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Interview with the Author
Helen Van Wengen (Britt Holland) is a citizen of the world. That sense of wonder, sharing and positivity in the joy of cultural exchanges has been poured into a series of books which in part reflect different aspects of Helen’s own remarkable life.
Born in Holland, Helen’s childhood was in the Netherlands, with frequent visits to the UK, before she travelled to Switzerland to study hospitality at one of the world’s top Hospitality Management Schools. There, Helen was introduced to friends and cultures as they lived, learned, and forged strong global friendships.
This experience shaped the young woman’s life forever and set her on a journey that would see her work in the hotel industry worldwide, particularly in Europe and the Middle East and in Central America and Asia.
Now living between Jordan and Amsterdam, Helen is engaged in multiple projects, ranging from hospitality and tourism to social enterprise initiatives that drive profit for purpose, people, and planet. Helen believes in aspirational outcomes with a positive spirit. With her upbeat nature, Helen knows that miracles happen every day.
And on meeting Helen, it is the positivity that shines through. A positivity which has enabled her to boldly reflect on complex, wonderful and sometimes frankly hilarious parts of her life for a series of fun but savvy books which have echoes of Eat Pray Love, Sex and the City and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Helen said: “The journey of writing these books has been so transformational because when I am writing, I feel as though I really am there while at the same time being able to reflect on situations and emotions I write about. And in some cases, remember as the words pour out.
“There have been times that I have cried and laughed, and those elements are all in the books.
“The books are not autobiographical, but there is so much of myself and my own experiences in the characters.”
And the process of writing the books she said has fuelled and developed her soul and given her great joy.
Between The Sheets is a fascinating read, full of love, drama, sex and intrigue, supported by strong female characters that give the work a sense of empowered authenticity.
Helen said: “I love how my writing has connected my heart and mind to the past, made me more conscious of each day and allows my excitement of tomorrow to spill over on to the pages of my books. As a result of writing, I reconnected with amazing friends with whom, in some cases, I lost touch. One dear friend described my books as ‘a magic carpet ride’ that sparked a tear, a smile, and triggered thoughts she had forgotten all about. Touching other peoples’ lives in positive ways matters to me. I will continue to live and write stories for others as well as myself. Living life is a privilege and one I embrace.
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Interview with the Author
Rob Howells’ curiosity knows no bounds, and his passion for uncovering the unusual and esoteric has taken him on many a wonderful journey. A gifted writer, Rob’s early creativity was, in part, spawned by childhood out of body experiences and lucid dreams which he worked hard to make sense of. He said: “They were very memorable and clear and I had experiences of things that I discovered later were called astral projections, out of body experiences where I could see myself from across the room. “I began writing these down as dream journals over a couple of years. I discovered that they formed parts of an internal landscape where they all fit together. “
His creativity and curiosity, particularly around the bizarre and occult developed further in his early teens, when he heard David Bowie for the very first time: “I was drawn to David Bowie as he celebrated difference, he was singing about Alistair Crowley and the occult and things like that, so I started to get into these alternative ideas.
“I really liked myths and legends, and ancient mysteries too.
“Bowie in particular is full of esoteric references and creative ideas. His was the first band that came along when everyone was just writing about themselves he was writing about everything. “Lots of cultural ideas are in there and he was very good at absorbing things from the arts and translating for other people to hear.
“What I actually really took from him is that there is no point in doing the same thing twice, and to push the boundaries as far as anything will go, especially in creativity.” He said.
Rob, left school with few qualifications, but he was a deep thinker and had begun writing and amassing ideas, before leaving his parents’ home in South East London to rent a tiny studio flat in Bowie’s stomping ground Beckenham.
At this time Rob had started writing his own short stories and had been heavily inspired by the horror genre.
Over time though, with the exception of Stephen King, he felt he’d outgrown horror and the classic horror writers weren’t inspiring him the way they once had. But a spooky coincidence would set him on a path that would open up new doors, and a new life as a prolific writer and investigator. He explained: “I was interested in writing something new and original, and there was a horror magazine that came out called Fear and they accepted short stories so I was thinking of writing to them.
“In the back of one of the copies was advertised a writer’s workshop and I thought that would be a great thing to be part of, where I could see if I was actually any good! Bearing in mind this magazine was countrywide, the writer’s workshop was round the corner from where I lived!
“It was run by a writer called Scott Dorward who I am still friends with today.
“So I went along and everyone was giving out their short stories, and people were really honest and really blunt so it was the first time I got proper feedback on my writing. I discovered that I needed to learn more about the craft of writing, but in terms of ideas, nobody had seen what I was coming up with before.
“What I was really keen on was being original, I didn’t see any point in writing something or a version of something that had gone before.”
Rob carried on writing fiction for a few years and had some short stories published. While he had moved away from the horror genre, he was still interested in hidden worlds, and the mysteries of life.
He built up a knowledge of esoteric symbolism and the occult, and then, unlike other authors applied a rationale to it: “I didn’t go into it thinking, this is all magic and fantasy and wonder, I went in looking at it thinking ‘is there really anything to this?” He added.
In particularly Rob applied this to secret societies, aiming to discover whether these societies have secrets worth knowing and whether the ritual and regalia really adds up to anything. He started to investigate secret societies and the Priory of Sion, The Templars and the Freemasons.
Rob said: “I was reading all that kind of stuff and I started to research this mystery in the South of France where at Rennes-le-Chateau a Catholic priest got immensely rich at the start of the 20th century. He was paid about £6 a year, but then he appears to have discovered something and then spent a fortune, the equivalent of millions, decorating his church and rebuilding the whole place and putting in loads of this esoteric symbolism.
“The mystery has remained unsolved and every writer that goes to it has come away with a completely different view. Some say it is to do with the apocalypse, some say it’s the bloodline of Jesus and some say to do with standing stones or the Egyptians.
“It’s a mystery where what you bring to it you tend to find evidence for, which is really interesting in itself.”
He started writing a book based on his investigation in France, and also travelled extensively, spending a lot of time at the sites he would mention in the work.
In around 1995, Rob was living Covent Garden, a stone’s throw from Watkins bookshop, a treasure trove of mind body and spirit literature. And it wasn’t long before Rob has secured a position at the shop as manager. “I was in there quite a lot, and I ended up talking to the manager who said ‘well we stock all these different subjects, what have you read?’ They stock books on all religions and esoterica and I literally went through the shop and had read so many of the subjects already!” He said.
Rob worked at Watkins for around five years, and it proved to be a hotbed of interesting sources for his research. During his time at the shop, he encountered a number of groups and secret societies first hand, including magical orders, Knights Templars and the Priory of Sion.
He said: “I’m not a joiner but I enjoyed investigating them, and I came across a producer who was doing a documentary on the bloodline of Jesus, this idea that was later covered by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code, and he asked me to be the lead researcher.
“So I got in touch with the Priory of Sion and said ‘this is an opportunity, I have no agenda other than to find the truth and would you like to talk?’
“And they sent me hundreds of emails, information, documents and paintings. They sent incredible information and I distilled it into my first book and the documentary, Bloodline.”
At the time of the Da Vinci Code Rob already had ten years of research. On the themes of the book. He added: “I could understand a lot of what was in that church, I don’t have any notion that there is royalty that dates back to Jesus that is any different from anyone else in the world, we are all the same. But I was interested and it did create a furore.
“After that I continued my conversations with the Priory of Sion for a number of years, and put together my book Inside The Priory of Sion.” It was at this time that Rob also came into contact with Doctor Grant Beardmore, a former Catholic Priest and researcher who he would collaborate with. Rob said: “He was a theologian and claimed he had studied at the Vatican, he was a really serious theologian.
“He talked about the third secret of Fatima, this was one of the visions of the Virgin Mary where she would impart secrets and prophecies.
“This happened at the beginning of the 20th century to three women, and the third secret of Fatima was never released. The Vatican were supposed to release it in 1963 but held it back. When they finally released it it was clearly not what had been said, because the girl that had received it had written the first line in her journal and it didn’t match.
“So when Doctor Grant Beardmore was at the Vatican he learned that the third secret of Fatima was the actual date of the apocalypse which was taken to the then Pope’s grave. That it was somehow linked to Rennes-Le-Chateau and that it would be preceded by a worldwide pandemic!”
After this encounter Rob moved into writing about prophecy: “I had also encountered the prophecies for St Malachi, who listed every Pope, and according to St Malachi this is the last Pope, the one we have now, the one that will oversee the fall of the Vatican.
“When looking at alternative history and prophecy I don’t subscribe to anything as fact, it’s interesting, I take it on board, it’s a possibility, but I have no fixed belief in anything.
“I don’t think you can read the breadth of the things I have read and come to one conclusion. I have also done psychotherapy and counselling, and that has helped me to understand the need in people for things like this comes out. It doesn’t have to be true, it could be tradition, psychological or symbolic.
“The apocalypse could be something only relevant to one person, or it could be World War Two, we just don’t know.
“I was interested more in how predictions can work, it may be that consciousness can move into the future as it doesn’t appear bound by time or visions come back to us, but it has been really interesting breaking down the different ways that this might be possible.”
And Rob suggests that his early experiences of lucid dreaming could explain some of his own fascinations with these topics, and also the topics themselves.
He added: “That’s kind of what set me off, when I got flu I would jump out of my body and see myself from across the room, this carried on until I learned what it was and learned how to do it and practised it.
“Unfortunately it wore off in mid-twenties.
“That experience of being beyond the physical needs, desires and concerns completely dissolved the notion of religion for me immediately, everything from then on to me became direct experience. I think it also protected me from a lot of heaven and hell nonsense that is put on children.”
And Rob believes that his extensive research and unique perspective have allowed him to look at these topics in a unique way. And he described how there is a repetition in sacred and historical texts throughout history: “For example the third degree of Freemasons, looks like the raising of Lazarus but done as a ritual.
“In the Bible, we have Jesus son of God raising Lazarus from the dead in the town of Bethany, but in ancient Egypt you had Horus son of the god Ra raising Osiris from the dead in the town of Bethanu too.
“At this point you realise that a lot of things are stolen from earlier cultures. Ten you begin to recognise that there is a body of knowledge that comes from the Middle East which informs the Freemasons who also recognise this as a ritual.
“There are alternative histories coming out, and you have to dig but I love it, it is my passion. I go out and gather all this knowledge and look for the wisdom behind it.”
After years as a researcher and writer of non-fiction works, Rob has returned to fiction. In the creative Days of Odd, which in some ways pays homage to his early life as a writer, and has given him complete creative freedom.
The book has been compared by some in the know to Douglas Adams, and is not short on jokes, as well as references to some of the topics that Rob is so passionate about.
Speaking about writing the book Rob said: “It’s based around an archetypal figure Patricia who is not based on a real person but it is part of my psyche, there is this idea that men have a female soul and women have a male soul and if I have a female soul that’s how it manifests.
“She is in her early teens in the book. The point in life when all the magic starts to disappear from the world and I wanted to capture it, and write before then. I wanted to write about people that can have absurd ideas that are meaningful, ideas that are actually quite wise and quite abstract.”
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Interview with the Author
A lifetime of striving for authenticity in a world which rewards anything but, has been poured into Irish author Brendan Gill’s latest work The Fall of El Pantera.
A modern day morality tale, the thriller’s key plotline is an inadvertent ‘skills swap’ between Luis ‘El Pantera’ Firpo, a spoiled genius of a superstar footballer who has everything money can buy, and GoGo Martin, a factory worker who authentically lives for the game.
But this isn’t a ‘football book’ and the themes of meritocracy (or lack thereof), unchecked celebrity, corruption and authenticity, are themes which are rooted firmly in Brendan’s own world view.
Brendan Gill grew up in Muihevna Mor, a working class ghetto in Dundalk in the Northeast of Ireland.
During the 1980s the area experienced great depravation, and while there was plenty of love in his family, there was little else, and all that was expected of him was to grow up and find work, preferably something pensionable like in the local Post Office.
Brendan said: “The area was completely decimated by the Troubles and then wiped out by economic recession.
“Writing came a bit later, but I was always into history and the history of Ireland, the stories of people. My father is a brilliant storyteller so I was always hearing fantastic stories and was very conscious of Irish culture.
“I was always fascinated by the difference between rich and poor, the reasons why people are rich and people are poor and the cycle of poverty.
“Then as I got older, I started to think about that more, and that’s one of the big ideas behind this book.”
Because of the depravation surrounding him during childhood, it was hard for Brendan to break the mould, but eventually he did so by studying to become a teacher.
After school, like some of his friends, he went to work in local factories, and describes an ‘epiphany moment’ where he knew that he had to at least try for something more.
He said: “I was one of the people for whom school completely failed, I’m obviously quite intelligent as I’ve been able to work as a teacher and have a masters in history etc, but in school I just fell through the cracks, I was bored silly and it just didn’t do anything for me.
“And then when I was about 19 I ended up working in a factory in Dundalk and it was just soul destroying, it just used to kill me, and I ended up realising one day that this was my future and I was going to end up there for the rest of my life.
“I was very conscious of my father too, because when he was about 44 he lost his job in the factory he was in and because he had no skills that he could cross over with, he never had a full time job again.
“So on this day, one of the managers was shouting at me over something ridiculous and I just looked at her and she had all the power, and I realised that was my future, standing there and taking abuse this from this woman with no more intelligence than me. I was just the grunt on the ground, and would be treated like canon fodder in a war.
“I had an epiphany, ‘this is never going to happen to me’, so I went back into education and went to university.”
And so Brendan’s ascent began, and he achieved a degree as well as an MA, before becoming a teacher of History and English in his hometown of Dundalk.
As one of Ireland’s most hard-hitting and socially aware writers, his short stories have been shortlisted for the Michael McLaverty Award, The Sean O’Faolain Prize and The Fish Short Story Competition.
He said: “It’s all about who you know in this world, and especially where I’m from I knew basically nobody who could help. It was also striking at that time that there was nobody from Muirhevna Mor, who had ever been to university or who had qualified as a teacher or anything like that.
“We didn’t do that, if you put the place where I’m from on your CV when I was younger you wouldn’t get the job.
“In Ireland people deny that there is a class system but it exists and things like this happen.
“Where I am from it was unthought of to go to university, people thought ‘what the hell is he doing?!’
“We are born to work in a factory and we are born to use a pick and shovel and I’ve had that thrown at me over the years, even from people who are from where I’m from. People think you have pretensions of grandeur.”
While firmly satirical, The Fall of El Pantera has a lot to say about the lives that we lead today, not least the way that we view celebrity, and status. And how those that possess it can seek to exploit others.
Speaking about writing the book, Brendan said: “The world should be a meritocracy, regardless of the colour of your skin, your creed, your sexuality, all of those things should be completely irrelevant.
“I’ve used football as a plot device but it’s basically the classic story from time in memorial, the hero’s journey.
“I tried to use that in the book to highlight people who are getting away with everything: property scandals, child abuse, murder. I use football as a vehicle to push the story along and to examine all these important social themes. People who love football will love this book, and people who hate football with love it too.
“When I was writing this book I used humour and over exaggeration to show the stupidity of how the world is run. One of these days you will have a football player who is a billion-pound player, and that’s’ why football was a perfect device to use.
“GoGo Martin in the book becomes famous overnight and basically sells his soul to celebrity. He endorses everything from toothpaste to condoms. He becomes like a religion and is worshipped everywhere. He completely loses it and becomes the biggest dickhead known to man and in the process the friends who loved him are falling by the wayside.
“I suppose in a way I’m obsessed with social justice because I come from poverty and I felt very conscious of this growing up.
“Celebrity has affected everything, just look at the word old: being old, getting old is a dirty word now, America was like this for years but it’s come across the Atlantic and everyone is photoshopped, plastic surgery is taking over. The root cause of it all is capitalism, and in the eyes of big business we are not even human beings anymore, we’re consumers.
“I’ve tried to explore this.”
“I didn’t want the reader to be bored for one second reading this book, not one second!”
Brendan lives with his wife and two sons near to the Northern Irish Border in County Down, close to the mountains of Annaverna and Slieve Gullion.
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Interview with the Author
Female, black and over thirty, she set out against the odds to work in the legal profession, and is now a highly respected award-winning lawyer, legal trainer and author. Her first book, empowering racy romantic fiction novel Patsy and ‘The Touch’ of Templeton is out soon, telling the story of a woman very similar to Pauline herself, who isn’t grateful for her position in the legal world of white middle-class men because she has just as much right to be there as they do. Research shows that ethnic minorities have to send in 60% more CVs for legal roles than their white male counterparts, even when they have the same qualification. But Pauline has always been determined to change the narrative and push boundaries, not just for herself, but for the good of society.
Pauline was born at Hackney Hospital and for the first ten years of her life lived on a street called Spring Hill. In Spring Hill Pauline and her family were the only black family on a street of Orthodox Jews: “We moved there when my sister and I were babies and my dad told us that the only reason they let a black family move onto that street was because there was a sitting tenant who was living downstairs in this lovely three-storey house and they thought that if they moved a black family in they would get this woman out because they wanted to sell the property.
“But we were there for ten years and when we left, she was still there, and we were all such good friends and neighbours that we stayed in touch with her!” Remember’s Pauline. Pauline went to the local secondary school where she did well in her studies being part of all the top streams. But when she was about 13, Pauline’s sense of self altered, after her family sat down to watch the acclaimed 1977 TV series Roots, which tells the historical story of a Black African American family suffering through slavery. She said: “Roots freaked me out because it was my first real indication of what my ancestors went through, what slavery meant. It was daunting to me and I didn’t know what to do. It frightened the life out of me, but it also made me feel guilty because I realised that I was thankful that I wasn’t a slave. But then the rot set in because it was the first time, I realised that I was different, and as I began to question my identity my grades also began to suffer as a result.
“My best friend was a white girl, We stayed friends long after leaving school, I went to her wedding, but unfortunately we have now lost touch. As friends, we told each other everything and we were inseparable. I remember she had striking long blonde hair.” “But when Roots came on, I looked at Janice differently, I didn’t want to, but I kind of envied her, as I thought she’s not going to have to deal with what I’m going to have to deal with, our lives will be different.” At this time Pauline also suffered some racist incidents, both at school and in public places: “When it’s white people who are older and they are telling you that you don’t belong here, even if you say, ‘how dare you’ it still hurts.”
By the end of school Pauline was told that she was not A-Level material, and despite her family’s appeals for her to reconsider she decided to leave school. She said: “I just believed my teacher, because I’d never seen any black teachers, and all the judges, doctors and everyone I saw on TV were white.” Accepting what she saw as ‘her lot’ she enrolled at a further education college and achieved enough O- Levels to get an office job.
But as the years went on, and after witnessing the Brixton Riots in 1981 and reading about the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, Pauline started to realise that she needed to do something different. She said: “The Lawrence’s were really strong people and they wouldn’t give up to defend the rights of their son, and I realised that as black people you can’t afford to give up, you have to fight.”
So Pauline joined the union connected to where she worked as a housing benefits officer and became the secretary for the black worker’s group. Pauline represented other workers at disciplinaries and helped them to draft letters: “I was really good at it! I’d go into the room with these managers and wipe the floor with them, I was confident.” She said.
Around this time one of Pauline’s friends paid for her to take part in acting workshops three evenings a week at the MountView Theatre School as a gift. Realising that she enjoyed treading the boards, learning lines, and doing comedy routines ensured that Pauline’s confidence soared.
She said: “All of these things made me a whole person, they gave me back my mojo. I realised that I couldn’t do housing benefits forever, I was really good at representing people, and drafting letters, so I enrolled on a law degree!”
But of course Pauline would have to pay for the degree, and with a mortgage to pay she knew that she would need to carry on working to support her studies.
Picking the nearest university to her work, she did a deal with her boss that she could work more flexible hours, and for the length of the full-time course, travelled between the two, between classes to ensure that she could study as well as pay the bills.
And the hard work paid off, Pauline graduated with a 2:1 and was soon on the way to establishing herself within the Legal profession.
To do that she says she has had to overcome a level of prejudice, particularly as she came to law in her later thirties, as a black woman. She said: “I sent my CV to every single solicitor in the Yellow Pages and I got twenty responses back that I keep in a folder. But I said, ‘all I need is one yes.’
“And then I saw this lady in The Guardian, who had secured a trainee solicitors role within the Magistrates Court Service, and that the courts wanted trainees who had life and work experience, so I applied to Kent Magistrates. I got an interview! When I went to the interview I gave my presentation and they said ‘why are you the person for this job’?
“I said ‘well I am unique and you are not going to get anyone else like me’ – I wasn’t saying that I’m better, but I am unique and could bring something new to their table, a diversity that they might not have, and I got the job!”
For the next 18 months of her career, Pauline travelled back and forwards from Tottenham to Kent running the magistrates court. “There was a bit of racism from some of the lawyers and the barristers, particularly from some of the Crown Prosecution Lawyers who were not pleasant, “They would question my advice in open court. I had to make the decision, and I wasn’t going to cower down and just be meek. Making the bold decision to actually ask one of the lawyers to leave court, when my authority was being questioned. Some days I would take a deep breath to prepare myself mentally to walk into the courtroom. But for all the bad experiences there were also good ones too, which I am thankful for.”
Missing the diversity of living in London, Pauline left Kent the very day she qualified, and has practiced successfully in two large local authorities as a solicitor ever since, specialising in criminal law prosecutions, civil law, Anti-Social Behaviour, and debt recovery.
In 2016, heading a team of lawyers, Pauline won Litigation Team of the Year at the Lawyers in Local Government Awards, in the same year she was also runner up to Legal Professional of the Year, and in 2017 she was shortlisted for Litigation Team of the Year at the Solicitors Journal Awards, and Lawyer of the Year at the Law Gazette Excellence Awards.
And the sky continues to be the limit for Pauline, who, with the release of Patsy and ‘The Touch’ of Templeton, hopes to inspire and normalise strong black women in professional settings. The book has already got a strong YouTube following, and a self-published release on Amazon has received rave reviews.
Speaking about her journey, her passion for writing and when asked whether she ever feels sad that life is harder for women of colour Pauline said: “I love old stories, I love black and white films, and I put aside that a lot of them are racist in the sense that the only time you see black people in these films is when they are cleaning up, I put that behind me and I look at the film for what it is because, I realise those black people were strong and resilient and like the rest of us were just making a living to survive.”
“Being a black female lawyer in a white man’s world, because that’s what most lawyers are, I’ve had to look at them for what they are, rather than being in resentment mode. Because as a woman generally, whether I’m black or white it’s harder to read law. But as a black woman from Tottenham who didn’t qualify until she was 41 and has a cockney accent it has been a bit of an uphill struggle.”
“But the one thing I’ve learnt is that the majority of people I meet who are white are not racist, they are ignorant of our culture, we are ignorant of their culture, and once we come together there is a ‘coming together’ and that’s what writing the book has been about for me.”