The Big Issue Book of the Year is Winter by Ali Smith

A frosty family tale echoing with the voices of Shakespeare, Dickens and Siri tops our list in 2017

Ali Smith began to make waves back in 1995, when her first book, Free Love and Other Stories, won the Scottish Arts Council Book Award. Since then her short stories and novels have accumulated international admiration, as well as an embarrassment of awards riches.

She now inhabits a unique place in the hearts and minds of awestruck / lovesick readers and writers. This is not because she’s won lots of awards, and critics fall over themselves to say how wonderful she is. It’s because she has written without pretension or ego, free from concern for literary or commercial trends, for over thirty years. And almost entirely without striking a wrong note. With an extraordinarily clarity of voice, and a disarming ability to access the deep, dark recesses of her own response to the world, she has produced a series of masterclasses in the dual arts of artistic imagination and human empathy.


Winter sees Smith at the peak of her magical powers. It is a compelling tale, elegantly told, of a dysfunctional family learning to rub along together in an unyielding world whose daily taunts are bolstered by an unsympathetic social media, cold-blooded technology, and furious red tape. It is also a gateway into a world rich with fantasy, allegory, poetry and the supernatural.

Spells are cast and broken before breakfast, reassembling again by bedtime

This is Smith’s forte. The lives portrayed in her books exist on multiple levels, from the most mundane to the miraculous, cowed and enchanted by both. In Winter, Shakespeare’s voice echoes alongside those of Dickens, David Bowie and Siri. Disembodied heads pad along beside her characters next to sisters, sons, and bank managers. Spells are cast and broken before breakfast, reassembling again by bedtime.

Smith makes the case for the preservation of memory and communion as the planet decays in a climate of greed and indifference. And as we can’t live inside the imaginarium of her head forever, the only sensible course for her readers is to go forward remembering everything she has taught us. And it’s not just a special sensitivity and wider awareness we benefit from – like most of the great Scottish writers, there’s a wry humour threaded through her work. So as well as everything else, Smith will give you a good laugh too. Cheers, Ali.

Ali Smith


‘I am totally chuffed, delighted and above all honoured that Winter is the Big Issue Book of the Year. I’m a regular Big Issue reader myself, which makes it all the more a pleasure – I really rate the Big Issue, it’s always good, it’s always interesting and it always tells a reader a great deal about things that don’t get enough attention in the rest of the media, the things that dip under the media radar – you just wipe that notion of radar out and make everything human and real. A large part of the inspiration for Winter was exactly that question of who or what gets lost to us when it comes to understanding and conveying what people’s lives are like right here right now. HUGE THANK YOU, Big Issue. You really get it.’