Friday, 11 February 2011
Author Q&A with Helen Smith
Most of my books are quirky and off-beat with a literary style. However I have just written the first story in my new comic mystery series, Three Sisters. It was a deliberate attempt to write a cheerful, entertaining book that wasn’t too strange.
When you write do you have a particular routine you follow, and what do you find the most difficult part of writing a book?
I ought to be more disciplined. It’s a good idea to aim for 1,000 words a day – though I can write more when it’s going well. Some days I do considerably less, and I feel miserable. The planning part of the process is the hardest, where I’m trying to work out the characters and what the book is going to be about. Once I start writing, I find it very enjoyable – so long as I’m making my daily word count and it’s going well. My favourite part is the editing part of the process because that involves looking back at what I have written, and polishing it. I can spend hours taking a word out and then putting it back in again. It’s quite self-indulgent because by this stage I will like what I have written and I’ll be pleased with it – the equivalent of polishing the knobs on a dresser that it has taken me two years to make from scratch in the garden shed.
Do you start a book knowing what the beginning, middle and end will be or does it take on a life of its own as you write?
Yes, I know how it starts, how it develops and how it will end. Whenever anyone asks me, I claim to plot my books but I don’t have a very detailed outline written down – just an idea of the shape of a book. Certain characters usually demand more space and attention than I had originally been planning to give them, like naughty children, and they become favourites of mine.
Are you self-published or traditionally published, and what has been the best and worst thing about the route you have taken?
My first four books were traditionally published. When the first two novels went out of print last year I decided to get the rights back and publish them myself. It was very gratifying to see them brought back to life, and to find new readers for them.The main problem with self-publishing is that you have to do all the marketing yourself – it can be very time-consuming. I have just signed to a mainstream publisher so I’ll be able to leave the design and marketing of my novels to them, and continue with writing, which is what I enjoy most. However I’ll probably continue to self-publish my Emily Castles mystery series because I’m planning to write short stories that will function a bit like episodes in a TV series – and I’ll be able to get them out quickly by publishing them myself.
If this isn't too much like asking a mum which of her children she likes best, which of your characters is your favourite?