“I loved your writing, and that’s enough for me”— remembering Helen Bailey

Our young blogger Charlotte writes about the impact the late author Helen Bailey had on her life.

Over the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard a lot about children’s author Helen Bailey in the news. She disappeared in April last year, and, last Thursday, her partner was found guilty of her murder. During her disappearance and the discovery of her body, the media focused very much on the facts of the murder; detailed descriptions of how she died could be found in every article about the case, as well as a morbid focus on the last few years of her life, after her husband drowned in 2011 and she met her murderer online on a bereavement page for widows. Helen was portrayed in the media as a woman doomed to a miserable life and a dreadful death from the outset: she is Helen the murder victim, not Helen the author.

Most of the articles about the case did acknowledge her writing career, but they tended to home in on a new venture Helen took towards the end of her life. After the death of her husband, Helen began a blog called Planet Grief, dedicated to writing about her new life as a widow. The blog ensured that she shot to new prominence as a voice for thousands of widows in Britain. Naturally this does merit a significant mention in any biography of Helen; however, her original fame as a writer of children’s and teen fiction was less likely to be permitted a major section in a newspaper article. Helen Bailey has been defined as a hero of the widow community, which is undoubtedly true, but I think she deserves to be remembered for so much more than the path her life took when it was struck by tragedy. I loved Helen Bailey’s Electra Brown series when I was in my early teens and so, without wanting to comment much about the case itself, I would like to pay my own tribute to Helen.

Helen’s genius as a comedian, especially when dealing with difficult issues, is particularly noticeable in her novels for teenagers, especially in the Electra Brown series. Quite apart from being some of the funniest books I had ever read, they helped accompany me through some of my most difficult years in secondary school. Electra Brown consists of five books, and is about the life of a teenage girl who hates her name and pretty much everything else about herself, but still manages to find solace in life’s trivial matters, such as “How far can you get a piece of melted cheese to stretch without it breaking?” (Book 2, “Out Of My Depth). Her disastrous escapades with her friends and crushes make for hilarious reading, and her typically teenage insecurities are especially comforting to read for angst-ridden teens.

Electra became more than a character from a book to me – she became like a reliable friend who could always be trusted to make me laugh, even when both the social and academic aspects of school threatened to overwhelm me. Every time I delved into one of the books it was like Electra was saying “you think your life is hard – try having my school, my teachers, my friends.”

In short, Helen: I am not a widow. I did not know you personally. I never met you. My comments about how you affected my life would not attract the most “sad faces” on Facebook, because I have no uplifting stories or anecdotes worthy of hundreds of “shares”. But I loved your writing, and that’s enough for me. Through your books and blogs, your poignant, cynical, and hilarious voice still exists and always will. I will miss you a great deal.