Interview with Dystopian Thriller Author Helen Smith: ‘If you’re sad, I can make you happy’

Helen SmithThe Miracle Inspector

Helen Smith is a member of the Writers Guild of Great Britain and English PEN. She traveled 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 is the author of bestselling cult novel Alison Wonderland. She writes novels, poetry, plays and screenplays and is the recipient of an Arts Council of England Award. She’s a long-term supporter of the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture and mentors members of an exiled writers group to help them tell their stories.

Her latest book is the dystopian thriller The Miracle Inspector.

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Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Helen!  Can you tell us where you are from?

Thanks for inviting me here to talk about my book. I live in London, England.

Q: How did you come up with your title?

The Miracle Inspector is a dystopian novel set in England in the near future. England has been partitioned and it’s an oppressive place where schools and theatres have been shut down, and women are not allowed to work outside the home. A young married couple, Lucas and Angela, decide to escape from London. Lucas is only twenty-four but he has an important job – he’s a miracle inspector. The right to believe in miracles has been enshrined in the constitution but Lucas has never found one, though he investigates all the reports that come in. The title of the book reflects the story and the absurdity of the world the characters live in, as well as describing Lucas’s job.

Q: They say you can judge a book by its cover.  Can you tell us a little about your cover and who designed it?

The cover’s gorgeous, isn’t it? The illustration is by British artist Ian Dodds. I had seen his work and knew he’d be perfect for The Miracle Inspector. He and I discussed the concept and then he came up with the design.

Q: Can you tell us something about your book that would make me run out and buy it?

It’s beautifully written with some great lines in it. It will make you think about your life and perhaps be grateful for the freedom you have. Everyone’s going to be talking about it when the print edition is published on 4th September so you’d better read it so you can join in!

Q: Are there any messages in this book that you want the reader to know about?

I think the most obvious message – that the government ought not to keep restricting citizens’ liberty in the name of the fight against terrorism – is one that comes through quite clearly in the book. There’s another message, too, which is that without education and intellectual freedom, people aren’t properly equipped to deal with life – both Lucas and his wife Angela have no idea how to communicate with each other or who to trust, and they have very little understanding about the world outside.

Q: What was your most favorite chapter to write and why?

I liked writing the chapter about Jesmond popping up in the underground poetry club. It gives an insight into a side of life and how London operates that you don’t get elsewhere in the book, where everything is seen through Lucas’s and Angela’s eyes. There’s a clip of me reading an abridged version of that chapter on YouTube if you’d like to take a look.

Q: Why did you feel you had to write this book?

I had been volunteering as a writing mentor with exiled writers through an organization in London called Freedom From Torture, helping them tell their stories. All the people I worked with had been affected by torture – they had either been tortured themselves or members of their families had been tortured and killed. They were grateful for the reception in the UK where, like many other Western countries, we have a proud history of providing sanctuary for refugees. But they had left their families and possessions behind and so London didn’t feel like home.

Rather than try and tell their stories for them, I wondered what it would be like if it was no longer possible to live in London and I had to flee – not because I was in danger, necessarily, but because I wanted a better life. How would I get away and what would the reception be like in the countries where I tried to make my new home? That was the starting point. If that sounds quite serious and bleak, I have to say that it’s blackly comic and there are some funny lines in the book. It doesn’t deal with the subject of torture, except obliquely. I don’t feel equipped to write about it and would never want to read about it myself.

Q: Now, some fun questions – What deep dark secret would you like to share with us?

Ooh, if it’s a secret then I ought not to tell you, surely! OK… perhaps I should take the opportunity to confess that I have a super power. I can change the mood you’re in. If you’re sad, I can make you happy. If you’re happy, I can make you sad. If I were in a comic or a graphic novel I’d be known as Mood Changer. My life would be tough and exhausting, but ultimately rewarding, because all the unhappy people would come running towards me when they saw me, and I’d send them away happy.

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I have traveled all over the world but I have never been to Brazil. I lived for a while in Australia, on Bondi Beach, with some Brazilian people when my daughter was little. We had some great parties and they talked about Brazil with love and longing. I’d like to visit their country one day and see for myself how beautiful it is.

Q: Are you a morning person or a night person?

I think it has changed as I have got older. For years I would have said that I was a night person. But now work is more important to me than partying. I like working in daylight. I get up early and make the most of the day.

Q: Are there any members in your family who also like to write?

My Nana used to write stories but never had any of them published. My ex-husband used to be a music producer but now writes for TV.

Q: As a child, were you a dreamer?


Q: Last but not least, the magic genie has granted you one wish.  What would that be?

If I’m the only person in the world who is granted this wish, I’ll ask for something like world peace. If we all get one, I’ll ask that I will live long enough to write a brilliant book and be awarded a prize for it.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview! Do you have any final words?

Thanks for the questions, I have really enjoyed answering them.

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