Like for like
Scottish writer ALI SMITH has written her first novel, Like. It's her passport to big things, like.
Words: Ann Donald
Ali Smith stops eating her plate of moussaka. lays down her t‘ork. takes a deep breath and embarks on an explanation ot‘ her impressive debut novel Like.
‘Why like? Lots of reasons.‘ she says. ‘We go through our lives all of us thinking: “Oh that‘s like me. I understand that." or “That’s not like me. I don‘t understand that.” it means everything that happens to us in our lives. our basic experiences. we manage to translate back to the personal.‘
Smith continues animatedly: ‘lt's the same with attraction. It‘s what love is about. You match yourselt tip with someone yott are drawn to because they are different or because you become like them or \ ice versa.‘
The themes ol‘ likeness and difference are particularly poignant given that the lnvcrness-born Smith is now (‘ambridge-based. The move has given her a cool perspective on Scotland. its people and language.
like is a great word.~ she says. ‘Scottish l'olk use it all the time. We stick it into conversations where ('anadians say "eh'l". It‘s the most meaningless and meaningful word.’
Smith smiles and rcsttmes her lunch.
Ambitious but conl'ident. Like spans time. nationalities and romance. intertwining disparate strands and people. lingland and Scotland. the characters ol Amy and Ash — the connections and dil'l'erences are smudged and drawn into a poetic and moving whole that manages to question our outlook on all ot. the above.
The novel should confirm Smith‘s standing in literary circles as a rising talent. Since her l‘NS collection ol short stories Free Love and the Scotland ()It Stun/(iv .\lacallan l’ri/e brought a welcome critical press. Smith has quietly got on with her work. Since the move to ('ambridge. she has been unhindered by the hype she sees as inevitably surrounding Scotland- based writers.
lot a Scottish writer no matter what.‘ she says. 'liven it I live in (ireece -- which one day I hope I will m your imagination doesn‘t have a homeland. lt’s formed by la homeland] bttt you take it with you. I have no pressure on me at all to write but I think it must be quite dil’t‘crent for writers tip here. surrounded by all the hype oi “how Scottish we all are“.‘
74 THE LIST ‘i‘. M Jul i‘i‘H
’Like is a great word. Scottish folk use it all the time. We stick it into conversatimts where Canadians say “eh?". it"; the most meaningless anti ‘1 meaningful wmri.’ Ni Smith
Ali Smith: 'I miss Scotland in the healthiest way — which is to be outside it’
This practical attitude towards nationality inl'orms a great deal of like. Scotland is magnificently evoked as a country wringing with romanticism. yet tempered
by a logic achieved by the author‘s distance from her
subject. as this bricl' satirical passage describing Ash‘s return to her father’s Highland home illustrates: ‘(ilen .\loriston. (ilen l.ivet. (ilen .\'lorangie. (ilen ('ampbell. (ilen da .lackson. \Vill Ye \(t (‘ome Hack Aglen.’ do miss St‘tlllLIlltl.. conl‘esses the pi\ic- like Smith with a grin. 'liut I do miss it in the healthiest way
which is to be outside it. It takes going away from Scotland to realise the roiitance ol~ it. The romantic has always been at the centre oi Scottish people‘s dreams. their ideals. It's the place \\ here the small becomes the noble.‘
(iestttt‘ing to the panoramic \ie\\ of lidinburgh's east end she adds: ‘Scots are so attached to the past. We are born and bred in a country so utterly attached to the Past. that‘s how we tlL‘llIIL‘ ourselves. btit we have to build a future too. which is why the Scottish writing trom the last twenty years has been so important »- throuin ironising what we have and understanding it. we move on.‘
Like will add its own distinctive voice to the saute body of work.
Like by Ali Smith is published by Virago at £12.99.
The write stuff
Ann-Marie MacDonald is the author of an award-winning generational epic called Fall On Your Knees. NAME: Ann~Marie MacDonald. My confirmation name is Veronica.
PREVIOUS JOBS: I'm still an actress so I don’t think that counts. One of the most bizarre would be when I
i joined the militia infantry unit at the
age of seventeen. I lived out my combat fantasy, but it turned me off
' weapons for life. It was the first
year girls were admitted, so we had to sit in trucks while the guys sang obscene songs around us. I got the award for best soldier. I could orienteer in the dark and the rain very well, but nowadays I'd get totally lost. I’d like to say that I'm deeply pacifist now.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: After doing my training as an actor in Montreal, I did a year of debuting, then I started writing and collaborating on feminist/ political shows. I did it for years and then I wrote my first solo project, the play Goodnight Desdemona Then I started writing Fall On Your Knees which began as a play. It took me five years to write.
DAILY ROUTINE: I do try to keep to a routine and discipline myself to writing five hours a day. From what I can gather from other writers this is a common average.
INFLUENCES: The Bronte sisters, Bugs Bunny and John Lennon. I'm not an academic or literary crit type. Three books that didn't influence, but engendered a love of reading were Jane Eyre, Huck Finn and Little Women.
AMBITIONS: I’ll be very lucky if I can write another novel. When you start a book you get a horrible churning feeling of utter ignorance. It's a mysterious and murky place, you need patience and faith. I'd like to do more of what I already have — writing, acting and travelling.
FEARS: Well, I just got over a fear while promoting the book. I flew in about sixteen planes in two and a half months, which was great for me. My worst fear would be if I died before I completed my next book and some other person completed the sequel.
INCOME: Erratic. | get more than I need but not nearly enough. I owe most of my money to the Government. (Ann Donald)
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