Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Chipped Pearls Book Cover

Elvira Slate sassies into the LA gumshoe world with creator Helen Jacey

Crime detectives in fiction are, in the main, universally flawed: booze, womanising, personality disorders are rife. And those are the men. There is also a strong posse of women detectives with their own issues and another one is joining the throng; Elvira Slate. She is sassy, stylish, a criminal, bright and living in 1940s jazz age and time of the glamorous Hollywood super stardom. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths met up with Helen Jacey, Elvira’s creator to talk about her and the wonderful noir world of sleuthdom.

Helen Jacey looks like she could have drifted into the Kino-Teatr from a classic film. Her background, however, is not acting but writing film and television scripts. Then becoming increasingly aware of the dominance and stereotyping of the female special as projected through the masculine gaze she wrote a handbook, The Women in the Story, to introduce would-be writers to write real women, living and breathing characters, complete with flaws, who have a life.

Writing film and TV scripts is a collaborative occupation. You might produce the initial script but then producers, directors and casting directors become involved. And can rob you of your vision. Jacey had a successful career yet sometimes you want your singular voice to be heard. After reading Raymond Chandler she decided to subvert the genre and Elvira Slate was born: a woman with character with a colourful backstory.

Flawed characters

The war changed life for women, they were not going to be shoved back in the kitchen just yet. Sexy Elvira is a fully-fledged feminine woman who loves style. A chameleon outsider who can bend her character to the wind, as she tries to blend into Hollywood high society.  But her character is flawed; she is wrongly convicted, served her time in prison and remand school. Illegitimate, fostered, she is an outsider, an underdog, no wonder she is trying to discover, “Who am I?”

Helen Jacey

Helen Jacey

Women, particularly millennials, have warmed to the novels, both the action and the female strength. Jacey has received comments like, “You have really helped me.” Besides having an MA in Fine Art and a PhD in in screenwriting, she has taught creative writing and welcomes the opportunity to mentor women, as she in her turn has been mentored.

Fleeing from England, out of Holloway prison, evading probation, dodging the law, Elvira dived into sunny California. while joining previous well-known Hollywood émigrés from London and the south – Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin, Claude Rains, Alfred Hitchcock – unlike them, however, she does not want to be discovered.

Second Elvira Slate novel

Chipped Pearls is the second Elvira Slate book. Another eight have been loosely mapped out, one, ideally, a year – if life does not get in the way.  Inevitably, there is something of Jacey in Elvira’s character – she can live her life vicariously through Elvira ­without the tension or the danger. “She is more fashionable than me. Back in the 1980s I was a Rockabilly and loved Horrockses (waisted, full-skirted floral dresses)  that we would buy for mere pennies.” Collectibles now. “Elvira is more risk-taking and adventurous, not prone to anxiety like me. But she also questions things like I do.”

Plotting of course is paramount. She keeps books with the plot lines, the red herrings, the twists and turns. And gratifyingly, people have not guessed the ending. “I know the world and it is so fun entering her world.”

Tips for fledgling writers

So what tips would she give fledgling screenwriters? The obvious one is show not tell; explore external as well as internal conflict – shame, guilt, fear, grief, anger; ensure the theme is reflected through the story –  the protagonist at the end of the action should reflect their worldview, their beliefs.

And how did Jacey come to land in Hastings? Via London to Brighton where she was taking an MA in Fine Art.  She and her artist husband Patrick Altes wanted a bigger place but where to move to? They explored the south coast, somehow bypassing Hastings, then one day they veered into St Leonards. And that was it. They settled here. If Elvira Slate stays in LA or relocates to Hastings will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Chipped Pearls by Helen Jacey is published by Shedunnit Productions. There will be a talk, Q&A, and book signing at A Wave of Dreams, 48 Kings Road, St Leonards TN37 6DY at 6.30-8.30 pm on Wednesday 18 December 2019 (please rsvp


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Posted 15:37 Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019 In: Literature

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