Sunday, 31 July 2011

Summer Book Giveaway, 1-7 August

I'm taking part in the Summer Book Giveaway

I'm giving away one Amazon gift card worth $15 or £10
or book tokens worth £10 for use in any bookshop in the UK
or books to the value of $15/£10 from The Book Depository

Bonus prize:
One paperback or Kindle copy of Alison Wonderland
If you win I will send this bonus prize direct from your Amazon wishlist
Please add the book to your wishlist for a chance to win

Winners will be chosen at random after midnight on 7th August

Alison Wonderland will be published on 16th August:
After her husband leaves her for another woman, twentysomething Londoner Alison Temple impulsively applies for a job at the very P.I. firm she hired to trap her philandering ex. She hopes it will be the change of scene she so desperately needs to move on with her shattered life. At the all-female Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation, she spends her days tracking lost objects and her nights shadowing unfaithful husbands. But no matter what the case, none of her clients can compare to the fascinating characters in her personal life. There’s her boss, the estimable and tidy Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison’s eccentric best friend, who claims her mother is a witch; Jeff, her love-struck, poetry-writing neighbor; and—last but not least—her psychic postman. Her relationships with them all become entangled when she joins Taron for a road trip to the seaside and stumbles into a misadventure of epic proportions! Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, this humorous literary novel introduces a memorable heroine struggling with the everyday complexities of modern life.

The Summer Giveaway Hop was hosted by I am a Reader, Not a Writer and Bookhounds.
This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone for taking part.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Rebecca Chance - Bad Sisters

Last night I went to a very glamorous book launch for my friend Rebecca Chance's new book, Bad Sisters, which will be published on 4th August.

The event was held at Franco's restaurant in Jermyn Street and, because Rebecca's books are bestsellers, the book launch was glitzy and generous - free cocktails and canapes, followed by dancing, and goodie bags to take away at the end of the night - and the room was full of gorgeous, glamorous people, including Rebecca herself.

I have read Rebecca's other two books, Bad Girls and Divas, which are saucy, camp and extremely entertaining - and well-written, too. Rebecca has lived in New York and Italy as well as London, so I know she uses settings she's familiar with when she's writing her books. Bad Sisters is described by Rebecca's publisher as a 'blisteringly sexy bonkbuster'. I'm looking forward to reading it, though - as with her other two books, and indeed books written by any of my friends - I'm going to try to resist speculating how much of the rest of it might be inspired by personal experience.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Interview with Shaun Morey

I met Shaun Morey in New York recently. He is a best-selling US author who contributes to magazines and newspapers around the world. He won the inaugural Abbey-Hill short-story contest and is a three-time winner of the Los Angeles Times novel-writing contest. His first novel, Wahoo Rhapsody, is published today, 28th July.

Q) Shaun, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions about your work. Your first book, Incredible Fishing Stories, is a bestseller. How did you go about finding the stories that went into the book?

I met with boat captains and got referral to other boat captains and it snowballed into a trip to Australia and New Zealand and Hawaii to meet with world famous captains. I also called tackle shops around the world and asked for the most incredible fishing story they'd ever heard. The hard part was corroborating the stories, especially since fishermen are notorious exaggerators.

Q) What is the background to Wahoo Rhapsody – are any of the characters or situations based on people you have met or events you have experienced?

All the characters are based on real people. The bars in Baja are filled with lovable and not so lovable oddballs, and you never know who you'll meet on the back roads. You learn quickly not to drive at night (drunks, wandering farm animals, drug dealers, bandits) and not to ask expatriates what they do for a living. As for my mistreatment of lawyers in the book, that was easy. I grew up around lawyers. And I have an uncle who really did sue God and win. Actually, it was the Catholic Church, on behalf of abuse victims. He made enough money to retire early. As for names, most are taken from people I've met over the years. And as a surfer I always wanted to name a character Skegs.

Q) Do you find it easier to write fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction is more fun to write. It takes an extra effort though because all of it comes from a locked vault and I often lose the key.

Q) You have won several writing competitions. Aside from the kudos of winning, do you think that entering the competitions helped your writing by, for example, forcing you to work to deadlines?

The biggest help was the confidence booster. Fiction writing is filled with criticism and rejection. It can feel schizophrenic at times, and winning the competitions helped keep me focused on the storytelling.

Q) What are you working on now?

I'm halfway though the sequel to Wahoo Rhapsody. Same hero and his sidekick, and the witty, fearless, beautiful, female P.I.

Q) Are you doing any readings or events to promote Wahoo Rapsody – if so, where can we find you?

My tour events are listed on my website:

Thank you! Good luck with the book and its sequel.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Letter from Eynulla Fatullayev

Eynulla Fatullayev, an honorary member of English PEN, was released from prison in Azerbaijan recently following a presidential amnesty. You may remember that I wrote to him earlier this year enclosing a copy of Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as part of World Book Night.

He has written to English PEN to thank everyone involved in the campaign for his release. Full text here.

If you would like to write to prisoners of conscience who have come to the attention of the Writers in Prison Committee at English PEN, or send books to them, you can contact Cat Lucas here:

Alison Wonderland - Goodreads, Bookstores, Libraries

Are you on Goodreads? If so, I'd love you to add the new edition of ALISON WONDERLAND to your shelves. Just click here.

The book is also available to pre-order online for the Kindle at and in paperback via and in paperback at Barnes & Noble. You can also order it at your local book store or library - please go in and ask for it. The book will be published on 16th August.

Friday, 22 July 2011

She Writes - Blog Hop

I belong to an online community of women writers called She Writes. Meg Clayton has organised a 'blog hop' this weekend. What is a blog hop? It's just a way of finding new blogs to visit.

If you found this blog via the blog hop, welcome! Please leave a comment to say hello so I can go back and visit your blog.

As for me, I'm a novelist and playwright. I live in London. Please take a look around. Why not start by watching a short video?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Time Travel Ephemera - new addition to the exhibition

My oldest friend, Araminta Claremont, is still missing in the future and I'm ashamed to say that I haven't done much about trying to find her recently as I have been working on other projects.

However yesterday, when I came home from a quick visit to the shops, I found a yellow pencil on the doorstep outside my house. As you know, most people bringing deliveries to the house these days carry handheld electronic devices and ask you to sign with a tiny plastic stick on receipt of any goods, so I don't think the pencil can have belonged to anyone trying to delivery something to the house - I had nothing delivered yesterday, anyway, except a large and very beautiful tub of pink geraniums which my parents brought with them in the car when they came to stay, shortly after I found the pencil.

This ordinary yellow pencil therefore seemed to me to have some kind of significance outside of being a pencil. But what did it signify? That it was some kind of message from Araminta (or possibly agents from the future who are trying to help her find her way back here), I have no doubt. We had agreed that if either one of us were in danger and unable to correspond by conventional means (text, email, etc.) that we would leave clues for each other to interpret. I suspect that pencil was her way of urging me to make further notes about my experiences of time travel. Her journal contained very detailed notes, of course, and priceless information about her methodology. But it disappeared when she did.

How did that yellow pencil get here? I'm not quite sure. I have photographed it and put it into the exhibition of time travel ephemera that I am curating on Araminta's behalf, while she is away.

Spurred on by this recent hint from Araminta, I intend to travel the country over the next few months - under cover of launching my book - learning as much as I can about other people's experiences of time travel, which I hope will in turn give clues about Araminta's disappearance and, more importantly, where to find her. I will be looking at ordinary objects, and photographing, cataloguing and asking questions about them to determine whether or not any incongruity attached to them, whether or not that incongruity is suggestive of time travel - and whether or not the object belongs in my exhibition.

Please let me know if you have anything I should see. Thank you.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Helen Smith literature and links, 18th July

Cuts to Short Stories Broadcast on Radio 4 - what you can do to voice your concern

Susie Maguire wrote a piece on Stella Duffy's blog about cuts to the number of short stories to be broadcast on Radio 4 from three to one a week as part of an attempt to raise awareness about it among writers and listeners.

The WGGB have made a statement about it here. Writers' Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: "Here is yet another meaningless cut that will save Radio 4 in a whole year less than the cost of a single coat of paint on the shiny floor of a TV talent show."

The new Controller of Radio 4, Gwyneth Williams, will be a guest on FEEDBACK on BBC Radio 4 next week. If you'd like to ask her about the cuts, the people at National Short Story Week have suggested four ways of doing this.

[By the way, when I visited the National Short Story Week site I saw that they are offering a free audio recording of one of Sue Gee's stories from The Last Fling. I recently bought the book and I have just downloaded the audio recording.]

Details of how to join the Writers' Guild here.

Thursday, 14 July 2011


Yet another way to waste time instead of writing? I don't know if that's a good idea.

But here's my profile on Google+ If you're on it, please come and find me.

Obviously I'm still on Facebook and Twitter if you'd rather find me there:

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Interview with R J Keller

R J Keller lives in Maine and I met her recently when I was in New York. She co-hosts talk show Book Chatter with Stacey Cochran and currently writes, shoots, and edits episodes of the YouTube show, Inside The Writers’ Studio, with author Kristen Tsetsi. Her first book, Waiting for Spring, was published in May.

Q) Thanks for agreeing to talk about your work. What should I call you? Do you go by 'RJ'?

I prefer to be called Kel, but since I decided on an initialized pseudonym I can't complain when people use RJ.

Q) How did you get involved in co-hosting Book Chatter?

I did a Skype interview with Stacey Cochran - Book Chatter's very talented host - in June 2009. It was my first video interview and I was nervous as heck, which is very apparent when you watch it, but I had tons of fun with it. A couple of months later Stacey started up Book Chatter and asked if I was interested in being one of his co-hosts. I didn't have to think about it, just sent him an immediate YES! email. It's been a blast, meeting so many talented authors, and it's been a great learning experience.

Q) Is it true that you and Kristen Tsetsi put together the episodes of Inside the Writers’ Studio without ever meeting? What inspired the two of you to make the show – did you have any movie-making expertise?

It's absolutely true. We've known each other online for several years, but we only met in person at BEA in May. Inside The Writers' Studio is a YouTube show that makes fun of writers in a way that only other writers can get away with. We were inspired to create it after we were brainstorming about marketing ideas. We started out with a vague idea of doing a couple of humorous Q&A videos, and that blossomed into what we have now... scripted episodes.

Before Inside The Writers' Studio, I dabbled a little with 'movie-making.' I did a few video blogs and book trailers, and even an animated short, but nothing as extensive as IWS. It's quite challenging to put together a three-to-five minute show whose actors/writers/editors live 300 miles apart. At first we tried to make it appear that we were in the same room, but after awhile we decided to have fun with the long distance. For example, there's an episode in which we're supposed to be drinking together, passing a bottle of liquor back and forth. We purposely used different bottles (she was drinking wine, I was drinking Southern Comfort) and even used my son's obviously manly arm to do some of the back-and-forth liquor passing. Come to think of it, my son was only fifteen at the time. I'm pretty sure that makes me a horrible mother...

Q) Can you tell us a bit about Waiting for Spring? Had you written other books before this one?

Waiting For Spring is my first novel. It tells the story of a Maine woman who struggles to put her life back together after her divorce. But it's also the story about the struggles of an impoverished Maine town. I began writing it after I got ill with what was eventually diagnosed as hemochromatosis. I was housebound, miserable, and bored out of my mind. Since I'd read every book in the house, as well as most of the books at my local library and the local bookstore, I figured the only thing to do was to write one of my own.

Q) What are you working on now? Are you writing another book?

I'm working on the follow up to Waiting For Spring, tentatively titled The Wendy House. It follows a man named Rick during the course of one day as he prepares to kill the man who killed his daughter, all while having semi-drunken, hallucinatory conversations with his long-dead wife.

Q) Other than Book Chatter and Inside the Writers’ Studio, where else can we find you online? Are you on Facebook, Twitter, etc?

I am currently battling an addiction to Facebook. My personal account is here and my writer page is here. Twitter:

Thanks, Kel. I really enjoyed Waiting for Spring - good luck with The Wendy House.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Sunday Salon - an eventful week

It has been an eventful week. A new nation was born: South Sudan. The biggest news here has been about something that doesn't affect me personally, though it has affected us all in this country: the closure of the News of the World. People on Twitter and elsewhere had been calling for others to boycott it, which is all very well - but you can't boycott it if you don't buy it in the first place. It's a strange world we live in when Hugh Grant seems to be talking more sense than any of the politicians. Strange, too, to see links to clips of "Steve Coogan's performance on Newsnight" and realise it isn't a spoof of Hugh Grant's appearance on Question Time, but another impassioned rebuttal of the widespread illegal practice of phone hacking by one of those who have been affected by it.

The tabloid press don't usually have anything nice to say about anyone. I had a call on Wednesday saying, 'Have you seen the Daily Mail?' which took me to an article by Brian Sewell complaining about the number of gay, lesbian, transgender and cross-dressing characters in Coronation Street. The article blamed Lauren's father for it, which was funny rather than distressing as it attributed more power to him than he has - it's a writer-led show but he's only one of a team of writers. Still, you don't want too many calls like that...

Other than that, I went to see the Summer Show at the Royal Academy, Anthony Nielsen's play, Realism, at Soho Theatre and the Steve Cradock Band and Beady Eye for the iTunes Festival at the Roundhouse. I have also been working on a new short play and the next story in my Emily Castles Mystery Series. I answered a Q&A in character over at the Her Book Self blog and got a couple of nice reviews for the book here and here. I also turned in a draft for a full-length play I'm working on, and I should get notes back on that at the end of next week.

I did a Q&A with Craig Lancaster on my blog on Friday. I met him in New York recently and I'm reading and enjoying his book, The Summer Son, a warm, involving story about a man who has to explore the past - and his relationship with his father - in order to fix the present.

I'm also reading Russell Wiley Is Out To Lunch by Richard Hine. It's a witty satire on the newspaper avertising industry and new media vs. old.

Links on the Internet
This explanation by Michael Wolff in Adweek of the Murdoch family's complex relationships with each other reminded me of the opening of the TV show Soap (Adweek link via @RichardHine)

Virtual bridge allows Israelis to talk to Palestinians - a story in the NYT about Facebook: “All communication today is on the Internet — sex, war, business — why not peace?”

AL Kennedy on writing and procrastination in The Guardian (link via @johnnygeller)

Psychologist blames Mills & Boon for sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and dissatisfaction with relationships: "sometimes the kindest and wisest thing we can do for our clients is to encourage them to put down the books – and pick up reality".

Julian Assange reportedly changes his mind
about having his ghostwritten memoirs published.

You can nominate your ten favourite books on the World Book Night site to help choose the 25 titles for next year's giveaway.

Grace Dent lists "100 things about me and Twitter" in the Guardian.

Pablo Neruda's Poema 20 link via @Stellectric's tumblr

Friday, 8 July 2011

Alison Wonderland - Winner Chosen

Thanks to everyone who signed up to win an advance copy of Alison Wonderland, which will be published on 16th August.

The winner has been chosen via and contacted by email: Susan B.
Congratulations, Susan!

Three Sisters Q&A and Giveaway

Lisa at Her Book Self has a Q&A and a giveaway for Three Sisters over at her blog.

Hello if you're visiting from Lisa's blog - thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Interview with Craig Lancaster

I met Craig Lancaster at Book Expo America in New York recently. He is a novelist and essayist who lives in Montana and has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years. His award-winning first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, was published in 2009. His second, The Summer Son, was published in January 2011.

Q) Craig, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions about your work. You have lived in various locations around the United States but it wasn’t until you moved to Montana that you started writing novels - is there something about the place that unleashed your creativity?

I think it's partly the place and partly the time in my life. This is something I'd always wanted to do, but in my twenties and thirties, it seems like other concerns -- building a career, etc. -- got in the way of it. In 2008, a couple of years after I moved to Montana to be with the woman who became my wife, I had a terrible motorcycle accident, one I was lucky to have survived. In the aftermath of that, I started paying better attention to my aspirations (and to road safety, but that probably goes without saying).

As for Montana, I can say only this: It's the land I dreamed about living in when I was a child. Now, there were a lot of romantic notions tied up in that ideal, but the truth is, I've never felt more at home than I do here. I came here at a time when I'd assumed that it wasn't going to happen, that the circumstances of my life had led me down another path. In that way, it feels like a gift to be here.

Q) Can you tell me a bit about what inspired you to write 600 Hours of Edward?

In the aftermath of my motorcycle wreck, I spent about a month just living in a recliner. I couldn't lay down because of all the broken ribs. Toward the end of my recuperation, a friend asked me if I'd like to try National Novel Writing Month with him. At first, I declined; it had been a bad year, and I didn't want to make it worse by dropping a lot of failed prose out there. But then I started thinking about a man who lives his life in precise patterns, never deviating, and the dramatic (and comic) possibilities that awaited if I got in there and started throwing obstacles at him. By the end of National Novel Writing Month, I had the 80,000 words that, eventually, became the book.

Q) What about The Summer Son?

I started writing it in April 2009, when the book that became "Edward" was still a self-pubbed title. ("Edward" was picked up by Riverbend Publishing, a small house here in Montana, in October 2009 and went on to be a Montana Honor Book and a High Plains Book Award winner.) I'd been thinking a lot about fathers and sons and how that relationship, if it's fouled up in the beginning, can skid sideways for decades, affecting everybody in its sphere.

It was a difficult book to write, not least of all because it's intensely personal for me. But it was also hard to find the story. Where "Edward" was written in a 24-day burst of creative energy, I needed most of a year to get "The Summer Son" where I wanted it to be. I'm really, really proud of it.

Q) Do you think your training as a journalist helped you when you were writing your books?

In two profound senses, yes. First, I know how to put my shoulder into the plow and do the work. You won't be much of a journalist if you can't get to work, regardless of how you feel or whether the words aren't coming easily. Second, to whatever extent my prose is spare and direct, that's the influence of a journalism background. I move from Point A to Point B in a straight line. That has the nice side benefit of keeping a story moving right along.

Q) You have a fun exercise called The Word on your blog where each week you ask Facebook friends to suggest a word, then you choose one of those words at random and use it as inspiration to write a short story. Can you tell me something about the background to that – why did you decide to do it? Does it help your writing?

I decided to do it because I saw it done on Janet Fitch's blog. She's smarter than I am; she does it only every couple of weeks, not week in and week out the way I do. But, yeah, I think it's definitely helped me. It keeps my mind limber, and the tossed-off nature of it -- most of the stories are in the 1,000-word range, and I generally take no more than an hour to write them -- helps remind me that some of my best work comes when I just let it rip. (On the flip side of that, I also see some of my best work in the revision stage. God, I love to rewrite.)

Q) You write short stories, essays and novels – is there any particular form that you enjoy more than the others or that comes most easily to you?

They all have their distinctive rewards and maddening moments. When I hook a good idea for a short story, I love that I can get a first draft pounded out in a few days, as opposed to the weeks and months associated with a novel. The essays are very occasional; luckily, I've cultivated some relationships with publications that allow me an outlet for those thoughts when I have them, and the comfort is that it's the work that bears the most resemblance to journalism.

For a sense of accomplishment, though, nothing beats finishing a novel. There are so many things that can go wrong, so many junctures at which the whole enterprise can sink, that actually making it to the end is something worth celebrating. And I always do.

Q) What’s next for you – are you working on another book?

I just turned in a collection of short stories to my editor. Waiting for word on that. And, yes, I'm hard at work on what I hope will be the next novel. It's too early in the game to say much about that, but maybe you'll have me back when/if it comes to fruition.

Q) Where can we find you online e.g. Twitter, Facebook, a blog, etc?

My main site,, is updated every day, Monday through Friday.
On Twitter, I'm at, although I must say that I'm still trying to figure out that world.
I'm a Facebook fiend, though. I have an author page, and if you're interested in Craig Lancaster Unfiltered (fair warning: It's not for everybody), hit me up at

Thank you - and yes, I'd love to know more about the next novel when it comes to fruition. Good luck with it. I'm reading The Summer Son now and I'm really enjoying it.

Three Sisters - Review

There's a lovely review for Three Sisters over at Her Book Self:

"Three Sisters was a great summer read. Even in the short story format, author Helen Smith (Alison Wonderland) manages to pack in surprises and plot twists, creating a story that is fully engaging from start to finish. The characters are creative and multi-dimensional and I loved the unique personalities and talents of all the party guests. As a wallflower turned super-sleuth, Emily Castles was a wonderful protagonist and I'm eager to read more of her adventures."

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wall-to-wall gays in the Daily Mail

Brian Sewell complains in the Daily Mail today about the gay, lesbian, transvestite and transgender characters in Coronation Street: "where once we had no gaiety at all, we now, perhaps, have rather too much."

He seems to hold one writer responsible for it all: ""So is there some connection between the nature of the new characters in Coronation Street and Damon Rochefort’s open homosexuality?" and "Why shouldn’t Rochefort introduce disruptive characters and issues?"

As Coronation Street is a writer-led show and Damon is part of a team, he's going to have some explaining to do at the next Corrie conference in Manchester about why he has been singled out for the honour of been chosen as the subject of a rant in the Daily Mail.

It will be something to tell our grandchildren, I suppose. Does anyone have a copy of the Daily Mail so I can cut out the article and keep it? I don't actually buy it, I'm afraid...

Monday, 4 July 2011

Lovely Literary and Theatre Events - London

Polari is at the London Literature Festival tonight with Tim Arthur, Tim Brady, DJ Connell, Timothy Graves, VG Lee and William Parker. Hosted by Paul Burston. They'll be announcing the longlist for the Polari First Book Prize. 8.30 pm, Royal Festival Hall. £8

YARN present The Special Relationship at Concrete with Josie Long & Johnny Woo on Wednesday 6th July, 7.30 pm, £5

The Feminist Library Bring & Buy Sale, Saturday 9th July, 1-5 pm

The Miniaturists at The Arcola (five short plays), Sunday 10th July, 5pm & 8pm, £12

Liars League, Hot & Bothered (stories read by actors), Tuesday 12th July, 7pm

Launch of Men & Women at The Wheatsheaf with readings by Stella Duffy, VG Lee, Karen Mcleod and Paul Burston, 14th July, 7pm, free

Sandpit at The National Maritime Museum, An afternoon of games from Hide & Seek, 1-5pm, FREE

Friday, 1 July 2011

Freedom Hop Giveaway, 1st-7th July

My book, Alison Wonderland, will be published on 16th August. I had such a fantastic response to the last giveaway that I'm doing another: I have a signed advance copy of the book to give away in the Freedom Hop giveaway, 1st-7th July:
After her husband leaves her for another woman, twentysomething Londoner Alison Temple impulsively applies for a job at the very P.I. firm she hired to trap her philandering ex. She hopes it will be the change of scene she so desperately needs to move on with her shattered life. At the all-female Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation, she spends her days tracking lost objects and her nights shadowing unfaithful husbands. But no matter what the case, none of her clients can compare to the fascinating characters in her personal life. There’s her boss, the estimable and tidy Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison’s eccentric best friend, who claims her mother is a witch; Jeff, her love-struck, poetry-writing neighbour; and—last but not least—her psychic postman. Her relationships with them all become entangled when she joins Taron for a road trip to the seaside and stumbles into a misadventure of epic proportions! Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, this humorous literary novel introduces a memorable heroine struggling with the everyday complexities of modern life.

"Only occasionally does a piece of fiction leap out and demand immediate cult status. Alison Wonderland is one... Smith is at the very least a minor phenomenon." The Times

Thanks to everyone who entered - this giveaway is now closed. Thanks to I'm a Reader, Not a Writer and Simply Stacie for hosting it.