A Kindred Soul Can Span the Decades: Emma Smith

kindred :  having the same belief, attitude, or feeling, associated by origin, nature, qualities, etc.

Stumbling upon a “kindred spirit” is a special kind of surprise. It was that way for me recently when I discovered the British author Emma Smith. Emma’s words, in my header above, showed up as I was doing research for a writing project. They resonated so deeply with me that I had to know more about her.

Emma Smith photographed unawares on the banks of the Seine, 1948. Photograph: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Emma Smith photographed unawares on the banks of the Seine, 1948. Photograph: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Emma, 93, lives in southwest London. She published her two-part memoir “The Great Western Beach” and “As Green As Grass” in 2008 and 2013 respectively — at ages 85 and 90. They cover her life up to 1951, ending at the time of her marriage at age 28. By that time, Emma had published two well-received novels in 1948 and 1949, “Maidens Trip” and “The Far Cry”, both set in Britain during WW II.

When she married, Emma stopped writing for a time, focusing on her family. She returned to writing out of necessity when her husband’s sudden death after just six years of marriage left her as the sole provider for her two children.

Prior to marriage, Emma (whose real name is Elspeth Hallsmith) was an adventurer. She traveled to India to help shoot a documentary and worked as crew for canal boats that carried heavy cargoes between London and the industrial Midlands of England during WW II, both experiences providing backdrops for her novels.

Once she was married, Emma left travel and writing behind. After her husband’s death, she moved her little family to Wales and devoted the next 20 years to raising her children. During that time, she authored a couple of children’s books, but they never achieved the attention garnered by her novels.

With resurgent interest in and the reprinting of her two novels, Emma has experienced a sort of “renaissance” in her later years. That’s where I find her now, and where I expect to dive into her memoirs and her novels.

The kindredness? This:

“I loved being a mother and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I would swap all my books for my children.” ~ Emma Smith

In like spirit, I can say I willingly swap all the books I have not yet written for the privilege of raising my four children. But unearthing a treasure like Emma Smith gives me hope that I still have a good 20 years to write a first book. To quote Emma:

water-5“Life is like the river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.”

 

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