Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall was published by Legend Press on 20 October 2020.
Alex kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Helen and the Grandbees.
Helen has had a past trauma that changes how she relates to situations, so she lives a very isolated life until her daughter, adopted as a baby returns to her life 20 years later.
Helen is thrilled, but her daughter, her ‘bee’ wants to know her grandparents, her heritage and why she’s mixed race, but all of these things relate to secrets Helen can’t face. Her bee creates chaos trying to uncover the truth, and in her own search for an identity pursues relationship after relationship until Helen has to step in to rescue her grandbees.
2. What inspired the book?
It’s inspired by my voluntary work in south east London where I have encountered people in very impoverished situations, usually because of situations life has dealt them, through no fault of their own. Having heard their stories, your heart just goes out to them, and you understand why on the face of things they might not appear to help themselves. I now find it hard to see any character on the street who looks unusually intimidated or sad or even odd, not to think of how they came to be that way.
But I also wanted to show hope and redemption, because I discovered the value and love people can show despite these problems. Just because something terrible disadvantaged you, even something you will always have to battle against, it doesn’t mean there can’t be joy in your life. I tend to be intellectually-inclined in my interests, but have spent time with people who have so much in their lives to give that have nothing to do with academia, career or money.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I’m a brew brew brew writer. I’m brewing ideas that I only casually think of putting in a novel and then they seem to come to fruition in the writing. I knew very little about Helen’s story until I started typing away, other than the ending and some of her bee’s relationships.
4. Having been through the publishing process, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
It takes forever. Every step of the way, no matter what timings you have been told to expect, be it waiting to hear back from agents, or from signing a deal to publication… triple it! A fellow writer who was writing her debut novel at the same time as me decided to go down the indie route and had published four novels before Helen and the Grandbees was released.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I love cycling and swimming. That makes me sound like a fitness fanatic, but I’m really not. I actually have to do these first thing in the morning otherwise the writing seems to set me off in some other world I can’t snap out of. I also love cooking… and umm… eating!
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Probably Middlemarch by George Elliot. All those well drawn and authentic characters, and mismatches of intention. It’s a really amazing feat to have drawn that story together so convincingly and at the same time it’s totally unputdownable.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
This is an unusually hard question! I am going to say, it’s “What TV shows were in front of you as you typed away?”
And the answer is: Hinterland, which I think inspired the moody opening of my early chapters, and Montelbano, which (as I speak no Italian) meant I had no idea what was going on in each episode because I couldn’t type and read the subtitles. But there was some lovely Sicilian scenery.
About the Book
Twenty years ago, Helen is forced to give up her newborn baby, Lily. Now living alone in her small flat, there is a knock at the door and her bee, her Lily, is standing in front of her.
Reuniting means the world to them both, but Lily has questions. Lots of them. Questions that Helen is unwilling to answer. In turn Helen watches helplessly as her headstrong daughter launches from relationship to relationship, from kind Andrew, the father of her daughter, to violent Kingsley who fathers her son.
When it’s clear her grandbees are in danger, tangled up in her daughter’s damaging relationship, Helen must find the courage to step in, confronting the fears that haunt her the most.
Told in Helen’s quirky voice Helen and the Grandbees addresses matters of identity, race and mental illness.