Helen Fields is a crime, thriller and historical fiction author. A former barrister, Fields’ 11 bestselling novels have been translated into more than 20 languages and she has been twice long-listed for the McIllvanney Scottish Crime Book of the Year. Her audiobook Perfect Crime knocked Michelle Obama off the #1 spot and in 2020 her novel Perfect Kill was longlisted for the Crime Writers Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. Helen Fields’ latest book, The Last Girl to Die (Avon, £7.99) is set on the Isle of Mull in Scotland and is available to pre-order now.
These are a few of Helen Fields’ favourite things…
I grew up in the New Forest and my childhood was spent in the woods catching bugs; I even went through a stage where my mum would find snails and all sorts hidden in my bedroom. Then, we lived in Southern California for three years until the pandemic and I refound my love for insects there. I was suddenly surrounded by black and brown widow spiders, scorpions, mantises, tarantula hawks and things like that. I could go into the garden and find these really amazing bugs; a lot of my time between writing was spent going around with a cup looking for bugs. I find insects fascinating as they are so alien to us and live this brutal kill-or-be-killed life. The day after we arrived in California I picked up a brown widow that I thought was dead and was looking at it very close up when it suddenly jumped up and started crawling over my hand. That was a close call.
Lighting a fire, whether it is inside on a log fire or outside on a bonfire, is one of the real joys of life for me. I suspect this goes back to my childhood in the New Forest too, every Sunday my parents would burn up everything they dug out of the garden and we would throw a baked potato in some foil and put it in the ashes at the edge of the bonfire. That wood smoke smell, when the fire first starts burning, is so evocative. When I light a fire it signifies a time to sit down and be quiet, it is a real switch-off button for me. It means I stop time for a moment and start relaxing.
The artist Peter Jones largely does paintings of stuffed toys, which sounds ridiculous but I walked into a gallery some time ago and there was a wall of these portraits of over-loved stuffed toys and I couldn’t look away. My son has a toy called Froggy which I first bought when I was pregnant. We have had him for 18 years now and he has had pretty much every part of his body replaced; Peter has agreed to do a painting of him. Peter found a load of portraits of Winston Churchill because he said that when he looks at Froggy he sees Churchill and that will be the inspiration for how he paints the toy. I love art, galleries and paintings and I haven’t seen anyone do what Peter Jones is doing. He has an extraordinary talent.
All of my books are set in Scotland. I love the cities, getting lost in the wilderness and exploring its history and castles. When I go to Scotland I feel a sense of gothic otherworldliness. It is wrapped in its own history, in a way that isn’t prideful exactly but that makes you feel these people aren’t just rushing to the future they’re taking their past with them and have a real sense of respect for it. The Scots also can talk like no one else on earth, they love telling stories and chatting. Scotland is very much wrapped up in stories and storytelling for me. Though I have never lived there, it is the home of my heart.
Escaping with a friend
My husband and I have three children who we absolutely adore but it means if we go away together we have to find someone to look after them or take them with us, which changes the whole trip. When I get to go away with my girlfriends the laughter starts the moment we get to the airport or train station and it doesn’t stop. It is therapy. You go from talking rubbish to absolutely pouring your heart out and from laughing to crying in a heartbeat. I could pay for a year of therapy or go away for a weekend with my friends. It resets me. Whatever I have been worrying about they talk me through it, I think that’s what close friends are for. If I didn’t have that my life would be much less fulfilling.