Meet Eve Smith Author Of Off Target

In a world where genetic engineering is commonplace, how far would you go to have a baby? Eve Smith explores this question in her new, pacy speculative thriller Off Target where you have to be careful for what you wish for because it might come true ...

Read an exclusive extract below and find out why Eve is attracted to writing about pregnancy and motherhood; her personal view on genetic engineering; her two tips for authors; and what she wants to read next!

Front cover of Off Target by Eve Smith

TW: Congratulations on the publication of your second novel, Off Target. Like The Waiting Rooms it's speculative fiction that deals with pregnancy and motherhood. What is it about those subjects that interest you? 

ES: Thank you! I think for the majority of parents, be it mothers or fathers, having children is one of the most intense and life-changing experiences we go through. And with the joy that a child brings, also come moments of fear and self-doubt as we make decisions for another human being that perhaps we don’t always get right.These are rich pickings for writers.

In my books, I like to drop familiar family dynamics into a near-future world where the rules have changed, then see what happens. Apply even more pressure. Because that’s what makes a tense, compelling read. I want readers to recognise my characters and empathise with them, even in extraordinary situations. To ask themselves: if this actually happened, what on earth would I do?!

TW: You paint a vivid picture of a world where genetic engineering, and its terrible side effects, are the norm. Where did your inspiration come from?

ES: Well, I’m a bit of an amateur science geek so I follow new developments. I do a lot of research around subjects I’m interested in. So I knew even before my first novel was published that I wanted to write about genetic technologies next. I believe genetics will, ultimately, affect every part of our lives: what we eat and drink, the medicines we take and even something as fundamental as how we bring children into the world. And that’s when the idea for Off Target took hold: when I learned how genetic screening and editing may revolutionise the way we have babies. And how soon this might happen. 

So I wondered: how far would a person go, morally and medically, to conceive? What sacrifices might they be prepared to make, or what rules to break, to have their own healthy biological child? And what might the repercussions be?

TW: Do you think that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased readers' appetites for speculative fiction?

ES: The Waiting Rooms was launched after the first national lockdown and my experience was that people fell into two camps: they either wanted to read every novel they could about plagues and pestilence or they wanted to flee to romance and comedy!

I do think the sheer speed and scale of the pandemic and other frightening world events have made people realise that crises normally reserved for fiction really can happen. So yes, I think the pandemic has attracted a broader audience to speculative fiction, and I also think it has increased the depth of engagement with speculative ideas.

TW: What's your personal view on genetic engineering?

ES: Well, as I say in the book, I’ve been enthralled by the rapid advances in genetics that have enabled us to decipher our biological code, helping us tackle new viruses like Covid-19, as well as preventing incurable diseases such as Huntington’s. But I am equally apprehensive about other applications of this technology, such as making decisions about how our future babies might look and grow, and the widely-differing opinions and values being deployed to guide those.

History shows we are often ill-equipped to understand the longer term consequences of our scientific ambitions or prevent their malevolent manipulation: for example computing or nuclear power. And it is these unintended impacts and ethical pitfalls that I wanted to explore in Off Target.

TW: What was your road to publication?

ES: Long and winding! I clawed my way out of the slushpile after countless rounds of edits and weathering my fair share of rejections. I think the turning point was when I got shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award in 2017 for The Waiting Rooms, which gave me the confidence to keep going.
I would encourage all aspiring writers to enter competitions, because it really can help your path to representation. 

The following summer, I got my agent: Harry Illingworth at DHH and then the summer after that I signed with Karen at Orenda Books. And then it really, actually happened: The Waiting Rooms was published in 2020!

TW: You signed a two book deal. Was Off Target harder or easier to write than The Waiting Rooms and what were the joys and challenges?

ES: I wouldn’t say Off Target was any easier to write than The Waiting Rooms. Off Target had less rounds of edits, because I had already got my agent and publisher, but you still have to come up with a compelling idea, you need to put in the work to research it and then you have to craft a gripping plot that makes sense and comes together beautifully at the end!

In both books I loved creating the details of my chosen world. For Off Target, that meant thinking about all the different ways genetics could infiltrate our daily lives, and then working out how those changes might affect the plot and character development. I also love the way some characters just take on an impetus of their own, like Carmel. She just raced off the keyboard and added a level of humour that I hadn’t intended at the start.

My challenge is always not going down research rabbit holes and getting carried away… In this case, putting enough science in about genetics to be credible without overburdening the reader or slowing down the plot.  had to do some fairly ruthless edits!

TW: If you didn't write thrillers which other genre would you like to have a stab at?

ES: Maybe humorous women’s fiction. Or hard-core sci-fi!

TW: What are your two top tips for writers?

Number 1:  Don’t give up. I know it’s a cliché but it’s the most important rule. And to support that, get yourself a writing tribe so you can encourage each other during the highs and lows. As I mentioned earlier, enter competitions: a longlisting or shortlisting really boosts confidence and looks great on a cover letter.

Number 2: Listen to feedback about your writing that you get on the journey, from other writers, from rejections (if you’re lucky enough to get feedback!) but don’t let it sway you from your core idea if that’s what you are passionate about. Remember you are in control of the kind of writer you want to be, and it’s no good pretending to be something you’re not just to follow a trend: it will show.

TW: What's next for you in your career?

ES: Well, I hope a few more book sales in a few more countries! And of course, like most writers, I’d love to see one of the books adapted for screen, and to be a part of that process: that would be a dream come true.

Quick fire questions:

TW: Book on your bedside table? 

ES: Nomadland by Jessica Bruder. I strongly recommend it.

TW: Book you really want to read?

ES: Whatever Margaret Atwood writes next. (note from eds - us too).

TW: Favourite book of all time?

ES: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I loved that book, it really moved me. It goes to the heart of motherhood and humanity, and the writing is exquisite.

TW: Book you never got round to finishing?

ES: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. And I really need to remedy that.

TW: Bookmarks or fold the page corner over?

ES: Oh, bookmarks, always! It’s a sin to fold a page!

Thanks Eve!

Photo of Eve Smith, author of Off Target.

Exclusive extract from the beginning of Off Target:

I’m just taking my last swig when the doorbell rings.

My hand freezes, glass against lip.

Have they come back early?

Wine sours on my tongue as the early-evening sun dances leaf patterns across the room.

Idiot. I swallow. As if Steve would ring his own bell…

Now there’s a knock.

Two knocks.


I lever myself up and squint at the security cam. A guy in a short-sleeved shirt and navy baseball cap is standing in my porch, clutching a small package. I think of those macabre leaflets in the bin, and my stomach tightens. But he looks legit.

Knowing Steve, it’s probably some enhanced wearable. I imagine hurling his new Smart Band against one of the empty squares on the wall.

Then again, it could be for Zurel.

I activate the mic: ‘Just a minute.’

I shuffle down the hall, wiping the mascara smears under my eyes.

I should fetch that box down from the spare room and hang all the photos back up. That would show him. As I turn the latch, the thought makes me smile.

The door slams into my face.

I stagger back, cupping my nose.

The man drops the package and barges past, his shirt straining against his chest, as if it can barely contain him. I glimpse a tattoo, the length of his forearm. He scans the lounge and marches upstairs.

Red petals spot the carpet. I need to run but my legs won’t move.

I hear him thudding around, opening all the doors. Adrenaline surges, and I rush to the SmartPod, hit the button and steady my voice to give the command. 

Feet hurtle down the stairs. 

I race for the back door, but a hand grips my shoulder and spins me against the wall. 

Black eyes consume a sharp white face. 

I point at my bag on the table. ‘Money, cards. Take them.’ 

His mouth twists. There’s a ferocity in those eyes: drugs? Booze? 

Something else. 

‘Where. Is. It?’ 

My phone starts to ring, its playful chirps now obscene. 

‘I…’ I swallow. ‘I don’t know what you—’ 

He clamps my neck, stopping my breath like a valve. 

‘The abomination.’ Each syllable, staccato. ‘Where is it?’ 

He leans closer, crushing my arteries. Black discs spin behind my eyes. 

And that’s when I realise. He’s here for Zurel.

More about Off Target:

An unthinkable decision.

A deadly mistake.

In an all-too-possible near future, when genetic engineering has become the norm for humans, not just crops, parents are prepared to take incalculable risks to ensure that their babies are perfect ... altering genes that may cause illness, and more...

Susan has been trying for a baby for years, and when an impulsive one-night stand makes her dream come true, she'll do anything to keep her daughter and ensure her husband doesn't find out... including the unthinkable. She believes her secret is safe. For now.

But as governments embark on a perilous genetic arms race and children around the globe start experiencing a host of distressing symptoms - even taking their own lives - something truly horrendous is unleashed. Because those children have only one thing in common, and people are starting to ask questions...


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