Meme Culture, Manuscripts and Monica Lewinsky: In Conversation with Raven Smith

Tue, 17 December 2019
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Ahead of the publication of his new book, cultural omnivore and master of the witty Instagram post, Raven Smith lets us in on his favourite places around London and that time he nearly became a stripper…

London-based writer Raven Smith is a cultural omnivore – a comment on David Hockney’s ouvre is likely to be followed by a proclamation of his undying admiration for the Olsens. No two sentences (or Instagram posts) are likely to skim along the same cultural stratum. Poirot is his icon. Oh and after years of pretending to be allergic, he’s started eating tomatoes again. Seeing the world from his point of view, his timely Instagram posts highlight the banality and hilarity of daily life, while his irreverent essays cause you to question your own position on the subject Raven is currently examining.

Formerly commissioning director at Nowness and a contributor for British Vogue – his Friday-night column for the publication was a celebration of whatever has caught his attention that week – he’s now working on his first book, Raven Smith’s Trivial Pursuits, which is set to be published in 2020.

“I’ve always been opinionated and vocal, but I slept on being a writer for some unknown reason. I love that there’s nowhere to hide when you’re writing, it’s both extrovert and intimate.”

Where are you from and how has that shaped or inspired you?

I love telling people I was born at St Thomas on the Thames, opposite Big Ben, but I mainly grew up in Brighton with the other liberal gays.

What is pop culture’s appeal?

It’s everywhereness. Popular culture is the froth on the top of the cappuccino of society, but you don’t order them separately at Starbucks. Pop culture is that aspirational lofty culture too. It’s frivolous, but can be iconic. Is Monica Lewinsky pop culture? Or political? Does it matter?

Why is storytelling so compelling?

We’re cognitive beings so we need to see the connection between things. I always say I hate writing about clothes, because describing garments is dry, but everything has a story, an emotion, a place in culture-at-large.

Your Instagram posts are next level; unpack your social strategy for us…

If you peek behind the curtain it’s just me in my pyjamas Googling ruby slippers. I want to root my posts in the now, but they should still resonate in the future too.

Would you rather be “punny” or witty?

Witty. A pun is just a softening of your Instagram brag.

Weirdest activity ever carried out in the name of journalism…

I nearly auditioned to be a stripper but my Jiminy Cricket kicked in.

Which are your most frequented travel destinations?

I’m at home in France, naturally. Gotta love a secluded Grecian beach as well. Anywhere on the planet with outdoor swimming, especially a 30s lido.

How do you plan your travel/trips?

In the same way I get my news, I always consult various sources. Everyone reads 36 hours [by the New York Times], don’t they? I’ll ask any mates who’ve been but finding a destination they haven’t been to is kind of the goal.

If there was one destination you could go back to immediately, which one would it be?

Siwa in Egypt in a heartbeat.

Best meal you’ve ever had was in…

The risotto on the Orient Express was *chef’s kiss*.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m suppressing waves of panic as I wait for the copy edit of my book to ruin my life.

What can we expect from your new book, Raven Smith’s Trivial Pursuits…

It’s all me. It’s my voice without me pretending to listen to your point of view between monologues. It’s a chunk of me. It’s a horcrux. Life is the pursuit of big and small stuff so I’m chewing it all over without gagging.

What does the cover of your new book say about you?

Phallic food is its own reward.

What is your favourite subject/ topic to write about?

Myself, sorry. Personal anecdotes always reveal something bigger about culture and people. My idiosyncrasies are weirdly relatable.

Which medium do you prefer: digital or print?

No real preference. Love a magazine on a plane.

Favourite things to do on and offline…

I love Googling pictures of people from school whose looks have faded. Writing offline is necessary.

The best cities for working freelance…

The ones with free and plentiful WiFi. So, not Havana…

Tell us about some of your favourite places in London…

The Palm House at Kew Gardens is a fave, as is the omelette at Quo Vadis. I will often Boris bike to Ottolenghi for slabs of his apricot cake that surely has crack mixed in with the fruit.

Where’s your next adventure?

Cough, a spa in Switzerland, cough.

What do you think makes a good hotel?

Never having to call the front desk for anything. I don’t think good service is make or break to be honest. I have a thing for faded glamour and history rather than pristine newness.

Your top five hotels…

Windsor Hotel, Cairo
Hazlitt’s, London
Hotel Locarno, Rome
Hotel Galleria, Venice
The Jane Hotel, New York
(Wow I sound fancy).

What are you reading at the moment? What’s next on your reading list?

I just re-read The Remains of the Day [by Kazuo Ishiguro] and cried my eyes out. I have the new Glenn O’Brien essay collection [Intelligence for Dummies] arriving soon.

Podcasts to download for our flight…

The one with the missing cryptocurrency woman [on BBC Sounds].

Do you unplug or limit your phone usage while on holidays?

I talk about it but never do.

One piece of travel advice…

Find a local.

What’s your take on souvenirs?

Fuck tourist tat that ends up in landfill. Ashtrays are surprisingly multi-use.

What would you do to improve airports?

Free Sancerre? My husband gets me into the BA lounge for the troughs of continental breakfast which help.

And finally, what’s in your SUITCASE?

Face wipes and not enough pants.

Raven Smith’s Pocket Guide to London

STAY: Hazlitt’s Hotel.

EAT: Too many favourites.

DRINK: Bar Termini in Soho.

SHOP: Alex Eagle Studio after a facial downstairs.

DO: I’ve still never been on the London Eye.

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