Friday, 11 February 2011

Author Q&A with Helen Smith

This is my first author Q&A, so a big thank you to Helen Smith for agreeing to be my guinea pig and for taking the time to answer the questions! Helen has written the novels Alison Wonderland, Being Light and The Miracle Inspector and a short story, Three Sisters, which is the first in a comic mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Emily Castles. You'll find reviews for Being Light and Three Sisters on my blog. But now, on with the questions!

When did you first think of becoming a writer and who or what got you interested in writing?
I loved reading when I was a child. Books had such a profound affect on me that I always wanted to be a writer. I started off reading all the children’s classics like the Narnia books, The Borrowers, Enid Blyton, and so on. Then I went on to Agatha Christie. My mother used to take me to the library and I’d get out six books at a time. I used to re-read my favourites over and over again. But it was the authors themselves who inspired me to become a writer – I wanted to be like them.

How would you describe your books and style?
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?

My first novel was Alison Wonderland. I’ll always love Alison – she’s a grumpier version of me, and she’s the reason I got published. I love my daughter, and she’s the best thing in my life, but giving birth to her was very painful (as you'd know - I know you're a mum as well). Getting published was the most wonderful pain-free thing that has ever happened to me, and Alison made that happen.

What do you like to read and do you have any other passions?
I usually read literary novels, comedies, mysteries and autobiographies/biographies. I try to avoid anything that is too dark or upsetting. As for other passions, I like travelling, and I like knitting – though I don’t do much of either these days.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
I’m writing the next story in my Emily Castles mystery series and I’m writing an adaptation of a Muriel Spark novel for the stage. I have also been invited to participate in a storytelling event in London called YARN. I’m going to tell a story about a new character I have been developing, a time-travelling friend of mine called Araminta who has mysteriously disappeared. The event takes place on 20th February so I need to hurry up and work out what I’m going to say!

Thanks again to Helen, and if you want to know more about her and her books please take a look at her blog


Sibel Hodge said...

Great interview. Congrats on your books, Helen. Three Sisters is on my TBR list. Looking forward to reading it.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Sibel.

Thanks, TC, for the interview. I really enjoyed doing it.


TC said...

Glad you enjoyed it Sibel, and I hope you get round to Three Sisters soon.

Not a problem Helen, thanks for taking the time out to do the interview.