A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

The Story is King

When I decided to write about researching my books I thought, My Friend The Enemyyeah, how hard can that be? I’ve written books with historical settings. I’ve done research. I’ll just give a quick insight into how it’s done and I’ll be on my way, thank you very much.


As it turns out, it’s a bit more complicated than that. I realised I didn’t even know how I went about researching my books. ‘Haphazard’ is probably the best way to describe it. But now I’ve had to think about it, I’ve discovered it’s actually a long, detailed process and differs from book to book.

Don’t worry, though, I know you have somewhere to be. I’ll keep it brief.

The idea for My Friend The Enemy came to me in the same wayHeinkel HE1-11 many story ideas come; one moment it wasn’t there, then it was – the German plane was coming down over the woods close to a small seaside village in North East England, and it was the summer of 1941. I also saw that a young boy narrowly missed being killed by that crashing plane.

But where do I go from here?

Well, the era is still pretty well remembered in Britain, so detail wasn’t too hard to come by – especially on the writer’s first port of call; the internet. (Incidentally, I’m not one of those writers who says ‘turn off your internet connection’. I research as I write and would be lost without it!)

For me, though, the story is king, and it’s no good getting bogged down in research, so the first thing I did was start putting words on the blank screen because that’s the only way I know what detail I need.

As the story developed, I watched films, read books, looked at photographs,IMG_0586 propaganda posters, newsreels, collected memorabilia, talked to people who’d grown up in the 40’s, listened to vintage radio programmes and speeches. I visited Eden Camp Museum so I could see the way people’s houses looked, what they wore, what they ate.

I immersed myself in 1940’s Britain.

I even visited the coast to find the exact spot where, in my story, the mines are laid on the beach and the barbed wire is uncoiled along the links – the place where my characters, Peter P1050440and Kim, make their plans to . . . well, you’ll have to read the book to find out about that.

A lot of the detail never made it into My Friend The Enemy, but it made everything real for me. And when it feels real, then it becomes easy to write, because it makes me feel as if I was actually there. As I said before, though, the story is king, and I never want the facts to get in the way. My job is to entertain and tell a good story, not to document historical detail, so if I have to bend a few truths to fit my story, well, so be it.

That’s all.


About dansmithsbooks

Dan Smith, author of adult thrillers and adventure/survival stories for younger readers. See more of me at

3 comments on “The Story is King

  1. Emma Pass
    May 8, 2013

    Great post, Dan! it sounds like you had a lot of fun researching Frenemy. 🙂

  2. kateormand
    May 8, 2013

    Fab post – I’m really looking forward to reading this soon!

  3. dansmithsbooks
    May 8, 2013

    I DID have a lot of fun researching the book – more than I expected! Eden Camp was great, and so were the long walks on the beach, looking for pillboxes . . .!

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