Rising Writers #2 – George Sandifer-Smith
Who are you, where are you from, and what makes you tick?
I’m George Sandifer-Smith (always a tough name – nobody has ever ‘got’ Sandifer, they always turn it into Sandiford or, somewhat memorably, Sandyfoot), and I hail from Pembroke – a place so far out in Wales that it’s evolved into somewhere mysteriously English (there are those that call it Little England Beyond Wales). Being astounded seems to make me tick; I’m generally in awe of something or another.
Why do you write? What got you started?
I write because I enjoy it. I find it to be a genuinely enjoyable experience putting words together in ways that might allow whoever reads them to see something in a way that’s different. Or perhaps in a way that’s instantly familiar to them. But I suppose it’s a good way of sorting your head out too – the more I unravel the nonsense going on up there, the more it seems to make sense out in the real world! I got started with prose because I had ideas, probably, and the poetry sprang from my years songwriting in an alternative rock band (once described as ‘Oasis meets Joy Division’ – make of that what you will).
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Who are your biggest influences? Inside and out of literature.
My mind always goes a bit blank at this sort of question. Not out of arrogance or anything ugly like that – I’ve just got that sort of mind! I’ve read so much Irvine Welsh that I sometimes think in Scottish, so he’s probably way up there. Tremendous characterisation. That sort of thing probably prevails throughout the other authors I like – there’s a writer called Robert Lewis who wrote a fantastic trilogy of novels beginning with The Last Llanelli Train that everyone should track down, it’s a detective noir series that’s heavy on character set in Bristol, Swansea, and finally in a more North Wales direction. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas also made me melt into literature-based components and flushed me through the great glittering system of the omniversal spectrum of writing – it encompassed so many people, times and places so beautifully. Prose or poetry, evocation like that is where you want to be, or at least where I want to be.
Beyond literature, it’s always the Clash. The best band ever, in all of time and space and universes unknown (I refuse to budge on this, much to everyone else’s annoyance). Just because they pushed the musical boundaries by trying so many genres (even hip-hop) and because their lyrics make you think, accessibly. Joy Division are unique enough for a mention, too. Oh, and the sitcom Bottom – a dark comedy that everyone should watch with Ade Edmondson, the late, great Rik Mayall, and the hideous farty punchy beery brand of humour that they squirted on an unsuspecting BBC.
What would be your favourite poem?
‘When You Are Old’ by WB Yeats, possibly (ask me in an hour and it’ll be something else). It reads a little bitterly, but the regret is played out in such a marvellous way…especially in the last verse:
‘And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.’
Top five novels/story collections?
Both Trainspotting and Glue by Irvine Welsh. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Hmm…I do dislike choosing favourites. Let’s make up the numbers with Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and, erm, The Fallen by Dave Simpson – which is non-fictional but definitely one of the most gripping books about music I’ve ever read (journalist embarks on epic journey to track down and interview every single former member of the Fall, a band with such a rotating membership that its one constant member claimed that if it was him ‘and yer Gran on bongos’, it was the Fall).
Do you have a favourite song lyric?
‘Now I believe in this and it’s been tested by research/that he who fucks Nuns will later join the Church’. Bit sweary, but looking at it from a non-religious (that’s the context!) point of view, it does succinctly sum up that bizarre thing that people do, where they can switch from one extreme to the other (sometimes this is a good thing, mind!). That’s from ‘Death Or Glory’ by the Clash. Honourable mention must go out to the Stranglers for writing the lyrics to ‘Golden Brown’ – getting into the charts with a song about heroin addiction through sheer power of lyric writing!
What inspires you/where do you find inspiration most? Are there any themes you feel particular affinity for? Political, personal, etc.
Fancying people! Then blowing the whole thing out of proportion in a poem. Or just going places or doing things. I wrote a poem about guacamole after I made it for the first time (go forth and do that, it’s so much better than the squeezy bottles!) and often find things creeping into poems from my surroundings. My dad’s the leading expert in tin tabernacles, so I ended up writing a poem set in one.
Prose-wise, I’ve found myself either veering into hard-hitting grit grounded in realism (grr angry stuff) or, more recently, work that’s vaguely science fiction-y, drawn from the pages of New Scientist, given a bit of magical realism. Gods and time machines in dreams on the internet or something. Apparently, it’s always at least a little bit funny, too, which is nice really as I wouldn’t want to be a gloomy gloom from Gloomford.
Do you have a specific technique, or routine to your writing?
Nah, I write when I have an idea or I’ll forget it. If I haven’t written in a while though, I make myself do some (the hardest thing about running sometimes is getting your shorts on). If I’m writing a long piece, like my dissertation or the novelette I self-published last year (Pop Idle, available from Lulu, based on a short film written by a friend of mine that I, unfortunately, can be seen acting in on Youtube), then I make myself sit down and do a certain amount every day.
Where are you with your writing right now?
Currently I’m writing my Writing Project for my MA, which is what we call our dissertation, and planning the novel that my PhD will be. But on top of that, I’m currently editing The Wait, a poetry anthology in aid of Cancer Research featuring contributions from writers all around the world (I have my marketing guru Stacey to thank for this – she’s a genius), which should be out in mid to late September, poetry gods permitting!
I’ve taken to writing lyrics with a few singers down at Rewired Music in Aberystwyth, including Emily Farr and Natasha McCarthy-Jones, who you should all go listen to on the interweb. I’ve also just had my first children’s book, Cholloo’s Birthday, published by Lily Publications. It’s based on the lighthouses on the Isle of Man and Manx mythology, with fairies and Manannan making appearances, and the hugely talented Julia Ashby Smyth has wonderfully illustrated it all.
What are your plans for the future? What’s the ultimate goal?
Work in academia and build my literature career with novels, poetry and hopefully more children’s books. But really the plan is just to stay as happy as possible, whatever happens. ‘Don’t panic’, as the late Douglas Adams wrote.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write a lot. Listen to other writers. Don’t assume that because you write, you’re smarter than everyone else. Look at the world as beautiful – don’t hate everything, that’s boring and has been done to death. Your writing needn’t reflect you – you might come up with something more interesting if you try to look at things from the other side. Interact with people, other writers and not-we alike – you’ll soon learn that there aren’t many differences between them! Don’t stress yourself out. Walk places, try new things.
Make up your own question to ask yourself. I am that lazy.
What was that poetry anthology that everyone should buy coming out in mid to late September?
Oh, that’s The Wait, which will be available through Lulu and Amazon, and can be found through a simple search on Google or Facebook. I have no shame in plugging it as all the profits are going to Cancer Research, which is a noble cause. In fact, I’d go as far as recommending that everybody follow the Facebook, WordPress and Twitter accounts and spread the word as much as possible in the run-up to the release…
You’ve met the man, now meet his work. Then go check out his published work.
I ‘got back out there’ last night.
We swapped numbers and he said
he would cook me Mexican food.
Now I am here, and it is so much less.
Worst is the guacamole, squeezed
from a tube, a glistening green cable,
atomic-bright and toothpaste-thick,
laid on the thick wet mounds
of red and brown with moist rice.
Your guacamole – real guacamole –
was thick, textured, like your jumper
and all the shades of the garden
in the dying days of September.
The avocado was chopped, not minced,
stopping and starting in every shape
like our best conversations
and the lime juice was squeezed fresh,
the tickling, strong citrus flavour that suffers
such a short life on the tongue.
Your guacamole turned brown overnight,
but it was all the better for it.