The Blagger's Guide To: Sylvia Smith

Unremarkable life stories of an unlikely author

Born "in a hospital in Walthamstow six days before the end of the Second World War", her mother "always reckoned I was cause for a double celebration. I grew up an only child as my elder brother died of convulsions when he was three days old." So begins the story of Sylvia Smith's life, as documented in her 2001 book Misadventures, published by Canongate.

Sylvia Smith died last Saturday, aged 67. She was apparently working on a fourth memoir with the provisional title The Men In My Life.

The style of Smith's books was variously described as "faux naïf", "Postmodern", "compelling", "two dimensional" and "almost hypnotically bad", and she divided critics and readers. One reviewer described her writing as "a cross between a police officer giving evidence in court and a slightly demented grandmother intent on telling you everything over a cup of tea." Some early interviews with Smith for Misadventures expressed astonishment that some people live in bedsits and don't even mind.

Smith's books describe the minutiae of everyday life, in a deadpan style that gradually reveals a sense of loneliness and modern malaise. A skiing trip to find boyfriends ends with not finding boyfriends; the company for which she temps sacks her for someone younger. Perhaps her books came as a refreshing antidote to the popular "Hampstead novel", in which everybody is talented and brittle. In Smith's books, nobody is brittle and there is precious little talent.

Smith left school at 15 with no qualifications, and briefly trained as a hairdresser before working as a temp. She lived in bedsits and shared accommodation, which later provided the material for her books. "I didn't keep a diary; I did it from memory," she said.

Misadventures was Smith's first published memoir, but the first book she wrote was Appleby House, about the everyday goings on in the Walthamstow boarding house where she lived. She later explained to Radio 4's Open Book programme: "I was about 43. I had in mind Appleby House, I thought it would be a marvellous story …. And when I was off sick some time later – I'm not telling you what it was – I had the time to sit down and start writing ...." Many publishers rejected the manuscript, but Appleby House was eventually published by Picador, following the success of Misadventures.

"I don't know why I wrote Misadventures," she said. "I just like writing books and I wanted to get published. I thought it might be a good idea."

The Independent's review of Smith's My Holidays, published in 2003, declared: "Very little happens, but Smith does possess an authentic narrative voice, and her latest non-adventure … verges on the interesting as social history." The book describes a lifetime of holidays, from Margate to the Costa del Sol, which are largely "uneventful". However, a "holiday" to New York, to promote Misadventures, coincided with the terrorist attacks of 9 September 2001. It was, she wrote, "an uneasy three days".

Smith didn't read other people's memoirs, she told Open Book. She had enough to do writing her own.

Misadventures is published in paperback by Canongate, £8.99. Appleby House is published in paperback by Picador, £9.99. My Holidays is out of print.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones