A few thoughts on Helen Cadbury…

CRIME writer, poet, dramatist, Quaker, teacher, partner, mother and friend to many – Helen Cadbury, who died last Friday, was quite a mix. She also once drove a band back from Hull, squeezed into the back seat of her smallish car. The writer of this blog was in the front passenger seat.

Plenty of people knew Helen better than I did, but we knew each other for quite a few years. We met at parties, belonged for a while to the same York writers’ group and chatted at the Harrogate crime writing festival. Once we shared a platform at the York Literature Festival with the poet John Gilham.

We overlapped professionally, too. I interviewed Helen twice, once for my old newspaper after her first crime novel, To Catch A Rabbit, was published. Then about 18 months ago for the Yorkshire Post Magazine, when we talked about the follow-up, Bones In The Nest.

We discussed her cancer, too – and the year she’d had. As Helen put it: “I turned 50, published two books, sold my TV rights and had breast cancer. So you could say it was a really big year.”

At the time of that second interview, Helen was mid-treatment. She was tired, complained of chemo brain, but was otherwise in good spirits. Months later, she appeared revived: her old lively, interested self, seemingly as indefatigable as ever.

Her Sean Denton books were settling in for the long run. Those books had legs and you could imagine Helen writing many. Now there will only be one more, Race To The Kill, due to be published in September.

Years ago, Helen said I was her role model, having published two crime novels. But Helen didn’t need me as a role model. Her crime novels were way more successful than mine, and she was establishing herself as a name on the festival circuit.

Helen could be a social media fiend and sometimes she seemed to be on Facebook all the time. Then she would trumpet her withdrawal, usually when there was writing to be done. You won’t be seeing me for a while, she’d say; and usually she kept to her word.

She was good at promoting herself on social media, as writers must be nowadays, but willing to help other writers, too.

Not many of us knew that Helen had fallen ill again. A few weeks ago, she posted a picture on Facebook. It showed her in hospital, which was a message, perhaps. Looking back, it seems that way.

The announcement from Helen’s family hit me with a physical shock, as it did many other people who knew her. She’d seemed so well last year and I didn’t know her illness had returned.

Now let’s introduce the band on the backseat.

Last summer, Helen interviewed the Hull crime writer Nick Quantrill at the launch of his latest book, The Dead Can’t Talk. I had interviewed Nick for the Yorkshire Post about the novel, and about his love for his home city, in the build-up to this year’s city of culture event.

I cycled to Helen’s house and then she drove us to Hull, directed by the sat-nav on her mobile. The evening went well, Nick and Helen did their author-to-author routine. Then three members of the York band Bull played a set.

An enjoyable evening all round. At home time, it turned out that the band had missed the last train. The guitars went in the boot, the three young men in the back. Helen’s car wasn’t big, so it was cosy in there. As she drove us all back to York, she chatted to the band, and realised that they knew her sons, or one of them; the detail is lost now.

We made it back to York in one piece. Helen dropped me at her house with instructions to knock hard on the door to rouse Josh and retrieve my bike. Then she drove off with the boys in the band, dropping them closer to the centre of town.

When a writer dies we are denied what they would have written, but we can read what they did write. So that is what we should do: read Helen’s crime novels and her poetry.

Many people have commented on Helen’s passing on Facebook, a congregation of friends and acquaintances, and those words should be read, too.

As for these words, I truly wish there had been no occasion to write them, but that’s the way it is.


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