Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Guest Blogger, Helen Brown

Today I’d like to welcome award-winning author and journalist Helen Brown as the special guest blogger here at Thoughts in Progress as she makes a stop on her virtual blog tour.

Helen’s latest release is CLEO, THE CAT WHO MENDED A FAMILY. In this book, Helen recounts the tragic accidental death of her nine-year-old son, Sam, and her struggle to come to terms with her loss. A few weeks after her son’s death, a friend comes bearing a gift: the new kitten that had been promised to Sam as a birthday present. Although Helen is initially wary of taking in the pet—claiming she’s “not really a cat person”— her surviving son, Rob, falls in love with the kitten, and Helen is eventually won over by Cleo’s playful attitude and loving heart. Cleo becomes an integral part of the family, seeing them through depression, divorce, sickness, several moves, and—eventually—new love, including the birth of Helen’s two daughters.  

She’s here to answers a few questions for me. In addition, I have copies of her book to giveaway to 2 lucky visitors commenting on this post. The giveaway is only open to residents of the U.S. (sorry) and will end at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16. Be sure to leave your e-mail address if it’s not included in your profile.
Before we get started, thank you for inviting me into your vibrant blogosphere. It’s an honor to be included.

You ask what inspired me to write “CLEO”. Back in 1983 when our nine year old son Sam was run over and killed our lives were blown apart.  We were traumatized and there was very little grief counseling could offer. A couple of times I believed my life was over.

Strangely enough, I was writing a humorous newspaper column about everyday family life at the time. The way I saw it I had three options – 1. Stop writing altogether (by far the most tempting) 2. Try to keep writing amusing little stories as though nothing had happened (hard work but possible). 3. Share our devastation with my readers. If the reaction was negative I’d have no qualms resigning.

In the end I chose the third option. I still remember sitting up in our bed, weeping into my portable typewriter (those things are in antique shops these days!) and relating the stark events around Sam’s death.

Within days letters from people I’d never met – readers – started pouring in. I was astonished by their generosity and compassion. Some of the letters were from other parents who had lost children. They were like flags waving across a stormy sea “The same thing happened to us,” they said. “We survived. You can too.” Those letters were the most comforting grief counseling I received. I spent the rest of my life feeling indebted to those wonderful strangers who’d been brave enough to share their sorrow.

It took nearly three decades for me to repay the debt by writing

CLEO.”  If our story could help one grieving parent somewhere in the world I would’ve considered it a success. The most precious part of my website ( is a Parents’ Section with responses from “CLEO” readers who have lost children. What I wasn’t prepared for was for “CLEO” to become an international best seller, embraced by a wide range of people, young and old, from different cultures all over the world.

The success of “CLEO” has shown me how human beings are all very much the same, no matter what their language, religion or

skin color. We tend to concentrate on the differences, but we all love our children and pets.

You ask if I have a writing schedule. My working day is based around a caffeine addiction. Once I’ve bullied everyone out of the house off to school and work I hurry across the street to a cafe that serves fantastic takeaway cafe lattes (I’m ashamed to confess the proximity of that cafe is one of the reasons we bought this house three years ago). One or two coffees will get me through to lunchtime, by which time I’ve usually done my best work.

Afternoons are for editing yesterday’s work, or taking a walk around the corner to buy food for the evening meal. My study walls are painted red. There’s a view through leadlight windows to an ancient apple tree. When the fruit is ripe parrots raid the tree and laugh at me from the branches.

Do I have another book in the pipeline? I’ve had countless emails from people saying they didn’t want “CLEO” to end. Fortunately, we have a new cat, Jonah, who’s crazy, vain and dysfunctional. The perfect subject for a sequel.

Helen, thank you so much for guest blogging here today. I appreciate you sharing how and why CLEO came to be. Looking forward to find out more about Jonah in the future. 

A little additional background on Helen: she is an award-winning New Zealand journalist and former writer of a syndicated weekly newspaper column. She is the author of nine books in addition to CLEO, including CONFESSIONS OF A BRIDE DOLL and FROM THE HEART: LAUGHTER, LOSS AND LIVING IN AUSTRALIA. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia. For more information, visit her website,

Helen is also answering questions for Ingrid at The Conscious Cat today, be sure and drop by there as well.


  1. I haven't read this yet but really want too being an avid animal lover. Looking forward to it :)

  2. I just saw another review of this book on the web-Great guest post-my condolences to the author-I cannot imagine. This is a book I want to read.

    Thank you.

  3. We have a cat and three kids, so this sounds intriguing to me. The loss of a child is something every mother fears. Thanks for having this post, she sounds delightful.

  4. What a heartfelt post. My friends and I were just talking the other day about portal typewriters and that children have no idea what they are.

    Best wishes for your continued success and have the best coffee shop across the street.

    dmcdine at optonline dot net

  5. Helen, thanks so much for stopping by today and talking about CLEO and how it came to be. Best wishes on your tour.

    Nicole, Esme, Shelia and Donna, thanks for dropping by and commenting. Hope y'all have a wonderful day.

  6. Cleo looks like a heartwarming book. I can't imagine anything more devastating than what their family went through.

  7. This book is amazing. The sensitivity and openness with which Helen shares her experience is absolutely beautiful. And the fact that it was a little black cat who ultimately helped heal this family makes it all the more appealing.

    Don't enter me in the drawing, Mason - obviously, I've already read the book :-)

  8. What a heartwarming story! My heart goes out to you, Helen, for your loss. ♥

    Cleo definitely lives up to every one of the attributes showered upon felines; the innate compassion, the ability to 'heal a family' in the same way they sense our moods and comfort us, in a way no one or nothing else can.

    I can't imagine my life without cats. For having considered yourself to 'not be a cat person,' you discovered and were given an invaluable gift from Cleo.

    They truly are amazing animals who provide us with joy, entertainment, comfort and love.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. Not only is this book now added to my 'must read' list, but as Mason said, I'm also looking forward to reading about Jonah.

    ~ Crystal ~

    PS. Mason, please enter me in the drawing. I believe you have my email address.

  9. Oh gosh, what a hard hard time for this family. So glad she wrote down her story.

  10. I've heard of this amazing book, and since we are a family of pet-lovers, it caught my interest. My heart goes out to Helen and her family.

  11. What a wonderful way to honor both Sam and those who cared. We lost my nephew, Ryan, who was like a son to me. I know what it did to my sister and her husband and daughter. Four years ago and still feeling the effects. Does the loss ever go away? I think not, but the hurt fades to a dull ache.

    I'm a firm believer in animal therapy. It does help.

  12. Hi Mason and Helen .. what a wonderful book to bring together to help others - & I'm sure it does.

    I couldn't begin to imagine your loss, the feelings .. and so often our friends or family have something similar happen and we try and understand and empathise .. but we cannot. Your book would help us too - give us an idea of what we can do to help not upset more with empty words.

    Cleo is a lovely name for a cat - as is Jonah & your story line is obviously coming out .. it's so good to know Cleo helped Rob too - he must have suffered so much.

    I agree with Sia .. animal therapy is the best at times! Thanks - Hilary

  13. Thank you Helen, for a moving but inspirational post. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child. Thank goodness for Cleo, truly a gift from your son to help you heal.

    Mason, thank you for another interesting, thought provoking post.

  14. Just reading this short post on Helen’s tragic loss was enough to make me teary. I really admire her brave approach of sharing her devastation and in the process, helping people around the world. And Cleo sounds like one fantastic cat.

  15. I can't imagine what a painful experience you had--I'm so glad you were able to find a little healing with your writing.

    Another great review of your book! It'll go on my TBR list. Thanks for the post.

  16. I've found animals can be the best therapy. Brave of you to write this book.

  17. Cleo was an angel for you. Animals are wonderful, and they often know just what is best for us - especially when we don't know ourselves.

  18. What a thoughtful, and heartrending story this is. This post reaches out to so many of us who have lost family members and been unable to accept it. Cleo is wonderful and memorable. thanks for this special post.

  19. I was captivated by this emotionally beautiful story. Cleo deserves credit for being there. My two dogs provide me with love and devotion when I feel bereft. It is so difficult to overcome a tragedy such as this but the love of a family pet is always such a godsend. thanks. rojosho(at)hotmail(dot)com

  20. this book sounds like a great read...

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  21. I think everyone can be a cat person, they're wonderful animals.

    headlessfowl at jteers dot net


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.