Barrister's best: Kate Smith

Best books, top tracks, iconic inspirations, escape essentials? Barrister-turned-novelist Kate Smith shares her cultural life and times with Counsel


There are many books I re-read as a child, the best one being Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian. Compelling and comforting every time, it resonated on levels I didn’t fully appreciate until adulthood. It explored alienation, kindness, loneliness, fairness, warmth – themes I naturally gravitate towards in my own writing, especially the idea of fairness (a preoccupation, I suspect, that helped make the law such an obvious choice at one time, too). Plus the old man adopts the little boy in the end, and waddya know, we adopted our son a few years ago and that book will be compulsory reading for him one day whether he wants it or not.

These days, if I could choose only one book for the shelf (which would be some kind of hell) it would probably be Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, which thankfully was on the reading list of the Creative Writing MA I did a few years ago, otherwise what if I’d missed it? It’s beautiful and brave and flawed in all the good ways, and it looks at truth and verisimilitude and inspires me to write better. Also Roddy Doyle, especially The Van for the dialogue and the way it makes me want to drink lovely, lovely Guinness.

Nothing is mood-altering or life-affirming for me like music. My tastes, I guess, are wide-ranging but I’ve gone for a few absolute belters here which have helped me through most of the big life events and tend to accompany me wherever I go. For all exams ever, may I recommend a burst of Mozart’s Laudate Dominum from Vesperae Solennes de Confessore. Moving, calming, satisfying, it’s like rosemary in its ability to coax my memory into actually remembering things. Sometimes even relevant, legal things. Sixteen Miles by Boo Hewerdine is me at age 19 forever. The theme from Six Feet Under by Thomas Newman is a masterclass in how to suggest and enhance the tone of a drama through music and be a stand-alone work of perfection in its own right. (Six Feet Under and The Sopranos. Beautiful. You can keep Breaking Bad.)

I used to teach Argentine Tango and Tango Poema by Francisco Canaro will always transport me back to our friends in Buenos Aires and midnight in a tiny café eating caramelised onion pizza whilst half-watching a tiny wall-mounted TV showing something that may have been Argentina’s Got Talent. For pure feel-good when you need to remind yourself about all that’s right, try Sarah Vaughan’s version of Gershwin’s ’S Wonderful.

When it comes to films, E T (don’t knock it, you know I’m right), Cinema Paradiso (that beautiful boy and the music and my heart…), The Lives of OthersButch Cassidy and the Sundance KidDeadman’s Shoes (a brilliant British film and Paddy Considine is always superb).

I can’t seem to stay away from the sea for too long. I grew up on the Isle of Wight, didn’t leave until I left for university at the age of 18, and though I still work in London, we’ve lived in Hove for over ten years – partly because I think we both need that hit of the sea. There’s something about it that keeps me relatively sane, I think, though I don’t love the pebbles.

Listening to Jonathan Agnew on Test Match Special means basically all is well in the world.

And finally, the luxury item I couldn’t do without has to be almond milk (unsweetened please).

Kate Smith was until recently an associate senior lecturer at BPP University, specialising in Tort Law. She was formerly a barrister at QEB, London and then re-qualified as a solicitor, working within the regulatory department of FFW.


The Negligents, by Kate Smith (Valley Press, 2018). Literary fiction, this is a tragic, humorous coming-of-age story that plots the flailing friendship between Polina and Grace and their troubled families. As a former lawyer, Kate is fascinated by legal constructs, turning them upside down and inside out to shed light on the messy business of being alive. In this, her debut novel, she uses the framework of a legal negligence claim to explore the nature of friendship, of family loyalty and how a simple act of carelessness can have deeply toxic consequences. (Lucy Stone QC, of QEB, described it as ‘Kate Atkinson meets Anne Tyler’.) Available in paperback, ebook and audio, narrated by Kate.

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