From the gritty realities to surreal, dream-like landscapes


Born in 1980, Sabrina Smith completed her B.A. in English from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom in 2005.

Since graduating Smith has studied poetry, under Faber-published poet, Kris Seifkan, and drama, with Royal Court Theatre writer, Emma Rosoman. In 2005 Sabrina Smith was accepted into Nottingham Trent University to study Creative Writing with Graham Joyce.

In 2006 she was placed joint third in the Leicester and Leicestershire Library Services Short Story Contest for her story, “The Colour of Magic.”

Smith has had a number of journalistic articles and short stories published on the Internet, most notably, the story “Toyland” at Umbrella Stories, http://www.umbrellastories.com.

Her first play, “Sing, Sing, Death, House,” is awaiting a performance decision from the Theatre Writing Partnership’s Young Writers Programme, which is based in the East Midlands region of the U.K.

Currently she is working on her first novel and her first collection of short stories “Planes, Prawns and Playtime.” She lives in Leicester, with landscape artist Lucy Hunt.

She spoke about her writing in July.

Why do you write?

There is no one answer as to why I write. To me it seems like a coping mechanism for myself. I have always been driven by the compelling structure of a narrative. I just love writing! I have always been an avid reader and eventually I decided there were not many books available that I felt compelled to read. I began writing stories, keeping them for no audience other than myself! After a while I realised that I was, simultaneously, writing about fifteen short stories!

I occasionally write under a pen name as it allows me to move into different fields of writing and be perceived differently by my readers.

Roland Barthes suggested that the author does not matter in literature – it’s the reader that counts! But in the market place of writing a catchy name really helps sell your book! I chose the pen name Sebastian Li-Mai for several reasons. Firstly, since my school days I have had the nickname “Seb” (for reasons beyond me!) Secondly, Li-Mai is actually my middle name. Finally, I have found that my work gets a different response, as the name is masculine.

Which subjects do you tend to write about the most?

I write contemporary fiction. I was vastly influenced by writers such as Ian McEwan, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood, Freda Warrington and Irvine Welsh. I tend to adhere to the combined forms of autobiographical fiction and “shock” narrative. Unlike some other writers, I tackle taboo issues head on. My fiction and drama can make a compelling but uncomfortable read for some audiences as it has previously been described as “watching a car crash, you can’t take your eyes off it but you really think you should.”

In my fiction and drama I have been dealing with subjects such as drug abuse, alcoholism, relationship inadequacies, postcolonial issues, sexual taboos and regression. I am branching out in my drama away from the gritty “realities” I create and more into surreal, dream-like landscapes and postmodernist concepts of realism.

In terms of your career as a writer, where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Hopefully still writing!

To be honest, I think I would be writing no matter what!

It would be nice to be able to solely live off my writing. I completely understand that the J. K. Rowling “rags to riches” story happens very rarely, but to be considered a professional writer and be able to finance myself would be very nice. I have only been writing seriously for about a year now and have achieved a fair amount, so who knows? Right now I would just like to further my development as a writer and improve the quality of the material I produce.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face as a writer and how are you handling these?

The biggest problems I find as a writer are time, finance and isolation!

Firstly it can be so difficult to find the time to sit and write. I may have planned out an entire play or story in my journal but simply do not have the time to write it up!

Secondly, finances can be tough. Even when you are a professional writer it can be difficult to fully finance yourself and my third point, isolation is probably the most significant one! I am a member of different writing groups and in all of them I am usually the only writer who deals with a specific type of writing or the only writer who is mixed race! There is an overwhelming body of white faces associated with literature at the moment. Poetry is the only genre that has somewhat of a multicultural renaissance! If you are from an ethnic minority or mixed background then it is very rare to meet other writers on the circuit who are the same and however hard I try, it does, invariably, influence what I write.

A pod cast of this interview is available on OhmyNews.

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