My darling Piper was INSPIRED when she suggested that I is for INTERVIEW, because she sent me into a tailspin of inadequacy (never having interviewed anyone before), not to mention a huge concern that I didn’t have anyone NEW and FASCINATING to share (after all, you all know each other – and I refuse to antagonise by picking a favourite (yet)).
So when I stumbled across the following (incredibly dark and delightful) meme on Facebook one night, I knew EXACTLY who to ask for the honour – though quite what levels of grovelling I’d need to secure Helena Hann-Basquiat (authoress supreme of the most delightful ‘Memoirs of a Dilettante’) I had no idea! But then I could always just kidnap her…
Bear in mind, lovelies, that Helena is a razor-witted, hipster-cool, highly-talented Writer, whose words will either confuse you and leave you wondering what happened or will entangle you with stardust, opium, a striving for social justice (perhaps) and leave you begging for more.
So I sent her an email, badly explaining about the meme, and my mad idea, and I begged.
Wonder that she is, she acquiesced, leaving me in a frenzy of excitement to be here, today, INTERVIEWING HER – my first, Real, Live Author – and we WERE live, thanks to her gorgeous idea of conducting the following via Google Chat, so that we’d both be kept on our toes.
Lovelies, put your hands together to welcome…
Helena: Let me go to the Ladies’ and I’ll be right back. Minimizing a) distractions and b) the threat of peeing my pants.
Ready when you are.
Lizzi: Rightio. So. If it’s okay with you, I’ll copy and paste the questions and let you answer, then paste this thread in its entirety into a document, then make sure neither of us comes out looking like dorks, and send the result for your approval
Helena: Yes. That’s what I thought you’d do….also, my lawyer would like a transcript
Lizzi: Nope – I’m under a Data Protection Act (and stop distracting me)
When you were little, what job did you want to do?
Helena: That’s so funny that you asked me that — I was just recalling a questionnaire I did as a little girl. They were grooming me for some Gifted Program and they gave me I.Q. tests and whatnot — and they repeated these tests every couple of years. I remember that the first time someone asked me that, I said scientist — but of course, MY idea of what a scientist was likely came from watching Bugs Bunny or reading Doctor Jeckyll and Mister Hyde — which probably means I wanted to be an evil scientist. I have been writing stories since I could hold a pencil – so realistically, it’s all I ever wanted to be. That or a Princess of a Galactic Empire Far Far Away…you know, whichever’s easier.
Lizzi: Which leads nicely onwards, in fact – who do you want to be in five years’ time?
Helena: Is Scarlett Johannson an acceptable answer? Or, if not, then I’d like to be discovered for my proper prose — the Jessica B. Bell stuff — it’s far more accessible, and I do think it taps into a largely ignored/under-appreciated area of horror. So I’m not competing with the over-saturated vampires and zombies crowd. I’d love it if the Memoirs were something that the hipster fans search out — like “Did you know that Jessica Bell also wrote this really experimental stuff as well?” Basically, I want my own cult following, darling, is that so much to ask?
Lizzi: Not at all! Quite modest really. But as a widely acclaimed author, you’d end up under the spotlight and on a pedestal for everyone to see. Good things and bad will be said about you, but what part of your own character do you find most endearing?
Helena: Oh, I’d hate that. I hate having people talk about me. Ugh, what a difficult question. I guess I like that I take risks — and it’s not that I’m not afraid of failure — I’m terrified of it — but I like my ability to fall well. I never crash, I tumble, and I roll out of it and try something else. If writing doesn’t work out, there’s always biting the heads off of chickens.
Lizzi: Resilience cannot be rated highly enough, it’s true. That said, we all have to take the bad with the good; which part of you is ‘character building’ (i.e. something you’d rather was different, but in which you find some redeeming value, and so live with, grudgingly)?
Helena: I’m terribly outspoken, and sometimes it gets the better of me. If I feel VERY strongly about something, I’m going to speak my mind about it — and as I’m a writer, I have a tendency to do it eloquently and with great amounts of irony and sarcasm. I can’t help myself. It’s good in that I stand up for what I believe and for what I really think (I don’t play social games very well) but it’s bad for the same reason — I DON’T PLAY SOCIAL GAMES VERY WELL. And so my refusal to play those games exposes the people that ARE playing them and makes them uncomfortable, and I become a social pariah. Savvy?
Lizzi: Yes Ma’am. Received and understood.
Helena: That being said, I sometimes wish I could just turn that part of me off and be more social.
Lizzi: We each are a law unto ourselves. These qualities, even outspokenness and bald honesty can have their place! Think of the Countess Penelope, and the way she stood up to the assholes at her university! I daresay that’s some of your character rubbing off on her – and she’s got BAGS of it! She seems to have a heart full of vim, vigour and righteous anger – how have you managed to stop her from rescuing Jessica B. Bell?
Helena: Oh, Penny can’t stand Jessica — and it’s not only because Jessica’s writing scares her silly, or makes her cry — no, Penny once caught Jessica going through her stuff — I’d let Jessica out of the basement for her monthly bath, and I guess I’d turned my back for a moment and she snuck off to Penny’s room and stole Penny’s favourite eyeliner, and make herself look like Alice Cooper. Penny’s very possessive, and doesn’t share well. I think Penny’d rather Jessica just quietly go away.
Lizzi: And yet you’d rather Jessica be the big commercial success, rather than Penny’s Aunty Helena?
Helena: Yeah, Penny’s not thrilled about that.
Lizzi: She must be impressed at the variety of characters you come up with, though – which is your favourite so far?
Helena: Oh… I thought I was going to say one name, but then I don’t want to give too much away. I think one of my favourite characters is Varney (Victor, really) in the Bayou tale. He’s a small character — he suffers from a rare skin disease called porphyria that kind of gives him the appearance of a vampire — so he’s the butt of a lot of jokes and cruelty. And he’s not exactly a hero or anything, but he’s certainly fun to write. My villainess, Olivia Hereford, is turning into a hell of a good time to write as well.
Lizzi: Yes! This is it – one of the most incredible things is when characters start to take over and entertain their creator. What is it, though, that you find most exciting about writing?
Helena: Surprising myself. Those happy little accidents that happen when you’re writing, and you’ve got a clear plan for what is going to happen, but then you get to a crossroads and ask yourself “What if?” and you allow yourself to head down that path. I recently had an amazing happy accident happen with the Bayou story that I wish I could gush about but you’ll just have to wait and see.
Lizzi: Sounds delightful! I love it when an accidentally-on-purpose-plan comes together. Other than ‘Champagne-and-strawberries-on-a-Parisian-balcony’ elegance, what more do you hope your readers find in your writing?
Helena: Vowels, consonants, punctuation, and a sense of the absurd. I’m often complimented on my dramatic writing, and sometimes I feel people are missing the humour. Or maybe I’m just not as funny as I think I am. Or maybe people aren’t sure they’re allowed to laugh, as I’ll sometimes put humour in the midst of something terribly sad.
Lizzi: When you’ve been in a ‘writing mood’, how are you when you finish?
Helena: Sweating. Sore. Tingly. But still wanting more, even if I have ‘finished’.
Sorry, what was the question?
Lizzi: Ha! Delicious, and perfect really, to bring us to my final ask –
If you could harness the power that exists in words, what would you do with it?
Helena: Seriously? If my words actually had power, I’d try to convince some people with actual power to change things. I’m often very frustrated with the current state of our antiquated economic and political models, and the ineffectiveness of our so-called democracy. I often wish someone had the actual power to change things for the better. Also, I’d outlaw auto-tuning, and, as a favour to some friends, cilantro. (Even though I love the stuff). I’m nothing if not a generous and enlightened despot, darling.
Lizzi: And you would be marvellous indeed, had you that power to wield (apart from the cilantro (which I cannot take seriously when it’s not called coriander) because I also love it).
My thanks to you, O wonderous Dilettante, for your time and indulgence, and for this gorgeous interview
Helena: You just opened a parenthesis inside another parenthesis but didn’t close the second one. Just saying.
Lizzi: I closed it. At the end. Just saying back
Helena: Oh shit you did close it. Well played
Lizzi: Stacked parentheses are my FAVOURITES
And now according to the initial premise of the interview – that ‘FanGirling on Author’ meme – where would you prefer I hog-tie and drag you to?
[Disclaimer: No Dilettantes were kidnapped, hobbled or otherwise maimed in the making of this interview. Helena assures me she is flitting between several terribly sophisticated social events and taking advantage (wherever possible) of the open bars. She lives to write another day.]