The Place of the Sacred Snake

Two stories open in parallel: Millicent in 1930s Kerala, Nadia in 1980s London. Half a century apart, these two very different Western women experience the powerful embrace of rural India. Their stories become interwoven as Nadia, a scriptwriter, unpicks the mystery surrounding mission schoolteacher Millicent and both women face tragedies of their own.

The pungent scent of the Paala Tree blosson pervades the story

After years on the back burner, ‘The Place of the Sacred Snake’ is Helen’s first adult novel and it is now available to read, hot off the virtual press. Revising and refining the story, originally entitled ‘The Paala Tree’, became Helen’s lockdown project when venues closed and face-to-face storytelling became impossible. Earlier this month friends and family gathered by video call to celebrate the launch of the novel in ebook form (available here) with a print edition soon to come.

Helen says the launch of the book has given her a huge boost. Production and design was managed by her brother Roger, with sister Isabel helping with the task of editing.  This family collaboration – working virtually from three different countries – added an extra dimension to the project. The story itself draws heavily on Helen and Rick’s time in Kerala,living and working with storytellers and Kathakali performers. The sights, sounds and smells which they experienced are powerfully evoked and while the storyline is fictional, one of the key characters – the child Jeyasri – was inspired by a child who Helen herself came to know and love.  As you might expect, stories from Keralan myth are woven into the narrative and there are tales from Russian folklore too.

If you are looking for an absorbing read to escape the chill of a northern winter, this could be the book for you!


Feb 2022 update: ‘The Place of the Sacred Snake’ is now available to buy in hard copy for £11.95.  You can contact Helen in person or via this website to request a copy, or find it in these local retailers:

Willow Gallery, 56 Willow St, Oswestry, SY11 1AD  

Rowanthorn, 4, Old Chapel Court, English Walls, Oswestry SY11 2PD 


The ebook version is still available via Amazon (see link in text)

After Offa: living life along the border

After Offa is an oral heritage project about community, story and landscape, between Chirk Castle, Bronygarth and Sycharth, Llansilin.

The project, set up by Bronygarth Social Committee and directed by Helen,  ran from 2010 to 2012. It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Shropshire County Council.  Workshops with schools and local groups, community events and interviews with local people generated a wealth of stories, songs and photographs. Working with Sarah Anderson and Simon Greaves, Helen edited and published this material in the “After Offa” book and map and a CD entitled “Border Talk”, and brought it to life in a series of storywalks.


“We can tell from the Iron Age hill forts, menhirs and cairns in this area that it has been occupied for thousands of years…It has been fought over, hunted on, carved out, farmed, quarried, built upon and walked over by generation after generation.

“…the everyday experience of people who have lived and worked close to the land, taking part in activities that have helped to shape it, and the deep knowledge of the local landscape that arises out of this, usually only survive through oral tradition. Where this thread is broken, that history is lost.

“The After Offa project has been more than lucky in the huge number of local people who have shared this oral heritage. Their generosity in passing on family and personal stories, songs and reminiscences, lets new generations, and newcomers too, see an inside view, and feel a sense of place.”

Click here to view the After Offa map.  For more photos from the project visit  All material from the project is held in the archives of Shropshire County Council.

Tales of trees on Offa’s Dyke. Photo Ali Quarrell