Blog 46: An Interview With Young Writers’ Short Story Competition, 2017 Winner, Holly Kybett Smith.

  1. I loved “Laboratory Angel” and the exploration of science ethics in your ideas. Science is obviously something that interests you. Do you have a science background at all?

To be honest, I don’t. I’ve got GCSEs in physics, chemistry and biology but that’s about as far as my background certifiably extends. My interest in science – biology especially – has always had a strong influence over my writing, though. A lot of what I read is science fiction, and when I was studying biology at school I had a very enthusiastic teacher; she taught my class way more than what was on the syllabus and all of it with this crazy-excited gleam in her eyes. These days I think any background I have in science can be classed as hobby-work. I like reading and learning about it when I have the time.

  1. What are your thoughts on AI and the growing trend for creating intelligent robots?

I love this question. The whole concept of AI – specifically robots mimicking human cognitive functions – seemed like absolute fiction when I was growing up, and it astounds me to think that that wasn’t even very long ago, considering how far scientists have come since then. Personally I’m both excited by the prospect and terrified. While I would love to see where we could go with these sorts of technologies, I’m worried about how we as humans will play it. I don’t want things turning out the way they did in Laboratory Angel, for example!

  1. Have you written, or do you plan to write any novels?

Right now I’m actually in the process of writing my first. I won’t say it’s good yet, because there’s a lot of editing that needs to happen first in order to make it presentable, but I’m having a lot of fun doing it.

  1. Is writing something that you would consider as a career path?

It’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was eight years old. It’s the main reason I never pursued science, even though I love it; I love writing more. Right now I’m taking a gap year to focus on practice and breathe now that college is over, but next year I’m going to be studying creative writing at University.

  1. What do you think are the main hurdles for prospective young writers in building a career in writing? Many writers, particularly young writers, have difficulty convincing their parents and loved ones of their career choice. Have you found this, or society’s expectations, a problem?

(If it’s okay I’m joining these questions together because I think they link well).

Overall, I think society’s expectations are a huge part of what makes it difficult to get into writing when you’re young. I’ll start by saying I was lucky, because both my mother and grandmother were writers, and my parents have always been really supportive of my interests. From my family at least, I was never told no when it came to wanting to write professionally. The problem is in the education system, I think, because that’s where I ran into the most difficulties. Instead of offering information on how the publishing system works – anything that might’ve helped me onto a career in the writing industry at all, let alone as a writer – I was winced at frequently by visitors on Careers Day, given looks like I was a lost cause and asked gently, “Do you have a backup plan?” I understand that there’s a want from many adults for children to aim for more secure career paths, ones that guarantee a successful outcome… though it would’ve been a lot easier for me (and people like me, I’m sure) if we’d at least been taken seriously.

  1. Who are your favourite authors?

This is a really hard question because there are a lot, but if I had to condense it into three I’d say Rick Riordan, David Levithan and Maggie Stiefvater. Rick because I grew up reading his books and to this day I absolutely adore them. David because he’s the only author who’s managed to make me cry within the first twelve pages of a novel. And Maggie because her way of bringing characters to life on the page is absolutely unbelievable, and I’m convinced she has some kind of supernatural ability she’s keeping hidden from the world.

  1. What do you feel is the best piece of writing advice that you have learnt to date?

Being taught creative writing at A Level (especially with the teacher I had) means I’ve been blessed with a lot of good advice, but probably my favourite tip is the eighth point in Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing. [The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can.] I refer back to it whenever I experience a spell of doubt or loss of motivation because it reminds me that – although there are definitely more talented writers out there, with skills in areas I’m lacking – I’m the only me there is. Everyone’s voice is unique and when writing, it’s important to remember only you can bring your exact voice to the table. It’s your biggest asset, so you should never try and compromise it in order to blend in.

  1. What novel have you read that you wish you had written?

Probably The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. I’ve got a huge crush on this book. The world building, the uniqueness of the characters and their dilemmas, the way it all comes together at the end – so satisfying to read, and exactly my thing.

  1. If you could be a character in any novel you’ve read, who would it be?

Yikes. The trouble with answering this question is that the characters in most of the books I’ve read have super difficult lives, difficult enough that I wouldn’t really be thrilled to trade places with them whatever the perks. I wouldn’t mind temporarily swapping places with someone in the Percy Jackson universe, provided there was a guarantee I wouldn’t get myself killed by a vengeful god.

  1. If you had a single trip in a time machine where would you go?

This might sound silly, but I wouldn’t go very far back at all – just a handful of decades, so that I could see Queen perform live.

  1. Can you tell us a random fact about yourself?

I’m a vegetarian semi-qualified martial artist. (Too random?)

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Awesome, not random! A big thank you to Holly Kybett Smith for answering all of my questions and a big congratulations for winning the 2017 Young Writers’ Short Story Competition hosted by Outlet Publishing. If you want to find out more about the three winners of the competition then click here.

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