[Interview] Sam Smith

Sam Smith is one of the most versatile writers currently living and working in Britain today.

He has written and published over a dozen novels, among them, The Care Vortex (BeWrite Books 2002), The End of Science Fiction (BeWrite Books, 2004) and We Need Madmen (Skrev Press, 2007).

His poetry collections include To Be Like John Clare (University of Salzburg Press, 1997), Pieces (K.T. Publications, 2001) and Rooms and Dialogues (Boho press, 2005).

His sole nonfiction book, Vera and Eddy's War (BeWrite Books, 2002), recaptures a British working-class couple's experience of World War II.

In addition to this, Smith publishes Original Plus books. He also edits The Journal (once The Journal of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry) as well as BeWrite Books' "The Select Six" poetry column.

In a recent interview, Sam Smith spoke about his writing.

How would you describe your writing?

I tend to switch between genres… thrillers, SF, and mainstream… which is probably best described as non-genre.

And if poetry can be classed as a genre then that too is a constant.

Each book has defined itself. I may start with one idea, one scenario in mind; and then in the writing of it discover that the tale might work better in another genre…

Which writers influenced you most?

There are simply so many writers that I admire. Starting with, of course, Henry Miller.

In the summer of 1969, I sat on a rock beside Breakwater Beach in Brixham, Devon, read from start to finish Henry Miller's Smile at the Foot of the Ladder and decided that if I could create something as worthwhile as that, then my life would not have been wasted.

But I suppose the writing that has sprung from Albert Camus' The Outsider must be a principal influence. I've found myself attending IMISE conferences (International Movement for the Interdisciplinary Study of Estrangement), and lately have had work published in The Sons of Camus as well as in various issues of IMISE's Lo Straniero.

Do you write every day?

Every day, from about seven in the morning.

First, I check my emails (I'm also an editor and publisher, and work as an editor for other publishers) and if there's anything that requires my immediate attention I'll get stuck into that.

But usually I make out lists of work to be done -- first draft chapters of this to be written, a second draft of another chapter, rewrite of another, typing up of another; followed by the writing and edit of another book (I always have at least two on the go); then I'll switch to the writing of some poetry -- though most of that gets binned; and then I'll switch over to reading submissions to The Journal and "The Select Six," continue with any other editing jobs; and then back to the first draft of a chapter…

The working day ends when other responsibilities claim me or my eyes will no longer focus where I want them to focus.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Telling the truth. Always telling the truth.

Language so easily leads one to the facile and the fundamentally deceitful. Always I examine what I say -- even and especially within fiction -- suspecting that I may have misled myself first, my readers next.

How do you deal with these challenges?

Draft upon draft upon draft upon draft… Sneaking upon it anew time and again.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I'm angry. Over so much. This world is so corrupt and the majority of its people so without influence over their own lives that it brings me almost daily to despair.

So I write out my despair and my anger, all the while knowing that it won't change a thing, but in the hope that someone reading of my anger and despair might console themselves that they are not alone.

What are you working on at present?

My latest book is called The Friendship of Dagda and Tinker Howth and is about a leper colony on the Devon/Somerset border. I've been working on it -- on and off -- for three years now. It's yet to be submitted to any publisher. In fact, I'm not sure what to do with it.

The research presented many difficulties, simply because -- being a freelance depending on very occasional commissions -- I didn't have the funds to take me where I needed to go to do the research. I dealt with these difficulties by including them in the writing of the book.

My intention was, in writing of a leper colony, to include lyrical descriptions. What I enjoyed most was when I thought I might have succeeded.

And publishing being in the flux it is at present, no one knowing quite what direction book publishing is going in… I'm going to wait until I can do no more to the book and see where we are then.

Because there is no publishing establishment now. If ever there was. All five of my principal publishers are small teams or even one-man bands. Illness, a piece of bad luck, could see them disappear in a twinkling. While the bigger publishing houses are as likely to be taken over and the favoring editor moved on, their list shortened.

What has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Keeping on writing for 23 years without having had a word in print. And when in print having individuals from around the world write to me to say how much my work has meant to them. As Henry Miller did to me, to have spoken to one other across space and time, that is my greatest achievement.

How did you get there?

Grim determination. And a joy in language, in ideas, and in wanting to share that joy, that knowing.

This article was first published by OhmyNews International.


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