Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Sammy H.K. Smith?
Well, right now I think I’m a human but the lack of decent sleep or coffee is blurring my reality a bit…
I’m a mother, writer, publisher (owner of Grimbold Books), and police detective specialising in domestic abuse and sexual offences. I dabble with all sorts of genres but SF&F (and speculative dark fiction sub-genres) gather my interest the most.
I live and work in Oxfordshire next to the Cotswolds and Warwickshire border, which is an utterly beautiful part of the country.
Your new novel, Anna, is due out in May via Solaris. How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
ANNA is a story of one woman’s survival in a cruel world where might is right and regardless of gender, if you display any weakness, you’re fair game to those that want to control both the lands and the people.
We follow Anna’s story and emotional fallout of dealing with sexual abuse and PTSD in a dystopic future not far from our own reality and timeline. Her strength comes from within and she shows us that whilst physically she appears weak, she’s so much more inside.
I also didn’t want to gloss over the horrors of rape. I don’t apologise for bringing the reader into Anna’s thoughts and mind while she is abused.
Rebellion describe it as “The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Road” which I feel is very apt. I’d also add “with a pinch of Sleeping with the Enemy” in there too!
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
ANNA started out like a lot of ideas – a dream, and I started to write it as a more mainstream easy-read but as I got further into the novel and started to really delve into the characters it became a lot ‘darker’ than I first intended. I wrote it during a hard time in my life and I think that reflects in some of the scenes! I wanted Anna to become the embodiment of all the survivors I’ve had the privilege of helping, and I hope I’ve offered a snippet or snapshot as to how abuse affects people and their ability to form relationships and friendships. It’s definitely ‘heavier’ in tone and societal themes than I first intended, but I’m both anxious and proud of it!
I love to read and watch SF&F as I find that it’s pure escapism from the day job. It allows me the scope to really let go and create worlds and characters as far away from reality as possible. My first novel, In Search of Gods and Heroes, is a typical fantasy romp. Gods, dragons, mortals, talking cats, the works. I draw inspiration from everything – politics, fiction, history, whatever sparks interest and gets the brain going ‘what if’…
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
My very first toe-dip was with The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton at a really young age. I LOVED the portal fantasy worlds and remember making up my own stories with Moonface! I would spend my school holidays with my grandparents and they collected the ‘The Story Teller’ cassette tapes with accompanying books/magazines. I’d listen to them every night before bed and dream of other worlds and characters. What a lovely warm fuzzy feeling I now have! Nostalgia ahoy!
A highlight of my trips would be the visits to the library. I made my way straight the SF&F shelves and picked up The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher and then started to read anything I could get my hands on. I think I was about eight-years-old when I first read The Hobbit and it blew my mind. Around the same time I watched Dune (80s movie) followed quickly by Highlander (my parents were lax with ratings, and for that I thank them!) and Star Trek: TNG and that was it, I was a SF&F lover thereon out!
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I love being a writer, if I could afford it I’d write all day and every day! I don’t enjoy the pressure I put myself under, though. I always feel I should be doing more writing, more marketing, more editing, more of everything really. Sometimes as a writer we forget that just sitting back, relaxing, reading a book or watching something can be a great way to rest the brain and get the creativity flowing again.
I’m lucky to see different sides of publishing and running Grimbold (on a micro scale compared to others) I know how hard it is right now. Taking a chance on a book outside of a defined genre or comfort zone is risky business, and business is all about money, but sometimes a story comes along and you just have to take a chance… well, I do with Grimbold, anyway!
Working with Rebellion Publishing and my editor Kate Coe (and shout out to copy-editor Laurel Sills) was pure joy. What I love about Rebellion is that the process feels very much a team effort and everyone is so friendly. ANNA is a much better book after their input and I’m immensely proud.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I’ve recently downloaded Scrivener and I don’t know how I’ve coped without it so far! It’s amazing! I like to have a rough plot for the story before I start, and then break down the chapters. I’ll write the story out roughly and then add the meat to the bones.
With ANNA I had to research solar powered water filtration systems, shelf life of fuels, and watched riots on Youtube to get the ‘feel’ for some scenes (I’ve never worked public order policing). I’d scribble down the emotions I felt and then work from there.
Before kids, I’d write every spare moment I had. Now with a 5 and 3-year-old, I write when time allows. Sometimes it’s only 250 words a day or an idea jotted down. I think it’s important to be kind to yourself – especially over this last year. The pandemic has affected us all in so many ways and it’s hard to remain creative at times.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. Literally the moment I started learning my letters and handwriting I’ve created characters and worlds. At primary school I ‘won’ the creative writing trophy/cup that was presented annually to the school leaver who created the most interesting stories (in the teachers’ eyes, at least!) and it was then I got my first tummy flutters and thrills from my stories. I realised that perhaps I wasn’t that bad!
Unfortunately life got in the way, and it was some 20+ years later before I picked up the pen again. It was the loss of my Nan (grandmother) and I wrote my first novel (aforementioned) and found the process so cathartic.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I’m loving where the SF&F genre is going. I think it’s definitely more mainstream and ‘socially acceptable’ now to be a lover of all things fantasy and science fiction. The surge of love for things like Game of Thrones has definitely helped, and with eBooks there’s a lot of styles and stories readily available. The inclusivity of SF&F has always been a love of mine, and it’s definitely improved year on year. We no longer have to read what the mainstream big publishers feel are the best examples in our genres – we can find new and exciting authors ourselves via social media or the internet.
My work is a bit eclectic in style. I love to write epic fantasy, have sketched out some space operas, but also focus on the darker speculative fiction with social commentary aspects. Writing styles and sub-genres are so varied in our genre that I’d like to feel there’s a place for my work somewhere.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
So I’m currently working on a standalone novel in the same world as ANNA. Our protagonist deals with drugs, disabilities, human trafficking and murder. It’s tentatively called ‘EMMA’ (I know, so original aren’t I!) and some of the side characters from ANNA make an appearance but the two stories aren’t connected. It’s a mix of dystopia, grit, who-dun-it investigation and revenge.
I’ve also got an epic fantasy The Silver Nightingale underway, but it’s only a rough plot at the moment.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
So I’ve just started Starless by Jacqueline Carey. Carey is one of my favourite authors, and this really dragged me back into lush prose and wonderful story-telling (reminiscent in style to the Kushiel’s Legacy books). Her world-building is amazing and I’m loving it so far.
I’ve also been dipping in and out of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, and it’s fascinating. We get to learn about the victims of the Ripper and remind ourselves that they were people first.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
One?! Just one?! Oh, you are mean! This is almost impossible to answer as I’m a firm believer in that no book is perfect and everyone has different tastes, wants, and needs from literature. If I was to recommend my personal favourite SF&F author (aside from the wonderful Jacqueline Carey), I’d pick Ian Irvine. Anything by him. I love his mix of science fiction and fantasy, and his characters always feel so well fleshed out. So, yeah, Ian Irvine.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Oh, I don’t know! I’m quite an unsurprising person, really. I don’t have any secret hobbies or skills. I do enjoy renovating houses, if that counts? We’re on our third project and our ‘forever family’ home.
I’m also helping my husband with a campervan conversion. An IVECO Daily van into a family camper for our family of four. It’s great fun but our initial project deadline of six months is long gone… I don’t think we realised quite how hard it would be.
Oh, and I collect cats. No, really, at one point I had 13 cats (including failed fosters) but we’re down to five now. I’m a massive animal lover and find it hard to say no!
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
The pandemic easing up and society being able to return to some sort of semblance of past normality. I don’t think we’ll quite return to “normal” (whatever that is/was) but the ability to socialise with friends is a big thing for me – even though I’m an introvert!
So we have FantasyCon and BristolCon coming up. I love both for different reasons. FantasyCon is big, varied, a hustle and bustle style convention; whereas seeing my friends at BristolCon and the intimate, friendly feel is just wonderful.
Of course, in May, ANNA hits the bookshelves so I can’t wait to see it “in the wild”.