As I said a few posts ago, The Poison of a Smile is due to be released shortly but in the meantime I have a preview interview with author Steven Jensen and hopfeully after you read the answers you may just be inclined to seek out a copy of this book when it becomes available.
And so here we go, the preview interview:
After reading the first four chapters I’m intrigued. What can I expect from the rest of the book?
The nature of The Poison of a Smile has changed in recent months. Alatiel has become more and more important to me, as the perfect symbol of the themes I’m trying to express. Initially, art was highly important to the book; now it’s ‘merely’ an adjunct to a discussion of obsession.
Gabriel Holland is a haunted man. Alatiel and Gabriel have a shared history, and her shadow looms over his entire life…so why is he so willing to embrace Death once more? The Poison of a Smile is the story of his blighted past, his poisoned present, and his uncertain future…
Can you please explain the meaning behind the title?
Many of Poison’s chapter titles were inspired by the work of the surrealist René Magritte. I love the chosen titles of his paintings…I find them enigmatic and interesting. Sometimes I’ve used these titles directly – The Scars of Memory, The Enchanted Domain, The Treachery of Images, for example – and, on occasion, I’ve invented my own or combined Magritte’s titles: The Poison of a Smile is one such combination. The book’s title suggests deception, a lure to snare the unwary, a contradiction and fractured personae; all these things are the very essence of The Poison of a Smile.
The beginning of The Poison of a Smile is written in a female voice; why did you decide to write it this way? Was it hard to do so?
Alatiel began life as ‘Catherine’, the antagonist of my short story The Lost Girl. This tale was a contemporary one, and the backdrop was the underground Goth scene. Seeing as my natural passion is for Victorian novels, it occurred to me that I could recast Catherine as a Nineteenth Century anti-heroine and give her a bigger stage on which to play. Given the style of the books I grew up with, it wasn’t too difficult to write in a very prim and formal manner – as my character Helena Graham – and then have her ‘voice’ changed irrevocably when she is possessed by Alatiel. My favourite part of The Poison of a Smile is when this dramatic, insidious change occurs: everything that is wicked delights Helena-as-Alatiel, and she takes pleasure in the most exquisite, sinister expressions. This was captivating to write, and flowed easily.
Art features a lot already in The Poison of a Smile. Do you have an interest in art?
I’m very interested in art but my passion far outstrips my talent. Like Wilde, I’m more of a dilettante than an expert. I’m only a novelist by default, not by choice: ideally, I’d prefer to paint or compose music. Unfortunately, I paint like Mozart and play piano like Toulouse-Lautrec.
More seriously, while I admire fine art, I’m equally as interested in the artists themselves, and this fascination reveals itself in The Poison of a Smile. There are such great stories – great inspiration – for a writer in the history of art and artists: Caravaggio, a killer capable of the most beautiful and sacred work; Dali, the madman who ventured further and further down the twisted road of his surreal imagination; Rossetti, Romney and Waterhouse, each obsessed with a single face, repeated time after time in their portraiture. Their motivation was enigmatic and this leaves me free to imagine, effectively to ‘create’, when I think or write about their artistry. Behind every great work of art there lies a story, a myth we are at liberty to invent anew. For example, there is precious little in the histories to suggest that Antonio Salieri caused Mozart’s death, yet the dramatist Peter Shaffer wove the sublime Amadeus from just a few mildly suggestive strands. Given enough talent, any writer can create something new and wonderful from the tales told of great men and women.
A little way in there is a story within the story about Alexandre and Alienor. I personally think it sounds like a great story, something I would definitely read. Would you ever consider expanding on it, perhaps making it into a novel?
The episode is based on a Native American legend. It relates how two lovers kill themselves and, after death, their cries to each other are lost to the wind and they don’t recognise one another’s names anymore. This terrible, tragic and poignant state is hinted at in Susan Hill’s renowned ghost story The Woman in Black – two spirits, mother and child, haunt the same location but there is no happy reunion; hence, the vengeful, vain and hate-filled haunting. A haunted place is sometimes a wasteland of forlorn and wretched hope.
I think that, in general, good ghost stories are basically simple. They depend on the creation and maintenance of atmosphere; as such, brevity is key. Many of the best ghost stories are novellas and that, I feel, is telling. The author Colin Wilson wrote about Sheridan Le Fanu’s stories: ‘They are the kind of ghosts one might hear of in ancient ballads’; that remark suggests to me that good supernatural fiction is analogous to songs or poems. Ghost stories have a kind of rhythm in their structure – the whole subject, real and fictional, is based on the idea of ‘returning’ in any case – and the finest of these tales haunt the mind in much the same way as an effective chorus or stanza remains in our memories long after we have experienced them. Essentially, a ghost story is a spell cast over the reader by the author; traditionally, spells are ‘words of power’, songs or poems. It’s just a matter of arranging the right words in the right order, but with a non-linear quality to the lines. We imagine that a song flows or that good, poetic and resonant prose has a kind of ‘aromatic’ quality, an ethereal something which drifts, smoke-like, between and around the lines spoken, written or read. Poets, composers, and writers are the heirs of magicians.
Describe your book in one word.
Describe your book in ten words.
What if the one you love longed for your death?
When can we expect The Poison of a Smile to be released?
The book will be published in the fall (October or November), and will be available from Amazon, Smashwords and other outlets, in print and e-book formats.
Preorder enquires can be directed to:
Any last words you would like to share?
I would like to thank all those kind people who supported and encouraged me, at Authonomy and Inkpop. Thank you too, Mandy.
Many thanks to Steven for participating in this preview interview. Steven, I wish you all the best for the future and fingers crossed your sales go through the roof 🙂