Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight Claire L. Smith. Claire’s debut book, Helena, is out this month with Clash Books.
Recently, Claire and I discussed her inspiration as an author as well as how Gothic horror and visual art influence her writing.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
I really wish I had this epic, super villain-like backstory to tell but this is tl;dr version.
I was fourteen and we were learning about ‘suspenseful writing’ in English class and my teacher gave me back my writing project with a pretty good mark and a note in the feedback section saying how much he enjoyed it. I was an average student at best so this was one of the few times I’d really excelled at something, let alone something that I had enjoyed doing. It was a big ‘what if?’ moment and it gave me that little bit of confidence and encouragement I needed to write outside of school assignments.
It seemed like such a small, insignificant thing but looking back on it, it really made an impact on me. It also makes me appreciate teachers more as well since they have so much opportunity to make a difference in kids’ lives.
Okay, favourite authors! Edgar Allan Poe is an all-time favourite, along with Angela Carter, Sylvia Plath, Mary Shelley and Charlotte Gilman Perkins.
Congratulations on the forthcoming release of your debut novella, Helena! What can you share about this book? How long did it take you to write it, and were there any surprises along the way?
I can share that it’s coming out on October 13th from the lovely people at CLASH Books and that it’s about a mortician/funeral director named Helena who has the ability to see ghosts. However, this gift is more of a curse as a ruthless serial killer begins to upset the frigid, undead souls that haunt her whilst also drawing a large amount of suspicion towards her.
I’m too scared that I’ll give too much away so I’ll leave it at that.
I think it took me a good month and half to finish. It was one of those ideas I’d had in the back of my head for a while and I was desperate to get it down on paper (or word document in this case).
There were PLENTY of surprises to say the least. As I was writing it, I was having a really hard time and finishing the manuscript sort of became a part of the chaos. However, it was also a commitment to myself, a sort of promise that I wasn’t going to give up. So, the book is now a kind of physical remainder for me that light can come from dark times and that there is always a possibility for things to get better.
Your novella incorporates many Gothic elements. What draws you to Gothic horror in particular? Do you remember the first Gothic fiction you ever read or the first Gothic films that you saw?
Gothic horror is just a genre I really click with. I just love all the tropes and clichés of it. I also think it can be a very powerful genre. I remember reading books like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte or other similar works and just feeling so touched by the heroine’s story.
My introduction to the gothic horror genre was Edgar Allan Poe. I remember reading ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ in high school and was just enchanted by the tension and atmosphere of that piece. I think it also sparked my interest in horror in general, since I’d avoided it up until that point (I was the biggest scaredy cat as a kid). I then got into the works of the Bronte sisters, Mary Shelley and Charlotte Gilman Perkins, and before I knew it I was hooked! In regard to films, I think the first gothic film I saw was Crimson Peak and it remains one of my favourites.
In addition to your fiction, you’re also an artist. How if at all do your fiction and visual art intersect? How is your process different for each medium, and how is it the same?
Yes, I’ve actually just launched my Redbubble store which I’m really excited about. I definitely think that my fiction side and artist side intersect because I try to incorporate some storytelling aspects into my artwork and I love drawing inspiration from horror and fantasy genres.
I mostly work in ink and watercolour because I love the texture of those mediums, as well as some digital applications (like photoshop) to refine the piece. I’d really love to expand into other mediums like oil paints as well.
My process more depends on what I’m feeling more than the mediums. I started drawing as a means of meditation and grounding because it makes me feel present and calm. So, when I’m in that zone, I just draw to my heart’s content and don’t have much of a process.
But if I’m seriously sitting down to draw something for a commission or for a challenge, I normally start with researching for references, then I do some brainstorming to figure out the layout of the illustration/artwork before drawing up an outline. Then I go over it in ink pen before moving onto watercolour if I think it’ll fit the piece and if I want to refine anything or want to add colour then I put it into photoshop.
You’re also a filmmaker. How did you get started in the world of film, and what draws you to the cinema?
Filmmaking is definitely a neglected love of mine since I don’t get to do it as often as I get to write or draw. I think one of the first films that really sparked my love of cinema was ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Black Swan’ because I could see how the medium of film was used to perfectly (and spookily) tell the story. I find it so fascinating and become so drawn into the little details and what went into making each scene. Some of my favourite filmmakers have to be Guillermo Del Toro, Jennifer Kent, Ana Lily Amirpour and Ari Aster.
I started out mostly doing small jobs or roles for filmmaking friends and colleagues, although all that has been put on hold because of the state of the world at the moment, haha. Right now, I’m working on my screenwriting and looking into where else I can apply my skills in the industry.
If forced to choose, what’s your favorite part of the writing process: developing characters, establishing mood/setting, or crafting dialogue?
I have to say creating and developing characters is my favourite. It’s really interesting and fun trying to come up with different people, establishing their backstory and coming up with rules about how they act, talk and respond to things. Dialogue is also great fun to write, especially when there’s a witty/sarcastic character involved.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m in the middle of editing another novella (another gothic horror) about two little girls who get lost in a haunted house. I’m also working with author Haley Newlin as an illustrator for the special hardcover edition of her upcoming novel, ‘Take Your Turn, Teddy’ which I’m very excited about. I’m also opening art commissions soon!