A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Today is publication day for Dan Smith’s debut children’s novel, MY FRIEND THE ENEMY, so to celebrate, I thought I would ask him a few questions about the book and his writing.
Hello, Dan, and congratulations on the publication of MY FRIEND THE ENEMY! Can you tell us a bit about the book?
It’s the summer of 1941, in a coastal Northumberland village, and times are tough. 12-year-old Peter Dixon’s dad is away at war, and he knows just exactly who the enemy is . . . until a plane crashes in the field behind his house and Peter and his friend Kim find the biggest souvenir of all – a live German airman. He’s wounded and needs help but the British soldiers are closing in and Peter’s not so sure who the enemy is anymore.
Above all, My Friend The Enemy is about friendship.
You’re already well established as an adult author; what made you decide to write a book for younger readers?
I don’t know if I did decide to write a book for younger readers. I was fascinated by the idea of what it would be like for a child to live during a time of such constant fear and excitement and it seemed natural to write it from the perspective of a child, so that’s just how the story came out. When I look back at my adult novels, they often have children in them but are told from the perspective of adults; My Friend The Enemy is just told the other way around!
What inspired you to write a book set during the Second World War?
Like many people, I have a lot of family connections to WW2. My grand-father was a captain in the army, my great-aunt was an ack-ack gunner in the ATS, my great-grandfather was in the war office and his adopted son, Clive, was killed in a Nazi bombing raid in 1942 when he was nine years old. Growing up, I was surrounded by stories about those things, and I remember photos, medals, uniforms hanging in cupboards etc. Also, it’s just such a HUGE and defining part of our history, full of drama on both a large and small scale. It’s the perfect setting for a story.
What sort of research did you have to do for the book?
In this day and age, we writers are lucky to have the internet at our fingertips, and I found a huge wealth of stories and personal accounts about life on the home front. I also grilled (lightly) people who had their own memories of the time. Of course, I wanted the story to feel as authentic as possible, so I visited Eden Camp – an ex POW camp that has been converted into a museum – to see things for myself. They have mock ups of homes and shops and streets during the black-out etc that were a huge help. The Discovery Museum here in Newcastle has some good WW2 exhibitions, too, and I’ve even started collecting one or two bits and bobs myself.
Which part of the book was most fun to write?
Peter and Kim. Something about them feels very special to me.
Which part was the hardest?
Well, if you’ve read the book, you’ll probably have guessed that the end was the hardest part to write.
Will there be a sequel to MFTE?
I think Peter’s story has been told now, so I don’t have any plans for one. I can exclusively reveal, though, (*drum roll*), that there will be another book for younger readers next year. So, if you’re wondering what life might have been like for a 12-year-old German in the Summer of 1941 . . . watch this space.
What is your writing process like?
I write pretty much every day and when I finish one book, I’m already thinking about the next one. I don’t really know what I’d do if I didn’t have a book on the go. I don’t plan, but I do have a rough idea of what the story will be, and I write a first draft which then undergoes major changes because that’s when I know the characters and have an idea of what research I need to do. I always have to rewrite the beginning.
Who inspires you?
Ooh, that’s a tough question and I’m not sure how to answer it. As a writer, I think I’m inspired more by particular books and stories than by the writer him/herself. Does that make sense?
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring authors?
Read a lot and write a lot. Reading helps you to understand the flow of story telling more than anyone can teach it to you. And if you want to be a writer, you have to write. It’s no good being in love with the idea of being a writer because, trust me, there really isn’t anything romantic or bohemian about it. Oh, and keep plodding on. Just. Keep. Going. It never comes easily.
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Growing up, Dan Smith led three lives. In one he survived the day-to-day humdrum of boarding school, while in another he travelled the world, finding adventure in the padi-fields of South East Asia and the jungles of Brazil. But the third life he lived in a world of his own, making up stories . . . which is where some people say he still lives most of the time!
Now settled in Newcastle with his wife and two children, Dan writes his stories to share with both adults and children.
Dan’s debut novel, Dry Season, was shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award 2011, and was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. To date, Dan has published three novels with Orion Publishing, with a fourth, Red Winter, coming in July 2013. My Friend The Enemy, Dan’s first novel for children, is out from Chicken House now.
Emma Pass has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. Her debut novel, ACID, was published on 25th April 2013 by Random House Children’s Books, and will be followed by another stand-alone thriller for young adults, The Fearless, in 2014. By day, she works as a library assistant and lives with her husband and dog in the North East Midlands.