Helen C. Escott is the author of the widely read blog-turned-book I Am Funny Like That, which has over 222,000 readers, and two bestselling crime thrillers: Operation Wormwood, which was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel in 2019; and Operation Vanished, which was the Silver Medal Winner for Best Regional Fiction, awarded by the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Both Operation Vanished and Operation Wormwood have appeared in the Atlantic Books Today top 5 bestsellers lists. Her fourth book is, In Search of Adventure: 70 Years of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Newfoundland and Labrador, which profiles retired RCMP members and commemorates their service. And her fifth book, Operation Wormwood: The Reckoning, is the exciting conclusion to the crime novel Operation Wormwood.
Miramichi Reader: Helen, please tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.
I am a retired Civilian Member of the RCMP. I served for 17 years as the Senior Communications Strategist and was the communications lead on high-profile events including the RCMP’s NL response on the September 11th terrorist attacks. I wrote and implemented the Atlantic Region Communication Strategies to combat organized crime and outlaw biker gangs. I created a Media Relations course and taught it at the Canadian Police College, Ottawa. I also served as a communications strategist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Before joining the RCMP I worked in the media for 13 years.
In 2017 I was presented with the CLB Governor and Commandants Medallion in recognition of my achievements of excellence in volunteering and fundraising work, including creating the idea and concept for the Spirit of Newfoundland dinner theatre, “Where Once They Stood.” In 2019 I was presented with the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.
MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.
As a creative student, I was never at the top of the academic food chain. I would much rather daydream than do math. I did have a teacher in grade nine, who would bring in song lyrics and then have the class intrepret them. I loved reading and music, so this was right up my alley. That teacher lit a flame in me that never went out. He introduced me to Shakespeare and Ernest Hemmingway and made it fun. One Halloween he came in wearing an old man mask and a T-shirt that had a big “C” wrote on it. (He was the ‘Old Man and the Sea!” To this day I can recite Romeo and Juliet almost word for word and reread Hemmingway.
MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?
Asking me to pick a favourite book is like asking me which child I love best. I could not pick just one. I love my books and I never lend them or give them away. I have never disliked a book. Even if it was not my thing, at least it entertained me for a few hours. I do love biographies. I love learning about what makes people tick. How their childhood shaped them. Why they made the decisions they do. Maybe that is why I get so caught up in my own characters.
MR: Fair enough! Let’s now talk about your “Operation” novels which will soon be up to three. The debut novel was Operation Wormwood. How did it come about? What was the response?
When I was still with the RCMP I was called out to take over the media on a very gruesome child murder case. I was the Senior Communications Strategist/ Media Relations Person. One day I turned to a co-worker and said, “I wish when someone hurt a child, they would die a slow, painful death.” For some reason I wrote that down when I got back to the office. Then I started keeping files of my thoughts and ideas. After I retired, I found the file again and started to read it. It read like a crime thriller. I started putting it together and things begin to make sense to me. You know that old saying, “A book doesn’t come from you, it comes through you?” Well, the first Operation Wormwood novel was exactly like that.
With each funeral for a Veteran, I watched our history slipping away. I just said, “I need to capture the history of each of these people before it disappears.”
MR: This brings us to your new non-fiction work, In Search of Adventure, about the history of the RCMP in Newfoundland. Lately, the RCMP as an organization has come under scrutiny for systemic racism, misogynist attitudes and so on. What was your experience in all the years you worked with them in NL?
I am enormously proud to say I served in the RCMP. We live in a world where people make judgements based on a few seconds of video, with no context, not knowing if the video has been altered. Then they convict without a trial. It is not a fair playing field. I know that 99% of police officers are good and fair people who join policing because they genuinely want to help people and make a difference. Unfortunately, the videos of police officers doing a good job never get shared. That is why I wrote this book. With each funeral for a Veteran, I watched our history slipping away. I just said, “I need to capture the history of each of these people before it disappears.”
MR: How long did it take you to compile all the interviews and research contained within In Search of Adventure?
It took over two years to put it together. It was an arduous task finding all the Veterans. I spoke to Veterans from right here in Newfoundland and Labrador right over to British Columbia. You have to remember that most of these people are in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. It was great when I could interview them in person but when I had to do the interview by phone, and it got a little trickier due to some having age issues like hearing loss or other ailments. Although one member I spoke to was 91 years old and could not wait for me to leave because he was going hiking! Once I had the interview, I had to transcribe it and research all details to ensure accuracy. Then go back to approval from the Veteran. All in all, it took one to two weeks to interview one person. But it was a labour of love. I truly loved hearing these stories and I could have kept going with the interviews.
MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be?
I love biographies and if I could write one about any person it would be Pope Francis. I find him absolutely fascinating. I love how he has changed the church and how he relates to people. He seems like the real deal and I would love to know how he got that way.
MR: What are you working on now?
Right now, I am working on a true crime book. It is something I have always wanted to do. I am in the research phase, so I am not sure where it is going yet. I try not to know how my books end; I like to be just as surprised as everyone else. I like to go where the book takes me. That is where I am at right now. I am waiting for the book to say, ‘Look this is what I am about.’
MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I write three days a week. I am extremely strict with my writing times. My family and friends know I am ‘at work’ when I am in my office. But outside the writing days I am obsessed with urban exploring through abandoned places. I take pictures and write blogs about my travels. They are on my website at https://www.helencescott.com
MR: Finally, tell us a fun fact about yourself!
I just finished a play! I always had an idea about this play I wanted to do. But I had no clue how to put it together. Two years ago, I took acting lessons for a year and last year, I took a Screenwriting class at Memorial University. Then I started putting my ideas on paper. I presented it to a local theatre company and the director helped me edit it more. Now they are interested in doing the play for their audiences. So, in 2020, I added ‘Playwright’ to my resume.
Excellent! Thanks, Helen!
James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. The Miramichi Reader (TMR) —Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases— highlights noteworthy books and authors across Canada from coast to coast to coast (est. 2015). James works and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.