Our specialist move-on worker Helen Brian has written a children’s book about homelessness called Elvis. Here she shares her creative journey of writing Elvis the elephant’s story.
I have worked in the homeless sector for years now and I love what I do. I spent a lot of time feeling very lost in my early 20s after a period of severe anxiety caused me to leave my creative writing course at university. When I was better, I fell into my first job as a support worker by accident and I have never looked back. I have worked as a rough sleeper outreach worker, a prison resettlement worker and I now work on a hospital ward supporting people who face homelessness on discharge.
I am lucky enough to have a job that I enjoy and, although I still suffer with anxiety, I’ve learned to manage it better. There was one thing that I had never been able to bring myself to do since leaving my course and that was writing again. I just couldn’t face it, until…
The inspiration behind Elvis
As my son has gotten older, he’s been asking me to tell him stories. Although I began to do it very reluctantly, I will always believe that it was his little imagination that restarted mine. When I was at university, I remember one of my lecturers saying that when you have character ideas for a book that you should write about, you will just know – I had always wondered what he meant.
I was at home watching something trashy on television with my husband and my son and suddenly, from nowhere, this elephant popped into my head. I could see Elvis, what he was wearing, how he spoke, exactly what he looked like and I knew his story. Without telling my family what I was doing and for the first time in eighteen years I went upstairs and wrote a book draft.
The only person who knew about that book for the next six weeks was me. I was too nervous to show anyone else until one evening when I read it to my four year old son. About an hour afterwards he started to ask me questions about why Elvis was homeless. The following week in Bath, he asked if we could buy a drink for somebody who was sleeping by the Abbey. I knew then that I might have something worth pursuing and that Elvis’ story had a purpose.
After a fundraising campaign to turn the book idea into a reality, I contacted Steven Kynman to tell him about what I had written and he asked me to send the story to him. To my amazement, he sent me a message suggesting we have a chat and two days later we were on Facetime planning an audio book.
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people through the book development and I have never learned so much. Carly at Peahen Publishing taught me endlessly about editing and the publishing process and she is always around when I need her, even if it’s just for me to talk about how nervous I am.
I absolutely loved working with Chantal, the illustrator for Elvis and, developing the characters in my head on to paper. I will never forget the moment that I first saw a sketch of Elvis, I am not ashamed to say that I dissolved into tears (of happiness)!
When Steven talked about the fact that we needed some music for the audio book there was only one person that I wanted to work with. Sam Eason is a brilliantly talented singer songwriter and I knew that he would understand Elvis’ journey and do something magical with it and I was so right.
Elvis is in the building
I wanted to raise as much awareness as possible about the book and needed to be brave and pitch my book with confidence but this isn’t easy when it’s your own work! d I would be lying if I didn’t experience several of those 3am moments when I was awake asking myself what on earth I was doing!
I sent the book draft to Kerry Howard, a British TV actress local to Bath and asked if she would be interested in supporting it, she was very kind about my writing and even agreed to be interviewed for the promotional launch film, she gave me a massive confidence boost.
When Elvis arrived, I was so thrilled to see it in print (I cried again)!, The book isn’t about me, it’s about all the incredible and brave people facing homelessness that the charities and I have supported and I could only do them all justice if I absolutely went for it and did as much promotion as I could.
I will never stop being grateful for everyone’s support, the reception of Elvis has blown me away, I ordered 325 copies worrying that I would have boxes of books gathering dust in my house, within three days of going live on pre orders we had to request a reprint.
Seeing Elvis in bookshop windows is amazing but what gives me the biggest buzz is the messages that I have had from parents telling me that my story has started an important conversation about homelessness and that their children are now acknowledging the issue in a different way, that’s why I wrote it and if that’s what Elvis and Cilla do, then they’ve done their job.