Helen Allan: Three Things I Learned Writing Scarab: Falling Through Time (Writer Edition!)

As a former journalist and high school English teacher, I thought I knew a bit about writing before I started penning novels, but like any creative endeavour, the more you practice, the better you become.

Looking back now, eighteen novels later, I can see I learned three major things while writing this book – the first about me, the second about audience, and the third about craft.

Lesson One: Know Yourself

About me: Scarab was the first ‘adult’ novel I wrote, but in its first iteration it was a young adult novel written for my students when I worked in a high school with low-socioeconomic students. I was looking to write an escapist fantasy with a little bit of something for everyone: danger, intrigue, romance, suspense, history, and most importantly, I wanted a heroine from a ‘trailer trash’ background rather than a white, middle-class girl.  I wanted someone my students could identify with – I wanted to encourage them to read and to dream big.

I wanted to be a ‘real literary author’ create the next War and Peace blah blah blah – but what did I love to read? Vampire romance, historical romance, fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal.

The novel was read to the students in instalments each week as I finished the chapters – they loved it. But for eight years after that, it languished in a drawer.

Until I pursued my dream to work full-time as an indie author.

Picking it up after leaving teaching, I tried to rewrite it, again and again, but I was fighting against something I didn’t want to admit: I wanted to be a ‘real literary author’ create the next War and Peace blah blah blah – but what did I love to read? Vampire romance, historical romance, fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal.

Admit it Helen – you want to write paranormal romance, you know you do, embrace it!

As soon as I did, the words flowed, the ideas raced each other to leave my fingers and kiss the keyboard.

So that was lesson one.

Lesson Two: Know Your Audience

Lesson two, about audience, came when I tried to rewrite Scarab for the umpteenth time.

I was worried about what people might think if they read sex scenes I had written, romance I had described…

I realised that in writing the story in the first place, a story that had originally come to me while backpacking around Egypt, I had deliberately self-censored, dumbed it down and cleaned it for the YA audience – but in doing so, I had not been true to the story that was in my head. And it wasn’t just this book; I was worried about what people might think if they read sex scenes I had written, romance I had described – I needed to learn not to think about audience at all.

I rewrote the book in the main, I wrote two more in the series, and then I started writing vampire romance. I have not looked back since.

If I wanted to write ‘fuck’, then I would write ‘fuck’. If I wanted to write an epic battle scene where entrails spill all over the ground, then dammit, I would. My audience would come, I would find my tribe – or I wouldn’t, but the stories would not be folded up like origami just so I could fit them into the shape someone else might want.

They might not be paper swans; they might be dragons.

So, writing without constraint became my next lesson, although you must write to market, everyone says so, hit the tropes, keep those happily ever afters, you must also be true to yourself and write the story you want to write.

Lesson Three: Know Your Craft

The third lesson I learned was about craft.

I wrote Scarab in third person limited past tense. It was the natural way for me to write, but subsequent books I have also written first person past and first person present tense. Studying the books I loved, like Twilight, helped me to understand what POV I enjoyed reading. I like many, but those most easily accessible do seem to be in first person.

Rules seem to come out of thin air, as most ideas do, but once in the book, they need to be adhered to.

The more you write, the more confident you become in your own voice, your own style and your own ideas. I don’t second-guess myself now: I am a swear-bear, my characters often are; I am sarcastic, my characters often are; I am romantic and fatalist, so are my plots. Your voice is you. Don’t try to imitate anyone – just be yourself and it will shine through. Your readers, even if they prefer fantasy to vampires or sci-fi to paranormal, will probably read your work anyway because they like the way you write, they like your voice.

I wrote a time-travel romance and the rules seemed to come out of thin air, as most ideas do, but once in the book, they needed to be adhered to. Because I had to go back several times and change things in previous books to match the rules, I rapid-released my Scarab novels, all three, on the same day.

If I was writing an intricate world again, I would do the same for continuity and also for sales – this was by far my best release, and I’ve tried all sorts of different ways now, one week apart, two weeks apart, thirty days apart, pre-order, no pre-order.

So, in summary, what did I learn?

About me: Be true to yourself, write what you love to read.

About audience: Write the book for what you want it to be, do not consider self-censorship, do not even think about audience until it is finished.

About craft: Study the books you love with a critical eye, write the best you can in an authentic voice.

Finally, I learned something else in 2018.  We are a small group, really; it’s a small world, it can seem like there are millions of people writing books and yet sometimes it can seem like you are alone in your endeavours.

I learned to join groups, to reach out and make contact with other authors in my genre, to help out those just starting and to seek help and advice from those enjoying success. The majority I have come in contact with have been professional, kind, helpful and in some cases, real kindred spirits – I would encourage other authors to reach out to each other.

As a writer, do you adhere to these same lessons? What are yours?

About the Author

Helen Allan’s work has been described as ‘ethereal’ and ‘edge of your seat.’ Specialising in fantasy and science fiction romance, Allan’s work has an edge that leaves the reader thinking about her books long after they put them down. Much of her work is underpinned by a love of the natural environment and a deep understanding of the depths of the human psyche.

Connect with Helen Allan online at:

Helen has a time-travel vampire romance series called Vampire Knights:

From modern life to medieval England, Lilly will journey across time in pursuit of the knight who stole her life, her memories and her heart.

From the jousting fields to the castle bedroom, Lilly searches for the answers to the sadness that lies at the centre of the life of Lancelot.

Can she solve the mystery surrounding his turning without becoming victim to the magic and dark arts of the women who took his life?

Will he thank her for returning the memories that were once stolen from him? Or will she face the ultimate death in the quest for something that was never meant to be?

Get Lancelot’s Lilly here.