Richard Smyth interviewed

If you have been following us here at The State of the Arts, last Monday saw the fourth and final part of Richard Smyth’s ‘The Life Insured’ posted on the site – click HERE to read the full story.

Richard Smyth is a writer and journalist. His short fiction has appeared in RiptideJournal, The Stinging Fly, The Fiction Desk, Litro, .Cent and Vintage Script. As a journalist, he has written for publications including New Humanist and New Scientist, and he is the author of the non-fiction books Bum Fodder and English History: Strange But True. 

In 2013, he won the LS13 prize for his short story ‘Deep’. His first novel, Wild Ink, is published in June by Dead Ink Books.


The State of the Arts now brings you a unique interview with Richard, interviewed by…well…himself…


So, Richard, why do you think The State of the Arts has asked you to interview yourself?

I’m glad you asked me that, Richard. It’s because I’m a notoriously private and difficult individual.

Haha! Great. Now, you’ve written a novel. There are a lot of novels already in the world – for example, Power Play by Danielle Steele. What makes you think your book is better than all of them?

My novel, Wild Ink, isn’t necessarily better than all of them. I haven’t read all of them, so it’s not for me to say. Your readers will have to buy it for themselves, and make their own minds up.

You’ll be wanting to tell us what it’s about, I suppose.


Go ahead.

Thanks. It’s about Albert Chaliapin, a dying cartoonist who is plagued by the ghosts of his past. Then some shady old friends roll up, and he gets drawn into financial shenanigans, sexual jiggery-pokery and political how’s-your-father.

With hilarious consequences?

Surprisingly, yes. It’s a comic novel. It’s quite a serious novel too, but I’m not very good at remaining serious for long periods of time, so the bleak bits are leavened by scenes of broad slapstick and fart jokes. I suppose you’d call it ‘literary’, but that shouldn’t put off people who think a ‘literary’ novel is by definition a novel about a sad painter who lives in Hove and never quite got over the girl he had a crush on at university. It’s thoughtful, I’d say, without being po-faced. Meaningful without being pretentious. Intelligent without being inaccessible.

Are you done?

Good. Now, this isn’t your first book, is it?

It’s my first novel, but I write history books too. My first book was Bum Fodder: An Absorbing History Of Toilet Paper.

Was that the one described by The Scotsman as ‘a strong candidate for the most pointless book ever written… Not even remotely funny’?

You’re quoting that out of context. And you have to remember that the Scots are a notoriously humourless people.

And Bum Fodder is nevertheless still on sale in all good bookshops?

Yes. In spite of its niche subject-matter, it has sold upward of seven copies. It’s also been translated into Chinese (no, really, it has). And Mark Forsyth, author of the best-selling Etymologicon, called it, and I quote, “a great little book”.

I’d certainly trust the word of the best-selling author Mark Forsyth over The Scotsman.

I agree. It’s really a no-brainer.

Tell us a bit about your other books, oh go on, do.

Bloody British History: Leeds is a compendium of all the interesting things that have ever happened in Leeds. Mostly murders and plague. My favourite bit is the 1865 Dripping Riot, which kicked off when someone nicked 2lbs of lard and got banged up for it. There’s also a bit about a plucky hare who escaped the great flood of 1775 by riding on the bloated corpse of a sheep.

Something for everybody, then. And your latest history book?

You mean English History: Strange But True, published in June 2014? It’s all about English history, specifically those parts of it that are peculiar but nevertheless veracious.

Tell us more!    

Did you know that, under the Sumptuary Laws of 1363, merchants were forbidden to wear pointy shoes in excess of six-and-a-half inches in length? Or that one of Henry VII’s most prized possessions was the preserved leg of St George, a gift from Louis XII of France? Or that in February 1789 George III pursued a best-selling lady novelist in a high-speed chase through Kew Gardens? Or that, during the Crimean War,  5,546 British soldiers were court-martialled for acts of drunkenness? And don’t say you did because you didn’t.

I didn’t. Those really are fascinating facts.

I know! And there’re hundreds more in my book, which, for the avoidance of doubt, is published in June 2014.

The same month as your novel, Wild Ink. What a strange coincidence.

Strange but true.

Ha ha!

Let’s move on. What do you do when you’re not writing books of one sort or another?

I write quite a lot of short stories.

That’s basically the same thing. I meant other than writing.

Oh. I compile crosswords for magazines. And I set questions for Mastermind.

What, Mastermind on the telly?

Yep. I’ve set questions on everything from the Charge of the Light Brigade to the history of Tottenham Hotspur. And once I had to read the entire works of Ayn Rand in a month, which I believe is classified under the Geneva Convention as a cruel and unusual punishment (they made me sign a waiver).

What an interesting life you must lead.

I also enjoy bird-watching, hill-walking and solving crosswords.

Thank-you, Richard, you’ve been an absolute joy.

The pleasure, Richard, was all mine.


Richard Smyth’s first novel, Wild Ink, is published by Dead Ink this year. English History: Strange But True is published by the History Press.

Filed under: Written & Spoken Word