Five Minutes With Phoebe Smith, the J.K. Rowling of Slow Literature

by Alexis Michele Higgins on March 28, 2019 in Lifestyle, Travel,

How does a wilderness-loving camper become a sleep storyteller? Well, once upon a time…

Phoebe Smith is a UK-based award winning travel writer, photographer, presenter and broadcaster with a love for adventure. (She’s been published in The Guardian and The Times of London, and regularly features on BBC Radio.) As the author of 10 books, this adventurer has shared moments from extreme camping to tricks to packing tasty, light meals for camping trips.

Recently, Smith became Sleep Storyteller-in-Residence at Calm, the number one application for sleep, meditation and relaxation. Smith encourages listeners to explore the great outdoors and experience all that is offered by embracing natural sight and sound. Many readers do not reach the end of her stories, which is an achievement in her eyes.

By day an award-winning travel writer, broadcaster and presenter, by night Phoebe Smith is extreme sleeping outdoors adventurer who thrives on heading to the wildest locations she can find to sleep in the strangest places she can seek out. Courtesy photo

What is your favorite bedtime story?

I do love Blue Gold – mainly because of Stephen Fry’s voice. I have a soft spot for Trans Siberian Railroad (as it was my first one) and am proud I got to read one myself too with Morocco’s Hidden Forest.

When did you know you wanted to tell bedtime stories?

I’ve always loved to write. When we were set homework to do creative writing, my friends would complain but I’d be so excited to get started. As I grew up, I continued to tell stories and loved setting myself the challenge of inspiring, surprising or making the listener/reader laugh. Now I’ve simply added one more – making people drift off to sleep. It’s funny, when you think I’ve worked hard as a journalist for the last 14 years trying to ensure people reached the end of my tales, only to discover I actually have a hidden talent for doing the exact opposite. It’s funny the way life works out…

Being the ‘J.K. Rowling of Slow Literature,’ are you a fan of Harry Potter?

I’m certainly a fan of JK Rowling. Her story is so inspiring and she embodies the way it is for writers – a whole lot of rejection, mixed with determination and eventual success! Her career is a lesson for why if you believe in something you have to go for it. And, of course, who cannot love a story about wizards and magic.

Phoebe Smith portaledging in Colorado. Courtesy photo

What are some must-haves for you when telling a story?

A sense of a journey is a must. Although a Sleep Story isn’t like a traditional story that you have to hear to the end, it still needs to hold the interest of the listener so that they try to stay awake and – by doing so – end up drifting off. I like to add in history, wildlife, sounds and smells. When I write them I am often snuggled up on my couch with a blanket and hot chocolate to get me in the zone.

Describe your first outdoors adventure.

There’s probably ones from when I was a kid – but the most life-defining outdoor adventure I had was in Australia 12 years ago, when I was convinced – despite hating camping at the time – to sleep outside in a swag bag (a rollaway bed) surrounded by critters that I was warned were deadly! I only did it because I was away from home, and started to wonder why I never tried it in the UK where it’s completely safe. The night was incredible, light playing on Uluru, stars brighter than I’d ever seen in my entire life, and a dawn so perfect I couldn’t even begin to describe it. From that point on I was hooked, and have sought out wild places to spend the night ever since, wherever I find myself travelling.

Tell us about your most recent sleeper train excursion to Scotland.

I absolutely love going to Scotland – the mountains there are immense. In winter they feel even bigger – you could be in the Alps, Norway or Alaska. But getting there can be a pain especially as I live in west London. But the Caledonian Sleeper makes it a dream – literally. You can travel all that distance while you sleep and wake up in winter wonderland. I headed far north to find the official Middle of Nowhere (the furthest place in Britain from any road). It was cold but, my goodness, it was wild and wonderful!

If you had to plan a storytelling experience in Texas, where would you roam?

It would have to be Big Bend National Park, floating down the Rio Grande, watching out for one of the hundreds of species of birds that migrate through the area. Though I could be tempted to take in the fall colours in Lost Maples. Then, of course, there’s the turtles and legendary sunsets at Padre Island…


Cover: Phoebe Smith hanging from the balanced rock at Bonnet Stone, Fife, Scotland. Photo Zac Bentley

Alexis Michele Higgins, a Texas State University student from Houston, has a professional background in music and entertainment. As graduation approaches, she looks forward to launching her own company.