Author David Smith helps me launch a new week at Reviews and Interviews. We’re chatting about his new coming of age travel novel, Letters to Strabo.
Welcome, David. Please tell us a little bit about yourself:
I live near the south coast of England with my wife and three teenagers. Writing is my relaxation as by day I’m the Chief Financial Officer for a British blue chip public company. I love travel and have worked in the UK, Switzerland, the US and Turkey.
I’ve published four novels all with strong themes of romance and intrigue. My first novel Searching For Amber has been described as “A powerful and notably memorable debut” with a review describing it as “masterly and confident” and another as “Extraordinary, poetic, enchanting, sublime”. Letters to Strabo has been described as “Rich and intriguing, vivid and gripping”.
Please tell us about your current release.
Letters to Strabo is a coming-of-age novel that will appeal to lovers of literary fiction, good travel writing and the classics.
Adam Finnegan Black, or ‘Finn’, an innocent young American who is insatiably curious about life, made a promise to his mother before she died: To find out what really happened to his father…
His ambition is to be a travel writer, like his heroes: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and the ancient Greek ‘father of geography’, Strabo. His journey of discovery takes him through the radiant literary, cultural and picturesque landscape of the Mediterranean.
Following his heart and inspired by Letters to Strabo, written by his long-distance pen-pal Eve, Finn gradually learns more about himself but also about the woman he hopes will one day become his wife.
Funny, provocative, disarmingly honest, Finn’s story captures the excitement and mistakes of youthful energy and proves ultimately life-affirming in the emergence of new hope from personal tragedy.
What inspired you to write this book?
My first idea for Letters to Strabo came from the memory of a trip I made twenty years ago to Olana, the amazing Catskills home of the painter Frederic Edwin Church. It was a truly stunning experience. Both the exterior but more importantly the interior of this Moorish extravaganza produced a complete sensory overload that day that has stayed with me ever since. I’ve long wanted to write a love story that starts with a visit to this house by a young writer, but for ages I didn’t have a good starting point. That was until I discovered that Church’s wife had given him a copy of the Strabo’s Geographica for Christmas 1879: they’d named Olana after a place he described. Shortly afterwards they were visited by Mark Twain, who of course wrote about this travels in Europe in The Innocents Abroad. The die, as they day, was cast.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on a YA fantasy, which is a reworking of the classic Dodie Smith novel I Capture the Castle told through a seventeen year-old apprentice wizard called Cassie Scott.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote poetry when I was younger, but for about twenty years after that wrote little and tried to learn to paint. Having concluded (eventually) that I was talentless as a painter, I decided to try writing again. My first book: Searching For Amber was a love story set in a place that my wife and I used to visit a lot before we had children. It took me over five years to bring to completion. Since then I’ve accelerated, now writing about one book a year.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
As a CFO my day-job is pretty full-on, but I find writing a relaxing right-side brain hobby. I get most of my ideas in the early-morning and, if I remember to, note them down. I usually need to have a quiet space of 2-3 hours at home to write creatively, usually at weekends. But I also travel quite a bit, so reading other novels and editing are something I can do when I’ve put the work papers away in a snatched hour or so on a train or between planes!
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have a bad habit of inventing very complex structural frameworks. For instance the characters in my second book Death in Leamington are the 14 characters represented in Elgar’s Enigma variations and Letters to Strabo is structured around the 17 chapters of Strabo’s Geographica
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Definitely an astronaut as I was eight when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I still have an ambition to be the first economist in space but it will probably never happen (i.e. if you strung all the economists in the world end-to-end they’d never reach a conclusion).
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
In addition to schoolboy French, German and Spanish, I have also learned Swiss-German Schwyzertüütsch and Turkish for business and pretended to learn Cornish: an lavar coth yw lavar gwyr, byth dorn re ver dhe’n tavas re hyr mes den hep tavas a-gollas y dyr (still true the ancient saw will stand too long a tongue too short a hand, a tongueless man though lost his land.)
Thanks for being here today, David.