Thursday, 16 August 2012

Interrogating Helen Smith

Interviewing Helen Smith.

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?

I know that people’s tastes vary wildly so rather than try to work out what might appeal to someone – or, even more impossible, ‘everyone’ – I try to write books that I’m proud of and hope to find readers who will appreciate the books for what they are. I suppose it’s a bit like finding friends, isn’t it? Rather than try to be someone who will impress a certain group of people, you hope to meet people who will like you for who you are.

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them?

I have folders online where I make notes about the book I’m writing and future projects I’m planning. I usually carry a notebook with me in my handbag but I rarely write in it unless I can’t access my computer because I have trouble reading my handwriting.

How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed

I have never heard that term before! Fortunately I have never suffered from an invasion of plot bunnies. Sometimes a minor character will start to become more important in the story I’m writing because I like them and I want to spend more time with them. For example there’s a colourful character called Jesmond in The Miracle Inspector who is a poet. I liked him when I started writing him so I gave him more space in the book than I had originally planned. But when something like that happens, it’s helpful to the story – nothing like those nasty-sounding plot bunnies.

How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with ? 

There’s a lot of me in all my characters. I usually say that Alison Temple (who appears in my first two books, Alison Wonderland and Being Light) is a grumpier version of me. The character I’d most like to be is the eccentric philosophy professor, Dr. Muriel, who appears in my new Emily Castles mystery series. She’s Emily’s side-kick and she’s very intelligent, but it’s Emily who solves the mysteries. She’s rather a mischievous character and I imagine her being played by Miriam Margoyles if the series ever made it onto TV.

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?

I write mainstream fiction and mysteries, but I read more widely than that. I like most genres, so long as the book is well written. I enjoy reading biographies and autobiographies, too. Since I got my Kindle I have found that I have started taking a chance on books I wasn’t sure I’d like – and I have discovered some new authors and genres that I have really enjoyed. I love the Kindle Daily Deal!

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?

It’s really difficult to try to sell your own book. The best way that I have found to convince readers that my book is something special is to ask reviewers and book bloggers to read it and recommend it if they like it. I’m indebted to all the readers and bloggers who have taken the time to read, review and recommend my books – it’s a great way to get the word out. A few readers have told me recently that they’ve recommended The Miracle Inspector to their book groups, which is really wonderful. I’m always happy to do online Q&As for book groups if I can’t get to visit them in person.

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?

That’s never happened, fortunately. My books are copy-edited and proof-read but, even so, I think all of us notice one or two minor errors in just about every book we read because even copy editors and proof readers can miss them. It’s usually something like a missing word where text has been changed late on in the editing process, rather than a spelling mistake.

What do you like most about visiting KUF/forums?

I like finding book recommendations and reviews, and I like to know when books are on offer at a low price so I can grab them for my Kindle. Unfortunately that means I buy many more than I will ever read.

What is on your near horizon?

I’m writing a murder mystery series set in present day London. It features a twenty-six-year-old amateur sleuth called Emily Castles and her side-kick, a professor of philosophy called Dr Muriel. I have just finished the first novel in the series, Invitation to Die, and I’m now working on the next one, Beyond Belief. I have already published a couple of novella-length Emily Castles stories and they have been quite popular with readers, so I hope they’ll enjoy the full-length novels, too.

The print edition of The Miracle Inspector will be out on 4th September so I’m doing a lot of work to promote that. It’s already available as an ebook and so far the reviews have been great.

The audio book of Alison Wonderland is out on 6th November. I have never had an audio book out before – I can’t wait to hear it. I’m very excited about it.

Where can we find you for more information?

Thank you!


  1. Ha ha, the bit about not being able to read your own handwriting is great.

    My own writing is horrendous, it's useful for nothing more than the occasional note.

    I like the chair in the picture as well, it's very 19th century Florence.

    Or maybe it's IKEA. I always get those two mixed up.

  2. Thanks for the interview. I enjoyed taking part. The chair is great, isn't it, Michael? It belonged to the photographer.