Writing A Number One Bestselling Horror & Crime Novel with Author Helen Phifer

Friday 10 May 2019

For those not familiar with Helen’s work, she is a #1 bestselling crime and horror novelist. Her debut novel, The Ghost House, was released October 2013 and went on to be an Amazon #1 bestseller in Canada. It reached #1 on the Amazon Contemporary Horror Charts in both the UK and the US, pushing her idol Stephen King off his #1 spot many times.

Yes, you read that right, Helen Phifer knocked Stephen King off the #1 spot more than once!

After that astounding revelation, let’s get straight to the questions. 

Q1. As a writer of horror and crime, often blending the two genres, do you have to think about how far you can take things? 

For example: How graphic is too graphic? Is there a limit to how detailed the dark aspects of a novel can be in order for the book to be commercially viable? Do you ever think, oops, I might have crossed a line here?

Yes, I think you can get too graphic. 

My horror tends to make my readers more afraid to get up at three am to go to the toilet.

There is some level of graphic content in my stories, I tend to merge serial killers with the supernatural and I suppose they can be gruesome. But I like to think they’re not overly graphic.

For example, I love a good scary film, but I can’t watch the Saw films. 

I like to think my stories are scary without being too full on.

Q2. In your teen years you read authors such as Stephen King and James Herbert. Did you always know you would take the dark path and join your idols in writing horror or did you try writing a range of genres and then decided on crime and horror?

I knew I wanted to write scary stories from being a kid.

I’ve been obsessed with ghost stories since I was old enough to read them. 

For me it’s been the other way around, I started off writing horror because I couldn’t find enough of those stories. Over the years I was encouraged by my now publisher to try and write crime fiction without the horror element. 

I love writing so gave it a go, it was a challenge and I don’t enjoy writing straight crime as much. 

However, it’s great to try different things and gain new readers, some of my readers won’t read any of my scary stuff, yet they love the crime.

Q3. Where do your ideas come from? Is it concept first or do characters walk into your mind and then you build the story around them?

It tends to be the concept first, characters second. 

I love writing strong, female leads who must save themselves at the end of the day. So, I know no matter where the story goes my protagonist will have to fight for everything.

I get ideas all the time, from watching documentaries, newspapers, I’ve even woke up in the middle of the night after a bad dream and had to scrabble for a pen and notepad to write it down before I forget.

Q4. If you could go back and give one piece of advice to yourself before starting your writing career what would it be and why?

Ah, this is a good question. 

It would be to celebrate every single achievement along the way. 

Whether it be finishing a chapter, a book, coming up with a new plot, finding an agent or publisher. 

No matter what take the time to write them all down in a journal. 

On the days you’re feeling as if you can’t do this anymore you can look back and see that actually you can and you have.

Q5. Having five children must keep you pretty busy. Do you have any tips for mothers and fathers who want to write but don’t feel they have the time? 

Photo Credit to Helen Phifer - Image Source 

It’s not quite as bad now they’re all grown up, but it was difficult when they were younger, and I worked full time shifts. 

My life was so hectic that I didn’t have a set routine, I had to write whenever I had a spare minute. 

For me even though I was tired I’d force myself to get up an hour earlier than everyone else. Make myself a coffee and write in peace. Some days I’d end up driving in my car and sitting by the beach with my notepad just to have a bit of space and time to think. 

I made a conscious decision at the beginning that I could sit and watch daytime tv whenever I had a spare minute, or I could use that time to write. 

The desire to write won and now I rarely watch the television.

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Helen. Very best of luck with your new book, The Girl in the Grave, which is out July 2019.

Thank you so much for having me Emma, it’s been my pleasure.

Emma Pullar is a bestselling and award-winning writer of dark fiction and children’s books. She also dabbles in screenwriting.

You can find Emma on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook or lurking in the shadows, spying on people in the name of inspiration and creativity. www.emmapullar.com


  1. Replies
    1. So glad to hear you enjoyed the interview! :)

  2. LOVE this author and her books! Great interview!

  3. Wow! I hear for this author for the first time. It is cool, because I like horror. I am sure that this information will be interesting for people who also like horror.