terrible dates!

I have many ideas and I am hoping to get writing over the summer. My career path has changed recently, so I haven’t been writing as much as I would like. However, I have started writing a commercial fiction novel linked to the afterlife and I have a thriller series on the go.

Eve: On which social media you are most active? Where your readers can interact with you?

Helen: I tend to be most active on Instagram as it feels like the easiest platform for me personally. However, I am also on Twitter, have a website and Facebook page as well as forums for my business, Write on the Tyne. I always welcome messages and comments from readers and the amazing reviews continue to make me speechless! I’m so grateful to the readers and the on-line community, it’s beyond magnificent.

Eve: Thank you again for such an insightful talk. I hope to chat again with you soon!

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