Smith announcing the 2010 National Book Critics Circle award finalists in fiction.
25 October 1975
Brent, London, England
|Occupation||Novelist, professor of creative writing|
|Alma mater||King's College, Cambridge|
|Literary movement||Realism, postmodernism, hysterical realism, New Sincerity|
|Spouse||Nick Laird (2004–present)|
Desperation, weakness, vulnerability - these things will always be exploited. You need to protect the weak, ring-fence them, with something far stronger than empathy.
Books are not brands. Some people are very willing to see themselves as a brand, but you can't be a certain type of writer to a certain type of person all the time. It will kill you.
That's the thing about fiction writers: what seems alarming or particular or perverse about them is simply the shape of their brain - they cannot be otherwise.
The conflation of the simple in style with the morally prescriptive in character, and the complex in style with the amoral or anarchic in character, seems to me one of the most persistently fallacious beliefs held by English students.
English fiction was something I loved growing up, and it changed my life - it changed the trajectory of my life.
When I was 21, I wanted to write like Kafka. But, unfortunately for me, I wrote like a script editor for 'The Simpsons' who'd briefly joined a religious cult and then discovered Foucault. Such is life.
Cambridge was a joy. Tediously. People reading books in a posh place. It was my fantasy. I loved it. I miss it still.
It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy. But maybe everybody does this very easily, all the time, and only I am confused.
Unless you consider yourself some sort of human brand, which I don't, you have to deal with the fact that different people are going to like different aspects of your work. It's not consistent. I am not consistent. But I feel OK with that.
People profess to have certain political positions, but their conservatism or liberalism is really the least interesting thing about them.
If you're going to write a good book, you have to make mistakes and you have to not be so cautious all the time.
In my situation, every time I write a sentence, I'm thinking not only of the people I ended up in college with but my siblings, my family, my school friends, the people from my neighborhood. I've come to realize that this is an advantage, really: it keeps you on your toes.
Novels are not about expressing yourself, they're about something beautiful, funny, clever and organic. Self-expression? Go and ring a bell in a yard if you want to express yourself.
It's difficult to tell the truth about how a book begins. The truth, as far as it can be presented to other people, is either wholly banal or too intimate.
I wouldn't write about people who are living and who are close to me, because I think it's a very violent thing to do to another person. And anytime I have done it, even in the disguise of fiction, the results have been horrific.
One thing you can't intend is how you will be read. I hear it said a lot that my books are about the 'search for identity', and this is said admiringly, as if I meant to encourage such a search.
I lost many literary battles the day I read 'Their Eyes Were Watching God.' I had to concede that occasionally aphorisms have their power. I had to give up the idea that Keats had a monopoly on the lyrical.
Any artist who aligns themselves with a politician is making a category error because what politicians do is not on a human scale, it is on a geopolitical scale.
When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility.
I wrote 'White Teeth' in the late nineties. I didn't really feel trepidatious about it. It was a different time.
Some people like just sitting down and being taken for a ride. That's a beautiful thing that fiction can do. But it's not the only thing. In television and film, people are ready to accept any kind of jump cut, but the slightest disturbance on the page ruffles their feathers.
I'm never interested in writing a kind of neutral, universal novel that could be set anywhere. To me, the novel is a local thing.
I think I know a thing or two about the way people love, but I don't know anything about hatred, psychosis, cruelty. Or maybe I don't have the guts to admit that I do.