Helen Smart was born in Oxford in 1957 and was brought to Australia as a mere babe in arms that same year. She lived in Adelaide until her mid-teens, with short stints in Connecticut and the UK, then her family moved to Victoria, where she has lived ever since. She studied History (mainly 19th century British and Chinese) and Mandarin at Melbourne University, was a musician for some years and now (having blown away any chance of a postgrad degree or academic career) works for the IT department of a small non-profit organization. Helen blogs at The Cast Iron Balcony; she also contributes to the group blogs Larvatus Prodeo and Hoyden About Town.
Why do you blog? > I love to write, and I think I'm good at it; but I can't generate fiction to save my life, and I torpedoed any academic career after my BA (Hons), and never studied journalism, so blogging is the avenue that's open to me.
What has been your best blogging experience? > When I was going through a rough patch 'IRL', and I was plugging away as a beginning blogger on Blogspot, I got an email from Barista. Not just any old blogger, you understand, but the blogger we all looked up to and adored (and still do), winner of numerous blog awards. 'Here's a space for the Cast Iron Balcony on my shared server, and here's a Typepad login, go for it.' I've never forgotten this wonderful affirmation.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Don't be like me and overthink everything. If you see something in the news or elsewhere that gets you going, just bang out a post even if you don't publish it. You can always come back to it in the cold light of day and edit it.
What are your favourite blogs? > I have many favourite blogs, so these are three of my favourite blogs, rather than my three favourites... I Blame the Patriarchy. Yes, she has her faults, but the Spinster Aunt has a great way with the written word. She's a radical feminist Peg Bracken for the 21st century. Barista. If you're going to overthink, do it like this. Crooked Timber. They've continued my education for the last few years – and they're a lot of fun as well.
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Any Australian public intellectuals who have maintained their support for feminism, for the environment and/or for a non-neoliberal world view in the face of the mockery and derision that has been meted out to them in the last 20 years.
What are you reading at the moment? > The Corrections, by Jonathon Franzen. I like (tragic)-comedies of manners – unlike most bloggers I'm not very big on fantasy or SF.
Who are your cultural heroes? > Post-punk and alt-country singer-songwriters. And the people who put their bodies on the line to save old-growth forests.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > What a terrible question! I think by the age of 50 most of us have a truckload of 'favourites'. I should mention Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy – I did say I'm not too big on fantasy, but he nearly turned me. Another big favourite is the little-known Australian writer David Foster's postal pastoral Dog Rock and its companion The Pale Blue Crochet Coathanger Cover. I think he evokes Australian speech like no one else.
What is your favourite poem? > Wilfrid Owen's 'Futility'. Makes me cry buckets.
What is your favourite movie? > Again, how can you have a favourite after living for a few years? I'll go with the Coen brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > When I was seventeen I read Peter Singer's Animal Liberation and became vegetarian forthwith. I'm not any more, and I'm trying to gear up mentally to go back to it.
Who are your political heroes? > Bob Brown and Christine Milne, both Greens parliamentarians who have a hard row to hoe and do it very well.
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > I'd initiate a major nation-building project, similar to the Snowy River Project, but it would be to foster different kinds of renewable energy on a large scale all over the country.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Overpopulation and climate change.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > I don't think it's possible for humans to assess that from our historical vantage point.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Old age and treachery overcome youth and skill every time.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > It would be possible, but exhausting. Being in a long-term relationship with anyone is exhausting enough.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Integrity - if that's not too diffuse.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Humourlessness.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Playing the poker machines, or pokies as we call them in Australia. Boring as hell and the house always wins. Why don't people go and see a movie and buy a book instead? The pokies room at our main casino is like a vision of hell.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > Climate change. I think about it literally every day.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > I'd love to live in a big, thick forest somewhere in the Errinundra Plateau – and the recent bushfires have demonstrated that that's really not a good idea, thereby proving you should always be careful what you wish for.
What would your ideal holiday be? > It changes with your life stages, I find. When young I loved backpacking and being very independent. Now, I'd love a few weeks in some beautiful spot where I didn't have to be responsible for anyone else, and with no bedbugs.
What do you like doing in your spare time? > Reading, reading, reading, playing acoustic guitar, reading, and walking - preferably with a dog!
What is your most treasured possession? > My drum kit, which is now 25 years old and is a birchwood Pearl DLX series. Its sound has mellowed over the years.
What talent would you most like to have? > Fiction writing. Or, perhaps, mathematics.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Now that Father Ted's gone (sniff), it would be Dylan Moran.
Who are your sporting heroes? > The horses that do the hard work in all the equestrian sports while the humans get the glory and riches.
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > I'd wish for happy, fulfilled and long lives for both my children.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > Maybe I'd stop worrying so much all the time. Maybe I'd just worry about different things!
What animal would you most like to be? > I'd stay human, thanks; an animal's life isn't a happy one in this world. It depends so much on who you end up with.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]