This short story made me miss the launch of the new series of Strictly Come Dancing!
This compelling literary, scientific and philosophical story is no ordinary, predictable tale. From the outset, one is searching for the manipulator. The clever use of perspective and narrative structure guides the reader into the narrative and instructs. It is an intelligent study of the human condition and the psyche: though this may seem challenging – it isn’t. Engaging with the central character becomes an obsession for the reader.
Like Sandra, the reader connects with the ‘fragile’ Tess who suffers ‘deep unease into the roots of her hair’. Stage, by stage Tess’s life is deconstructed. The comparison between Sandra’s life and Tess’s life is clever. On the surface, the elderly Tess is as vulnerable as Sandra’s children; but unlike the children, Tess has lived a life. Sandra asks a pertinent question:
‘Why was it that young children and, for that matter senile adults, are put into the category of innocence and naivety?’
Tess is lonely but is not innocent or naïve. She knows how to get attention from Sandra in the care home. Tess is ‘waiting for death’ but has learnt so much about people. She knows about the destructive power of jealousy.
‘…you’ll never be happy ..’ if you feel ‘jealous’. The story examines the flaws in human nature and suggests that everyone would be happier if they felt ‘genuinely pleased for those that did better than ourselves.’ Jealousy is presented as a catalyst for a manipulative mind. Tess has studied the character flaws that contribute to the psyche of a manipulator.
The story reaches out to the reader offering a positive philosophy for life. Victims of emotionally and physically abusive relationships can gain courage from this story to take action, rather than applying the ‘basic tricks’ to survive. Perhaps, this groundbreaking story should be prescribed in counselling sessions.
This powerful short story will be forever tattooed on my mind. While reading, I felt like the character who is ‘constantly standing on a tightrope…balancing…over troubled waters’. This short story delivered some surprises, and even cleverly manipulated the reader. I urge readers to explore this narrative and to discover the symbolism of the tattoo.
Helene grew up in Belgium where she gained a Licentiate in Journalism & Communication, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. She has recently written a collection of novellas.
It was a pleasure to welcome Helene Leuschel to the Chat Room. I collected her from Cardiff Airport and we could chat on the journey. I instantly liked her and she was genuinely thrilled to be in Wales. Helene is bright and bubbly and it is obvious that she enjoys meeting people.
Once we arrived, Helene requested some green tea. She had brought some delicious nutty biscuits from Belgium. It was rather grey and cold outside, such a contrast to Helen’s home in Portugal.
Jessie: Welcome to Wales. Do you speak Portuguese?
Helene: Olá. Yes. I attended language classes as soon as I moved to Portugal. I believe that languages are the door to the county where you live, it allows you to understand people’s customs and habits. I love meeting people.
Jessie: I can imagine that you have met lots of people on your travel and through your profession. Now, tell me about your book.
Helene: ‘Manipulated Lives’ is a collection of five novellas, each different in perspective yet with the same core theme: psychological manipulation. From the octogenarian, an ageing mother, young professional to a vulnerable teenager and a manipulator himself, the stories develop the pitfalls that any individual can fall into when charmed and deceived by clever manipulators.
Jessie: Why did you decide to select the theme of manipulation and what is the genre of your collection of novellas?
Helene: I heard of someone whose husband lied, cheated, deceived and manipulated not only his wife and children but every single person who ever crossed his path in an extremely clever manner. Family members and friends had made numerous attempts to ‘free’ her from her husband’s abusive control, but it took immense courage and determination to eventually follow it through. I realized that during much research and talking to psychologists that manipulators can invade a person’s life at any stage. The five stories, told from five different perspectives, were the result of that creative idea. Maybe my collection of novellas will provide support for someone suffering from manipulation in the future.
Jessie: Your collection sounds intriguing and thought-provoking. I like the idea of taking a theme and then presenting it from different perspectives. It sounds like a unique read. How has the book been received?
Helene opened her notebook and read from a collection of reviews.
‘The beauty of Leuschel’s collection of stories is how they highlight the way we, as humans, often blind ourselves to the truth which can make us both manipulators and victims. The stories are all character driven by realistic and flawed characters and this allows us to relate to the behaviour depicted no matter how extreme it may become.’ E.L. Lindley
‘This book is made up of a superb collection of 5 short novellas depicting manipulators and the manipulated, highlighting to what extent abusive manipulation can distort and threaten lives.’ Miriam Smith
‘All five of these stories are thought-provoking and emotional and it is clear that the author has well researched her subjects. There is a lot of in this book, but Leuschel gets the balance between information, education and entertainment spot on.’ Feminisia Libros Book Blog
Jessie: Read an extract to tempt a reader.
The moment I wake up, the dismay and desperation are back. I cannot understand why I am lying in this tiny room attached to an IV drip with only a glass of water as my companion.
Jessie: How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
When I finished writing my book, I felt excited as well as apprehensive all at once. It had been a long emotional journey. Thinking about the characters, I guess there is one who I missed the most. It is Molly, the teenager in my story ‘Runaway Girl’. She is still on my mind and the reason why I would like to write a follow up story.
Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
Helene: I would like my former neighbour, an experienced clinical psychiatrist to read my book one day (when there is a translation into French available) because throughout her long career working as a private therapist and in prisons, she has witnessed the baffling power of denial time and again.
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
As much as the five novellas are linked by the same underlying theme, they are each a standalone story that can be enjoyed in one single sitting – during a commute, when waiting for an appointment or an hour before going to sleep.
Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Helene: ‘It had felt right but not for long enough.’
Jessie: Tell me a little more about this sentence. Is this an insight into your next book?
Helene: Yes, I have finished with the first draft of my first novel and what felt right for the main character at the start of the story, doesn’t for very long …
Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an author?
Helene: For me it was pressing the ‘publish’ button. I was exhilarated, worried and nervous all at the same time, so much so that I couldn’t sleep a wink the following night.
Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
There is plenty of good advice around but the following work for me:
Give yourself a daily target – 1000 words, 2000 or more, it doesn’t matter but make sure you sit down and reach the target. Be consistent, so turn off social media, switch off the phone, whatever it takes to remain undisturbed so you stay focused on filling the pages.
When you are finished writing, start editing – be ruthless, don’t hold on to paragraphs that simply don’t sound right. Be brave, send your text to someone who you know is critical as well as fair. Lastly be truthful, write something you’d like to read not what you think could appeal to an audience. It won’t sound authentic.
Don’t give up – feel the story come alive, the characters breathe as if they were real people and most of all enjoy the journey.
Helene lives with her husband and two children in Portugal and recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind. When she is not writing, Helene works as a freelance journalist and teaches Yoga. Her collection of stories sound intriguing and completely unique. Helene has received high praise and support from her readers. I admire the fact that she had used fiction to explore a challenging theme.
As much as I attempt to see the good and authentic before the ugly and corrupt, what tends to always convey peace and quiet for me is noticing the beauty of nature.
For more information about the author and her upcoming books, please visit
On one level, ‘My Sweet Friend’ is an insight into the way power struggles and politics operate in business and in personal relationships. Beneath this narrative is a rather brilliant and poignant analysis of the human mind and mental illness.
Alexa and Rosie are presented via a first person narrative, and this insight plays tricks with the reader’s mind – one questions whose ‘game’ is dominant. The contrasting characters are presented using animal imagery of the cat and the mouse. Careful choice of verbs indicates who is ‘ambushing’ the friendship.
Alexa, with her ‘immaculate looks’ appears very measured. Her controlled behaviour’ is teased out in every action and word. Once self-control is lost, and the clouds are overhead, then it is a frightening place for Alexa. Alexa’s state mind ends up in a place where the ‘waves had turned against each other, foam crowning as they crashed to the shore.’ Fear for the character evokes empathy.
Before reaching the crisis point, Alexa wears a mask of control like a cat waiting to pounce. Rosie, is forced to confront her vulnerability. She learns how ‘empathetic skills’ are viewed as weakness by some, if not ‘managed’. Rosie’s language flows, driven by emotions, and she explains:
‘My cheeks were wet with tears by the time I reached home, feeling abandoned and used and stupid for letting myself be dragged…’
The long sentence and outpouring of emotions amplify the sense of vulnerability. But the ‘sweet and sour’ characters begin to shift, as the dichotomy is not fixed. If one deconstructs the manipulator’s ‘game’ it is possible to fight back. However, Alexa becomes isolated, vulnerable and needs support. I was intrigued with the way that this story manipulated my emotions.
‘My Sweet Friend’ is poetic exploration of vulnerability. The novella is a shrewd demonstration that:
‘Behind the façade we are all human, fragile and sensitive to judgement.’
Leuschel cracks open the fragility of the human psyche in an artful manner, and clues about the characters’ vulnerabilities are woven into the text. This brutal, haunting story of the human psyche arms the reader with some survival tactics. Despite an uneasy feeling, one finds empathy for the manipulator. Perhaps, this novella will lead to a novel examining what shaped the manipulator’s behaviour, and what happens next.
To find out more about Helene please see my interview with her.