how to write a smell

Smells are evocative; they have the power to change our moods, take us back to a specific place in our lives, or remind us of long-forgotten memories. We asked five writers to walk us through the creative process of describing the intangible: fragrance.

Smells can make us wistful, melancholic, joyful and nostalgic. They're all around us and yet describing the power they have over us can be a tricky thing. To help shed some light on how smells fuel creativity, and how, in turn, their existence is communicated through various different writing disciplines, we asked five women – a songwriter, a poet, a playwright, an author and a screenwriter – to talk us through their relationships with smells.

Cosima, singer/songwriter. Her debut mixtape, South Of Heaven, featuring the singles Girls Who Get Ready and Had To Feel Something, was released last year.

“Smells, like music actually, help conjure up a specific emotion and all of a sudden you're right back there.”

Molly Davies, playwright/screenwriter. Her two plays - 2009's A Miracle and 2014's God Bless The Child – were both staged at the Royal Court. She's currently adapting Deborah Kay Davis' novel, True Things About Me, for Jude Law's Riff Raff Films.

“I have a very strong sense of smell – in fact I think it's my only fully functioning sense.”

Katie Khan, author. Her novel, Hold Back The Stars (published by Doubleday), is out now.

“There’s something more fundamental and earthy about describing the smell of a character, as though something deeper is revealed about their personality by describing their natural scent.”

Clare Pollard, poet. Her latest poetry collection, Incarnation, is released on February 23 via Bloodaxe Books.

“I think scents can be very intimate and visceral.”

Anna Maguire, screenwriter/filmmaker/actress. Her adaptation of Dave Eggers’ Your Mother and I recently won The Best British Short Film Award at The London Short Film Festival.

“I think that’s what I like most about smells relationship to memory – it kind of lays dormant in a space that is not fully describable in words, and when it arises it has a strength that maybe only a piece of music can challenge.”

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