In the Spotlight: Brittany Smith

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Brittany Smith was the very first winner of the first Little Bird Contest, in 2011, and I met her work for the first time that year. Her story, "Contrast Fluid," stood out for the judges in many ways, especially because of the way she writes details. She is an attentive writer, and her scenes are beautifully transparent and true.

This short excerpt, a Mysterious Middle Draft, has a quality I now recognize as being distinctly Britt. She has a fine ear. Her writing is focused and connected to physical detail on many levels, but when you read this, notice how remarkably she attends to sound. We always try to write what we see in a scene - that's a given - but Britt reminds us that writing sound can sometimes be even more powerful.


Brittany Smith

Meet Brittany

Brittany Smith is a Toronto-based writer, blogger, and tire swing enthusiast. She’s currently juggling several projects including the completion of Fire Scars, her first novel, and the creation of Willow Jean Press, a memorial storytelling service.


Handwriting or computer?

Handwriting first. Then I type out what I’ve written, expanding as I go.


Page count or time count?

Time count.


First drafts or revision?

Revision. I’m a firm believer in fine-tuning.


Writing solo, writing partner, or writing group?

Writing solo. But writing partners and groups definitely have their merits. I’ve been a part of some pretty amazing writing groups.


Earplugs/quiet or headphones/music?

I prefer either total quiet or absolute bustling chaos. For me, there’s nothing worse than that lone fly buzzing at the window or the loud conversation at the next table you can’t help but overhear.


Why do you write?

I can’t think of anything else that makes me happier. It’s really that simple. Most of the time when I sit down to write, what comes out isn’t that great. But every now and again, my pen is firing along and my arm is connected to my heart and something unexpected arrives. And it’s like I’ve broken through a barrier in myself. I feel thrilled by what I’ve written. Afterward, I want to dance down the street.


How do you make time for your writing practice? How do you handle resistance?

Managing resistance is one of my biggest challenges. I’ve developed ways to trick my resistant self into participating. For example, mornings are my most fruitful creative time. So I get up early. I try to jump right into writing practice before I’ve had a chance to get distracted by daily chores or emails. Sometimes that means throwing my notebook into a bag, and heading to a café even if I’m still wearing my pyjamas under my coat!

As for making time, if something is important enough, we make time for it, right? If a dear friend needed me and I was busy doing laundry, I’d drop the laundry to be there for her. So I try to look at writing as my best buddy and prioritize time for it.


Tell us about the excerpt you’re sharing today.

This story is currently somewhere between a first and a second draft. When I re-read it, I can see little doors that may need to be opened, spots that could be expanded out. So I’m in the process of peeking behind these doors to discover what my story is “really about.”

It’s a scary and uncertain place to be. It involves so much trial and error, and a kind of patient curiosity. But it’s also exciting.

The spark for this story came from a real-life beach in England when I discovered, to my dismay, rocks in place of sand. This got me thinking about expectation and relationships. What if the person you love is not who you wanted them to be at all? When is it okay to leave?

Thanks for reading!


Exerpt from Sand, by Brittany Smith

They arrive at the beach cottage rumpled and tired. The air inside is warm and stale, like a breath being held. Bram immediately sets to work prying open the windows.

Leslie puts her bag down and heads straight for the beach. When she pulls open the sliding door, the rubber seal around it smacks like a pair of lips. With her eyes on all that shimmering ocean, she rushes out and discovers not sand, but rocks. Millions of small and medium-sized stones are jumbled beneath her feet. She can’t walk properly. Her ankles wobble as she teeters toward the water. It’s ungainly and slow, and nothing at all like she’d imagined it would be.

When she gets back inside, Bram is in the kitchenette putting up sticky notes. Little yellow and orange squares cover the fridge, wood-paneling walls, and windows.

“Are you kidding me?” Leslie says.

“You have to see them for it to work,” says Bram, smacking an orange one onto the glass door of an ancient-looking microwave, “it has to be constant.”

She unscrews the cap from a bottle of wine and searches the cupboards for a glass. After locating a tumbler coated in dust, she turns on the tap to rinse it. The pipe groans and brown water splutters from the tap for a moment before running clear. They are the first rental guests of the season, and so they’re bound to find a few surprises, the owners had warned.

“You know, the beach out there isn’t even sand,” she says, rinsing out the glass, “just a bunch of rocks. Maybe we should move. Find another place.”

“You want to switch rentals because of some sand?” he says, “are you fucking nuts?”

The wine makes a cheerful glugging noise as it escapes the bottle, and it’s like a sound effect from a movie. “Wine being poured.” She fills the tumbler and sits on the couch. The brown retro fabric is itchy against the backs of her bare legs. Finished with the notes, Bram steps back to survey his work. On each one, he’s written an affirmation in his tiny precise handwriting.

Every cell in my body vibrates with health and peacefulness.

It’s the same at home. She’s tried to restrict it to a few areas, but each day she finds an affirmation stuck in a new place.  

The wine is delicious. She feels herself start to relax. Even the couch isn’t quite as uncomfortable as she first thought. This cottage is more than they can afford, and their Visa is almost maxed out. But they’ve got it for the whole month. From her spot on the couch, Leslie takes in the room.

There’s a framed print hanging on the wall. It’s an ocean scene, and the sky is heavy and overcast. The waves are frozen mid crest. Someone walks along the beach wearing a yellow raincoat with the hood pulled up, and a matching pair of rubber boots. The bright yellow stands out from the muted colors, but the person still seems to fit in, to belong in this landscape. Leslie decides she likes this painting.

She feels a rush of affection for the whole place: the rickety table beside the couch, the lamp with its rough wooden base, the bright acrylic crocheted afghan, and the scrappy little floor mat. This cottage is where it’s all going to happen. Bram will get better, and she’ll get pregnant.


Note: These monthly spotlights showcase Mysterious Middle Drafts (MMDs). That means they are somewhere between first drafts and final drafts. This is a challenging stage! Emerging writers bravely share their work-in-progress here for discussion, but this is not a book review or critique: this is a venue for the appreciation of Mysterious Middle Drafts. Thank you for making this writing space safe and supportive.  

Discussion:

  • What remains with you after reading Brittany's work?

  • Can you articulate what’s working in this excerpt – and more importantly, why it’s working?

  • How is your own writing practice like Brittany's? How is it different?

Please leave a comment below. And thank you, Brittany! 


Photo credit (top): Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash.


Do you have too much discipline? Writing and OCD.
Margaret Atwood in my living room.

4 comments

It feels like this is the last gasp for them both. Everything either comes together or it falls apart. I like that even though there is tension, both Bram and Leslie are going into it focused on positive energy.
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Marion Ann

I also like complete silence or random music while writing. Writing by hand and then transferring it to the computer has been my writing practice for as long as I can remember. There is something about handwriting, don't you agree?
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Steve Bond

I love the ocean and water symbolism of life and rebirth. Bram is trying to get better and Leslie is trying to get pregnant. There are rocks instead of sand by the ocean. Rocks break down into sand by the actions of water, wind and time. The problems that Leslie and Bram need to overcome need to be broken up by communication and action over time. The painting represents the challenge of man versus nature. The sand is symbolic of change and the steps to bring about change. Great job, Brittany!
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Mary Nicholson

While there are many things I could say about this piece- what I admired the most was the POV- I am thinking that it is a kind of difficult one to keep in the present tense- is this what we call limited omniscient? In terms of the sounds of the passage- "The pipe groans and brown water splutters from the tap for a moment before running clear. " - this phrase in particular made the sounds be very present to me, that there is life happening here, in this place.
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