Monday, 30 January 2012

Handwritten, Recognition, Memory, Friends

Scott Pack has started a handwritten project. It's fairly self-explanatory - he writes handwritten notes and cards to people. I received a card from him recently (see left) and I have written back.

It's surprisingly delightful to get a card or a letter in the post, right from the first few moments when you pick it up and try to guess who it's from. I also got a card 'from' my two newborn nephews who live in Switzerland, with photos and a message that read, in part: "We are very proud to have such a creative and intelligent aunt." If they continue to write in such terms, I shall be looking forward to hearing from them often over the years. The boys are my brother's sons and it's strange how I seem to recognise them, though I haven't yet met them, the way I recognised my daughter when she was born.

I also signed up for Stephen Elliott's emails, on the advice of Jonathan Main at the Bookseller Crow. I subscribe to dozens of blogs, including the Rumpus, the site that SE edits, but JM told me I should go for the emails. I have had four of them so far - one a day since signing up. They are extraordinary because they are so personal and detailed. I don't know how he gets any other writing done. I don't know how he manages to get the tone right. He writes as though we are old friends. Reading them, I feel like an amnesiac character in a literary mystery - I must know Stephen but who is S? What happened with the ex-fiancee?

If the closest I'm ever going to get to being Sophie Calle is sitting in my dressing gown in my house in Brixton, reading emails from New York from a writer I don't know, I'm happy with that. I wrote to Stephen last night to tell him how much I was enjoying his emails, and he wrote straight back to say thank you, which was nice of him. I haven't read his books yet but I will get them.

I have been thinking that I need to stay away from the internet to try and get more writing done, but I got the card from Scott because I know him from Twitter, and I got the emails from Stephen because I signed up for them online, and both have brightened my days. I think I just need to be more selective about what I read.

A while ago, like everyone else I know, I started reading a selection of newspapers every day online. But I'm going to try and avoid them - the comments underneath the articles are generally so imbecilic, even nasty, that they upset me. I'm also going to stop reading the customer reviews on my books for the same reason. Whenever I have come across actors or writers who say they don't read their reviews, I have found it difficult to believe them. But at some point, you have to stop looking. Reviews from professional critics are generally helpful but too many customer 'reviews' on Amazon, or IMDB or other forums, are anonymous and abusive, and they are not helpful at all.

I used to write long emails to friends every week, and call them often. I stopped a few years ago but I'm not really sure why - Facebook? Blogging? Texting? No good news to share? I have so enjoyed this recent correspondence from real people (even those that I haven't met in real life) that it has made me realise I need to avoid anonymous people and call my friends more often, or write to them. Why don't you do the same? Let's share the love.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Being Light - on the list of best books of 2011

Best Books of the Year
I was delighted to see that my book, BEING LIGHT, has made the Best Books of the Year list over at the New Podler Review of Books. Their longer review is here.

Roy Travers is swept away by a freak gust of wind while trying to install a bouncy castle in Brockwell Park, south London. Sheila, his wife, can’t understand why he hasn’t found his way back home. She begins to suspect that Roy has been abducted by aliens and enlists the help of Mrs Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation to find him. Sheila travels to Kent with Alison, a private detective. Together they build a missing persons advertisement out of pebbles on a beach, hoping it will be seen by the aliens who have taken Roy. But Roy was not taken by aliens. The truth is far stranger.

"Smith has a keen eye for material details, but her prose is lucid and uncluttered by heavy description. Imagine a satire on Cool Britannia made by the Coen Brothers… very funny." Times Literary Supplement

Being Light is available to buy online here:
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | W H Smith | The Book Depository |


You can also find copies in store at Clapham Books and Herne Hill Books in London.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Finding good luck in a bookshop

On Wednesday night, as you know, I went to The Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace to sign some books and meet up with Jonathan Main (who co-owns the shop) and Karen McLeod (who is writer-in-residence there).

I mentioned to Karen that the coin I had put under my doormat to bring good luck - on her advice - had been sucked up by a powerful hoover wielded by a diligent plumber (whose number I would be willing to supply if anyone in south London who is not superstitious wants a new bathroom installed and needs a good job doing).

I explained that it seemed greedy to put another coin under the mat to replace it, but I have been waiting for good news connected to my writing (I never wait for bad news, obviously) and had started to worry that, now the coin was gone, it would never come. If this sounds irrational, I ought perhaps to explain that by this time we had drunk three bottles of white wine with nothing to ward off drunkenness except a dish of garlicky olives and some chips with mayonnaise. And some prawns. Even though I had eaten almost all of the food, we were both equally drunk, and every so often I had to navigate back to an important point I was trying to make about the process of writing by shouting Giacometti! which would get me back on track. Still, at least I now know that combination of carbohydrates, fruit and protein doesn't seem to be particularly effective at restoring sobriety. Next time round I will try asking for a cup of coffee or a punch in the face.

But, drunk or not, if at any given time someone hasn't published one of my books in, say, the last two weeks, I start to panic that I will never be published again. You can imagine how difficult life became for all of us in the long period between my last book being published in the UK and Alison Wonderland being published for the first time in the US a few months ago.

Fortunately, while I was at The Bookseller Crow on Wednesday, I found a penny on the floor by the till and picked it up. I asked if I could keep it for good luck (let's face it, it might not help author relations to go into independent bookstores and remove cash from the premises without asking) and they said yes. I had brought along a home-made cake (gingerbread) as a thank you for stocking my book, so it all seemed fair and square.

The next day I received an email that contained very good news from my publisher. I can't really say much more, which is why I have given you seven paragraphs of nonsense instead. But I hope it will be another good year. I will be writer-in-residence at Black's private members' club in June. And... I have this good news, which I will share when I can.

I always pick up pennies for good luck when I see them, and I always forget to put them in a separate compartment of my purse or in a pocket, so I never know which are the lucky ones and end up spending them. That's a good thing, isn't it? It means I pass them on, and that doubles the luck for the recipient. I hope the penny from the Bookseller Crow brings good fortune to whoever ends up with it.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Alison Wonderland at The Bookseller Crow

Last night I went to The Bookseller Crow to sign some copies of Alison Wonderland.

The Bookseller Crow is a busy, well-stocked independent bookshop in Crystal Palace, London. It has fans around the world as well as support from the bohemian community where it is located. Award-winning novelist Karen McLeod is currently writer-in-residence at the shop.

The Bookseller Crow hosts a monthly book club as well as regular events at the shop to celebrate the book launches. It is one of the few bookshops in London to stock American editions of books and will order them for you.

If you'd like a signed copy of my book, please pop in or, if you live too far away, you can call and enquire about having a copy posted to you. They sell books online as well as in the shop, so it's easy for them to do.

Jonathan Main of The Bookseller Crow has an informative blog here and he's an amusing presence on Twitter here where, among other things, he posts pithy updates on some of the sometimes absurd conversations he has with people browsing in the shop.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Alison Wonderland - Winner Chosen

Congratulations to Meghan G who has won a copy of Alison Wonderland in the Dreaming of Books giveaway.

The winner has been contacted by email. Thanks to everyone who participated. I'm sorry if you didn't win but please check back regularly or sign up to my Facebook page as I'll have other giveaways of books and gift cards during the course of the year.

You can watch me reading an excerpt from the book below:

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Dreaming of Books Giveaway, 13-18 January

I'm giving away one signed paperback copy of the new edition of Alison Wonderland, published by Mariner Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

The winner has been chosen and the giveaway is now closed.


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

"Smith is gin-and-tonic funny." The Booklist

"A fantastical Thelma and Louise meets Agatha Christie adventure story. The dialogue is smart and the deadpan humour is perfectly judged." The List


Alison Wonderland is available at Barnes & Noble, the Book Depository and at Amazon. If you have an ereader you can find it in the Kindle stores in the UK and the US and in paperback in the UK or the US.

The giveaway hop was hosted by I Am A Reader Not A Writer and Martha's Bookshelf. I'm sorry if you didn't win but please check back as I'll have other giveaways during the year.

The Miracle Inspector: one of the best books of 2011

Best Books of the Year
I was delighted to see that The Miracle Inspector was chosen as one of the best books of the year by Robert Duperre at the Journal of Always.
"A fantastic literary exploration of dystopian Britain. Darkly comedic and unsettling."

You can read a longer review from Robert Duperre here (excerpt below).
"Helen Smith crafts a story like she’s the British lovechild of Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick, only with a feminist slant. And The Miracle Inspector is a powerful, insightful, darkly funny, and principled conception. It’s short on page length yet long in ideas, and each and every one of them will spit you out with your head spinning as you keep asking, “Why?” while making you come up with your own answer. Trust me, that’s not a bad thing.
"You can buy The Miracle Inspector from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Man in the Middle - Theatre 503

I'm looking forward to seeing Man in the Middle by Ron Elisha tonight, about Julian Assange (whose unauthorised autobiography was published last year by Canongate).

Man in the Middle is billed as a Wikiplay: "sourced from the public domain, refracted and redacted by playwright, Ron Elisha." It was first performed in Sydney under the title Julian Assange: Stainless Steel Rat.

It's directed by Lucy Skilbeck. Design by Agnes Treplin (assisted by my daughter, Lauren Smith). Lighting Design by Jo Town. Sound Design by Fergus O’Hare.

The cast are Olivia Carruthers, Jonathan Coote, Andrew Leung, Amy Marston, Paul McEwan, Ben Onwukwe, Jonathan Tafler, and Darren Weller who plays Julian Assange.

It's on at Theatre 503 in London until 4th February. More details here. Updates on Facebook here.

Write-up in The Independent here. Channel Four blog post by Matthew Cain here and video below:

Monday, 9 January 2012

Forkbeard Fantasy, Theatre of Animation

Yesterday I went to Forkbeard Fantasy's Theatre of Animation exhibition at the South Bank centre. Forkbeard Fantasy are an innovative theatre company based in Devon. Their members are a collective of artists who use film projections, animated objects and actors on stage to create surreal, absurd theatre shows that have influenced many other theatre companies and been praised by Aardman Animation and Terry Gilliam.

Exhibition photos from the BBC here.

More information about Forkbeard Fantasy here.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Alison Wonderland - new edition

A new paperback edition of Alison Wonderland has been published by Mariner today in the US. It's available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and in independent bookstores.

This edition is also available in the UK as an import on Amazon.co.uk and The Book Depository and in independent bookshops like The Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace, and in Hong Kong from Paddyfield.

It has already been spotted in a bookstore in Seattle (see right). Thanks to Kristi for the photo.

Monday, 2 January 2012

VAT on ebooks reduced to 3% on Amazon.co.uk

You don't have to pay VAT on paperback or hardback books but you do have to pay it on ebooks. This has now been reduced to 3% on ebooks bought via Amazon.co.uk.

Three Sisters - Favourite Book of 2011

Favorite Books of the Year
Three Sisters has been named as one of her favourite books of 2011 by Elizabeth at the Frugal ereader.

It's bonfire night in London. Emily has been invited to a party in the big house at the end of her street by the new owners, whom she has never met. Emily's dog Jessie has recently died so Emily is feeling a little raw and emotional. How could she know, as she left her house that evening, that she was making an appointment with death?

popular mystery series“It’s fast-paced, funny, and mysterious all at the same time.” Socrates’ Book Reviews

Three Sisters is the first story in the popular Emily Castles mystery series and you can buy the book for your Kindle in the US and the UK. The follow-up is Showstoppers which is also available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.