Welcome to another Question Time With…! After being nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award a little while ago, I came up with ten bookish questions that I was really intrigued to know people’s answers to. So I decided to broaden my search for answers and reached out to some authors via Twitter. My guest this week is Helen Maslin. Check out her answers below.
Question Time With… Helen Maslin!
1. Have you ever read a book outside of your comfort zone and actually
enjoyed it? If so, what was it?
I recently finished Only Ever Yours and I absolutely loved it. Although the reviews were good, I’d found them really off-putting. It was described as – ‘A difficult read’… ‘Uncomfortable reading’… ‘An important book – a must-read.’ But a must-read is a very different thing to a fun-read, so I put off reading it for ages. I picked it up because it was my duty as a feminist – not because I expected to enjoy it. Then I whizzed through it all in one go. Why had nobody told me how much fun this book was to read? It was full of hair and make-up, shoes and outfits – coming so gleefully close to a glitzy, airport, sex-and-shopping book that it was almost possible to lose sight of how dark and terrible the whole thing was. Almost, but not quite. That was the shocking thing – it was almost aspirational. Even while it was horrendous! Louise O’Neill balanced everything brilliantly…and sooo mischievously! Although the book makes a deadly serious point, the whole thing’s written with an irresistibly wicked sense of humour. There were so many times when I was reading it with my hands over my mouth, muttering – ‘No – no – don’t do it!’ as poor freida brought about her own downfall over and over again. Of course I knew perfectly well that everything was so stacked against her anyway that her decisions made very little difference. God, I wish all ‘important’ books could be so deliciously dark and clever and shocking.
2. If you had to pick a character from any book to be your
mentor/guide through life, who would you pick and why?
Hmm…I want someone who isn’t too old and wise. Someone cool and fun and not-entirely-honest! I’m going to go for the Marquis de Carabas from Neverwhere because I love the sudden rooftop tour he gives Richard Mayhew right at the start of the book; and how awkward he is around anyone showing any emotion. De Carabas is actually quite heroic – although he tries very hard not to be. He outsmarts all the villains and the good guys end up owing him colossal favours. He’s extremely courageous, streetwise and sarcastic. Of course he always does the right thing in the end.
3. You’re trapped in a dungeon in a castle – in the cell to your left
is a character you have been dying to meet in real life, in the cell
to your right is a character you wouldn’t want to meet in your worst
nightmares. They strike up a conversation – what would it be like?
In the cell on my left, Sir Percy Blakeney from The Scarlet Pimpernel would introduce himself to Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and enquire whether she required his assistance in escaping from her cell. She would smile calmly and coldly and explain the importance of following the rules of the castle at all times. He would laugh and say ‘Zounds!’ or ‘Odd’s fish!’ and Nurse Ratched would suggest that his desire to escape demonstrated Manipulative Tendencies. She would call for the dungeon guards and suggest that they sedate him, but – of course – the guards would turn out to be members of the League of The Scarlet Pimpernel in various exquisite disguises. They would free their leader and myself, and we would escape aboard Sir Percy’s luxurious yacht. You know, I had no idea just how trippy this question was…until I started to answer it!
4. What book makes you think of home?
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. This was the first adult book I ever read and the first time I fell in love with a fictional place rather than a fictional person. I thought Manderley was impossibly beautiful and haunting – and I’ve probably re-read those descriptions of it every year since I was thirteen. To the untrained eye, my own home is a suburban semi, but in my head, it’s Manderley.
5. If you could swap lives with any character for one day, who would
it be and why?
I’d be Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Because she can FLY. And because she can fight like a ninja. She can speak hundreds of different languages and visit any country in a world in a matter of moments. Also she can fly – did I mention she can fly? And because I would love to look like this… ‘Karou was, simply, lovely. Creamy and leggy, with long azure hair and the eyes of a silent-movie star, she moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx.’ Ohhh, I want to move like a poem and have blue hair too! Also I’d swap lives with Karou because Akiva *sigh…*
6. Can you name five authors who share a name with you? (first or last)
Nope. The only Helens I came across when I was growing up were Helen Keller, Helen Burns from Jane Eyre and Cousin Helen from the What Katy Did books. All of them were brave, noble, virtuous and long-suffering – and they made me feel as if my name couldn’t have suited me less.
So instead I have made you this acrostic of some of my favourite authors. (Idea stolen from the lovely Gill Edwards of The Happy Reader blog, who made me a Darkmere acrostic).
7. Have you ever read something because everyone else seemed to have
read and loved it, and then hated it?
Of course – happens all the time. That’s how it is with books. Sometimes I’ve been underwhelmed by a book simply because the hype beforehand was impossible for it to live up to. I’m sure there are plenty of people who didn’t like my own book, but were far too polite to say so – and I want to personally hug every single one of them for that kindness. Why hurt people when you can just smile and say nothing?
8. What is the one book series you could not live without?
Harry Potter. Not very original, I know, but I can’t imagine anyone giving a different answer to this question. I was lucky enough (old enough!) to be able buy each book as it came out, without having to worry about spoilers or whether to watch the film first. I remember having impassioned arguments with my sister about what might happen in future books – and she came very close to working out the horcrux storyline somewhere around book four!
Much later, I read all the books to my children and they loved them as much as I did. When my oldest son was about nine, he had to give a presentation in school about his ‘Real Life Hero’. He gave a talk about JK Rowling – even though he was nervous about being the only boy to choose a female hero. His teacher was so pleased she made him a certificate with a picture of JK Rowling on it. Together, we’ve watched the films, bought the wands and visited the Warner Brothers Studios. There will never be a time that I don’t get choked up when I hear that opening music…
9. Imagine every book in the world is housed in one room, and that
room is on fire. You can only save five books, what would you save?
Only three people are allowed to sign Harry Potter’s signature – JK Rowling, Daniel Radcliffe and my publisher, Barry Cunningham. When I first met Barry and told him about my son’s presentation, he signed a special edition of Chamber of Secrets for me. I mean – for my son! So I’d probably save that one first – just in case I ever do decide to let my son have it.
Several books were so loved by my children when they were small, that I had to read them over and over again. Night after night – until I could recite them in the dark, without even turning the pages. One in particular had almost magical powers when it came to helping my children sleep. So I’d also save Dogger by Shirley Hughes.
My battered, coverless copy of Rebecca – with tiny pencil sketches on the pages that I did when I was an overly-romantic teenager.
The most expensive book I ever bought is probably Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Omnibus Volume 1. It’s very beautiful and was a birthday present for my husband, so I should probably save it. Although it’s so big and heavy, I could probably use it to beat out the flames too.
Would it be horribly vain and shallow to grab my copy of Darkmere before I leave the room? I couldn’t let it burn – I couldn’t! I only have one copy and it still gives me a huge rush of pride whenever it catches my eye.
10. Do you enjoy reading shorter books (200-350 pages) or longer books (400+)?
Yep. Both work for me. Catcher in the Rye is short and perfect. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is big and brilliant. I love books
I’d like to thank Helen for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions and I hope you enjoyed her answers as much as I did! To find out more about Helen and her work, see below.
Helen lives in Cheltenham with her husband and two sons.
Darkmere Summer is her first novel.
She has unnaturally red hair and thick spectacles.
She is generally described as ‘arty’…and to be honest – sometimes as ‘completely unreasonable’.
She writes because she wants to be Neil Gaiman. Or Sally Gardner. Or maybe Laini Taylor. Or E Lockhart would be good too!
Helen likes coffee and cake, Roy Lichtenstein’s art and Peter Lorre’s voice…
A castle. A curse. A dangerous summer.
Leo has invited Kate and a few friends to spend the summer at his inheritance, Darkmere Castle: as wild and remote as it is beautiful. Kate thinks it will be the perfect place for her and Leo to get together – but instead, she’s drawn into the dark story of a young nineteenth-century bride who haunts the tunnels and towers of the house. And whose curse now hangs over them all.
My review for Darkmere will be up soon.