Author interview: Dan Smith

By Linda Hall


The title of Dan Smith's latest book made me shudder. The Child Thief conjures up all sorts of horrid images. So I was expecting a dark tale - and I got it.

Smith takes readers on a chilling chase across the unforgiving Western Ukraine in the deep of winter in pursuit of an armed and very clever man who has stolen a child from a remote village.

The pursuers, Luka, a World War I and Russian Civil War vet, his twin sons, and the father of the stolen child, Dimitri, track the man and child through snow and sleet, in a country torn apart by war.

They can trust no one and no one trusts them.

While they trudge forward they dare not think about the two dead children buried in their village.

They dare not think about their women and children left to fend for themselves and they dare not think about the Soviet authorities and what they will do to them or those left behind in the village if they are discovered.

The story is brutal, where it has to be, scary and tense. The main character, Luka, is tough but afraid he won't be strong enough to protect his loves ones.

A real page-turner that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

I asked Smith some questions about his writing:

YOU ARE RELATIVELY NEW ON THE BOOK SCENE, BUT HAVE PUBLISHED THREE NOVELS SINCE 2010, ALL WITH GREAT REVIEWS: YOU MUST HAVE BEEN WORKING HEAD DOWN BUM UP FOR HOURS ON END. HOW HAVE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY COPED WITH THIS?


Working from home can actually be a great advantage when you have school-aged children, and I see more of my two than a lot of people see of theirs. The long summer break can be difficult but my children are at an age where they can entertain themselves, so that makes life easier.

I'm also lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive wife who puts up with all my vacant stares and forgetfulness.

They laugh at me for living in "Danworld", but that's okay, I can live with that.

It's an interesting world to live in. I do sometimes get a bit anxious if a novel isn't working quite how I want it to, or if my editor's deadline is looming, but it's important to keep things in perspective.

I don't hold people's lives in my hands.

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE SUCCESSFUL?


Success is very subjective. With so many good and well-established writers out there, it's difficult for a new author to break into the market and I'm not sure I've quite done that yet.

I have three books, some great reviews and I'm slowly starting to build a readership so ... maybe ask me that question in a few years.

WHAT COMES FIRST FOR YOU, THE CHARACTER OR THE PLOT?


For me, starting a new novel often comes from an opening image and a feeling of what I want to write about. After that, the characters start to show themselves and a plot soon follows. I don't plan much before I start writing, so I usually run through a couple of early drafts before I really get to know my characters. I try to let the plot unfold as I write.

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE YOUR CHARACTERS' NAMES AND DO YOU THINK THEIR NAMES ARE IMPORTANT TO THE STORY?


Yes, I do think character names are important, but they're hard to get right. It's not unusual for me to change names from draft to draft before I settle on the right one. As for how I choose them, well, sometimes the perfect one just pops into my head, while others might be inspired by people I know. For The Child Thief, I thought particularly hard about character names because Ukrainian and Russian naming traditions can be complicated in their use of patronymics and matronymics with suffixes dictated by gender.

I also wanted to find names that wouldn't be too confusing for ears not accustomed to Eastern European names.

DO YOU FEEL BEREFT WHEN YOU KILL OFF A CHARACTER?


I suppose I do, but I like to let unexpected things happen to important characters. Hopefully, it provokes an emotional response in the reader that they will remember. And why do we read if not to feel something? Oh, and I wouldn't want readers to think that any of my characters are safe.

WHO DO YOU MOST ADMIRE IN THE LITERARY WORLD?


That's a really tough question to answer. Cormac McCarthy for his beautiful prose, Elmore Leonard for his cool characters and snappy dialogue, Stephen King for his accessibility and huge volume of writing, but I also admire many other writers for many other reasons. And there are a lot of people behind the scenes as well - very few good writers don't have a hard-working agent and editor behind them.

WHAT IS THE FIRST BOOK YOU REMEMBER READING?


That's a great question that needs a long shuffle back into the dim and distant. Let me rummage through a few dusty boxes first. Ah, yes, Manx Mouse by Paul Gallico. I must have been about 7 years old when I read it and can't remember much other than that it's about a mouse/opossum/kangaroo/monkey thing that's blue and has no tail. Oh, and I loved it. I also remember reading the The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, but not understanding anything that was happening in it.

HOW DO YOU CELEBRATE FINISHING A BOOK?


Coming to the end of a novel doesn't mean the work is over, so I don't have any special rituals. Usually I take a day off and then start writing something new before I go back to edit it. Does that sound dull? Maybe I should start a new tradition.

THREE TIPS FOR INSPIRING WRITERS?


Read a lot. I know it's tired advice, but it's so true.

Reading other writers will help with all kinds of things from style and vocabulary to the basic mechanics of constructing a story. And it's also great inspiration when you find a book that you love.

Be critical when you're reading your own work. Be honest with yourself. And, if it's no good, either fix it or cut it.

Write because you enjoy writing, not because you like the idea of being a writer.


 


The Child Thief

by Dan Smith

Hachette, $36.99

WIN

We have a copy of Dan Smith's latest book, The Child Thief, to give away. Send your name and contact details to regionalfeatures@apn.co.nz by September 13.

- Hamilton News

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