Buoyed up by supportive family members, a plethora of girlfriends, former co-workers and fellow board members, gym buddies, local business owners, and by the colleagues in her weekly writing group, Helen Bradley has successfully published her first novel at the age of 60-plus and is doing a stellar job of promoting it!
She has had speaking engagements in the library of her hometown of Bethune, SC, and at Savannah’s Senior Citizen’s Inc. Learning Center, several book signings, and numerous appearances at regional book clubs, where she particularly enjoys talking about her writing journey and the publishing process.
We meet in the spaciously funky Friendship Coffee Company on Wilmington Island, where Bradley lives with husband Jay and their 15-year-old grandson.
Published by South Carolina’s Moonshine Cove Publishing, her novel "Breach of Trust" is sold at the coffee shop.
Nearby, on the other side of Johnny Mercer Blvd., is Islands Cottage Art, a recently opened consignment art gallery and spacious studio space (offering classes on everything from hand-built pottery to belly dancing) which graciously hosted her book launch this June.
Bradley is clearly delighted, if not a little surprised, when she tells me that the evening broke The Book Lady Bookstore’s record for the greatest number of books sold at an event.
In the words of Savannah author Susan Earl, who, along with Beverly Willett and Judy Bean, make up the current members of Bradley’s weekly writing group, “'Breach of Trust' is a humdinger of a debut novel. Helen used her insider’s knowledge as former long-time head of a Savannah-based, nationally recognized crime victim advocacy program to create this compelling read. Despite facing an agonizing moral decision, Anne Gardner – Helen’s fully-drawn main character – maintains her zany sense of humor, providing a welcome respite from the novel’s mounting tension.”
Longtime Savannahians will recognize the issues of the “novel’s mounting tension”….the protagonist’s young male employee accuses their boss, the district attorney, of sexual harassment.
Her website’s synopsis teases, “Should Anne remain quiet to keep the career she loves? Or should she publicly accuse him in order to deter him from victimizing others? Can Anne be sued for defamation?...To further complicate matters, the district attorney was her friend before he became top prosecutor. The harassment allegation – along with evidence that the DA’s corruption may have enabled a young mother’s murder – dredges up painful memories from Anne’s past, causes friction in her marriage, and propels her into a moral crisis.”
At the suggestion of a judge, Bradley became a wedding officiant (Savannah Simple Weddings) after retiring from the courthouse and enjoys working part-time with her sister who provides photography.
She also volunteered for the Deep Center, mentoring middle school students who ultimately inspired her “to write her heart out.”
In a nonfiction writing group for the nonprofit’s volunteers, she chose to write about the courthouse drama as her final assignment, “and everyone in that group said, ‘we have to know more!’”
She continued to flesh out a fictionalized novel with the assistance of her writing group for almost ten years.
“This book would not exist without them,” she says. “They have been phenomenal in critiquing, supporting, and encouraging me.”
When we meet, I am bursting to know how much of the novel is factual! A very fast-paced read, I confess to Googling my way through it, comparing what happened to Anne and her new boss, the newly elected DA, to what really happened to Bradley and the controversial supervisor who caused her early retirement. But Bradley remains firmly and resolutely tight-lipped, proclaiming that “while the book is certainly inspired by some courthouse happenings, it is purely fiction.”
Indeed, the copyright page purposefully declares, “Any resemblance to actual events, locales, conversations, opinions, business establishments, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and unintended.”
Like her protagonist, Bradley earned her undergraduate degree from Clemson University and wrote for the student newspaper, "The Tiger."
After graduation she worked as a journalist for the "Sumter Item" daily newspaper and the "Greenville News" before moving to Savannah.
Here, under the leadership of DA Spencer Lawton, who held his post for 28 years, she created and directed Chatham County’s Victim-Witness Assistance Program for 27 years.
Also serving on the boards of several child advocacy, domestic violence, and sexual assault organizations, Bradley spearheaded passage of a dozen pieces of legislation, including the Georgia Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights and crime victim’s compensation program.
It is fascinating to delve into how the program works through the experiences of her novel’s characters.
I admit it is fun to pick out the local references – the steps of First Baptist Church, Coach’s Corner, the view from the roof of the courthouse garage, The Landings, T.S. Chu’s department store, and so forth, but sometimes, in her efforts to engage and educate those not familiar with our city, the descriptions can be a bit clunky and unwieldy.
For example, just four pages after a lengthy paragraph’s explanation of the history of Colonial Cemetery, Bradley has her main character rather unnaturally remark that it’s a good thing she’s not wearing heels as, “the oyster shells in this tabby sidewalk are hard enough to walk on.”
Bradley is proud that one reviewer described her book as a “beach read with a bite.”
She says, “It’s a quick read but it covers some serious subjects.” It is interesting to me that while she covers the internal dramas of the justice system, she assiduously avoids any mention of racism in Savannah, another example of her not wanting to stir controversial waters too deeply.
Ultimately, Savannahians will be itching to know the ‘real’ story and the ‘real’ characters of Bradley’s tale.
But if you can get past that piddling frustration, the novel is gripping and engaging, offering empathy to victims of crime, and compassionate insight into the slow, insidious nature of sexual harassment and abuse.
This October, Bradley plans to donate some of the proceeds from her book to Safe Shelter, Savannah’s only shelter dedicated to victims of intimate partner violence and their underage children.
Like her protagonist Anne, she is, quite simply, a good and moral person.
Helen P. Bradley’s "Breach of Trust" is available at Wilmington Island’s Friendship Coffee, Marsh & Co., Island’s Cottage Art, and Sanders Gifts & Home Accents; in Savannah at E. Shaver, Bookseller, the Davenport House gift shop, and at The Book Lady Bookstore; and on Tybee at The Irritable Pelican Artisan Gallery.
It can also be purchased online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble (but please shop local!).
Sign up for her newsletter or request her to speak at your book club at helenpbradley.com and follow her on Facebook at helenpbradleyauthor