The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Margaret Henderson Smith
|The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Margaret Henderson Smith|
|Summary: We've followed the adventures of Harriet Glover from A Question of Answers though to San Marco: The End of the Road and when we heard that Margaret was making the first book available on Kindle we couldn't resist having a chat to her.|
|Date: 25 November 2011|
|Interviewer: Sue Magee|
We've followed the adventures of Harriet Glover from A Question of Answers though to San Marco: The End of the Road and when we heard that Margaret was making the first book available on Kindle we couldn't resist having a chat to her.
- Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
Margaret Henderson Smith: I see mums and grannies with prams and pushchairs waiting at the school gates all chattering about how much they've enjoyed reading my books and wanting to know what happens next. My books cover many aspects of modern, everyday life and certainly there is much for them to identify with.
I see women who have enjoyed reading chick lit in the past but are now looking for something a little different. There's a lot going on in my books to keep the reader guessing and the pages turning. A lot for those who recall with pleasure the heady days of youth, the silly schoolgirl pranks and adventures, the very first crush. For forty year old Harriet nothing's really changed. I see my readers identifying with her, living it all again; feeling every heart rending moment from the comfort of their armchair, basking in the relief it's not happening to them.
I see both men and women of all ages who love following the romance in 'soaps' and especially those who appreciate the humorous side of everyday life. I see these people looking for something similar in their reading, wanting to follow developing story lines as they twist and turn to their conclusions. These people never want a book to end. These people want a guaranteed series. These people are delighted to find that's exactly what they get in my books.
I see women browsing the internet and bookshop shelves. Women partial to reading a romantic story peppered with humour, women looking for a 'feel-good-factor' in their reading. Women not wanting to read a book, at least this time, dealing with illness or death or any of the many other negative, unhappy aspects of life.
I see people spreading the word. I see recognition by word of mouth. I see readers enjoying my books. My books are readily available, in quite a few book shops and in many places online. I see people learning of this and the gap of 'not knowing I'm out there' closing rapidly as readers get to know me and want to keep reading my work.
- BB: So 'A Question of Answers' shortly to be out on Kindle? Are you excited? And the big question: do you have a Kindle?
MHS: Yes I am very excited. This question of 'not knowing one's out there' is a very difficult one for authors. I feel the Kindle 'search' features optimise the chances for an author to be discovered. I am hoping the flexibility it affords, such as ability to change the font size, immediate download, far cheaper cost, will be the factors that will encourage readers to discover my book.
No, as yet I haven't got a Kindle but I'm working on it! For all of the reasons above I would love to own one. It's definitely a must for next year's holiday reading.
- BB: What's the future of reading, do you think: dead trees or electronic wizardry?
MHS: I think, in line with technological development enabling the factoring of computer-driven dependency into so many manufactured goods, for the most part we'll have little choice. Inevitably electronic reading devices are here to stay and I envisage this form of reading will dominate the scene. Already there are online newspapers available to download and I'm sure there is more of that kind of thing to come. I envisage all books will be available in this format. Indeed, research suggests there are already plans afoot for a huge commercial drive to this end. This is not to say, of course, that the written word will become divorced from paper for all time. There are many reasons why the printed word will survive. However, the jury's still out as to whether E-books are greener than physical books which, on the face of it, suggest a higher carbon footprint in their manufacture. It would seem to be a highly complex, ongoing debate added to by the expected proliferation of E-book users.
I envisage, as the cost of physical book production increases and the cost of manufacturing electronic communicators decreases, demand for the latter will outstrip the former and sadly for future generations books will largely become part of those rare and valuable antiquities of the past.
- BB: I really enjoyed 'A Question of Answers'. Where did you get the inspiration from?
MHS: In general we all get sent to school and in turn send our children there. If one ends up teaching one has as rounded an experience as one can get of the institution and I was constantly aware of the accumulation of material inherent in the experience that would provide a vehicle for story telling easy to identify with. Having taught both as a supply teacher and a permanent teacher in a priority area primary school, I was met with many interesting and inspiring situations. Thus the seeds were planted, watered by my imagination and fertilised with a good sense of the ridiculous.
As I progressed to run my own nursery I met with many single parents and parents who were at the time, partnered rather than married. Thus I decided to draw on the changed mores of society and the problems this could present when set against fading but still existent former 'middle class' generational attitudes where 'living in sin' and having children 'out of wedlock' was still very much frowned upon. This is the situation Harriet finds herself in and the basis of her enduring dilemma constantly raising more questions than answers.
- BB: Harriet Glover really touched me. Your portrait of her infatuation with Joris Sanderson made me ache for her. Is she based on anyone in particular and how did you know exactly how she would feel?
MHS: No, I didn't base Harriet on anyone in particular, I'm pleased to say. I wouldn't like to think of anyone living through the traumas she's managed to create for herself, though I've probably extracted from myself those character traits that more often than not keep her digging! The difference though, she finishes the hole and lands herself and everyone else in it, whereas I'll get half-way and mostly manage to get the soil back in!
It's very easy to transfer the thoughts and feelings that accompany romance to a fictional character. If we're fortunate we get to fall in love. Writing about it is a natural outlet for such an intoxicating experience. In this state, when just one missed phone call can send one's world crashing to deplete the mind of all euphoric trace, it's not difficult to extend one's imagination to know exactly how Harriet would feel given Mr. Sanderson's character and position.
- BB: You have a talent for delivering slapstick comedy. Is this the type of humour which appeals to you? How do you manage to get the timing so right?
MHS: This is a particularly interesting question since I didn't actually set out to write a humorous book. Having outlined the story the humour drifted in almost of its own accord, but yes, I have to admit to owning this particular kind of humour. In general there is, of course, nothing worse than laughing at others' misfortune. There's also nothing worse than being faced with it. Nothing worse than desperately trying to contain the consequential bout of hysterics, whilst trying to be sympathetic, as the unfortunate one winces in pain. No, there's nothing worse than having to cover your mouth with your hand trying to gulp it all away as they stare in disbelief at your shaking shoulders. But not if there's anything serious in the situation, I hasten to add. I laugh at myself, too. I always find it hysterical when I'm the one who skids on the proverbial banana skin.
The biggest surprise to me, though, in relation to this, was the emergence of earthy humour arising from vulgarity in some of my characters. Like Harriet, I actually have to admit to generally being quite straight-laced and I do find myself apologising to family and friends in advance of them reading any of my work. My characters seem to have taken on lives of their own with very little assistance and I can't go back now. As readers will discover, Rapping Hammer is as vulgar and crude as it gets and I wish my readers to know, if ever there was a character that jumped, without help, onto a page, it's him!
I'm not at all conscious of timing. The humour is a spontaneous by-product of the characters as the story unfolds and in that sense they create the timing for me.
- BB: Oh, dear - I can't stop laughing about Rapping Hammer! Where and how do you write?
MHS: My computer is upstairs in a back bedroom on a desk in the corner by the window. I'm looking out at large rear gardens, dotted with trees and bushes at the boundaries. The leaves have fallen and I can see the sea between the bare branches straggling the small gap between the bungalow roofs. We are a stone's throw from the beach. We've been here exactly one year and we couldn't have found a more inspirational place for writing.
How do I write? I spread all my plans, notes, and source materials out on the continuous run of desks either side of me. I have my dictionary and my 'Cassell's modern guide to Synonyms & Related Words', to hand. For reference I have the other books I've written close by, then I re-read all I've written the previous time until I reach the last line when it's like I've been running towards a cliff edge. Abruptly the writing stops and the rediscovery it's me that's driving this story forward suddenly kicks in. I get on. Fortunately I am a touch typist so at great speed I bash away just when the desire takes me, which is of, course most days.
- BB: What are you reading at the moment? What's your best book ever?
MHS: Just now I'm reading Alex Gilmore's highly entertaining 'Fish Sunday Thinking' a story about a trainee solicitor in a large London law firm who's wondering just what he's doing there. I like to read widely and particularly those novels that provide insight into the workings of professions other than my own.
My best book ever? Am I allowed to split this one please?
As a child it has to be not just one but the whole of 'The Famous Five' series by Enid Blyton. I remember as children we used to search the library shelves for them and on finding one we'd push it sideways to the back, keeping it hidden and well out of reach ready for our next visit. It seems very undemocratic now! Currently I think it still has to be Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'. This is one I can always go back to. I love the portrayal of family politics, the gentle humour and the style in which it is written reflecting the decorum of the time.
- BB: I think we can allow you that, Margaret. You've got one wish. What's it to be?
MHS: The eradication of poverty and its consequences throughout the world.
- BB: What's next for Margaret Henderson Smith?
MHS: I've just finished my next book in the Harriet series, 'Amber' which I hope to have published by arima publishing before the end of the year. I'm also planning on rounding off my blog posts in December to produce a second volume for publication following the first, namely 'A Flight of Fancy'; hopefully in print by the spring of next year. In addition to book reviewing and blogging, I will of course be taking great pleasure in moving Harriet forward as I start the fifth book in the series. Finally, I can't close this interview without giving credit to arima publishing, from the start they couldn't have been more helpful in enabling all of this.
- BB: That sounds like a very busy life, Margaret. It's been a real pleasure talking to you.
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