“I quite fancy being a marine iguana”- Presenter turned author Penny Smith chats to World of Books about her pet peeves, her funniest anecdotes, and her novels
Penelope Smith, television presenter and personality, newsreader and writer, was born 21st September 1958 in Eastwood. In her early years, Penny attended Uppingham Primary School in Uppingham and the Rutland High School for Girls in Oakham. After beginning her career as a reporter and feature writer on the Peterborough Evening Telegraph, Penny then left to backpack through Central and South America and South East Asia, where she reported and presented on a current affairs programme for Radio Television Hong Kong. In l984 she joined Radio Trent as a reporter/presenter, then worked for Central Television as press officer for documentaries and drama.
After that she co-presented the local evening news for Border Television and after a year she co-presented Thames News. Penny then moved to Sky News before becoming presenter of GMTV`s ‘News Hour’ in April 1993. Since then Penny has presented many shows, including one on Classic FM and co-presenting GMTV until June 2010 when she left to concentrate on being an author. On top of all that, she’s even found the time to make three yoga videos! Finally, in terms of her writing, Penny has also written for a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as writing her three books, Coming Up Next (2008), After the Break (2009), and Summer Holiday (2011).
We’ve grown up seeing you on our TV screens at some point or another, so it’s brilliant to be able to chat to you today, especially as you’re a fellow book lover!
Q:We’ll just go straight in there with something we’re dying to ask! As big fans of It’ll be Alright on the Night, World of Books would love to hear any funny stories you have from your years of presenting?!
– Well I suppose the one which has been shown most often, was when I was doing a holiday film from Mykonos for GMTV. The producer, cameraman, sound-woman and I ended up on a deserted beach, where I was going to do a piece to camera about this being the island where Shirley Valentine went to find herself in that wonderful film with Tom Conti. We had been up for hours, I hadn’t eaten my lunch because it was too greasy, and we couldn’t find any water. So I had a bottle of retsina on a small table, as a prop. I took a slurp from my glass, delivered my speech, put the glass down. But things kept going wrong. A helicopter went over and made a noise. The camera focus wasn’t what the producer wanted. The shot needed to be changed. Etcetera. And each time, I was slurping from the glass. The obvious happened. I forgot what I was supposed to say, and the more I slurped, the messier it got. Eventually, it was done, and I shrieked with joy before virtually falling off my perch.
Q: So on top of being a successful but incredibly busy TV presenter, your other passions lie with opera, tennis and hiking. And if that wasn’t enough, you’ve even released three yoga videos (with Christmas pudding still weighing us down, World of Books may have a look at them!) How often do you get a chance to relax with a good book? And what would be your book of choice?
– Interesting books which are well written. I recently hosted the Costa Book Awards and read most of the five books which had won the individual categories – thoroughly enjoyable. I secretly wanted the children’s book to win, because it’s rare that the category gets the big prize. Blood Red Road is a stonking good tale set in an apocalyptic future. There are cage fighting girls, rugged boys, and a young heroine who is trying to save her twin brother. I think it’s already been optioned as a film.
Q: As a presenter of Market Kitchen on the Good Food Channel, what has been your favourite dish you’ve seen be made? Cookery books are in one of the best-selling genres here at World of Books, but do you think there is still room for even more cookery guides in the future?
– Maria Elia was one of the chefs on the show. I loved her food – very clean and lots of vegetables. She has a book out called The Modern Vegetarianwhich has the most scrumptious recipes ever. And all the ones I’ve tried have worked like a dream. Watermelon curry. Ginger beer battered mushroom stuffed tofu. Yum yum yum. I’m not vegetarian, but I do adore a vegetable.
Q:What are your top three pet peeves?
Leaky earpieces on personal stereos.
People eating smelly food on public transport.
Q: Now, some of the ladies among us will have read your beauty column for Femail in the Daily Mail. You’ve also written articles in Good Housekeeping and Woman and Home. Do you get given topics to write about? And how easy is it coming up with consistently fresh material?
– Generally, I get asked to write something by magazines or newspapers – an opinion on a topic, for example. Or I offer to write for them on something I feel strongly about. As for fresh material…. who was it who said there was nothing new under the sun? But new people are reading your stuff, so its new to them!
Q: If you could be anyone or anything for the day, who or what would you be?
– I quite fancy being a marine iguana, sunning itself on a rock, hanging out with friends and occasionally swimming off for a nosh on some algae. But they do whiff a bit.
Q: When your first book, Coming up Next, was released in 2009, it was described by one critic as a “comic roller-coaster”. The Daily Record even commented, “she might want to give up her day job”. You did actually give up your job as a presenter in 2010. How difficult has it been to practise discipline as a writer? And do you ever regret your decision?
– Hmmm. I’m still busy doing radio and television here and there, and I have yet to get down to book number 4. Waking up at 9 o’clock in the morning instead of 4, is still an utter joy. Delicious.
Q: Your most recent novel, Summer Holiday, was released in June 2011. It tells the story of Miranda Blake who is 45 and divorced, and beginning to get ideas such as botox, a toy-boy or even just a new job to spark up her life. The only obstacle in her way is her “pompous” 23-year old daughter, Lucy. After a string of disastrous dates set up by her friends, Miranda decides to randomly help clean out a local canal, in a bid to become an ‘eco-warrier’ (of sorts), immediately falling for Alex- a passionate, dread-locked young man. After Lucy successfully sabotages the relationship, Miranda goes on holiday to Spain, only to get into even more adventures whilst there!
In this novel we were happy to come across the character from your previous two books, Katie Fisher. Was it strange having Katie as a secondary character in this book, rather than as the main protagonist in your previous two?
– I wanted to have a connection to the first two books, and Katie is a little smudge in the story of Miranda Blake. Having lived with her through two books, she almost wrote her part herself…
Q: If you could give any advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
– It’s never been easier to publish – albeit online. Keep with it. If nothing else, it’s a wonderful heirloom for your family.
Q: Here at World of Books we are dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?
– I don’t keep many books, I recycle them to friends or charity shops. Set them free to live again….