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Featured Spotlight and Author Interview for Bookouture's "The Girl from Provence"

South of France, 1942. Twenty-one-year-old Lilou is selling lavender honey in the village square when the Nazis arrive in her beloved Provence. And when her best friend is dragged away simply for being Jewish, Lilou is horrified. As the village begins to take sides, Lilou secretly swears through angry sobs that she’ll sacrifice everything to fight for what’s right.

Drawn in to the French Resistance, soon Lilou is smuggling hidden messages in fresh-baked loaves of bread and meeting Allied pilots in remote moonlit fields. She lives in fear that Kristian, a blue-eyed German soldier, knows about her work – but does he keep her secrets because he is undercover, too?

Everything changes when Lilou is given her most important task: to keep a frightened little boy, Eliot, hidden safe in her farmhouse. All alone in the world, Eliot refuses to speak as he clutches his treasured children’s book close to his chest. Inside is a beautiful story of stars, planets and the night sky. But why is this innocent child the one, among thousands, who Lilou must save?

When she is told Eliot’s book will help her decipher coded messages, Lilou knows he must have knowledge that could change the course of the war. But the day Kristian arrives at her farm searching for hidden Jewish families, Lilou is terrified that Eliot is in more danger than ever…

Can Lilou trust the one person who could tear her world apart? And will she ever help Eliot find his way home?

A totally stunning and heartbreaking read about the incredible sacrifices ordinary people are forced to make each day in wartime. Perfect for fans of Fiona Valpyand Rhys Bowen.

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Read what everyone’s saying about Helen Fripp:

‘Wow! What a story… I was captivated… I found myself reading late into the night… extraordinary… so moving and totally enthralled me… will stay with me for a long time.’ NetGalley reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

‘Extraordinary. Outstanding… absolutely amazing… just wow!… this book is exquisite. Absolute perfection. A masterpiece. One of my favourite reads ever.’ Renita D’Silva, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

‘One of the best books I’ve read… stunning… it grabbed me and pulled me right in… unforgettable… addictive… you feel really caught up in the twists and turns… has to be experienced to truly realise how special it is… I was totally immersed.’ On the Shelf Reviews

‘Completely gripping and heartbreaking… easily read in one sitting… an absolute triumph… truly an unstoppable read!… I loved every minute of it!’ NetGalley reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

‘Instantly and completely immersed me in a beautiful romance… The author’s ability to whisk me away… is extraordinary.’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

‘Wow! An incredible historical novel… All the feels.’ Chaos Happiness Book Mama, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

‘This book transported me to another world… fascinating… I found it difficult to put the book down!’ Corinne Rodrigues Booknista, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author Interview:

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

My most recent one was to the Alpes Maritimes in Southern France. I lived there for two months to research my latest book, and it was so inspirational. We lived in an old shepherd’s house nestled in the foothills of the mountains, surrounded by dense oak forests. I’ve never seen so many jays in my life and I spent hours watching them busying themselves around the trees, flashing iridescent blue as they flew overhead. In the summer the place is alive with cicadas, fragrant with gorse, and swifts burst out of the rooftops in the village square. At night you’re never far from a family of wild boar snuffling for roots and flower bulbs as the local dogs howl at the imposition!

So much is unchanged in the villages in the area, and there’s nothing like being there to help your writing leap off the page.

Researching WW2 Resistance activities in the area, I was lucky enough to meet a local museum curator who had interviewed everyone in the village who’d been involved in the Resistance. His archives were meticulous, and every week in the museum, he laid out the documents and photographs he’d collected, and left me to it. It was a treasure-trove, from conscripts’ letters home to their parents, to local photographs and insights into social history, to first-hand accounts from the brave people who risked everything to resist the German occupation, protect Jewish friends, damage infrastructure, guide Allied agents and run coded messages.

Tell us the best writing tip you can think of, something that helps you.

There’s the obvious one of actually sitting down and writing – harder than you’d think! That wasn’t easy when I was juggling a job, children and a household, but now I’m writing full time things are a little less fraught. You never stop learning, however. Now that I’m about to embark on book four, I think the biggest change there’s been to my process is in the planning. I still start with a basic spark, something I’ve seen, a story I’ve heard, a painting in an art gallery, an artefact in a museum. But now, instead of starting on page one and writing on to the end, I make a big plan before I begin. I’m not a great lover of Excel spreadsheets, but nevertheless I’ve come to an understanding with them to facilitate planning!

I plot the main narrative for every chapter, create a column for each character so I can see their story arc throughout the book, and alongside that, I plot major historical events and any references I want to use. I also keep hundreds of pages of research notes, kindle bookmarks, thoughts and observations from my travels. 

When I come to write, the Excel plotting keeps me on track, though as characters take on lives of their own, it changes as I go, often from a half-way point. I find that when the ground is laid and the world created, the characters begin to inconveniently move about as they please, playing havoc with my careful planning!

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?  

Never give up, everything you do is ultimately your choice, follow your heart.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I don’t particularly enjoy flying. The queues, the being herded around airports by stony-faced airline staff, being squashed on an air-conditioned metal tube 30,000 feet up isn’t my idea of fun. 

But, reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s lyrical prose on the poetry and wonder of flying the early mail planes to north Africa and South America is a world away. The way he describes being at the helm of his little plane, skimming orange groves, watching rivers snake through the landscape, the light changing above the clouds, the special silence and peace of the night sky as he swoops beneath the moon is absolutely beautiful. I hope some of that sense of wonder comes through in my writing when we see the world through his eyes.

What’s the best way to market your books?

Who knows?! I try to just be myself on social media, sharing inspirations, quotes, giving insights into the people and places I write about. If you’re short of time, always make writing a priority, and just choose a couple of platforms that you feel comfortable with.

My publishers are great at the dark arts of all things digital marketing, and book bloggers are brilliant supporters and networkers. And of course, press and media coverage can be very powerful.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

As a historical novelist, research is the absolute cornerstone of everything I do. I’ll spend at least half of the time it takes to complete a novel researching, and I always try to experience places first-hand if time and budget allows. 

I use respected history reference books, biographies and autobiographies, and combine it with first-hand archival material where possible. Of course, history books are often written from the perspective of the victors and the powerful, so I’m always careful to try and ground it in the experiences of ordinary people, and from perspectives of the time, rather than with the benefit of hindsight, although that can be an author’s friend, too.

For my latest novel, I felt it was so important to get things absolutely right. WW2 was a time of unimaginable tragedy for so many, and whilst I didn’t set out to include any graphic scenes, I decided it was unfair to sugar-coat what really happened, so some of the scenes were hard to write and I literally felt sick whilst doing it.

What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?

I always try to be true to their legacy and find out as much as possible about them before I start.  It’s also important to place them in the context of their times and to see the world through their eyes. As a rule, I never change known events, rather I imagine the conversations they might have had, their thoughts and actions between recorded history.

In The Girl from Provence, I was careful to tread a sensitive line between collaborators and Resistance. When asking local people about WW2, the first thing they’d often say was ‘we don’t judge.’ The experience of the occupied is fraught with difficulties for generations after the event. Not everyone finds the courage to outwardly resist and put themselves and their families in danger. Most mothers would want to protect their sons whatever the cost.

For The Girl from Provence, there’s so much WW2 context and information out there, but I’ve tried to stick to the facts as they unfolded to ordinary people in this particular part of the world, and present the nuanced view. Of course, these were times of great evil, and the atrocities were unimaginable, and I haven’t shied away from representing that, either. Ultimately, your characters tell their story, and the reader can draw their own conclusions. 

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I do. It’s a real joy when one comes along that seems to sum up everything you were trying to say. A present, this wonderful review on Goodreads is a favourite, but I appreciate everyone who makes the effort to read and give their opinion, good or bad.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

There’s always a half-way point when I question absolutely everything I’ve done so far, and wonder where it’s all going. I’ve learned now that I can work through it, and that inner critic often has a point! So, I listen and give myself to think, regardless of the deadline. The inner me can be harsh, but if what my gut says is right, I take it in good humour and rework what I need to! 

Tell us about your novel/novels/or series and why you wrote about this topic?

South of France, 1942. Twenty-one-year-old Lilou is selling lavender honey in the village square when the Nazis arrive in her beloved Provence. And when her best friend is dragged away simply for being Jewish, Lilou is horrified. As the village begins to take sides, Lilou secretly swears that she’ll sacrifice everything to fight for what’s right.

The narrative brings together an unlikely band of Resistance fighters, a mix of historical figures and imagined characters. Characters based on real figures are Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, society hostess turned Alliance leader; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, an eccentric and daring pilot; and Abbé Aloïs, village priest and Resistance stalwart. Alongside them are imagined characters Lilou Mistral, a soulful farm girl turned Resistance fighter, Kristian Meyer who is a German Luftwaffe pilot, and little Eliot Stavinsky, the Jewish boy they must all protect, and who holds a secret that could change the course of the war.

I began thinking about the book when I read a story about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who was shot down whilst undertaking a reconnaissance flight for the French Air Force. Years later, in 1998, a fisherman found his silver identity bracelet in the sea to the south of Marseille, and in 2003 the wreckage of his aircraft was found. In the same year, a German Luftwaffe pilot became convinced that it was he who’d shot down Saint-Exupéry’s plane all those years ago, and was devastated that it was he who was responsible for his favourite author’s death. The idea fascinated me, and these uncorroborated events were my original spark and inspiration.

What is your favourite line or passage from your own book?

‘The stars will never shine as brightly for us, but they will again for our children, and we owe it to them, and to everyone who gave their lives, to never let them dim again.’ 

When writing about war, what other conclusions can you come to?

What was your hardest scene to write? 

There’s a torture scene which I never set out to include and absolutely hated writing, but the idea that these things actually happened is even more sickening. It’s a big responsibility writing about war, and I felt that this should be included as a true representation of the horrors.


Tell us your favourite quote and how the quote tells us something about you.

I love the idea of a time when we were so much more connected to nature and in The Girl from Provence, we witness the last of it, before the war changed everything. Past generations’ knowledge of the natural world and absolute dependence upon it fascinates me; a world lost to future generations forever. Therefore I have to share one of my favourite passages from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, as shepherd Gabriel Oak watches the skies at midnight:

The sky was clear – remarkably clear – and the twinkling of the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse. The north star was directly in the wind’s eye, and since evening the Bear had revolved round it outwardly to the east, till it was now at a right angle with the meridian. A difference of colour in the stars – oftener read of than seen in England – was really perceptible here. The kingly brilliancy of Sirius pierced the eye with a steely glitter, the star called Capella was yellow, Aldebaran and Betelgeux shone with a fiery red.

1 Comment

Rw Meek
Rw Meek
Jan 15

Wonderful to find another writer who appreciates the lyricism of Saint-Exupery.

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