Welcome to the five hundred and thirteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with novelist and playwright Helen Smith. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Helen. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based.
Helen: Hello, Morgen. I’m an English novelist and playwright and I live in London.
Morgen: I’m English too. About a dozen junctions up the M1. 🙂 How did you come to writing?
Helen: I have always loved reading and so it was my dream to one day earn my living as a writer. I approached an agent with the manuscript for my first book and she sold it to a publisher, so that set me on the road to being a professional writer. Before that I had won an award for a short radio play I’d submitted to a competition – the prize was having the play broadcast on national radio and being paid a professional rate for it. I could have tried to build on that success by writing more radio plays but I was mid-way through my first novel and dead set on getting it published, so I carried on writing that instead.
Morgen: I’ve not written a radio play but I did create 102 pages of a TV script (which I’ve since converted into the beginning of a novel) for the now defunct Script Frenzy in April 2010. I much prefer the flow of prose and admire scriptwriters, it really is an art. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Helen: I started out writing commercial literary fiction. When you’re starting out, I don’t think you ever think, ‘I’m going to write literary fiction.’ You write a book and someone at the publisher labels it to help sell it. My new book, The Miracle Inspector, is a dystopian thriller. I’m currently writing a murder mystery series set in present-day England, featuring an amateur sleuth called Emily Castles. The style is known, particularly in America, as a cozy mystery. It’s great fun to write. I’d love to write a romantic comedy, too, one day.
Morgen: I have a friend (Joseph V Sultana) who’s written / writing a dystopian series, I’ll have to point him in your direction. What have you had published to-date?
Helen: I have had three novels, two novellas and two children’s books published.
Morgen: You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Helen: My first books were traditionally published but when they went out of print I self-published them. I have also self-published The Miracle Inspector. One of my books has been picked up by Amazon Publishing’s AmazonEncore imprint. So I’m a hybrid and will probably continue that way.
Morgen: That’s interesting. I have eBooks (free shorts, a short story collection and workbook) on Amazon’s KDP and will go the Select route with my novels and was considering CreateSpace but will certainly check out Encore. So presumably your books are available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Helen: My books are all available as eBooks. I was very involved in the process with the ones I have self-published. AmazonEncore also gave me a lot of choice over the cover for Alison Wonderland. I prefer to read eBooks myself because if I read a print book I need reading glasses, whereas I can enlarge the font size on my Kindle and do without them. But it’s the words that are the important part of a book for me, not the method of delivery.
Morgen: It’s great having the choice, isn’t it. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Helen: I write books with strong, interesting female characters and I love all of them for different reasons. I’m very fond of Emily Castles in my new murder mystery series – probably because it’s the most recent thing I have written. She’s twenty-six years old with dimples, so Carey Mulligan would be perfect to play her. I’d like to have Miriam Margolyes as her side-kick, the philosophy professor Dr Muriel. The audio CD of Alison Wonderland will be read by an actress called Alison Larkin so I’m very excited about that and can’t wait to hear it.
Morgen: Congratulations. 🙂 I’m not sure I know Alison but Miriam Margolyes is fantastic. I loved her in the third Blackadder series and I recently re-wrote one of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected in which she played the wife: They try to with the food. Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Helen: My writing has been compared to Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K Dick, Evelyn Waugh and Nicola Barker by critics and reviewers. That’s a pretty impressive list, isn’t it! I’m not sure I’m worthy of any of those comparisons. I have tried to find my own style and write in the most original way possible, so I find it difficult to compare my work to anyone else’s.
Morgen: One of my recent interviewees (Sheri Fredricks) told me of a site where you can paste in some of your writing to see who you write like (I had a couple of goes and apparently I write in the style of Cory Doctorow and Agatha Christie. It’s fun. In fact I’ve included it in a new blog page imaginatively called ‘Fun’. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Helen: I’m writing a murder mystery series set in present-day England featuring amateur sleuth Emily Castles. I have already written a couple of novellas in the series and have just finished my first full-length book in the series, Invitation to Die, which is set at a romance authors’ convention in a hotel in Bloomsbury. I’m now working on the next one, Beyond Belief, which is set in Torquay.
Morgen: Amateur sleuths are incredibly popular especially choosing real settings (mine are based here in or around Northampton). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Helen: Just keep going. You’ll get there.
Morgen: Absolutely. They do say a successful author is one who didn’t give up, and we generally have too much fun to want to, don’t we? Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: I did. 🙂 Thank you, Helen.
I then invited Helen to include an extract of her writing and this is from The Miracle Inspector – Chapter One – Breakfast…
Lucas was dressed smartly, ready for work. He sat at the kitchen table and buttered his toast, and cracked at the top of the boiled egg his wife had made him for breakfast. Angela stood nearby, scrubbing at a small spot on the working surface. Layers of regret hung between them like unfashionable wallpaper. It made the place seem ugly.
‘You know what would be nice?’ Angela said.
Lucas didn’t answer. He was not being impolite, he was waiting for her to express her feelings.
She said, ‘If we could go somewhere…’
He didn’t speak. He licked his fingers. He couldn’t eat the egg but he ate his toast. He waited for her to continue.
‘…together. I wish there was something…’
He noticed that she had stopped rubbing the spot, as if speaking the words had been helping to power her hand. Or perhaps it was the other way around. He’d have liked to make a joke of it. Would the nub of it – the joke – be something about kinetic energy?
‘Will you be home for your tea?’ she said.
‘Yes,’ he said. He wiped his hands and brushed himself down, preparing to leave her. With his weary, cautious manner, his formal clothes, he could have been forty-five years old. He was not quite twenty-five.
‘Unless there’s a miracle?’
‘Well, then you definitely wouldn’t have to cook tea.’ He laughed, thinking they would share a moment.
She stared blankly back at him.
‘If I discovered a miracle, you’d come and see it,’ he said. ‘Wouldn’t you?’
and a synopsis of that novel…
The Miracle Inspector is a dystopian thriller set in the near future. England has been partitioned and London is an oppressive place where poetry has been forced underground, theatres and schools are shut, and women are not allowed to work outside the home. A young couple, Lucas and Angela, try to escape from London – with disastrous consequences.
“…this is an absolutely exceptional piece of fiction, a work of art befitting the best in socially-conscious literature.” – Journal of Always Reviews
“…Only occasionally does a piece of fiction leap out and demand immediate cult status. Alison Wonderland is one.” – The Times
“…Smith is gin-and-tonic funny.” – Booklist
“Smith has a keen eye for material details, but her prose is lucid and uncluttered by heavy description. Imagine a satire on Cool Britannia made by the Coen Brothers.” – Times Literary Supplement
Helen Smith is a novelist and playwright who lives in London. A member of the Writers Guild of Great Britain and English PEN, she travelled the world when her daughter was small, doing all sorts of strange jobs to support them both – from cleaning motels to working as a magician’s assistant – before returning to live in London where she wrote her first novel which was published by Gollancz (part of the Hachette Group).
She is the author of bestselling cult novel Alison Wonderland. She writes novels, poetry, plays and screenplays and is the recipient of an Arts Council of England Award. She’s a long-term supporter of the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture and mentors members of an exiled writers group to help them tell their stories.
Her latest book is the dystopian thriller The Miracle Inspector.
- Visit her website at http://www.emperorsclothes.co.uk
- Friend her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ emperorsclothes
- Become a fan at Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorhelensmith
- Friend her at Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2833648.Helen_Smith
- Pick up a copy of The Miracle Inspector at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Miracle-Inspector-Helen-Smith/dp/0956517056
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