Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Helen Buckley

One of the scariest things as an author is knowing that people will read your work and critique it, so to have such positive feedback on my debut novel Star in the Shadows, feels really overwhelming. As an author, I am able to completely immerse myself in my character’s lives. As I write, I feel like I’m there with them.


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What did you study at Queen Mary and what are you doing now? I studied BA Journalism and Contemporary History – a degree which was run between Queen Mary and City University. A fantastic collaboration!

Why did you choose to study BA Journalism and Contemporary History at Queen Mary? The course was completely unique – run by two universities, with both their expertise and excellent teaching, and combining two of my favourite subjects. I had actually applied for all my university places when I stumbled across a Queen Mary University of London prospectus and found this degree. I dumped all my offers and contacted the course organiser to wangle an interview and got offered a place! It was all so last minute but I knew as soon as I saw the course that I had to do it.

What sparked your interest in this particular course? I was keen to train to be a journalist but I also wanted to pursue my love of history as an academic subject.

Your debut novel was recently published by Austin Macauley publishers. What is your first book about and what inspired you to write your first book? Star in the Shadows is about a teen runway turned pop star who is trying to escape the shadows of her past. The book follows her story and that of the family she loved and left behind. I’ve always been interested in celebrities, rags to riches stories, and the potential dark side of fame, and that’s what this book is all about. It’s dramatic, gritty, entertaining and has a lot of heart.

Can you describe the feeling of having your first book published? It’s extremely surreal. It’s a dream come true and I can’t quite believe it just yet!

One photo on your Instagram is of you doing an interview at the BBC to promote your book. How did you find the interview and what has the reception been like since your book has been published? The interview went really well as Nick Coffer has a really friendly, conversational presenting style. I think my journalism training from my degree also helped me to feel at ease! The book has had brilliant reactions from book bloggers and wonderful reader reviews. I've compiled them all on my website at www.buckleybooks.org/reviews. One of the scariest things as an author is knowing that people will read your work and critique it, so to have such positive feedback feels really overwhelming.

What was your writing process like? Is author your full time role or a passion that you dedicate your spare time to? I wrote the book while working full-time so I mainly wrote very early in the morning, on the commute to work, and in the evenings. I wrote my second novel while pregnant with my son, and now he’s 8 months old I only have time to write in snatches, usually around 5am! I’m a firm believer of getting the words on the page and editing them later.

Can you describe your path since graduating from Queen Mary, the path that has led up to you publishing your first book? Have you had many other roles since graduating in 2007? When I completed my degree I went straight into the charity sector – which is where I have always worked. I’ve worked at Stonewall, the Salvation Army, Age UK, the Council for Disabled Children, and spent almost four years in Honduras working with families living in poverty. I love the charity sector and have no regrets about switching from my dream to be a journalist to helping the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society.

Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary? What do you think is unique about Queen Mary compared to other universities? Queen Mary offered the most amazing opportunity with the joint degree with City University. I was able to be a part of both universities and part of the University of London as well. I had access to the best teaching and resources, and loved the vibrant, multicultural nature of Queen Mary which reflected where I am from – Hounslow in West London.

Seeing as you juggled studying at two different universities, did you find time to be involved in any extracurricular activities whilst you were completing your studies? It was tricky to find the time as I was always dashing between different campuses and the journalism aspect of my degree was very full on. However, I did find the time to work for the Independent Newspaper as a student promoter - promoting the newspaper on both Queen Mary and City campuses, and I worked on a student magazine at City too. I also did lots of work experience at various publications, such as Cosmopolitan, Zest, and Health & Fitness magazines, The Times Education Supplement, and I did a paid internship with Emily Thornberry MP for 6 months in her Parliamentary office.

How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development? The rigorous academic training I had in the history aspect of my degree helped me to become a better writer and researcher, and led me to topics I had never studied before. I had the opportunity to study American history, which was completely new to me, and Victorian social history, in particular looking at the development of the psychological profession. I developed a fascination with the history of mental health which influenced my Masters thesis - I studied an MSc in Gender, Sexuality, Politics and Culture at Birkbeck, University of London - and my thesis was on working mothers in the 1950s. 

Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? Consider the charity sector – it’s a great place to work with a huge variety of roles and the sector needs your expertise and passion!

Why is it exciting to do what you do? Being a novelist means being able to completely immerse myself in my character’s lives. As I write, I feel like I’m there with them. There’s nothing quite like it!

What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments? One of my most memorable moments was winning a prize for academic excellence for my dissertation on the Middlesex regiment in World War One. I had put my heart and soul into it and was delighted to win the prize. My dissertation was called The making of a die-hard - it explored how civilian recruits to the Middlesex Regiment in World War One developed their military identities and transformed from civilians to soldiers. The die-hards was their regimental nickname. I spent a lot of time going through the archives in museums and at the national archives and it was absolutely fascinating.

Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field? I really admire Nicola May, an author who has done extremely well in self-publishing. Her books are witty and exciting but I also admire the fact that she’s persevered in a very competitive industry and made a name for herself by self-publishing – no easy feat.

What does the future look like for you? Do you have any upcoming projects? I have completed my second novel and I am writing my third. I have ideas for so many more! I’d love to be a full-time author but it’s a tough industry so I’m preparing for a long haul and lots of setbacks on the way.

My website: https://buckleybooks.org/

Twitter: @HelenCBuckley

Facebook: @helenbuckleyauthor

Insta: @helencatherinebuckley

My publishers' website: https://www.austinmacauley.com/book/star-shadows

Link to my book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Star-Shadows-Helen-Buckley-ebook/dp/B07Z5V7LR5/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2IVYF87EBMWRI&keywords=star+in+the+shadows&qid=1574951958&sprefix=star+in+the+shad%2Caps%2C223&sr=8-1