My Secret Life with Helene Young

I should probably reconsider renaming this segment because a lot of the things  the authors are sharing are not secret. One such thing is Helene Young’s love of flying! I’m stoked to have my friend and Penguin author Helene talking about what she does when she’s not writing. 

Welcome Helene! I had tingles reading about you pursuing your flying dream 🙂

‘I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again…’

Rachael, thanks for having me on your blog to talk about my day job! When I’m not writing Romantic Suspense stories I’m busy flying Dash 8 aircraft for Australia’s largest regional airline. I’ve been flying for almost a quarter of a century now (yikes, but that makes me sound old and I’m sure I’m only twenty-one…). After all that time I still love every minute I spend in my office with its outstanding view.

Cairns from the air (or rather the view from my office)

As a child of the 60’s I was born at the start of the jet age of aviation in Australia. Those shiny new jets landed at Coolangatta airport, roaring over the top of our beach shack at Currumbin Beach. From the first moment I saw them I was hooked on flying.  My older brother and sister and I used to pile out the door to watch those amazing machines whistle over the roof as the house shook and rattled. I can’t watch the movie, The Castle, without having complete empathy with them!

By the time I finished high school I’d decided that flying might have to wait a while. I’d had too much fun at school to bother studying. In subjects like English I managed good marks. Maths and Physics were dismal…

It took me another six years, including three years in the UK, to grow up enough to work out that a dream is worth fighting for. Once I had that illuminating moment the rest became a matter of hard work and perseverance.

A Dash 8 aircraft quite similar to one I fly – this one’s at Brisbane airport.

The inside of a Dash 8 Flight Deck

I signed up for a full time flying course and then worked at night and weekends as a waitress to pay the bills. Most Saturdays were spent running wedding receptions in a gorgeous restaurant that did a wonderful job of making the day special. I’m not sure whether my romantic streak grew from that or whether it was the other way round!

Luckily for me when I finished training the flying school hired me as a brand new instructor and I then spent almost eight years teaching other people to fly. It was a great job that gave me opportunities to do charter work, dugong spotting, aerial survey, search and rescue work as well as flying training. No two days were ever the same and I worked with an amazing group of people. Many are still great friends today.

Eventually I made the decision to move to airline flying. My first posting was to Cairns and I flew a Twin Otter – an 18 seat aircraft – to places like Lizard Island, Dunk Island, Brampton Island and Great Keppel Island. Who knew I’d be paid to visit resorts every day!

I’ve been in the airline for fifteen years now and I’m a Check and Training Captain on a seventy-four seat aircraft, which means I train new First Officers as they join the company. I also conduct checks on our crews to ensure they’re up to standard. The life of a pilot involves a minimum of five checks a year and that can be pretty stressful. I hope I make those checks as painless as possible while making sure safety is paramount.

As a woman I’m still in a minority at work – industry wide about four to five percent of working pilots are women. Our company does better than that and the Cairns base where I predominantly fly has fifteen percent so some days I go to work and it’s an all female crew including the Flight Attendants! I still smile at the look of wide-eyed amazement on some of our passenger’s faces 🙂

I enjoy being able to combine my flying and my writing and so far all my books have some element of aviation in them. That will change with future stories, but for now I’m writing what I know and loving doing that as much as flying!

The memory of my first flight is still very vivid.  Do you still remember yours?  Was it a long haul flight to Europe? A joy flight? A trip from a regional town to the big smoke? How did you feel? Did you get dressed up for your big experience? Did you get airsick?

Rachael, if you don’t mind choosing the best answer, I’d love to send the funniest contributor a signed copy of Burning Lies, the last book in my Border Watch series.

Find me and more details of my books at :

Follow me on Face Book:

Find me on twitter: @HeleneYoung

Thanks so much for that fascinating post Helene! I loved your first two books and can’t wait to get stuck into Burning Lies, of which here is the lovely cover and blurb.

Kaitlyn Scott is searching for the truth about her husband’s death, even if that means revisiting the most painful day of her life. But what she uncovers is a criminal willing to stop at nothing to keep his secret.

Ryan O’Donnell, an enigmatic undercover cop, is investigating arson attacks when he is drawn into Kaitlyn’s world. He tries to fight his attraction for her, hoping the case might put his own demons to rest, but it only threatens to push him over the edge.

With Kaitlyn and Ryan on a collision course, the arsonist seizes the chance to settle some old scores. As the Atherton Tableland burns, the three of them are caught in a fiery dance of danger and desire, and not everyone will come out alive.

Set in Australia’s tropical far north, this is an explosive story of peril and passion by the author voted by the Romance Writers of Australia as the most popular novelist of the year.

You can read an extract here.

In answer to your question Helene, the first flight I can remember (first was when I was 18months) was flying from Sydney to Perth as an unaccompanied minor. My Mum had moved to Perth two days earlier and I’d stayed with my grandparents while she got a few things sorted. It was VERY exciting and a little nerve-wracking. I sat next to a quite well known television personality and spilt my lemonade all over him. If I recall correctly, if wasn’t very impressed.

Don’t forget to share your own flight story to go in the running to win Helene’s awesome book 🙂 The contest closes midnight EST and the winner will be announced on Saturday!

40 thoughts on “My Secret Life with Helene Young

  1. Rach, we carry so many UMs!! Some days they form this raggle-taggle train that looks like a scene from the Pied Piper as they head out across the tarmac to the aircraft. We aren’t allowed to seat UMs next to male passengers anymore which can make for some interesting seat swapping some days!

  2. Helene, you have the coolest of jobs…..both of them.
    My first plane trip was when we moved from Broken Hill to Newcastle when I was 9. The flight attendants gave us these little packs with a colouring book, pencils and a few other things to keep us entertained. We were also allowed to say hello to the pilot and co-pilot. But the most fun was walking up and down the aisle to the toilet, chatting to everyone who would chat back. In hindsight, the attendants probably wanted to strangle us but my mother said we were well behaved and other passengers were happy to chat with us.

    • Flick Chick, I so miss be able to have children in the flight deck!!
      911 changed all that and sadly we can only chat with them on the ground. At least in regional flying we do still have the opportunity!

      I’m sure you were lovely children and the Flight Attendants loved you all!!

  3. My first flight was in a little four seater for a joy flight over Cunnamulla, my home town. My first trip on a big plane was to Mackay to visit a friend from boarding school. Most recently I’ve flown to Canberra, Melbourne and Townsville. My favourite was the flight to Townsville which happened in the morning. I had my nose to the window all the way watching as the morning sun caught the hidden rivers and waterways along the coast. They looked like rivers of gold suddenly appearing out of the green.
    Reading your post just made me want to read Betty Beatty vintage romances which were all about air hostesses falling in love with Pilots. Might be a little different these days. Or maybe not. I’ve met some lovely male attendants on the flights.

  4. My first flight was in the early 90’s – a holiday to England. It was one of those multi-stop flights (a you’ll get there cheap but it may take a while jobs). The leg from Hong Kong to Schiphol is an equal mind-bender with the Schiphol to Heathrow so you are getting both.
    Leaving HK –the pilot miscalculated the take off at Kai Tak airport and almost slammed the tail of the plane into the tarmac rather that go swimming in the harbour. I learnt how to swear in Dutch from that one.
    Over India we hit a 3000ft air pocket when yours truly is in the loo – I was convinced that my arms are 6” longer from hanging onto the loo seat as we dropped and other passengers were nursing cuts and bruises.
    Europe was totally fog-bound and we are forced to land in a white-out. We hit the tarmac so hard that the overhead lockers open and showered us with their contents. It felt as though the undercarriage was coming through the floor and people were having hysterics and screaming. (Men can be such girls LOL)
    Upon being transferred to a smaller channel hopper, we were kept in the lounge area for 4 hours then underwent a thorough body search as there had been a flight deck break-in of our plane. With no other planes available we boarded to find carpet torn up, ceiling panels hanging etc. All through the flight, the stewards kept asking that we notify them if we saw any packages/bags etc that looked suspicious. Everyone was drinking a lot after that, although my husband managed to get a few laughs when he asked one of them what they were going to do if we did find a bomb – open a door and throw it out?
    Heathrow decided that we weren’t going to land until we had burnt off a any excess fuel in case we exploded on landing. We found that out by accident when the captain pushed the wrong button when he was informing the stewards. So we circled out over the channel for ages then joined the queue to land. All of a sudden, planes were peeling off like psycho bees and we joined them. It wasn’t until we were on the ground that we were informed that the IRA had chosen that particular moment to lob mortars onto the Heathrow runway. Luverly!
    To cap it off, I was SOOOOO over everything that I barrelled into the customs hall and straight into the tallest SAS soldier I have ever seen and nearly knocked him over. I’m 5’1” and he must have nearly topped 6’6” or so. He looked down at me over the BIGGEST freakin’ rifle I’ve ever seen and said in a matter of fact tone, “You look like you’re really pissed off Luv.” And I was.
    PS: I NEVER flew with that airline again!!

  5. Natasha, I think you must have the record for the most disruptions and disaster on a flight! I’m not surprised you didn’t fly with that airline again. I am surprised you ever climbed on board an aircraft again!!

    These days if your hubbie made a joke about a bomb while you were in the air he’d probably be met by security when you landed and escorted away for a severe talking to!

    • Nothing will stop me. Plus I’m one of those strange types that LOVES turbulence – go figure. I’ve since been on a couple of round the world trips and two to the USA as well as too many to count between Tas and Perth. Even a dose of food poisoning from an American Airlines meal (me and 3 others) and 15 hours on the floor with rugs and pillows outside the tail end loos on the leg from LA to Sydney didn’t put me off. Once a traveller…

  6. My first flight in an airplane was when I was 15, went on a school trip to the local airfield and got to go up in a Cessna – I was sitting in the front of the air plane with the pilot (a cutie too from memory!) and he let me take the controls and let me fly the plane right up till landing – turns and all! (I’m sure, looking back now, he was probably helping without me knowing cause I remember kicking butt doing it lol)
    I was so thrilled it led me to join the Air Training Corp (Now Air Force Cadets) which I stayed with till I was 20 and got to go flying a lot with them – Loved it!
    What I was also secretly thrilled with was that the local paper had taken my picture (from the back seat) of me at the controls… next week at school the kids in my class all had a copy and stuck them up on our home room window lol

  7. Dugong spotting sounds amazing. I have just started reading Shattered Sky and am looking forward to reading Lauren’s story. My first plane trip was to Cairns to visit my mum. Can’t recall it too much, but recently we flew to Perth and back and it was my three year olds first plane trip. On return to lovely Melbourne weather the landing was a bit rough and my little man sits there and starts moving side to side saying whoa whoa as though he is on some ride. Priceless 🙂

    • Lol, Michellle, your little man sounds gorgeous! It does feel like riding the surf some days!

      Dugong spotting was very cool. We flew at 900ft in a creeping line search pattern in a little six seater aircraft – the one above in the photograph at BIrdsville – with five observers and me. We had endurance for four hours flying and that’s a long time in the air with no loo stop 🙂 At that time the population in Moreton Bay was steady at 700 but I can only imagine what’s happened with the flooding over the last couple of years…

  8. First flight was Perth to Melbourne aged 15. Country kid -flying on my own -first time ever. Return flight sat behind Jon English and he asked to borrow my pen. I didn’t even know who he was until I got off the plane!!!!!!

    • Oh Raelene, Perth to Melbourne is a long haul flight in Australia! It must have been very exciting!!

      How funny that you had no idea who Jon English was! Did he borrow the pen to sign an autograph?? Thanks for dropping by to be part of the blog 🙂

  9. This is my first flying experience ALONE!

    It was August last year on my way to the RWA conference in Melbourne. It’s true! I have never gone away alone; I have a real-life AMEX card – the partner you never leave home without! So this was my first ever solo flight – and you’d think they’d asked me to fly the plane.

    As the little Dash 8 shuddered and rolled forward, I waved out the window and then burst into audible, shoulder-shaking sobs. The poor attendant (male) sat in the seat next to me for the first 20 mins of the 60 min flight making me talk – obviously to take my mind of things. So I talked (and I bet he was sorry. I told him all about the RWA conf, and that I was meeting my agent, pitching – oh and I told him about you, Helene – and while he didn’t admit to knowing your novels, the glint in his eye said otherwise 🙂

    Not sure it was terror as much as trepidation about attending conference. But then what should happen the minute I get into the elevator at the conference hotel? A woman yanks on my lanyard, blurts my name and hugs me.

    Yes Helene. I will remember that forever.

    • Lol, Jenn, you’d written such a wonderful review of Border Watch I was determined to meet you and thank you. I didn’t realise I’d nabbed you when you’d only just arrived – I like to get in early!

      So many people don’t like flying, though, so cabin crew are well used to it. Half the alcohol related issues in flight are because passengers need some dutch courage before they fly.

      I can assure you it’s safe as houses and you have more chance of being hit by a bus on the way to the airport – and that’s meant to be a comforting thought 🙂

    • OH Jenn!! I felt all your fear and emotions in those few paras. I wish I was on that flight with you so I could have held your hand the whole way. Thank God for that lovely flight assistant!

  10. Your job is fabulous Helene and I love how you’ve used it to provide an interesting career to some of your main characters. I know it’s certainly made me think about how much work goes in to patrolling our coastlines!

    My first flight I was 13 months old – Sydney to Gold Coast to meet my grandparents! I obviously can’t remember it, I only know about it because my parents love to talk about how I was just learning to walk and wanted to walk down the aisle to talk to some of the passengers when I got tired of having to sit on their laps. Apparently I was that child that talked to EVERYBODY and now I have one of those myself.

    After that I never flew again until I was 24 and I loved it! Banking over Stockton dunes flying into Newcastle (which was my home for my university years and is the airport I must fly into to return to my parents place) is my very favourite thing.

    (Don’t count my entry for the lovely prize Rach as I’m lucky enough to already have a copy!)

    • 1girl2manybooks, I love seeing toddlers with their sturdy little legs wandering up the aisles looking almost drunk with their rolling gait and big wide smiles. It beats the heck out of cranky ones strapped into their seats and bored silly! And who doesn’t like a chat in baby babble 🙂

      Newcastle has to be one of those ‘best kept secrets’ cities. The beaches are gorgeous and there’s all that wonderful military hardware flying around the place. Love it!

  11. Great post Helene and Rach!

    My first flight was to Canberra to visit Dad who was working there for a time. I was five. It was my first time seeing snow too. I don’t remember much except that Mum was terrified and I loved it. When I was fourteen, my sister and I were at a big Guide camp and were able to fly as an activity there in a small plane at Dubbo airport. I remember being so excited doing that. It was incredible. The views were magical. As a condition of being allowed to go, Mum made my sister and I ask to go in separate planes – so she didn’t lose us both LOL! She must have hated flying. I still love it. Even when I fly now I’m glued to the window, often with my camera, spotting places and things of interest. It’d be great to do that for a living!! 🙂


    • I love passengers like you, Cath!! My sister used to be a bit nervous about me taking Mum and Dad flying in four seat aircraft in case we speared in – so little faith in me!!

      When I was flying the Twin Otters to Lizard Island we used to cruise at 1500 ft on good day. I remember turning around once and seeing all eighteen Japanese tourists behind me fast asleep. It was tempting to shake the controls and wake them up!! The view was magical 🙂

  12. I can’t remember my first flight becaue my father had a restricted private pilot’s licence so I think we did quite a few, especially once he had his own plane. I do remember one flight in ‘Charlie’, his Cessna. I was 14 and I’d conned him into taking me and Steve (my then boyfriend) for a joyflight. So he and his copilot were at the front, and Steve and I were all coy, holding hands in the back. Must admit, I am prone to motion sickness – banking was especially awful – but somehow I kept it together that day. Ah, the things we do to impress. Unfortunately, dad lost his licence for medical reasons. Now he flies an ultralight -and there’s no way I’m getting in that thing. Doesn’t help that his hangar is on a property and he often has to chase the cows off the strip in order to take off. What if they’re back there when he wants to land? Shudder. (I mostly live in ignorant bliss of his flying adventures now)

    My first longhaul flight was to the US when I was on the right side of 12 to get the kid fare. My aunt took me to Hawaii and Disneyland. I think I was more excited about seeing the movie ‘Grease’ on the plane than the actual flying itself, and the anticipation of going to America. I do remember going up to the flight deck which was very cool.

    I don’t feel like I’ve flown though if I don’t walk on the tarmac and ‘see’ the plane. Otherwise I could just be sitting on a ‘tube’ somewhere, and I’ve had a few ex Sydney flights where I haven’t touched tarmac. But now I live in a regional city, I always walk on the tarmac.

    I had a flight with Virgin several years ago when they first started flying into Coffs.Flying back from Sydney to Coffs, we struck severe weather and the plane was unable to land in Coffs. The pilot made 3 attempts before deciding it was not safe, and took us back to Sydney. The only hotel they could get us all into was one at Manly, bussed us over, the restaurant was not prepared for the sudden influx of people on a Monday night, and we had to be back on the bus at 6am to go back to the airport for a replacement flight. Work was dubious when I rang them and said I’d be late because I was still in Sydney. The flight home was fine, and everyone applauded when the pilot landed safely. At least they gave us a credit on the flight.

  13. Diane, your dad sounds like a wonderful man!! Can’t say I’m that keen on ultralights either, but I applaud his love of flying that gets him up in the air still.

    Missed approaches due to bad weather are probably the most stressful thing for passengers. From the pilot’s perspective it’s really straightforward – can’t see the runway at a predetermined height then power up and climb away. Provided you’re carrying plenty of fuel it’s just another day, but I understand it’s not so pleasant down the back wondering it the two crew up the front really know what they’re doing!! I promise you they do!

  14. Hi Rachael and Helene

    My first flight was when TAA was still flying, so we want mention how many years ago that was. However, I was only a young pup and I use to think that you didn’t actually go anywhere. You sat on the plane, then they came and pulled big screens of scenery down outside. Which kept changing, I might add every few minutes. To let you know you were in a different place. I asked my mum what happened to all the people when the big screens came down, did they get squashed or were they on holidays too? Well needless to say my mum thought I was totally away with the fairies. I still remember the look of bewilderment on her face (where does she come up with this?) Dad laughing. I’m sure she wasn’t far away from asking the hostess for oxygen, to bring me back to earth. Oh well, always did have that over active imagination! 🙂

    Happy flying and writing

    Michele 🙂

  15. Helene I love your books and I can’t wait to get my hands on BL! My first flight was with my aeronautics instructor back in high school. I was 16 and we got to do our first flight in a 4 seater Cessna. I can remember being in awe of hooning down the runway and controlling it with my feet! Also having to close my eyes in the air and try to fly!! I think I ended up in a death roll lol. But it was the best. I went in my first big plane to Bali for my 21st birthday. I’ve also been up in a gorgeous yellow tiger moth, where we did loops and other acrobatics. It was amazing to be in an open air cockpit. 🙂

    • Thanks, Fiona 🙂

      For a racing driving flying would have been a piece of cake for you, Fiona!! Tiger moths are amazing little aircraft aren’t they – and aeros in one is very special!

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