Wednesday, 25 February 2015
Leaving late afternoon on an impulse to undertake a mini adventure and having a free ticket for a Royal Society of Literature event at LSE this week, time gave me a journey and exploration.
There was a bomb scare at LSE, the building evacuate, so I diverted around the square of Lincolns Inn Fields to the home of Sir John Soame, architect of the 18th and 19th century (Bank of Engalnd) and collector. His house a treasure, stuffed with artefacts from floor to ceiling, crowding the narrow doors, dark and gothic. A crypt contained a sarcophagus to rival any in the British Museum. Emerging into sunlight, a little time for lavender cake and reflection, sitting in a draft in The Fields cafe, plane leaves piled up like discarded writing drafts.
Time to wander over to LSE. I spot Ali Smith outside, walking purposefully towards the building, a small creature with a sharp face, wrapped in a mustard yellow scarf, carrying bags of books, does she bring her own books for signings?
Time to find the venue. The basement, a modern structure, ceiling hung with red and silver spheres and white glass teardrops. They remind me of the colour of my primary school uniform. It's so corporate, the students flow from the lecture theatre, well dressed, not a worn down heel between them. How things have change from my student time when we dressed in second hand, not vintage. Into the lecture theatre, a proper lecture theatre, I haven't been in one for years. I miss studying, perhaps because of the theatre, the need to perform, these talks help fuel the flabby brain cells. The stage is set, it's time to start.
Ali Smith sits on the stage winding a ribbon, she's just winked at someone. I like her. The host introduces her,"Every time you find an adjective that you think nails her, the opposite is true." Ali Smith giggles.
Why write Ali? She completed How To Be Both in just over a year, "I had a tax bill." Taking writing seriously as a calling/career after a diagnosis of ME. Why does she write about grief? her companion on the stage, Marion Coutts, wrote a memoir accompanying her husbands when he was dying, it's obvious why she should write about grief, but why Ali,
"It's part of where I come from, an undercurrent, death is not in the current of the everyday." Her books have grace and energy, what Blake called 'eternal delight', "the connection between the vibrancy of life and the going thus."
Ali Smith once gave a sermon in Manchester Cathedral about time. In How To Be Both, her Booker shortlisted novel, time, "Bursts it 's banks." She was inspired by a picture she saw in a magazine, "It was so beautiful I wanted to go and see the original." She went to Ferrara to see the Fresco painted in the 1460's in the room of the months, "you walk into an empty room and it's full of life, time just doesn't exist." Ali talks as she writes, articulately, lyrically, yet accessible, deep thought with a light touch. She reads from How To Be Both with more inflection than I gave it, a scene in Italy, a perfect pinch of the mother daughter relationship and a ruminescence on time, "The interest in her is the life, eyes bright with a purpose." I remember my copy of How To Be Both had been leant to my eighteen year old daughter, a lovely, slippy, perfect sized hardback that I would very much like back. I decide to buy another copy and speak to Ali later. There's not enough well written mothers in literature, she reminds me, "they are either absent or dead". And we're back to the cyclicity of life. Her eyes are bright with purpose, she shows intest in me and my work, and the possibility of a visit to the forest where I teach. I'll hold you to that Ali, thank you.