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Ali Smith interview

Ali Smith interview

In this Man Booker Prize 2017 longlisted author interview Ali Smith reveals which previous Man Booker winners were epoch-making yesses for her and that she’s chuffed to be longlisted for her novel Autumn.

What has it been like to be longlisted?

A lovely surprise – I'm very very chuffed – but especially to be on this longlist, in such bloody good company.  

What are you working on now?

I'm finishing a novel called Winter.

What are you reading at the moment?

America Day by Day, by Simone de Beauvoir, a diary of her four months there in 1947. ‘Whatever I think of American ideologies, I will always have a warm sympathy for taxi drivers, newspaper vendors, shoeshine boys, and all those people whose daily gestures suggest that men could be allies.’ And she writes really interestingly about the pull in the arts to abstraction after the war, especially in painting and music. ‘In this country that's so ardently oriented toward concrete signs of civilization, the word “abstraction” is always on my lips. I must try to understand why.’

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?

The ones that got away: Wise Children, by Angela Carter, and The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark, well, a great deal by Spark. Her name not being on that list is a bit like if the Man Booker had existed when Jane Austen was alive and just hadn't noticed Austen. But of the ones that literally won? I did a dance round the room when Atwood won for The Blind Assassin, and Penelope Fitzgerald's Offshore, JG Farrell's Troubles, Aravind Adiga's White Tiger and Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things are all epoch-making yesses for me.

Autumn centres on the friendship between a young woman and an old man, why do you think such a relationship is so rare?

I don't, and it isn't. Maybe it's just that novels about things which might be thought, from the outside, to be unspectacular, or even unfashionable, or apparently storyless, maybe get written less rarely than they might? Certainly we're living in a time when our culture likes to dismiss its older members rather than honour them for or even allow them their history and wisdom and experience. But our young lives and our old lives are umbilically connected. It's all always a matter of birth and rebirth.