Helena Fox’s Calm Storm of Understanding

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For the Illawarra author, writing is a tool to decipher life in an ever complicated world and now she’s helping others to discover the same.

Words by Eliza Lourenco

In the year following her debut novel’s release Helena Fox travelled to America, where her dream came true. 

“I went to my favourite bookstores in two of my favourite cities and got to see my book there,” she says. “I had a little cry. It’s kind of a dream come true and bonus things you never thought you could dream of.” 

With another upcoming novel, Helena will be able to experience her dream of seeing her work on a bookstore shelf for the second time around. 

The new book, with details and publication dates yet to be announced, comes after her 2019 novel How It Feels To Float. The two share similarities in broad strokes, on issues like mental health and LGBTQIA+ identity, but Helena has been working hard to create a new character. One separate and distinctive from her previous work. 

“I had three tries before I could click into the new voice,” says Helena. “It ended up being through sentence structure. I just chose a different sentence structure. I chose clipped, short sentences as the intro to every chapter. Whereas Biz is much more ‘whooshy’.”

‘Whooshy’ is a good way to describe the space that Helena has explored with How It Feels To Float. It captures the inner turmoil of protagonist Elizabeth ‘Biz’ Martin Grey, a teenager who struggles with her mental health.

Biz comes to life when Helena discusses the novel’s creation and publication process. She brings up a radio interview she did after the book came out. “I could almost actually physically see Biz sitting next to me.”

Through bringing Biz to life, Helena was able to process her own struggles, including grief and loss. It’s understandable that a deep bound to character would come from this.  

Helena’s intention wasn’t to write a ‘harrowing’ book, but acknowledges that it requires ‘self-care’. “It isn’t harrowing for everybody,” she says. “But it is for some people and when I say harrowing I mean it just can be triggering and it just can be difficult.”

In her upcoming book, there’s a continuing sense of finding a path to manage mental health. Helena has delved back into processing personal struggles through hypotheticals, like she did with Biz and her story. This time, the character’s main struggle is how to find her voice in the chaos of a life constantly interrupted. 

“I’m learning the words to speak for myself as well,” she says. “It’s really nice to be like, ‘oh here I am processing something that’s really important to me in a fictional way’. It’s such an amazing tool for anyone. I highly recommend writing of any kind to help your process, as you work on your mental health. It’s just getting to take things I’ve lived and then fictionalise them and make them safe for me, you know.”

Beyond seeing How It Feels To Float on a shelf, publishing the book here and overseas has meant that Helena has come to feel validated as a writer through community. On her trip to America in 2019, she befriended fellow authors who have also found their voices within the young adult fiction genre. 

“I’ve been embraced by the community, which is stunning when you’ve been on the outside for so long and you’re not sure there’s a space for you.”

It’s this sense of community and belonging that Helena wants to help create for emerging writers. Over the years, she’s run numerous writing workshops with an essential element of playfulness. She hopes participants can find their own voices, just as she has found her own through a space where experimentation is welcomed. 

Photo: Eliza Lourenco

Together with the South Coast Writers Centre and the senior writers that she’s been collaborating with, Helena wants to try and foster her vision for writers in the area.

“I’m kind of just wanting to build a really strong supportive community for young writers here,” she says. “Starting from a really young age.”

Rhys Lorenc, one of the senior writers Helena’s been working with, has benefited an enormous amount from having her as a mentor. 

“Helena is the best kind of writing teacher,” says Rhys. “The kind that’s introduced me to a diverse community of peers and encouraged me to push the limits of language.”

Rhys says that on top of finding community, the workshops and guidance has helped him find confidence and modesty in his own process. 

Helena has a dual awareness: her own authorial and personal progression; and how she can help others in theirs. As she talks about the intentionality of kindness, she stops for a moment and then explains its place in her writing.

“I didn’t realise I was writing this homage to kindness in all its different forms,” she says. “In community, family and even strangers and the kindness that we get to provide ourselves and ask for and the help we deserve. How we’re not broken just because we’re dealing with things.”

It’s easy to assume that writing is a solitary process and for many it probably is that way. Helena Fox is the author who choses to forsake that narrative and embrace writing as a tool for healing individually and collectively. Something that’s relevant now more than ever considering the current social and political changes with the pandemic. 

Do you find creativity helps you process experiences? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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