A letter to Ali Smith

Pick of the day:  Ali Smith - Last (published in Public Library and Other Stories, her latest - 2015 - collection of short stories).


Dear Ali Smith

I feel I owe you an apology. You will be unaware of my offence, of that I’m sure, so I am certain none was taken. Nonetheless, I feel I need to own up.  

For some reason I seem to have decided some long time ago that you were not my sort of writer. Now it seems obvious that I was wrong.

I don’t know what led me into this belief in the first place.  Did I read something of yours in a Scottish short story mag back in the 70s, and not take to it?  Did you appear in a reading performance of Scottish writers in Leicester with James Kelman, back in the 80s, and maybe I didn’t like the story?  I don’t know.  Were you even there?

Maybe I was just unprepared for your style and approach.

Anyway, chance would have it I was given a copy of your latest collection of short stories, interspersed with stout defences of our much depleted public library system, for my birthday.  I have to admit, for a moment, I thought “Oh no. Ali Smith. I’m not that keen, to be honest.”

Then a few weeks later, when I was choosing a couple of books to take on holiday, I looked at Public Library and Other Stories lying on the table, where it had lain undisturbed since the candles had been blown out, and thought: “Oh, I suppose I had better.”  (I don’t like to upset people, Ali, especially those who have bought me gifts).

So off it came with me to Sicily. (We had a lovely time. Yes. Thank you. The midges were murder, but otherwise, it was great).  And after I had used it to murder a couple of midges that had feasted on me overnight, I opened it up and started to read.

Once again I was unprepared. I wouldn’t want you to get too carried away, for I am no authority on these things, but I think the stories in Public Library are exceptional.  The apparent ease and flair with which you tell your stories took my breath away.

I love your style. Comic, wistful, confident. Three words that come to mind. There are probably more I could use, but they are the three that pop up. 

Someone is quoted on the back of the book saying that you make writing look as easy as making a cup of tea. I think that is spot on. And a good cup of tea, at that (which isn't easy, believe me - because I am something of an authority on that).

Reading your stories, I felt I was sitting on the other side of the table, drinking my tea while you  told me a story, which you made fascinating to hear. A real art, in my opinion.

So I want to apologise. I have obviously done you a disservice, and myself, by ignoring your work for too long. So I am sorry for me too. I have obviously missed a treat.

I have had a copy of your novel The Accidental sitting on my bookshelf for years. I think it’s time I took it down and read it.  Books are not like wine. They do not mature with the years - but maybe I have.

Yours sincerely