Helen Batten
AUTHOR

Helen Batten

As a child Helen spent her time reading anything she could find. It was an eclectic mix due to her parent’s sparse bookshelves. The Kings and Queens of England by Antonia Fraser was a particular favourite. It started her fascination with history and narrative non-fiction, intriguing stories told in a compelling way, with the added advantage that they were all true. This started a career that while taking different forms essentially has been about working with stories. Helen studied history at St. John’s College, Cambridge, specialising in the social and economic histories of the fourteenth century and late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Black Death was a special subject and for a time Helen was the world’s leading expert on an obscure medieval monarch, Alfonso XI of Castille. She wrote her dissertation about his swashbuckling life - fighting moors and having affairs with beautiful widows. After university Helen persuaded her local newspaper, The Reading Chronicle, to give her a trial run, writing obituaries and reviews of gigs at the student’s union. For a time she was promoted to the unlikely job of chief reporter on the Sports desk. She also freelanced as a reporter for BBC Radio Berkshire. After graduating from journalism school, Helen got her first television job as a researcher, and then producer, on ITV’s leading political interview programme, Walden. She then launched a new series for BBC 2 called the Battle for Ideas, a discussion programme exploring the most pressing issues of the time with leading thinkers, presented by Andrew Marr. Helen worked for the next ten years at the BBC making short films for programmes like the Money Programme, Tomorrows World, and Newsnight. By this time Helen knew she wanted to tell longer stories and moved to the Political Documentary unit making programmes with the political reporter Michael Cockerell. She then helped set up the BAFTA award winning series Blood on the Carpet, which reconstructed historic business fallouts and battles. Helen also worked on the award-winning series, Head on the Block, following Britain’s first superhead trying to turn around one of the country’s worst performing schools. After this Helen produced and directed documentaries for BBC2’s long running series Trouble at the Top, including programmes about fashion design, caravans, Britain’s last hand-made cheddar makers and Gerry Cottle trying to save his family circus by taking on the Chinese State Circus. On one level these programmes were about business, in reality they were personal stories of power, motivations and difficult relationships. Her last job at the BBC was running the development team in the History Department coming up with ideas for new programmes. During her year spent with the circus, Gerry Cottle told many weird and wonderful stories about his life as a circus performer, owner and impresario and Helen encouraged him to write a book. A few years later, he rang her up and asked if she would do it for him. In October 2006 Confessions of A Showman was published. Helen wrote Sisters of the East End which reached no.2 in the Sunday Times best-seller list. Based on in-depth interviews with nuns from the Order behind the Call the Midwife series, Helen created Sister Catherine Mary and told the story of the life of a midwife nun in the East End in the middle of the twentieth century. Helen’s third book again told the story of a group of women struggling to survive London through world wars, but this time it was a memoir from her own family. The Scarlet Sisters is the tale of five redhead sisters, Helen’s nanna and great aunts, struggling to climb out of poverty and find love. It was while researching this book that Helen came across a famous ancestor, Emily Soldene, and the idea for her most recent book, The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene: Actress, Writer and Rebel Victorian. Meanwhile, after volunteering as a befriender for a bereavement charity, Helen completed a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapy at Roehampton University and now works as a psychotherapist in private practice. Working with narratives and changing narratives is key to her practice. She lives in London with her three daughters. Visit www.helenbatten.com
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