Illustration by Nick Taylor

Ali Smith: “My role model? Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

“I can’t think why I ever naively believed Brexit was a stupid unthought-out self-serving money-grabbing aggressive lying mess of a thing to do”
July 18, 2021

What is the first news event you can recall?

Probably the moon landings. Most of all though I remember a paragraph in a local paper about a neighbourhood friend the same age as me, seven years old, who was riding a bike too big for him and was hit by a car. The size of the paragraph compared to the size of the thing that had happened.

What is one bit of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Don’t play Swingball in the garden that day in 2002. You’re going to regret for years what you’re about to do to your knee.

Can you teach someone to be a writer?

No. But you can give people the combination of permission and confidence that writers need and you can teach people how to edit.

Who is your role model?

Buffy [the vampire slayer] Summers.

What have you changed your mind about?

Well, Brexit, obviously. It’s been so successful, and so good especially for the fresh shellfish market, and so healing for everyone in so many ways, above all for Ireland and Scotland, and so profoundly anti-isolationist, and has so brought people together, that I can’t think why I ever naively believed even for a moment that it was a stupid unthought-out self-serving money-grabbing aggressive lying mess of a thing to do.

What is your favourite quotation?

“Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life,” Grace Paley.

What piece of music, play, novel or film last brought you
to tears?

One of my older sisters is learning to play the harp and sends me beautiful recordings of each new tune she learns. Listening to it, it’s like I can hear her think, choose, find the exact right notes, as she goes from string to string. It moves me more than I can say.

What do you most regret?


If you were given £1m to spend on other people, who would you spend it on and why?

At a time in my life when I had no money I lived in a house where the landlord charged us almost nothing. There was a nominal rent, but he came round every couple of months, we gave him what we had, which was always much less than we owed, and he didn’t care. He was kindness. He cut us such slack. He was a plumber, and a hat designer; that’s just a splinter’s worth of his versatility. I owe him my survival back then against the odds. I’d give the million to him. I know he’d use it well.

Will we see an independent Scotland in your lifetime?


Are you looking forward to a return to literary parties?

I tend to think I don’t like literary parties, so I don’t go to many. But the ones I do go to, we’re always nearly the last to leave. An uncoolness I’m happy to have.