Author details

Helen Lynch


Helen Lynch has two daughters and lives in Aberdeen, where she teaches Medieval Literature and Creative Writing at the University and plays in all-girl ceilidh band Danse McCabre. She has published short stories in anthologies and magazines, as well as interactive educational resources for children, Beowulf for Beginners and The Knight with the Lion. Her first collection, The Elephant and the Polish Question, interlinked short stories set during the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, was published by Bluechrome in 2009. She is currently working on a second collection of stories, Tea for the Rent Boy, supported by a generous bursary from Creative Scotland.

About writer's work

The Elephant and the Polish Question

A collection of 16 interlinked short stories and 2 novellas set in Poland during the turbulent years of the late 80s and early 90s. These draw on personal experience – the author’s and other people’s – to create a portrait of a place and time in which politics and history are played out in sometimes quirky ways in the psyches of individuals. The principal narrator is a young woman in difficult personal circumstances whose situation seems to be entwined with the complications of the country where she has come to live. Unexpectedly pregnant, she struggles to find sanity and a sense of perspective, and to come to terms with her often problematic affection for a country under whose spell she has fallen. Hers is not the only voice: characters introduced in her stories reappear in others to relate their own experiences, and give their own take on the somewhat surreal world in which they are living.

The title, ‘The Elephant and the Polish Question’, is also that of the final story. This refers to a joke often told by Poles about their nation’s self-absorption, in which a Polish student, asked to write an essay on the habits of elephants, entitles his piece ‘The Elephant and the Polish Question’. The joke itself serves as an epigraph to the collection, which is partly about an outsider’s obsession with a self-obsessed culture.

The first (antenatal) stories are set before the fall of Communism, while the pivotal and longest short-story, ‘Unscheduled Flight’, takes place during the strikes and agitation of 1988, weaving together the narrator’s threatened miscarriage and her escape with the liberation of the country itself. Subsequent stories are set after the Round Table talks and the fall of the Berlin Wall, as a very traditional society tries to deal with the anarchic effects of being a new-born capitalist democracy. Combining a portrait of a foreign country with literary fiction and personal memoir, and exploring questions such as identity and anti-Semitism, the collection has particular appeal to people interested in Eastern Europe and its troubled recent history, as well as to the general short story readership.

‘Lynch is an honest guide with a great talent for description. [Her] insightful writing ... offers a colourful mosaic of the virtues and flaws of the newly empowered country.’ (The Scotsman)

I am currently working to complete a second collection of short stories (synopsis below), and in May 2011 received a Writers Bursary from creative Scotland to enable me to do so.

TEA FOR THE RENT BOY, and other stories

Helen Lynch’s The Elephant and the Polish Question is an interlinked sequence of stories set against the backdrop of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. In this, her second collection, the author continues to write about the impact of time and place on the psyches of individuals. Set in a variety of locations and epochs, from the early twentieth century to the present, the stories evoke moments of recognition, near-recognition, or missed opportunities for realisation. A young man struggles with his unease at his brother’s teenage Philippino bride; a confused old man recalls a swimming contest in the First World War; a mother spends a disturbing night in a children’s ward; a young girl makes a crucial discovery about her grandfather at the school disco; a child forms a connection with her new home through a bizarre conversation with an old woman. Polish migrants, Scottish farm-workers, Yorkshire agoraphobics, Brazillian nannies and French nuns, are among the cast brought to life by the author’s keen eye for detail and ear for dialogue in this imaginative exploration of coming of age, guilt and belonging.

Websites featuring the author

Current events and projects

Available for readings, residencies, workshops and other events (open to suggestion). Themes/ideas/topics: Short fiction, travel writing, writing from life, the relation between memoir/ ‘reality’ and fiction, the relation between reading and writing, rendering different languages and the use of voice/voices in writing, what stops us writing… I have worked mostly with university students, but also adult groups and individuals, and Higher and Advanced Higher school students (most recently as part of Aberdeenshire Libraries’ WriteFest (September 2011)

Other work

•‘Overnight Observation’, in The Year of Open Doors (Glasgow: Cargo Press, 2010) •‘French Leave’, in Even More Tonto Short Stories (Newcastle: Tonto, 2010) •‘Last Bus to the Baker’s Arms’, in Causeway/Cabhsair (AHRC Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, 2010) •‘The Mintie Wifey’, Gutter Magazine (2009). •‘New Era, New Perspective’, in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, and Other Stories (Cardiff: Cinnamon, 2008) •‘New Era, New Perspective’, in A Book of Possible Loves (London: SlingInk, 2007) •‘Half-Mast’, in Cheatin’ Hearts: Women’s Secret Stories, ed. Kim Longinotto and Joanna Rosenthall (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2000) •‘Beowulf for Beginners’: multi-media educational resource consisting of illustrated translation and adaptation of Beowulf for use in schools, published by Research Machines’ Internet for Learning Library (1995/2006). •‘The Knight with the Lion’: multi-media educational resource as above, based on Chrétien de Troyes’s Yvain; ou Le Chevalier au Lion (1996/2006).

Both resources re-launched on Aberdeen University’s literature website in 2006 and on the American Home-school Network in 2007.

Associated media and resources


Local authority where they are based


Local authorities where they can work

Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles), Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow, Highland, Inverclyde, Midlothian, Moray, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Orkney, Perth and Kinross, Renfrewshire, Scottish Borders, Shetland, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian, Other

Age groups

Teens, Adults

LL funded


BRAW network


Author type




Books written

The Elephant and the Polish Question

The Elephant and the Polish Question

Author(s): Helen Lynch
‘Twenty years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “democratisation” of Eastern Europe, this feisty collection of stories looks back at everyday life in Poland before and after those momentous eve