Today I’m excited to welcome Claire L. Smith to my site to chat about her debut horror novella Helena (out now with Clash Books – you can find buy links in the end of the interview).
On the outskirts of London, 1855, mortician and funeral director Helena Morrigan struggles with her limited finances and the heavy burdens of her past. Desperate to secure herself, she takes up residence in an aged house closer to the graveyard, closer to the lost souls that sense her torment and are determined to take her place in the mortal world.
As she tries to tame and free the ghostly figures around her, she becomes acquainted with the owners of the home, the recently orphaned siblings, Eric, Audrey and Christian Tarter. Yet, the souls she wants to save are on edge as a horrific serial killer runs rampant, giving Helena a boost in business and suspicion.
Against her best efforts, Helena is suddenly thrown into a bloody mystery where new and old friendships are tested, innocents are maimed and a horrific family secret that threatens her chance at a peaceful existence and her existence itself.
And now, the interview:
Who is Claire L. Smith? Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.
I’m a writer and artist from Australia. I love the gothic horror and dark fantasy genres, both of which highly influence my written and visual work. My debut gothic horror novella, ‘Helena’ came out via CLASH Books this October. I also edit for the mental health awareness publication Peculiars Magazine and write a column for horror website Morbidly Beautiful called ‘Fright Bites’.
In regards to how I became a writer. I’ve always admired books and storytelling, and that really encouraged me to start writing for fun and as a way of creative self expression.
You’re being published with Clash Books – what was your path to publication like?
Yes, CLASH is wonderful! They were so kind and patient with me being a debut author, and I’m so proud to have worked with them.
In regards to my path to publication, I wasn’t expecting much since I’d been rejected so many times for so many different manuscripts, I’d just kind of grown numb and didn’t set my hopes too high. So the moment I got the acceptance email, I was so blown away. Trying to get published is such a long rough road and I feel so lucky.
Authors tend to be heavily involved in marketing to promote their own work. What kind of publicity have you been doing for your debut and what have you found the most effective in that regard?
Yes, although I got plenty of help from CLASH Books, I did do a lot of marketing and publicity for my book.
I did most of it on Instagram since I LOVE making moodboards and other visual content so I decided it was the best place for me to promote my book, especially since my it is very gothic in atmosphere and aesthetic. My plan for this was to help people get a feel for the book, it’s atmosphere and it’s characters and hopefully encourage them to pick it up. I think it worked rather well since I’ve had a few people tell me they went and bought the book because of my Instagram feed which is always so nice to hear.
What kind of research did you do for your debut novel Helena, and what was the most unexpected or interesting thing you’ve learnt while researching/writing this book?
Honestly, I think most of the research came to me and that’s how I came up with the idea for Helena. For example, I came across an article explaining how women used the death industry as a means of finding financial and social independence and agency during the 20th Century, or coming across the folklore about Ravens and how they are at times depicted as the damned souls of the murdered.
The rest of the intentional research surrounded things like the mortician profession, the Victorian era and all that other fun, interesting stuff.
What kind of books (or stories in any format) were the most formative for you during your childhood and adolescence?
I was always really into history so I loved reading historical children’s fiction when I was growing up. Along with fantasy books, I just found it so interesting escaping into a time/world completely different to mine. I think the few books that really struck me was ‘The Boy In The Striped Pajamas’ and the ‘Once’ series, both are about a child going through the Holocaust (cheery, I know).
It was the first ‘dark’ or otherwise horrific subject matter I really tackled through reading. It gave me a lot to think about, not just in regards to people, but writing. As a kid, I could also relate to their wish to maintain their childhood innocence in such dark situations.
When I got older, I got into the gothic horror genre with Edgar Allan Poe and Angela Carter being some of my first reads. I really loved the aesthetic and it’s something that still inspires me to this day.
What’s next? What are you working on, dreaming about, etc.?
I’m a bit of a workaholic. I have so many projects that I’m working on. I’m currently writing another novel (this time a dark fantasy / horror) whilst working on some freelance illustration work and other art-related stuff like drawing up designs for my Redbubble store.
I like to conclude each interview with a quick round of bonus questions, so here we go:
Your dream holiday?
Oh gosh, I’d love to see some of Europe, just to see some of the spooky architecture and museums.
Favourite writing snack?
I love peppermint tea and maybe a trail mix of some kind. I also consume far too many energy drinks for my own good.
In your writing process/routine, are you… a planner, pantser, or…?
I honestly don’t have too much a set routine. I try to write as often as I can, normally a couple of hours a day but if I’m too exhausted or overwhelmed, I don’t try and force myself to write otherwise it kind of makes it into a shore rather than a fulfilling hobby.
I think I’m a bit of a planner and pantser. I definitely need an outline and don’t like writing blindingly because I like to have a game plan. However, I mostly find myself leaving the ending undecided or incomplete when I start writing because I find the ending the hardest to get just right. I find writing the rest of the story with no exact ending in mind great for coming up with ideas for it and getting a feel of where and how it should conclude.
Do you listen to music when you write? (If yes, what’s been on your play-list lately?)
Yes! I really like making playlists on Spotify for my WIPs and published works, it helps me get into the mood of writing the atmosphere of the narrative and the characters. Plus, they’re always fun to make.
For ‘Helena’ some of my favourites songs from that playlist are ‘Seven Devils’ by Florence and The Machine, ‘The Only’ by Sasha Sloan and, of course, ‘Helena’ by My Chemical Romance.
I also just finished another horror manuscript. Some of my favourites to listen to whilst writing it were ‘House On A Hill’ by The Pretty Reckless and ‘The Village’ by Wrabel.
Cats or dogs?
Both!! Although I lean more towards cats because they’re normally more relaxed and chill in my experience.
Coffee or tea?
Tea! I only drink coffee for the kick, I can barely stand the taste XD
Thank you, Claire!
Please check out Claire’s book – you can purchase it from a range of booksellers, such as:
Check out previous author interviews I’ve conducted over the years: