Author Interview - Helen Smith

If you read my review of Alison Wonderland - or even better if you read the book itself - there will be no surprise as to how excited I am to host an interview with the novel's smart, funny, and wildly imaginative author, Helen Smith!

*applause, applause*

Thank you so much for joining me, Helen!  How did you get started as an author? What writers or works would you say have inspired or influenced you?

I loved reading so much when I was a child that I knew from about the age of eight that I wanted to be a writer when I was older. I had a plan to live an interesting life and travel the world and then settle down and start writing when I was thirty, when I had something to say. I started on Alison Wonderland when I was about 29, which was a sneaky way of getting an extra year to play with before staring my career in earnest. Before that I’d had a short play broadcast on the radio. It won an award – and the prize was the chance to watch the play being produced, and being paid a professional writer’s fee when it was broadcast. I suppose that was really the start of my start career but by then I was determined to write my first novel and didn’t want to be distracted from my goal of getting it finished and getting it published, so even though they asked me to come up with other ideas for radio plays, I didn’t pursue it. It seems crazy now. I’m old enough to know that you don’t have to do one thing at a time, and you need more than one project on the go if you want to be sure of succeeding.

Favourite writers include Graham Greene, Henry Green, Evelyn Waugh, Peter Carey, Paul Auster, Muriel Spark, Chuck Palaniuk. And imagine being as prolific and as widely-read as Agatha Christie! She was my childhood hero, though I haven’t read any of her books for many years. I try not to be influenced by anyone; I try to write in a way that will strike the reader as original and inventive.
Alison Wonderland is filled with quirky humor, do people generally consider you a funny person or do you save your laugh out loud moments for your work?

Thank you! People usually find me funny in person but it’s a sardonic kind of quick-fire humor that relies on getting laughs by commenting on situations as they happen, and often succeeds because I’m building on or responding to jokes made by other people – a kind of bantering ‘pub humor’ that wouldn’t translate to the page. I do like trying to make a story funny when I’m telling it but I can never remember jokes. My written humor is quite subtle and dry. I do a lot of paring down in the writing process.
Taron and Alison (the two lead females) are very different and yet their friendship is pretty strong proving that opposites really can attract. Which character do you connect more with? Do you think you would be friends with one or both of them?
Alison is a version of me – though a less insightful and more grumpy version. Naturally I don’t have any of her failings! Taron is an entirely imagined character, with some of the attributes I’d want from a best friend: she wakes up Alison from her mundane existence and starts her off on various adventures, some of them ill-advised – but none of them any less than interesting. She’s intriguing and irritating and sometimes right when you think she must be wrong about something. I’d be friends with both of them – I’m sure we’d have fun on a night out.
Are any of the random news stories that Alison and Jeff discuss based on fact? If not, how did you come up with them?

Most of the news stories are true. As I was writing, I collected newspaper clippings of stories that intrigued me and seemed relevant to the plot; I wanted to seed them through the novel so that some of the events in the book – while clearly implausible, and created for dramatic effect – would nevertheless seem to have some kind of basis in truth; there would be echoes of the real world in them. I made some of them up, but I hoped it wouldn’t be clear what was real and what was not.
Your novel mentions a few new genetic creations, most notably, the sheep-pig or "shig". If you could combine two animals in real life, what new species would you create?

Ooh! Have you read The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges? He comes up with all sorts of crazy animals in that; it’s worth dipping into if you haven’t already read it. But, to answer your question, I think a pig and a dog would be nice – two intelligent animals combined to make one furry, intelligent one. Delightful! But some kind of combination to replicate a mermaid would be interesting, as would a dog with wings – or any trainable domestic pet with wings: a cat with wings would be great, too. A calbertross, perhaps.
As an author in the UK, is it ever difficult to market/advertise your work in the US? Any chance that a book tour in the states is in your future?

At the moment, my promotions have been limited to mentioning the book in the appropriate threads on forums such as Mobile Reads, Kindle Boards and the Amazon forums – and taking part in discussions about other people’s books there, too. I have done some giveaways on Goodreads and LibraryThing as well as my blog, and I have been lucky enough to have my book reviewed or featured on blogs like yours (thank you!) and mentioned on sites like the Frugal ereader and Daily Cheapreads.

Fortunately, I’m about to sign with a new publisher who will take over all the marketing of my books on my behalf – and do a professional job of it, too! I hope this means that I will have a chance to do a book tour in the US.
You write children's books as well as novels for adults. Do you prefer one genre over the other? How do you decide what your next work will be?

I had always thought that I would settle down and write children’s books when I reached retirement age. However I was commissioned to write two children’s history books a few years ago, and I took the chance to try my hand at writing for 8-12 year olds – and enjoyed it very much. At the moment I’m concentrating on writing novels for adults, and writing for the stage.

I decide what the next work will be based on what I want to say about something that’s important to me. Though my books and plays are comedies, there is usually some serious intent behind them. You’re not supposed to start with the theme, you’re supposed to start with the characters or the plot. Starting with the theme is my dirty secret.
What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a new novel and I have just been commissioned to adapt a novel by a famous author for the stage. I’m really excited about it. I haven’t signed all the paperwork yet so I can’t tell you the name of the novel but I hope the play will be produced next year, in 2011.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I have a blog: I talk about whatever comes into my head. I love to have visitors. Please join me.
Thanks again, Helen!  Check out Alison Wonderland, Being Light, or any of Helen Smith's other works over at her website or Amazon!

4 Response to "Author Interview - Helen Smith"

  1. Greg McConnell says:
    October 20, 2010 at 8:15 PM

    Great interview, Lisa! I enjoyed getting to hear from Helen herself. Sounds like her career has been fun (and apparently a year ahead of schedule -- ha!). Best of luck to her in finally making that U.S. tour.

  2. Unknown says:
    October 21, 2010 at 3:42 AM

    Hello, Greg.

    Thanks for your lovely review, Lisa - and for posting this. I really enjoyed doing the Q&A.

    I love your blog!


  3. Siva says:
    October 22, 2010 at 3:37 AM

    Excellent interview Lisa. It is as if we are watching it live. Wonderful answers from Helen.

  4. Anonymous Says:
    October 26, 2010 at 6:10 AM

    This is an enjoyable Q&A! I like the questions and Helen did indeed have some great answers.

    I get to meet Helen in an hour, i'm looking forward to it! - Joe

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