Sunday, September 19, 2010

Author Interview: Helen Smith

Today, I have the pleasure of posting an interview with Helen Smith, author of Alison Wonderland, Being Light, The Miracle Inspector, and assorted plays and other works.

Publications:
Alison Wonderland
Being Light
The Miracle Inspector
Three Sisters (The Emily Castles Mysteries)

Other Links:
Book Review: Alison Wonderland
Book Review: Being Light
Book Review: The Miracle Inspector
Helen Smith (author blog)


I was digging through your blog, and I have to say, you're quite the multitasker! Poetry, novels, plays . . . What frame of mind are you in when you're writing? Does it vary by genre? Any specific rituals to get into the mood?

When I’m at the planning stage I generally feel quite cross – as if I have set myself an impossible task that I will never complete. When I’m writing and putting down a couple of pages a day, I feel joyful – as if it’s all flowing from somewhere and it will be brilliant if I can just keep going. When I’m editing, I feel serene; the hard work has been done and I’m just tinkering with the text to improve it.

I find it easier to write prose than to write drama. There’s so much you can’t do in a script: you need to rely on the actors to convey the internal life of their characters, the director to set the pace – and create a sense of place - and the designer to create the mood and atmosphere (among all the other things they’re supposed to be doing). I love it that I can jump around in place and time in a novel if I want to - and it’s all done without budget constraints.


I don’t have any rituals.



It sounds like a taxing experience! Let's focus on something positive, then: what is your favorite part of the publishing process, and why?

Doing the deal/signing the contract. There’s nothing so exciting as getting a call from my agent to say, ‘I hope you’ve got some champagne on ice.’ Actually I think she only said that to me once, when she sold my first novel. I did have some champagne chilling, as it happened. When someone says ‘yes’, you feel that nothing can go wrong now – the hard work has been done and the rest of the process is out of your hands.


Good planning on your part with that champagne. I'm certain that it wasn't always smooth sailing, though. What is the hardest lesson that you've learned through your experience as a writer?

I learned that the hard work is not over once you sign the contract. If you want your books to sell you need to get out there and help to sell them.


Fair enough. Speaking of hard work, what is your greatest literary fear (e.g. pedestrian writing, stilted dialogue, inconsistent characters, etc.)? How do you overcome it?


I don’t want to bore the reader. I cut a lot in the final edit.



Well, you certainly haven't been boring them! What about your own entertainment?  One always wonders what sorts of books are sitting on an author's shelf . . . What do you read in your free time? Does it have any effect upon your writing?

I read literary fiction, mostly – and a few biographies and autobiographies. If they’re brilliant they tend to make me feel slightly despondent about my own work. But I love reading so much that I get over it.


I don’t read anything when I’m at the ‘writing’ stage of my work, for fear that the author’s voice would influence mine. I’m too busy anyway, when it’s all going well – I want my head to be filled with whatever I’m working on, rather than puzzling over someone else’s novel.



True. While we're on the subject of writing, let's take a look at Alison Wonderland. I have to ask: what scene/line is your favorite, and which character(s) do you best identify with?

There’s a little bit of me in all the characters. I was developing a TV series based on the novel for the BBC (it hasn’t gone into production yet, the development process has stalled, as it so often does with these projects) and one of the producers kept calling me ‘Alison’. But she’s not much like me, really – she’s much grumpier and has very little insight into her own feelings. I’m probably more like Mrs Fitzgerald, the boss of the all-female detective agency Alison works for. She’s outwardly calm and in control, but she’s troubled by strange thoughts.

I like the scene where Alison and her best friend Taron are waiting in the car at the seaside, at the end of a strange and at times unsettling trip to Weymouth. It’s a turning point in the book and what happens at the beach will change Alison’s life, though she doesn’t yet know it. That’s the scene depicted on the front cover of the latest edition of the book – the designer came up with it after reading the book, so I suppose it was a memorable scene for him too.



It will certainly be interesting to see what the BBC makes of your series. And now, for something completely random: If you could be any character from any novel for a day, who would it be, and why?


Quite often I read books with antiheroes but I’d like to be a kind of superhero – a woman, of course - and be able to fly and save the world. Since I can’t think of anyone like that in any of the novels I have read (perhaps I should write one), I’ll go for Miss Marple. I loved Agatha Christie when I was younger and I have read most of her books. I always preferred Miss Marple to Poirot. I would like to be a nosy, wise old lady and solve mysteries and knit. I’m already quite good at knitting so I’d slip into the role fairly easily. In fact, I think I would like it so much I might be reluctant to give it up after only one day.



I can't say I blame you. Well, I suppose that's it. Thanks for answering my questions today.


Thanks for tailoring them . . . and for looking through my blog, too.

For more information about Helen Smith, you can visit her blog or find her on Goodreads.

1 comments:

Helen Smith said...

Thanks, Alice. I enjoyed doing the interview.

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