Sam Smith is an author, poet and editor-proofreader, based in Wales. He has written many books, and his poetry collections include Rooms and Problems and Polemics.
When did you realise you wanted to become an author?
Way back in the sixties when I was living in London, but I actually decided to take the plunge when I sat on a pebble beach in Brixham and read Henry Miller’s ‘Smile at the foot of the ladder.’ I thought if I could produce just one book as good as that and it had an effect like his had just had on me then my life would have been worthwhile.
Who are the people that have influenced your work?
People or authors? Authors are so many, both for good examples to follow and who not to. People would be painters I have known, publishers too; and quite a few editors. I’ll take advice from wheresoever it comes. Not necessarily follow it, but… I’ll give it a hearing.
What is your process for creating your work?
Whatever the work is, poem, fiction, review, I’ll start off in longhand – fountain pen these days, I can’t keep throwing away one-use plastic biros – and it’ll be black ink for the first draft. Which I’ll probably do on computer print-out paper. (When I left Imperial College to become a writer – I was then working on computers for the High Energy Nuclear Physics department – as a leaving present I was given a box of paper.) I then do a second draft on scrap A4 paper. (I’ve continued doing this from when my friend Dick Szwejkowski kept me supplied with scrap from Somerset County Council while I was out of work in the eighties.) When I’m happy with that draft, and it could have taken several more rewrites, then I’ll switch to blue ink and lined A4. I should also say that this isn’t a seamlessly continuous process, that after each draft I will have switched tasks to a poem, or to editing The Journal, or reviewing, and/or another novel. I will then take a red pen to the blue ink draft as I type it. I have RSI from years of manual typewriters so don’t like to use even electronic keyboards too much. When the novel is complete on the screen I will give it a screen edit before printing; and then another edit when first printed. Same for poems. Poems I will then test out at readings, see how they feel in the mouth. And I have in the past taped whole novels that I wasn’t sure of – to see how easy it was to speak the words. And I have been known to scrap a novel 40,000 words in, anywhere along the process, and start again. Best writing advice I ever had was that a writer’s best friend is the waste basket.
What genres / audiences do you create your work for?
Poetry, sci-fi, mainstream, crime, historical fiction, one war memoire… And then of course I’ve been blogging the last few years, and that’s mostly for fellow writers, and pretty much anyone on the left of politics.
Where do your ideas come from?
Often while reading other books. Not directly from them, but that moment when something in what you’re reading sets you off on your own trail of thought. And I’ve always got so many different things on the go that they tend to feed into one another.
What is your favourite work of your own, and why?
I really don’t have any favourites. Each book has presented different challenges, some of which I felt that I overcame. We Need Madmen was an assemblage of different fictional sources as narrative. Sister Blister was my first hardback, got put in for the Booker. Pieces came together as one piece and won praise around the world. I was proud of myself for ditching As Recorded when over 40,000 words in, and then rewriting entirely as dialogue. The Care Vortex and Something’s Wrong grew out of the techniques used for We Need Madmen and As Recorded. What I’m proud of in The unMaking of Heaven is in having written a novel without any human beings in it at all. But I suppose the two books I’m fond of rather than favouring them, and probably because of the amount of time spent on each in research and in writing, must be The Secret Report of Friar Otto and Trees.
What has been of greatest interest to you in the past week?
Only One? Seeing how Wordcatcher book covers were composed. Having an enthusiastic response to the poems I have so far put onto the map, ‘Poems of Place’ and again the response to them.
What do you do when you aren’t creating your work?
Walking the hills, or go for bike rides along coastal paths with Steph. See my children, my grandchildren. Do DIY for them….
What makes you smile?
Most things human; this world is quite ridiculous.
What question do you wish you’d been asked? And then answer it!
Do you enjoy being a magazine editor?