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June 4, 2011 12:39 am

Small talk: Ali Smith

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Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962, studied at the University of Aberdeen and began a PhD at Cambridge before publishing her first novel, Like, in 1997. Her third novel, The Accidental, was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker and Orange prizes and won that year’s Whitbread Prize. She lives in Cambridge with her partner, Sarah Wood.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Hill Farm by Miranda France, And Also Sharks by Jessica Westhead, Novels and Novelists by Katherine Mansfield, A Bird Book for the Pocket by Edmund Sandars, and a lovely old copy of The Golden Bowl by Henry James.

What book do you wish you’d written?

The Legend of the Holy Drinker by Joseph Roth.

Where do you write best?

In the loft of our very small house.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

The front garden on a sunny afternoon in June, the apples getting bigger on the trees, warm, the odd butterfly or two, maybe a dragonfly, the swifts high overhead.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

What book changed your life?

A Calendar of Love by George Mackay Brown.

How do you cure writer’s block?

I don’t even try; it’s a good thing.

What is the oddest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I went to the top of Vesuvius and looked in.

When do you feel most free?

Every year in May or June, looking down over the harbour in Chania, in Crete.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

My mum said: “Tell the boys you’re a good Catholic.”

What would you go back and change?

I’d pay more attention in language classes at school. I’d take Italian as well as German and French. I’d learn to read music. I’d have kids.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

The wall fresco of St Catherine, by Masolino, in the church of San Clemente in Rome.


Can you remember the first novel you read?

Gulliver’s Travels.

What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson or Hey Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland.

What does it mean to be a writer?

I don’t know. I’m still finding out.

Ali Smith’s latest novel is ‘There But For The’ (Hamish Hamilton)

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