Boys, Bombs and Barley Sugar

So, it turns out that a classroom full of 7yr old boys can be very noisy. Who’d have thought?

Also, they are FULL of questions. Particularly if you mention bombs.

I should explain. Last week, my son’s year group had ‘War Day’. This wasn’t so much a celebration of all things war-like, but more of a nostalgia 1940’s day in which the boys joined in activities as they might have done during WW2. They dressed up as evacuees, learned about rationing, remembered family members who served in the war and put on a great production, singing old songs from the ’40’s.

Some soldiers even came to the school to drill them around the playground like new recruits, and Warrant Officer Coates showed them . . . here it comes . . . bombs.

Yes. Real bombs. They weren’t live, of course, but, y’know, boys and bombs. Those 7yr old eyes just lit up like white phosphorous flares!

Anyway, as you may know, I have a children’s book coming out next year which is set during the second world war, so I agreed to go in and talk to the boys about . . . well, what could I talk about? I’m no historian, that’s for sure. I’m not a soldier either. But I did find out quite a bit about air raids when I was researching the book.

‘Yes. That’s it’, I thought. ‘I’ll talk about air raids.’

A very big bomb!

Well, that went down a treat. Because air raids involve bombs, of course. And at the mere mention of the word, the questions rained down on me. One boy in particular was very persistent in his enquiries about the size of different explosive devices and I had to admit my ignorance of detailed bomb knowledge. Warrant Officer Coates had been in already, remember, and his vast array of explodey things made me feel very inadequate indeed.

I was nothing. NOTHING, I tell you.

Perhaps my 1937 civilian gas mask might have diverted their attention but I discovered, just in time, that asbestos was used in the manufacturing process, so I left it at home in an air tight plastic bag.

So what could I do? How could I halt those bomb-related questions? How could I regain my standing in those young eyes?

Eventually I could only placate them with my balloon bomb demonstration which went down a storm (I bet Warrant Officer Coates didn’t do a balloon bomb demonstration), followed by a couple of short films showing . . . you guessed it . . . bombers dropping bombs.

And then, my trump card. I might not be a soldier. I might not have bombs. But I’m a Dad.

And Dads have POWER!

And Dads have KNOWLEDGE!

And Dads know what boys love even more than things that blow up.


nicer than bombs

Oh yeah, I went prepared with a bag of barley sugars. Proper war-time treats.

Better than bombs any day.

That’s all

The Next Big Thing

Okay, so fellow author Emma Pass (whose first YA novel ACID is published next year) has tagged me on something called The Next Big Thing. I’m supposed to tell you about the book I’m working on and then tag five other people and they’re supposed to do the same thing. Well, y’know, these things can be hard. It’s kind of a chain thing without the ‘you will die horribly if you don’t pass this on’ aspect. Which is good, because I don’t know who I can tag and I don’t want anything untoward to happen to me. I’ll just have to hope that the other ‘tagees’ pass it on instead. Oh, and when have I ever been one to follow the rules and do what I’m supposed to?


So there.


Also, telling you about the book I’m working on isn’t the easiest thing in the world. You see, I’m working on more than one book. There’s the adult novel which has just gone to Orion, there’s the children’s one which has just gone to Chicken House, there’s the other children’s one I’m about to send to my agent, there’s the children’s one I’m about to start writing, and there’s the adult one that . . . well, you get the picture.

Let it not be said I’m not working hard.


So, I thought I’d tell you a bit about the children’s book that’s due out in the summer. How about that? That sound OK?


Right then. Here we go.




1) What is the working title of your book?


The Souvenir. It won’t be called that when it’s published next year ,though. It’s too abstract, I think. Watch this space for a confirmed, final, written-in-stone title.


2) Where did the idea come from for the book?


That’s always such a hard question to answer. Where do ideas come from? A wisp of something here, a snippet of something there, the remnant of a dream, an overheard snatch of conversation, an incantation over a cauldron in the black of night, a pact with the devil . . . well, maybe not all of those things.


3)What genre does your book fall under?


It’s a novel for children and, wonderfully, children’s books are not jammed into genres the way books for adults are. This particular story is set in the north east of England in the summer of 1941 and I’d say it’s for readers over the age of 10, but 12 is probably the ideal age.


4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?


That’s difficult to say because the book is about two children so the actors would have to be age appropriate – and I don’t know anyone who fits that description!


5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?


Stumbling across a wounded German airman, two English children seek to protect him from the soldiers who are hunting him – but how will they keep him safe when others in the village are becoming suspicious? And can they really trust the enemy?


That’s one sentence. Kind of.


6)Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?


I’m represented by London Independent Books and the novel will be published in July 2013 by Chicken House Publishing. So far I’ve only published books for adults and this is an exciting step for me.


7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?


About two weeks which is . . . well, it’s fast. Blistering. The story had been mooching about in my head for a long time, though, so it was already well developed. Also, I’d be lying if I said that the first draft was any good. It needed a lot of work to knock it into shape. When I write for children the books are a little shorter but I treat the process exactly as I do when I write for adults. I have two children and I have learned from experience that it’s very important not to underestimate or patronize younger readers.


8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?


Due to the WW2 setting, I suppose the obvious comparisons would be to books like Carrie’s War, Goodnight Mr Tom and The Machine Gunners, but the feel of the story and the way I tell it is much more modern.


9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?


I’m fascinated by the history of the period and the strength of the people who endured the hardships. It must have been both exciting and terrifying for children to have lived with the constant threat of bombing and the fear that their fathers and brothers and cousins and uncles would never come home. My own grandfather was a captain in the British Army during the war, my grandmother’s sister was an Anti Aircraft gunner in the ATS and my great-grandfather was the Secretary of State for War in 1945, so there’s a bit of family history there too . . .


10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?


Well, first and foremost it’s a cracking adventure, full of excitement and danger. But it’s also a book about friendship, loyalty, understanding and courage.



And this is where I feel guilty for not tagging someone else.


That’s all.

Uncharted Territory

I’m entering new territory.


As a published author, it’s good to do the odd public event. It’s a useful way to connect with readers and to spread the word about your writing. And, contrary to what your natural inbuilt fear of public speaking tells you, it can actually be good fun. Unless you get heckled, natch.


As a published children’s author, however, I am told it is essential. School visits are a must. Without them, you are NOTHING!


And that’s what I mean about new territory. For me, this land is uncharted.


Speaking to adults is fine. They tend to be polite, nod in the right places, smile when you expect them to and sit still for a whole hour. It’s like a trip to your local city centre. It’s fine. You know where you are, you know what’s around you, there might be the odd unexpected surprise but, y’know, you’re a grown up, you can handle it.


Schools, though? That’s like going into the jungle, right? And children? Well, they’re these crazy, unpredictable things that roam wild in schools. They fidget, yawn, sigh and shake their heads. They snort and cough and roll their eyes. And the questions they ask? Oh, don’t be expecting no easy questions, man . . . and if you don’t keep their attention, they pounce. They sneak up on you like predators and tear you to pieces in the blink of an eye.


See what I mean? Uncharted territory.


But I’ve got my map and I will stand firm. Oh, and I’ll ask my ex-teacher Mum if I can borrow those eyes.


Y’know – the ones in the back of her head.




That’s all.

Next . . . The WORLD!!

So here’s a bit of news.


Next year there will be two new Dan Smith novels on the shelves.


There will be one for the adults – a book to shred your nerves in the way that THE CHILD THIEF did – and there will be one for children.


And you’re going to love both of them.


If you’ve read my blog in the past month or so, you’ll have seen me mention that I’d had an offer on my first children’s book . . . well, I’ve now signed on the line so I don’t suppose it’ll do any harm to tell you something about it. Not too much, you understand. I wouldn’t want to over-stimulate you. I don’t want your pulse to raise too much. I don’t want to get that blood pressure up and . . . anyway, you get the idea.




So, now you’ve calmed yourself . . . read on.


Chicken House will be publishing THE SOUVENIR next summer. They’re a great publisher with a  fantastic reputation, they have a good eye for special stories (natch) and I’m very excited to be working with them. THE SOUVENIR is set in a small coastal village in Northumberland in the summer of 1941 and there’s adventure afoot, so strap yourself down and prepare to be both thrilled and moved. There’s invasion preparations, plane crashes, deceit, friendship, fun, frights, explosions, danger and, of course, a little heartbreak.


And I can’t wait.


In other news, THE CHILD THIEF has now sold to a French publisher so, next year, it will appear in France as well as the USA.


Next . . . the WORLD, mwahahahahahahaha.


That’s all.