"I’m like a crazed creator in a Gothic horror story": An Interview with Author Helen Smith
I had the fun of meeting the guest on my blog today--fellow crime writer Helen Smith--last year at Bouchercon. We also share the same awesome agent, David Hale Smith of Inkwell Management. Hilarious in person, Helen has a way of writing that makes her books witty and engaging.
From the official blurb:
Twenty-six-year-old Emily Castles is out of work… again. So when famous romance author Morgana Blakely offers her a job helping out at a conference in London, Emily accepts. Just as eagerly, American blogger Winnie Kraster accepts an invitation from Morgana to attend as a guest, not realizing she has, in effect, accepted an invitation to die.
As a cast of oddball characters assembles at the conference hotel, grievances, differences, and secrets begin to emerge. When Winnie goes missing, and then is found murdered nearby, Emily begins to suspect that someone involved with the conference is responsible. Could it be one of the organizers, one of the authors, a member of the hotel staff, or even the supplier of the chocolates for the conference gift bags? Emily teams up with guest speaker and eccentric philosophy professor Dr. Muriel to find out.
Offbeat and engaging, this entertaining comic mystery is the first full-length novel featuring amateur British sleuth Emily Castles.
What inspired Invitation to Die?
I wanted to write a murder mystery in a setting where a group of strangers – and old friends who might have grudges against one another – were brought together and had to stay together for a short time. I had done a couple of events at the Bloomsbury Festival and liked the idea of using a hotel in Bloomsbury, London, for the location, with a romance authors’ convention as the excuse for everyone to be there.
So, did you draw on your experience attending mystery conferences when creating this backdrop? I had to laugh at the way you characterized many of the authors!
I attended my first mystery convention last year, after I had finished writing this book. (It’s called Bouchercon and it takes place in a different US city each year. I loved it and I’m going back again this year.) So I’m afraid that the characters are invented. I have worked as an administrator setting up conferences, though, so there’s some authenticity in the background to the story.
Tell us about Emily Castles. What’s her background? How does she understand the world?
Emily is a bright, practical young woman who is cheerful and inquisitive. She doesn’t have a university education and she struggles to find a job that’s right for her. She tends to do a lot of temp work in offices. It bores her, but as she’s always on the lookout for a new job, and open to new experiences, it means she goes into situations where she ends up investigating whatever mystery interests her.
During the course of his investigation, one of your characters, Detective Rory Jones, comments to Emily, “It’s human nature to want to see ourselves at the heart of a drama.” Assuming that’s true, where do you see yourself in this story? Do you identify in particular with one of your characters?
I probably identify most with Dr. Muriel. But I’m like a crazed creator in a Gothic horror story: I put a little bit of myself into all my characters to make them come alive; sometimes it’s only the equivalent of one drop of blood, but it’s there.
Who or what has most influenced your writing? (This series, or generally?)
I love Agatha Christie. I admire her achievements as an author, but I love her stories, too. I read a lot of them when I was making the transition from reading children’s books to reading adult books and I still look forward to watching the new adaptations on TV. Miss Marple is one of my all-time favorite characters. (Mine too!)
As far as writing style goes, I have probably been most influenced by Evelyn Waugh. He has a light, comic touch that I would like to emulate. My writing was once compared to his in a review in Time Out, so naturally I was thrilled about that.
What is your favorite part of writing/publishing? Least favorite?
My favorite part of writing is the editing – polishing up a story after it has been written. I find the actual writing hard-going. My favorite part of the publishing process is seeing the cover because you’re seeing a visual interpretation of what someone else thinks of the book. Your editor will usually say something nice about the manuscript when they read it, but the cover shows you, for the first time, what a stranger really thinks of it. It’s weird, exciting and scary – and flattering, too.
What has surprised you the most about writing/ publishing?
Oh, that’s a tough one. Being published has lived up to my expectations in lots of ways – the parties are just as much fun as I hoped they would be. I suppose the most surprising thing about the writing is that it never gets any easier. When your first book is published, you think that all the hard work is over. But it isn’t.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Keep going! You’ll get there. Good luck.
What’s next for Emily? What else are you working on?
The next book in the series, Beyond Belief, will be published by Thomas & Mercer in January 2014 in ebook, paperback and audiobook format. When a celebrated psychic predicts that a famous magician will be killed in the English seaside town of Torquay, Emily is hired to investigate.
I’m currently working on the next book after that, which will be published in January 2015. It takes place at the Edinburgh Festival.
Thanks so much! I'm looking forward to your next book!
Helen Smith is a member of the Writers Guild of Great Britain, The Crime Writers Association and English PEN. She travelled the world when her daughter was small, doing all sorts of strange jobs to support them both - from cleaning motels to working as a magician's assistant - before returning to live in London where she wrote her first novel, which was published by Gollancz (part of the Hachette Group). She writes novels, children's books, poetry, plays and screenplays, and was the recipient of an Arts Council of England Award. She likes dancing but she doesn't like driving. She likes knitting. Check out her website at http://www.emperorsclothes.co.uk/
9/15/2013 10:52:20 pm
Thanks so much for the questions, Susanna. I really enjoyed answering them. I'm looking forward to seeing you at Bouchercon in a few days. It's going to be so much fun! And (for tax purposes) a lot of hard work, too, of course.
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Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.