Today’s author profile focuses on Liane Smith, who was shortlisted in one of our earliest competitions and whose story, After Hours Service, appears in our first print anthology.
Liane is a writer of non-fiction, children’s stories and literary short fiction with a thread of magic realism. Her first successful writing was for children’s radio, when she formed the habit of reading her material out loud; another good reason for writing in the garden shed. She has written papers for specialist journals and a feature article about autism, Communicating with Caroline, that was published in the Independent on Sunday. Her recent short fiction publications include Never Forget in LitroNY Magazine, and Felix and the Pigeons in Flash Fiction Magazine.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself, and the kind of stuff you like to write.
I live on a lovely muddy estuary in Kent with my architect husband and a lot of (other people’s) art work in a terraced Victorian, built from stolen beach shingle and sitting in an ancient salt pan. The concrete walls refuse to accept picture hooks, so we hang the paintings in the rooms that have picture rails – just as my writing over the years has been pegged to the places I’ve found myself. They include an oil tanker that inspired a collection of children’s stories; a straw pulp factory on the Rhein that made good quality writing paper and provided material for a fictionalised memoir; and various clinical settings (as a speech and language therapist) that produced papers for specialist journals, a PhD and a growing longing to return to the freedoms of creative writing.
Retired now, I’ve come full circle, and local beaches and the people that move across them populate my adult short fiction writing. A collection of linked magical realism stories originated from my time living in an Andalusian village and I developed these during a recent MA in Creative Writing. The writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca have been an important influence on my reading and how I think about writing.
How long have you been writing, and what was it that first got you started?
Probably a piece I got to read out in class, when I was eleven. ‘A Maths Nightmare’ featured the eruption of simultaneous equations along a Euclidian fault line and a rampaging square hippopotamus – I won’t go on!
I began writing stories for children’s radio about a tanker ship called Bertha. Bertha sailed the seas when oil tankers were often small enough for shallow, coastal passages and, for a while, I travelled with one as a ‘wife on board’. I was soon looking for an occupation. My (meaningless) shipboard listing was ‘supernumerary writer’ so I decided to be one and, having finished typing up the crew lists, hung on to the typewriter and began sending stories to BBC Radio’s Listen with Mother. The stories were published by the BBC in a collection called Bertha the Tanker, still available second hand with an inflated price ticket!
What does your writing day/schedule look like?
My writing day begins at six, with a large mug of tea. Then the schedule disappears! I’m not a disciplined writer and my days are busy with volunteering, family and life – but when I am actively engaged with a project I make sure that my writing time comes first.
How did you find writing during lockdown times?
I found it harder to think and write creatively during lockdown, so edited material from my work-in-progress files – and attended on-line writing courses! I need deadlines and an empty diary makes me feel unfocused.
Tell us about the last thing you were working on. And also, a little about your very next project.
During lockdown I completed a pocket-sized collection of beach stories called The Punch & Judy Man and other stories, published in association with The Broadie Group as a not-for-profit venture in aid of Porchlight, Kent’s main homeless charity. Anyone interested can read more and buy a copy here.
I want to complete a linked collection of short stories, told mainly in the voices of women and set in a fictional southern Spanish hill town in the economically uncertain present. The villagers remain divided, several generations on, by the ghosts of the Spanish civil war. My next task is to write one more story and find an agent!
What successes have you had in the past? How do you feel when you see your work in print?
After Bertha, I had a feature article on autism published in the Independent on Sunday called Communicating with Caroline. One of my Spanish collection stories, Never Forget, appeared last year in LitroNY Magazine and a piece called Felix and the Pigeons was published in Flash Fiction Magazine. My shortlisted story, After Hours Service was published in the First Cranked Anvil Short Story Anthology and it was a real joy to hold that beautifully produced book in my hand and find my story inside it.
I’m always astonished and delighted to see my work in print and imagine people other than my patient family reading my writing.
Do you have a particular place where you go to write?
I begin writing around six in the morning at the kitchen table or on our small garden terrace, with a large mug of tea. Later, when the house is up and about I write in a shed with a table and chairs, a radio that plays cassettes, some banished cushions and a rag rug. I have to remove myself mentally and physically from everyday distractions – fresh air, bird song and the creak of the holly tree mostly do the trick.
Do you have any tips or advice for other writers?
I start the day writing morning pages: Dorothea Brande’s great discipline, in Becoming a Writer. Just scribbling without stopping for fifteen minutes gets my creative brain out of bed. My story ideas mostly generate from a character in a setting. ‘Plot grows out of character’, as Anne Lamott wrote in Bird by Bird (highly recommended). You need to find out what each character cares about to discover what’s at stake – and create the tension that makes the reader turn the pages.
Finally, some quick fire answers:
Planner or pantser? Definitely pantser!
Computer, pen & paper, or typewriter? A square ruled pad and a 2B pencil for morning pages scribbling and first drafts. Then the laptop, but printing off frequent drafts to edit on paper.
Do you write every day? Yes – morning pages – and I make the appointment with myself to write later, as Brande suggests, but don’t always keep it.
Do you have a daily/weekly word count target? Absolutely not! I think that would keep my scribble pad locked in the drawer.