Tag Archives: Dan Smith

She Wolf

In She Wolf we go back 1200 years, to the Northumbria of Saxons and Vikings. Dan Smith has written this story about Ylva, recently arrived in England with her mother. Times are rough and almost immediately Ylva’s mother is murdered, and Ylva sets off after the killer to exact revenge. Because it’s what you did.

Dan Smith, She Wolf

There are wolves, and bears, and it is cold. She meets various people on her hunt for the three-fingered man who killed her mother. Some she can – probably – trust; others she shouldn’t. But it can be hard to know who is dangerous and who isn’t.

Ylva is brave, but also young and naïve and doesn’t always get it right. In fact, she gets it wrong a lot of the time. The Vikings are dangerous people, but as Ylva is a Dane, she is wary of getting too close to the Saxons as well.

This is exciting stuff, and you learn a lot about what it could have been like. Bleak. Not much in the way of creature comforts.

(Great cover illustration by Jill Calder)

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She ‘hearts books’

Yvonne Manning

‘Have you spoken to Yvonne Manning?’ (I have, as matter of fact.) It’s Yvonne who runs Falkirk’s RED book awards, and it is she who ‘hearts books’ to such an extent that she wore a hearty sort of hat yesterday. Red, obviously, along with the other red accessories we had all unearthed in our wardrobes. Although the students from a Falkirk school had gone one better and got themselves red hair for the day, even if it was in the form of red wigs.

RED 2018

For the 2017 RED awards, their 12th one, they had shortlisted Alwyn Hamilton, Elizabeth Laird, Tanya Landman and Dan Smith. I thought this was a very decent list of people, and I was very happy to be conveyed to Falkirk to see them, even if they were one Elizabeth Laird short. She was very sorry. So were we.

RED book awards 2018

Over a custard cream (it would have been rude not to) I chatted to Anne Ngabia from Grangemouth High, about her latest batch of books waiting to travel to Kenya. And she introduced me to her handsome assistant Sandy.

I said hello to Tanya Landman, who had braved the Monday Bank Holiday traffic to travel from Devon, and who was pleased to have been to see the Kelpies. Dan Smith remembered me from the Manchester Chicken House breakfast, and was a little confused as to how I follow him around the country, living in different towns.

And I was introduced to Alwyn Hamilton, and finally got a little chat. We covered topics such as lipstick (I had no idea they were that expensive!) and Star Wars, and travelling abroad to see movies in the right language in the cinema.

As the coaches ferried Falkirk’s young readers to fth (Falkirk Town Hall), the authors took turns being interviewed by some of the students, and Dan turned out to be a sharpie-carrying man, always prepared. (I must copy him.) His school visit to Denny the day before, prompted the conversation to move on to Kirkland Ciccone, as conversations sometimes do. (Are your ears burning, Kirkie?)

Tanya Landman, Dan Smith and Alwyn Hamilton

When it was time for the proceedings to start, Yvonne donned her red fairy lights as well as something looking suspiciously like heart shaped sunglasses. Red. Or possibly pink. Schools were introduced, the authors were introduced, their books were introduced, and tidiness was mentioned as something that could be rewarded.

The programme was slightly changed from earlier years. Instead of dramatising the books on stage, the schools had filmed short clips on how they imagined their allotted shortlisted books.

Cake queue

Cake

In the break there was coffee and cake for the adults, which made me feel quite grown-up and had me running for the carrot cake, with a tiny carrot on top. Had time for a little gossip with the authors before they went off to judge the students’ alternate book cover art, and signing books, and all kinds of other items.

Signing queue

Dan Smith

Alwyn Hamilton

Tanya Landman

Yvonne Manning and dancers

Anne Ngabia began the second half with a greeting in Swahili, showing us a video clip from a school in Kenya, and another of some dancing, to mirror the dancing going on at fth. She showed us one of her libraries from ten years ago; shelves full of books. And then we saw the same library today, with empty shelves, because the books have been read to shreds. They need new ones!

Then there were prizes for best reviews, best covers, best red accessories. If you could have a prize for something, it was bound to be awarded. In the end, there was even a prize for the author of the winning book. Not yet, though.

Yvonne manning

First the authors got to sit on the blue velvet sofas and answer questions from the audience. One was about playing the game Fortnite, another why one would want to become an author (because you get to read and go on holiday and call it research). Advice for future authors is to turn off all your devices and daydream.

Yvonne Manning, Dan Smith, Tanya Landman and Alwyn Hamilton

Dan has wanted to be Bear Gryll, or possibly a rock star. Alwyn wanted to go into advertising, while Tanya’s earlier ambitions were astronaut, ballerina, or at least to be a monkey. Writer’s block is not a block, merely a wrong turn. Taking the dogs for a walk is good, and you should just keep writing.

All Dan’s books are ‘awesome,’ Tanya feels you must love all your books, and Alwyn actually has a favourite; her second book. Asked if they’d like to stop to write something funny, the answer was a resounding ‘no!’

Someone wanted to know if Tanya had ever been eaten by a zoo animal, but the closest she’d come was being badly scratched by a really cute tiger cub. Favourite genres are ‘good books’ for Dan, YA for Alwyn and ‘not supernatural’ for Tanya. After a last game question for Dan, it was time for the RED book award.

Instead of the Provost of former years, I’d been sitting next to a glamorous looking lady, whose job it turned out to be to hand over the awards (I have completely managed to forget her name, though…). And the winner was, Elizabeth Laird for Welcome to Nowhere! As she wasn’t present, she doesn’t yet know what an absolutely fantastic prize is coming her way. Anne Ngabia has made yet another tapestry, featuring [past winning] books on a shelf.

RED book awards 2017

Alwyn, Tanya and Dan were given runner-up prizes, which looked too large to be carried home with any ease (I have now seen the inside of Tanya’s suitcase). Photographs were taken, and Dan will be practising how to smile and flick his hair (that one will be hard) to look as great in photos as Alwyn.

Tanya Landman, Dan Smith and Alwyn Hamilton

There was lunch for the grown-ups, and train timetables were studied, as bags were squished and repacked. I discovered Falkirk Grahamston station was twice as far away as it used to be.

Oh well, these things happen.

My Friend the Enemy

The children in Dan Smith’s book My Friend the Enemy fully believe that their own British soldiers would shoot captured German soldiers in cold blood. And if you believe that, then your actions won’t be the same as if you knew that there are (were) rules of what happens, even in war time.

Because Peter and his new best friend Kim (who looks like a boy and mostly acts like one too, but is actually a girl) do find themselves a German parachutist in the woods. Peter’s father is a soldier and Kim’s brother is a pilot, so they have lots of feelings invested in the enemy. But eventually they come to the conclusion that if they look after their captive soldier well, then someone might do the same to their loved ones if they are captured by the Germans.

Dan Smith, My Friend the Enemy

But the adult reader can see the complications of keeping an enemy secret. They can’t stay hidden forever. Food is already scarce, so what to feed their soldier? Hygiene needs and clothes and medicine are other considerations.

The local soldiers seem an aggressive lot, so it’s not surprising they fear Erik’s death. And with some older bullies also roaming the woods and fields, there’s plenty to fear.

This is an exciting way of learning more about WWII at home, in England. Much of it we have already encountered in other war novels, but Dan has added new stuff, and his story doesn’t go quite where I expected it to go. This is an ever fascinating topic, I’m afraid, and I really enjoyed the book.

Not everything ends happily. There’s a war going on, and some people simply will have to die, or be injured. There’s injustice and deprivation, but above all there is hope. And whatever has happened to hope these days, we seem to know – a little – more about enemies. They are normal people, too. And they don’t necessarily want to take part in war any more than you do.

Chicken House at Cornerhouse

Not every book event can be reached by 19-minute train trips from the bottom of my garden. I almost wish they could. So, full marks to Chicken House for coming ‘up north’ in the first place, and second for picking that rather excellent watering hole Cornerhouse as their venue for breakfast on Thursday morning. Good and convenient.

Annexe at Cornerhouse

It was quite nice meeting authors there, too. Melvin Burgess, being one of our token Mancunians, I had not seen since our Christmas dinner, and newbie Fletcher Moss not since that coffee-less morning coffee a couple of months ago. They were the only advertised star turns, but there were more Chicken people present; a fact which had me resorting to stealing. (Sorry.)

Dan Smith

Fletcher introduced me to Dan Smith, whose book I had not thought to bring. So I sort of helped myself to another copy of My Friend the Enemy (out in July) in order that Dan could sign it. I had to lend him my pen – which he actually returned after some further borrowing – but at least he didn’t need to practise his signature. (By the time Fletcher had warned him that I’d head straight home to write all kinds of stuff about everyone, it was too late for Dan.)

That was one wonderful breakfast! I have rarely been so well fed at an event. By the time I’d checked out the double buns with sausages on Tony Higginson’s plate (did I mention Formby’s no. 1 bookseller was there?), I noticed Melvin and raised my camera to photograph him, which caused the poor man to pause his sausage bun eating… They had a veggie version too, meaning I could join in, and it was Very Delicious! (Now that I think about it, maybe it was Fletcher who had a double helping. Or someone.)

Melvin Burgess and Barry Cunningham

At this point Barry Cunningham started the chatshow, so the eating had to cease. First Barry told us why children’s books are so good. We knew that already. He mentioned the peculiar fact that it wasn’t raining. Apparently you can’t use the words sunshine and Manchester in the same sentence. Then he talked to Melvin about the background to The Hit, and after that Melvin read the first chapter. (He’d done some research into the willingness of teenagers to sleep with someone who was about to die a virgin…)

Fletcher Moss

Our second Mancunian was Fletcher, who talked about winning a book competition only to have to re-write the whole thing. He read the first chapter of Poison Boy, by which time I had liberated a chair to sit on, right at the back where I could do as I wanted.

Sam Hepburn

The third author was Sam Hepburn, who is a girl, despite the name. Sam writes what Barry wants most; crime for and about young people. I’ve had my copy of Chasing the Dark in my tbr pile for a while, and I knew I wanted to read it even before hearing Sam read a chapter to us. She told us her children thought she’d based the really horrible aunt character on herself!

Stuart Hill

Author no. four was former bookseller Stuart Hill, who wrote lots of – unpublished – books before finally sitting down to write the one he really wanted to write; the one no one would read anyway, so he could do what he wanted. And that’s the one Barry published. Apparently his prequel Prince of the Icemark happened because readers wanted to know what went before Cry of the Icemark. And you know, I don’t exactly love zombies and werewolves, but I liked what Stuart read. Even though I was under the impression he had a witch called Cadwallader. It turned out to be the cat.

David Massey

Dan Smith (about whose name I said some less than polite things, on account of it being a bit common) and David Massey were not there to read, but mingled nicely, and I helped myself to a copy of David’s book Torn.

Jake Hope's shoes

It was good to meet some new people, and nice to see old acquaintances like children’s books expert Jake Hope (wearing very snazzy shoes). I noticed from the un-claimed badges that I could have met up with even more old friends, and I hope they are now thoroughly regretting their absence from this culinary-literary event.

Chicken House breakfast

Then I went back for another of those sausagey things. I don’t know what I was thinking. Not only did it make my subsequent chat with Sam a little difficult, but it was very filling. As I stood staring at the cake selection, I realised just how filling. I ate a slab of carrot cake. Large piece, since it was the only size available. (I reasoned the icing made it impossible to smuggle home in a napkin.)

Cake, Cornerhouse

I witnessed someone else wrap a blueberry muffin (ginormous variety) to take home, so went to get a napkin to do the same thing, seeing as my earlier stealing of books had gone so well. Had barely touched the napkin when Tony demanded I take a photograph of him and some of his closest author pals. So I did.

Dan Smith, blogger Kate, Sam Hepburn, Tony Higginson and Fletcher Moss

Tina from Chicken House

As I got closer to the muffins again, I was waylaid by the lovely Tina who had organised the whole shebang, and we had a nice long chat, seeing as it was our first meeting in person. She was also vaguely thinking of pocketing muffins.

When I finally thought I was in the clear, Waterstones new events manager Louise came up to talk, while valiantly dealing with some carrot cake. So we talked events, we talked John Green – as you do – and books in general. Barry came up and discovered Louise had moved here from Reading, which is a most suitable place for someone involved with books. (Even when you know how to pronounce it correctly.)

Barry Cunningham

With Barry’s blessing I finally helped myself to the muffin, while he apologised for having said bad things about the Mancunian weather. Which was when I happened to glance at my watch, realising I had just enough time to catch my train home so I could make dinner. There was a Resident IT Consultant who needed feeding.

I – on the other hand – didn’t.