In 2014, after traditionally publishing her first two novels, Perth-based author Annabel Smith opted to self-publish her third novel, The Ark, primarily because it defied traditional genre boundaries. This interactive speculative fiction “novel in documents” — with an app allowing readers to directly connect with the story — is innovative, bold and brilliantly realised (and a damn good read). At the time of its release, I spent a delightful hour or so interviewing Annabel over lunch at the Fremantle Arts Centre cafe, and immediately felt I’d met a kindred spirit.
On the strength of our chat, I also went straight out and bought her first two novels, A New Map of the Universe and Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot (re-released in the US as Whiskey & Charlie), both of which captured my heart. Since then, I’ve encountered Annabel at various events, and benefited greatly from the plotting workshop she presented at Rockingham Writers Centre, last year. As you’ll see, when she writes about her next novel in this guest post for Shelf Awareness, Annabel is not content to rest on her laurels — she’s always keen to set herself new challenges and experiment with her fiction.
Annabel has also recently started a blog in conjunction with fellow Shelf Awareness guest blogger Jane Rawson (another uniquely gifted Aussie writer), with the aim of helping fledgling authors understand what will happen in the lead-up to their book being released to the wide world. It’s called — delightfully — What to Expect When You’re Expecting… a Book. You can read it via the link to her website at the bottom of this guest post.
In the meantime, find a comfy spot, settle in, and enjoy learning more about writer and reader Annabel Smith. You are in for a treat.
Q. Annabel, how would you describe yourself as a writer?
A. Right now, I would describe myself as a writer constantly reminding myself that the creative process matters more than commercial outcomes.
Q. What projects are you currently working on or do you have in the pipeline?
A. I’m working on the first book in a series which is a contemporary take on an epic quest. It involves a trio of unlikely heroes joining forces to overthrow an evil priestess.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. Most of my books are in my study at home; the rest are dotted around our living room on various shelves.
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this because I know it’s seen as very gauche by serious book collectors, but I organise my books by colour. Books make a room look beautiful, especially if they are grouped by aesthetics rather than by other systems. I find it easy to remember where books are using this system as although I’m not generally a hugely visual person, I always remember the colour of the spine.
Q. What sorts of books predominate?
A. The vast majority of my books are contemporary literary fiction, mostly from the US and Australia. A significant number fall into the speculative fiction genre. A small number are memoirs by writers and books on writing.
There are a few books I loved as a child, like Anne of Green Gables, and Alice in Wonderland, as well as some beloved picture books from when my son was little. I have a handful of volumes of poetry including Anne Michaels, TS Eliot, and Pablo Neruda.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. Right now I am on a week-long writing retreat at Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre and they have an insanely comfortable chair which I sit in for hours in the evenings reading. * At home, I read on the couch, or if my son is home playing noisily with a friend (which seems to be a lot!) I read lying on my bed. I don’t really like reading lying down though. I find my arms get tired of holding the book above my face!
Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. All my reading at the moment is in preparation for the sessions I am chairing at Perth Writers’ Festival. I’ve just finished Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which was an astonishing work of historical fiction which rendered in heartbreaking detail a very dark period in Chinese history. I’m also reading two non-fiction books about Communist China, which are quite outside my usual reading comfort zone but are both fascinating; these are Mei Fong’s One Child, and Madeleine O’Dea’s The Phoenix Years. Over the last two nights I positively hoovered up Jessie Burton’s The Muse which was a wonderful page turner and an interesting exploration of creativity. *
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. For almost twenty years I have been re-reading Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto and in all that time it has never ceased to beguile me so on those grounds I would call that my favourite book, with Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Don DeLillo’s White Noise and Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden also finding a place on the podium! At this stage it seems likely that Hanya Yanigahara’s A Little Life will become an all-time fave.
I am a rusted-on fan of Kazuo Ishiguro; I’ve read and loved everything he’s written. I’ve been reading, enjoying and learning from writers like Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion and Jonathan Franzen for many years. More recently I’ve discovered new favourites including Louise Erdrich, Patrick deWitt, and Jeff VanderMeer.
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
A. I’m not overly attached to books as objects; I love them for what’s inside them and almost all the books in my collection could be replaced. However there are a few which have great sentimental and personal value. One of these is The Virago Book of Women Travellers, edited by Mary Morris, which I read whilst travelling around Europe aged 21. It was my first time navigating the wide world alone and I was frightened and uncomfortable much of the time. The true stories Morris collected of other women’s travels gave me such courage and succour. I also have a much-underlined copy of Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home which felt instrumental in my journey to becoming a writer. I wrote about it here.
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. I had the great pleasure of hearing Elizabeth Gilbert speak about creativity at Perth Writers’ Festival a couple of years ago, and of meeting her very briefly afterwards. She was incredibly warm and inspiring and I have wanted to adopt her as my big sister/mentor/friend/confidante ever since.
Cheryl Strayed’s collection of agony aunt letters Tiny Beautiful Things is one of the best things I have ever read in terms of being so fully and openly human so I’d love to spill my guts to her and get her advice on anything and everything.
Maria Semple seems neurotic in a way I find relatable and strangely compelling and also has a wonderful sense of humour. I’d serve champagne with almond croissants. We would have girly chats about friendships and crushes. Maybe a little about books and writing.
*At the time of answering questions.
For more about Annabel:
Facebook: Annabel Smith
Twitter: Annabel Smith
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