Before Brexit, Grenfell, Covid-19... Ali Smith on writing four novels in four years

1 week ago

When she embarked on a project to write four contemporary novels in as many years, Ali Smith had no idea what was about to unfold. As the final book is published, she reflects on an epic undertaking

Long long ago. In the days before the words “Brexit” and “Covid-19” existed. Back when “unprecedented” wasn’t yet an everyday kind of word. I’m talking back, before the words “Windrush” and “Grenfell” took on terrible new meaning, before an MP was murdered outside the library of her constituency by a man shouting the words Britain and First, back when the word “humbug”, traditionally a sign of its speaker’s Scrooge-like spirit, hadn’t yet been used in parliament to handbag female MPs pleading with a British prime minister to be less aggressive given the real threat they faced (and face) every day. Back then, on a quiet winter dark afternoon in December 2015, I met my publisher, Simon Prosser, outside the British Library in London.

We were on our way to see some of Keats’s handwriting. I’d had an idea for a series of books; the first one, which I was about to start, was going to be called Autumn, and we thought we’d visit Keats’s poem about autumn in the original as a sort of talisman.

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