Interview with Andrew Smith
Earlier this week I hosted a guest post written by Andrew Smith. He was also very keen to be interviewed.
For the benefit of my readers can you tell me a bit about your book which is being published later this year?
The novel is titled THE SPEECH. The narrative takes place in Wolverhampton, during ten days in 1968. A violent crime brings a group of disparate characters — some fictional, some real — together. The real characters, the ones who actually existed, are Conservative Member of Parliament Enoch Powell and his family. The fictional characters include Mrs. Georgina Verington-Delaunay, a Conservative volunteer; Frank and Christine, who are art students inadvertently caught in an undercurrent of intolerance; and Nelson and his aunt, Irene, who are Jamaican immigrants striving to make a life for themselves in an atmosphere of turbulent emotions and polarised opinions concerning Britain’s immigration policies. The speech of the title is Powell’s infamous Rivers of Blood speech which he made on April 20th of that year, and was considered by some a racist diatribe. Set against the 1960s background of ‘subversive’ music, radical fashions, and profound change in ‘moral values,’ these characters attempt to bring a fair conclusion to an unjust investigation.
In and around this unfolding plot we learn about the brilliant but deeply flawed Enoch Powell. We’re privy to his life — both public and private — leading up to, and immediately after, his infamous speech, and to some of his hidden motivations.
How long have you been working on it for?
The seed of an idea (to write something surrounding the Rivers of Blood speech) has been there for a very long time, but I only began to research it seriously in 2010. I finished the manuscript for the novel in the Autumn of 2015.
For how many years have you been writing?
I published my first non-fiction piece, a magazine article about a trip to the Himalayas, in 1990. Soon after, I took some creative writing courses and started publishing my short stories around 1992.
I’ve seen on your website that you’ve had a couple of non-fiction books published. What subjects do you write about?
I’m a keen gardener, if only sometimes in my head, depending on where I’m living. My interest in plants led me to write a book about the cultural history of some of our most common garden flowers. And the same interest brought me to write, together with two friends, a cultural history of cannabis.
What awards have you received for your writing?
I received a Gold Award for Fiction for my first novel, Edith’s War, at the Independent Publisher’s Book Awards, and I’ve received several awards for short story writing.
Have you got any other writing projects on the go?
At present I’m part way through a sequel to The Speech, following the same characters some thirty years later. Frank, the art student, has become an alcoholic paparazzo, he eventually married and divorced Christine, who is now a celebrated fine artist. Nelson, the Jamaican, has become a successful song writer and recording artist. Enoch Powell is dead, of course.
Do you see yourself still writing in ten years time?
Yes, but, as I think John Lennon said, ‘life happens when you’re making plans.’
How did you discover Urbane Publications?
Word of mouth. A man I’d interviewed for The Speech, Nicholas Jones, is one of Urbane’s authors. He suggested I approach Matthew Smith, the publisher.
Would you like to see any of your books made into a film or TV series?
I’ve always thought my first novel, Edith’s War, would make a terrific film. Many people have commented how ‘cinematic’ it is. But it’s a difficult chore finding someone who might even be interested, and then the long journey to final film. I sent the book to Terence Davies because he’s made films set in Liverpool in the 40s and 50s, which is where and when Edith’s War is set. He graciously replied, but said he was too busy to read it. I’d like film director Steve McQueen to read The Speech. I’ve heard he’s in the process of making a BBC series about Jamaican immigrants in London, beginning in the 1960s. So I’m sure he’d find the book of interest, but whether he’d consider it as a film? I don’t know.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love stories and story-telling, so I read a lot of fiction, see lots of films, go to theatre when I’m able, and occasionally to opera, or to any performance piece with a narrative. If there’s time left over and depending where I am, I’ll garden and cook, and then eat … lots.
Are there any authors who have influenced your writing?
All writers seem to read voraciously, especially when young, which I did, so it’s difficult to be conscious of specific writers who’ve influenced me. But writers I admire are: Ian McKeown, Julian Barnes, Alice Monroe, Mavis Gallant. And more recently I’ve been impressed by Ned Beaumont, Gillian Flynn, and Joshua Ferris. And totally blown away last year by a little known American with one novel to his name, Sergio de la Pava, but I suspect he’s an acquired taste, and probably more of a writers’ writer.
Have you got any good advice for anyone wanting to write a book?
It may have been Margaret Drabble who said something like, “the only secret to writing is to put your bum on a chair and do it.” There’s no magic, no insider information to make it easy, it’s simply hard work. You just have to choose something that interests you, and then sit down and put in the hours it takes to think, research, and write about it. That said, it’s a huge privilege to have the time and the circumstances to be able to do it.