Interview with Sam Smith

I'm supposing that it'll be OK to reproduce an interview I did with Michael Johnson here\/
Tell us about yourself-where you are from, education or lack of, family roots, some background.
My parents met during WW2, my father at first a bomb aimer in a Lancaster and then a navigator on a destroyer in the Mermansk convoys. He was Lancastrian, my mother a village girl from Devon. After demob they began married life proper in Blackpool, where I was born in 1946. But very soon afterwards my mother yearned for Devon and we returned to her village, Stoke Gabriel, on the banks of the Dart estuary. I never really fitted in there, got moved from the village school, and then was one of the first batch of 11+ passes to get sent to a grammar school two bus journeys away. (See Hate Mail -https://sites.google.com/site/samsmiththejournal/16-on-belonging ) My mother ran a B&B, my father was a warehouseman/shop assistant and they couldn’t afford the school uniform. The grammar school teachers, still wearing gowns and mortar boards from their pre-war private school days, made it obvious they didn’t much approve of us poorly equipped lower class riff-raff foisted on them. Seems like I didn’t have much option but to rebel. Also seemed like those schoolteachers had a penchant for caning me. Despite holding some kind of record for school detentions and corporal punishment, I managed to come by 7 O-levels before being asked to leave. I’ve never been able to work out if I was actually expelled, but I was certainly told never to darken their marble doorstep again.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I had always enjoyed writing essays and letters, but hadn’t thought of myself as a writer until 1968. By which time I had, on leaving school, worked as a gardener, on building sites, joined the Merchant Navy at my parents’ behest (they wanted a career for me, but I met similar amounts of bullshit aboard ship that I had at school, and so, after a few adventures, was asked to leave and was shipped home), couldn’t stand village life, got in trouble with the police, moved to London, worked as a scaffolder, got laid off in the winter and the Employment Exchange, seeing my O-levels, sent me along to Imperial College, where I was taken on in their Computing Science department. The work suited – I had enjoyed maths at school, had been way ahead of my year when I left, had even been doing calculus – and at IC I rapidly rose from computer operator to Data Control manager. That promotion was in 1969. Meanwhile I had met a girl, been introduced to her family and friends, and had been living in Chelsea, where many of my new friends were artists and musicians. I had no talent for the visual arts and was no musician, but I did so enjoy their company.

While working at IC my nihilism had also got me involved in drugs, had got me hooked on methedrine, even to scoring their prescriptions off some Notting Hill whores. After a couple of bad experiences I realized where the addiction was heading and took myself away from London, got myself a summer job as the engineer on a Torbay pleasure boat, an old motor torpedo boat, and did my cold turkey. Then a heavy swell one day meant we had trouble berthing alongside so all trips were cancelled. A girlfriend who had come along for a trip across the bay – I’ve told of this so many times now that it’s become like someone else’s story and I have to convince myself that this really is what did happen – gave me her new-bought book to read while she wandered out to the end of the breakwater. I sat on a rock and read the whole of Henry Miller’s ‘The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder’ there and then. On finishing it I decided that if I could write something as good as that then my whole life too would have been worthwhile. If I could write something as good as that and touch someone never met, across space and time, as Henry Miller had just touched me then that would justify my having been alive. That was when I first realized that I wanted to be a writer.

Of course it took me another 23 years to see a single word of mine in print.


How long have you been writing? Elaborate, not just yes, no.

Since 1968. First was a couple of poems about an abortion, but what I really wanted was to write novels, to draw the reader into worlds of my creation. I had been raised in a very reactionary climate and I wanted to pass on the lessons I’d learnt in Africa and India, in the war between India and Pakistan – we’d been ferrying refugees - and the lessons learnt from all the many different people I’d met. I wasn’t about to take up a monk’s existence though and I complicated my life around women. A junky girlfriend found me in Brixham and we ended up living in a caravan in a turnip field until I decided, again, enough was enough and told her that I was leaving. Whereupon she held up the local Woolworths with a pair of toy pistols. Another girlfriend inveigled me back to London and work at IC but I couldn’t seem to find space and time in which to write. So in 1969 I decided to run away à la Durrell to Cyp
Published 2017-11-02.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Sick Ape : an everyday tale of terrorist folk
You set the price! Words: 49,410. Language: English. Published: August 29, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Themes & motifs » Political, Fiction » Cultural & ethnic themes » Cultural interest, general
Two divorced men, embittered fathers, cook meals for one another two evenings a week. What ensues is a marriage of disgruntled minds, one wanting to rectify society’s ills, leading to the pair getting labelled terrorists. All within a book dedicated to non-terrorists and ending in one death and this book.
The Care Vortex
You set the price! Words: 51,030. Language: English. Published: August 16, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Themes & motifs » Psychological, Fiction » Themes & motifs » Legal
24 hours in a residential school for teenage girls in need of care, or - being old beyond their years and out of control - in need of restraint. Situation always volatile, staff always on nerve’s edge, life is mostly down to survival. Just. Perceived histories, coping strategies, profit-driven ‘care’...
As Recorded : Paths of Error
Series: Paths of Error. You set the price! Words: 96,090. Language: English. Published: July 23, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom, Fiction » Sports
As Recorded is told throughout in dialogue, gives us the post-war childhood in Paignton of all the 'Paths of Error' characters. This is Pete's story, and he wants to be more than his nickname, Sniff. He becomes a boxer, a lothario, a shady entrepreneur; even incarcerated he is dangerous to others, and to himself.
Constant Change: Paths of Error
Series: Paths of Error. You set the price! Words: 150,370. Language: English. Published: June 30, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Visionary & metaphysical, Fiction » Cultural & ethnic themes » Cultural interest, general
The second part of the Paths of Error triptych, Constant Change, sees another rebel - but of a quieter mien - searching for values to live by. Women figure at every turn of Blue's quest, which takes him from Devon to Bombay and Sri Lanka, to sixties London, a squat, and back to Devon - puzzling on the worth of all that he encounters along the way.
Undeclared War: Paths of Error
Series: Paths of Error. You set the price! Words: 83,880. Language: English. Published: May 25, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
This is what reviewer Deian Vincent said of Undeclared War when Paths of Error saw brief publication by Jacobyte Books. 'Set within a seaside town ... makes for bleak reading. But it showcases the interweaving of the characters and the images they have chosen for themselves perfectly. If Quadraphenia stoked your fire then you'll certainly get off on this ... Roll on books two and three.'
The End of Science Fiction
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 49,580. Language: English. Published: May 4, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Apocalyptic, Fiction » Science fiction » Apocalyptic
The book opens with a murder and the news that the world is about to end. Detective Herbie Watkins investigates this murder during the mayhem that follows the news. Throughout the tale is a commentary on differing reactions - his police colleagues and those nearest - and general attitudes to the end of humanity.
We Need Madmen
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 33,110. Language: English. Published: January 31, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General
Soper, another European tyrant, has been defeated by an armed United Nations, the Blues, who have become Europe's occupying army. Henry, a survivor the Camps, comes by the wherewithal to finance his revenge. Told alongside Henry's tale is the history of how Soper came to power and how he came to be defeated. (We Need Madmen won the Skrev Press 2007 Science Fiction prize.)
Eviction from Quarry Cottages
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 76,110. Language: English. Published: January 16, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
(5.00 from 1 review)
John Cox is killed. Wife Bridget hangs on in the tithe cottage. Farmer wants her out. Union offers help. Daughter Sarah watches. Adultery, betrayals, another fatal accident, a crippling, grief, care, clumsiness, canoeing, love... all follow. Oh and there's a rabbit, some hens, and a cat called Spud.
Two Bridgwater Days
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 75,420. Language: English. Published: January 2, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
Using the third person overview narrator Paul describes the background to those 2 days of his Bridgwater life which included parenthood, bike rides, drinks, fights, a stabbing and a robbery. As the True Stories included attest, events of those two days were nothing unusual for Bridgwater then.
John John
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 93,770. Language: English. Published: December 13, 2009. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General
John John's genesis lies in my having fallen off my bicycle and having briefly lost my memory. I am aware that amnesia is a well-used literary device as well as a physical affliction. But I wanted to use it to demonstrate what makes up an identity; and to build the history, upon which most self-identity is based, within the story. So does a man awake in a hospital bed....