Jennifer Gilmour: You have written about child abuse, sexual abuse and domestic abuse in Walls of Silence. How does The Healer’s Secret differentiate from your previous work surrounding this subject?
Helen Pryke: I wrote Walls of Silence to help me through a difficult period of my life, when I’d decided to separate from my psychologically abusive husband, so it’s full of all the raw emotions I had to get out. Maria’s constant fight against society and everyone around her reflects my internal feelings at the time, as does her determination to build a better life for herself and the endless courage she carries within her.
The Healer’s Secret instead is more about Jennifer’s reaction to her personal problems – her inability to have children makes her turn to drink, which destroys her marriage and affects her job. She goes to Tuscany to visit the Italian side of her family and, through a letter she finds written by her great-grandmother Luisa, discovers a terrible secret.
I didn’t intend to write another story about domestic abuse, but when I started writing Luisa’s story it became a crucial element of her life. The cruelty she endures from her husband leads her to do some terrible things, but I hope I have created enough sympathy for her that the reader understands why.
Jennifer Gilmour: You mention in your bio that you are dedicated to your family and writing, is this the perfect lifestyle for you? Tell us more about your personal life.
Helen Pryke: I used to work in an office in the UK, but I moved to Italy when I was 20 and, not knowing the language, it was easier to stay at home. My ex-husband didn’t want me to go out to work, and then I had my two sons, so I became a housewife. It was hard at first, but like everything else, you get used to it.
Now I have an auto-immune disease which makes it impossible for me to have a full-time job. But I have been working from home for the last 6 years as a freelance translator, which I love. I’ve had the chance to translate an Italian author’s children’s book from Italian to English, and a screenplay for the same author, which has won awards in America! I also did a voice-over for a short film a few years ago, which was nerve-wracking but fun. And I write as much as possible, whenever possible.
I’ve achieved so much in the 7 years since I left my ex-husband – at first by myself, and then with the love and support of my second husband. When I look back at what I’ve done, I’m incredibly proud!
Jennifer Gilmour: You are very passionate about your work, did you always want to write or was there a turning point in your life that led you down this road?
Helen Pryke: I’ve always written, ever since I was little. I have a cutting from a school magazine of a short story I wrote when I was ten, which my mum kept! I remember reading Watership Down and then trying to write my own book of a girl who finds a baby rabbit and keeps it in her bedroom. I used to start a lot of stories, but never got around to finishing them! I read a lot too, anything and everything, and still do.
I started writing seriously about 15 years ago. I had a couple of articles published in magazines, and then I wrote two children’s books for my sons. But it wasn’t until I decided to publish Walls of Silence as an indie author that I thought I could go somewhere with it. I lacked confidence in myself, and it’s taken me a long time to see that I’m actually pretty good at this writing lark!
Jennifer Gilmour: Can you give us a sneaky quote from The Healer’s Secret?
Helen Pryke: I love this paragraph, I remember feeling amazed that I’d written something like this!
I’d never considered myself a weak person; after everything I’d been through I’d always been proud of my ability to face things head on and deal with them on my own. At that moment, though, forcing myself to take small, polite sips of wine, I felt like I was losing control of my destiny. I lay back on the bed and watched the clouds scurry across the incredibly blue sky, pushed and moulded by invisible hands to become those fantastic shapes everyone likes to look at, imagining they can see faces, animals… but all I could see was my life floating away from me, out of reach, the umbilical cord that tethered me to the earth trailing behind it, frayed, swinging uselessly in the air. I finished the wine and put the glass on my bedside table, then closed my eyes and let the drink transport me to that dark, dreamless place I called salvation.