In Conversation with Ali Smith

Last week I saw Ali Smith in conversation with Jackie Kay through Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts.

Smith is an award winning author, with multiple Man Booker nominations and a Bailey’s Prize win for her acclaimed novel How to Be Both. Her recent project is one of much bigger proportions and began with her 2016 novel Autumn, which has been called the first ‘post-Brexit’ novel. The series will see four books, each named after a season, written right up to the mark of contemporary politics and current affairs, with the second installment, Winter, due at the end of this year.

Smith is incredibly astute and eloquent in her writing and no different in person – she frequently expresses quotable maxims, starting with ‘dialogue is what life is’, when discussing the style of her most recent novel and the relationship between it’s two main characters Elisabeth and Daniel. A reading from the book illustrates how it resonates with people – a bureaucratic trip to the Post Office had many in the audience nodding and laughing in recognition.

The discussion that followed was rich and philosophical; exploring how people are made of of who they were, and all the possibilities of who they can be. Looking at the importance of being ‘current’ in her most recent project Smith notes that we will always be pushed up against the moment, and the thing that allows us to expands dimensionally is knoweldge – the importance of books and reading an important recurring theme within Autumn. Daniel constantly asks Elisabeth what she is reading, telling her ‘always be reading something.’

Another stellar quote from the night was her idea that ‘imagination is the nation to which we will all always belong.’ This sentiment is a beautiful, unifying concept when thinking about a book which is concerned with an issue so divisive as Brexit, and the polarisation in political views that we have seen across the Western world over the last year or so.

Perhaps the best moment of the evening was an audience question asking the authors the most important books to them. Jackie Kay chose The Black Unicorn, Collected Checkov and Autumn itself. Smith chose Kay’s Trumpet, Collected Shakespeare, and ‘whatever I read next’ because books never end.

It was so lovely to see two writers who admire each other so much and are evidently close friends in discussion together, talking about incredibly interesting subjects. I was very excited to speak to Smith after the event and get my copy of Autumn signed. All in all a wonderful night and I’m incredibly excited for the next in the series!



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