27 August 2014

Interview with Tom Rob Smith, author of Child 44 and The Farm

Author Tom Rob Smith
Photo credit: James Hopkirk
Tom, thanks so much for your time and for joining me at Carpe Librum. I recently read The Farm, and wow! I was thoroughly gripped from the very beginning, and exclaimed out loud 3 times during the novel I was so entranced by your writing. Are you surprised by its success? (Published earlier this year and already the film rights have been sold).
Thanks, I’m really pleased you enjoyed the novel. The notion of surprise is a hard one to unpick. The truth is you never know how a book is going to be received by readers. You hope they’ll respond positively and connect with the material. You work hard to try and achieve that reaction but in the end, it’s out of your hands, so there’s always an element of surprise.

Without any spoilers, have you found the majority of your readers side with one particular parent?
I’m amazed by the variety of different reactions. This connects to your previous question, readers have such incredibly contrasting feelings, it’s quite remarkable to me, and fascinating.

Given the inspiration for The Farm was based on real events in your own family, how have your parents responded to the novel and upcoming film?

They’ve supported it – they read all the drafts, they were at the launch, and my mum is coming with me to the book fair in Gothenborg. The novel is a work of fiction, and all the characters are my creations, so the only intersection with reality is the concept of whether to believe your mum is insane, or your dad is a criminal.

I’m really looking forward to watching The Farm when it comes to the big screen, how much involvement will you have on the project? Will you be involved in any of the casting decisions?

This time round, I’m going to be involved.

Where do you do most of your writing and when do you do your best work?
In my study, but I’ve recently bought a very thin new laptop and I quite like working in public spaces now, it makes me view the writing in a different light, which is useful.

I’m very much a morning writer, I start early, if I’m not at my desk by 6.30AM I feel the day has got off to a bad start.

Do you listen to music when you write or do you prefer silence? Do you have a messy workspace or do you prefer a clutter free environment for writing?

I work in silence, mostly, but if I need to write in the afternoon, or evening, I’ll use music. My study is very tidy, but not obsessively so.

After falling in love with The Farm (your latest release), I read your debut novel Child 44 and the first thing I noticed was the different writing styles. Was this intentional or a result of the contemporary nature of The Farm versus Stalinist Russia in Child 44?

The big shift was from a third person narrative to a first person narrative, from a voice that the reader trusted emphatically, to a voice the reader questioned. But sure, the change in setting and the movement from historic to contemporary will have played a big part too.

Can you tell us about the research you undertake? What is some of the more unusual resource material you've consulted or research you've undertaken?

There’s nothing particularly unusual about my research, I just read a lot of books, as much as possible. The travel is useful too, but I would place all my emphasis on the importance of books, far more than the internet, which is full of brief extracts, bullet points, but for the internet, a few pages of text looks long, when in fact, it wouldn’t even be enough to constitute an introduction to a book. 

Did you buy these books or borrow them from the library? Do you prefer paper or e-books?
I bought them, even though I had very little money at the time, because I wanted to make a psychological commitment to finishing the novel [Child 44]. I’m glad I did, because they now sit on my shelves, and I feel a sort of connection to them. 

I much prefer hard copies of books, partly because I love having them on bookshelves. E-Books are spectacularly convenient though, particularly when traveling. 

Child 44 has been translated into 36 languages, is a major bestseller and quickly attracted the interests of Ridley Scott. It’s due to hit the big screen in April 2015 and I was wondering if your script to screen success is due to your experience and background in TV and screenwriting. What do you think?

I think writing in any medium helps writing in other mediums, even when they’re very different forms. Writing, for me, is about story and character and that’s true for novels and screenplays.

With regards to the movie of CHILD 44, I actually saw it recently for the first time, and it’s sensational. The love story is incredibly powerful and moving, the whole movie is beautifully directed, and there are some amazing sequences. The cast really couldn’t be any better, in my view. Sounds like we're in for a treat!

I noticed Noomi Rapace (who played Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) has been cast as Raisa in Child 44 the movie. Did you ever have particular actors in mind when writing the novel, given you first pitched the idea as the basis for a movie?

I didn’t, actually, in fact, I’m often quite vague about the appearance of a character, except where it’s relevant to the plot.

What’s your first love now, books or TV and movies?

I couldn’t possibly rank them!

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m actually in the middle of researching my new novel: it’s something epic after the tight, claustrophobia of THE FARM. But I’m always cautious about discussing my new novels, ideas are fragile, and they need protecting until they're fully formed.

Do you have any literary influences?

Every book I’ve ever read is an influence, but if I was being more helpful, I’d point to writers who are great with narrative, Conrad and Orwell, for example.

I am happiest when…?
Writing. That might sound unbelievable, or glib, but I suspect it to be true, maybe there’s something wrong about that, I’m not sure. It’s probably the only time I feel completely at ease.

What's next? What are you working on at the moment?

I’m finishing the final rewrites on a television mini-series called London Spy, a contemporary thriller, which goes into production in a few weeks. Five episodes, for the BBC.

Thanks so much Tom! I really appreciate your time, and look forward to seeing your books on the big screen.  Best of luck with the new novel.

21 August 2014

Review: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith book cover
Tom Rob Smith burst onto the scene in 2008 with his debut novel Child 44, which has gone on to sell millions of copies and win a host of awards.

Set in Stalinist Russia, Leo Demidov is a popular and loyal agent for the MGB, the State's Security Force.  The state controls everything, from where you live to the food you eat and conditions are bleak.  Anyone can be sent to the gulag or executed on the spot for the most trivial of infractions and many are arrested and tortured.

In performing his duties, Leo comes across the death of a boy found naked on a set of train tracks.  Convinced he has been murdered, his family are desperate for the state to investigate, but Leo must convince them otherwise.  Why? There's no crime in Russia.  The citizens have everything they need, so there's no need to commit any crime.  In fact, to suggest otherwise is a crime against the state.

Leo soon learns of similar cases across the country and becomes convinced Russia has a serial killer.  Unfortunately his superiors won't listen, and Leo must decide whether to risk his life (and that of his parents and wife) to investigate or turn a blind eye and live.

The serial killer in Child 44 is based on the true crimes of Andrei Chikatilo, a Russian man convicted of 52 murders (committed between 1978-1990) and otherwise known as the Rostov Ripper.

The introduction to Child 44 takes place in a time of famine, and Smith's powers of description are impressive.  The writing style is completely different compared to his latest novel The Farm (a contemporary thriller) which I've been recommending to anyone who reads.

Further evidence of its success, Child 44 is coming to the big screen next year in the hands of the legendary Ridley Scott and I can't wait.  

Check out my interview with author Tom Rob Smith.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
15 August 2014

Review: Allegiance by Wanda Wiltshire

* From the publisher for review *

Allegiance by Wanda Wiltshire is the second in the Betrothed series, and picks up right where Betrothed left off.

We catch up with Marla, who has left Faera, and is upset about leaving her betrothed Leif behind.  Marla is supported by her best friend Jack and after realising her romantic feelings for him, they become an item.

This is the beginning (or continuation) of a love triangle between the three main characters (Marla, Jack and Leif) and the romance forms a large part of the novel.  There is physical yearning - between both couples - that is repeatedly denied and which reminded me of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Allegiance will appeal to readers who loved the Twilight series.  However if I'm honest, this isn't me.  

The book started to pick up for me when Marla returned to Faera and started to assist in the tracking down of the Shadow Fae.  It was interesting learning about the evil and darkness in Faera (not just all the good stuff) including the origin and methods of the Shadow Fae.  Their motivations and reasons for bringing horror upon the citizens of Faera was realistic and fit with the fantasy world the author has created.

Copy of Allegiance with
handmade bookmark
from author
Wanda Wiltshire
This darkness and tension was definitely more my style and I really enjoyed this part of the novel.  Even more, my reading was enhanced by the use of a handmade and personalised bookmark from the author (pictured left).

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

You can click here to buy the book.  The next in the series is called Confused and is due for release in 2015.
07 August 2014

Review: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Oh my goodness! I've been hanging out to read The Farm by Tom Rob Smith ever since I heard the premise:
Daniel's parents have retired to Sweden, and all seems well until he receives a call from his father.
"Your mother's not well.  She's been imagining things - terrible, terrible things. She's had a psychotic breakdown, and has been committed to a mental hospital." 
But then his mother rings to say: "I'm sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie. I'm not mad. I don't need a doctor. I need the police. I'm about to board a flight to London. Meet me at Heathrow."  (Source: GoodReads).
Daniel then has to decide which of his parents to believe.  I was instantly hooked by the premise, and instantly gripped by the plot as soon as I picked up the book.

In fact, there was so much tension in The Farm, that I actually exclaimed, out loud, twice!  The first was when Daniel's Mum says the simple words: "I told him everything" and I instantly yelled out "NO!"

And the second was when it was clear Daniel had made his decision about which parent to believe (no spoilers though).  Oh, and the ending too, so I guess that makes three out loud exclamations and luckily for me they all occurred at home.

The Farm is a mystery and psychological thriller, which is surprising given the content is not driven by action so much as learning the truth about what took place.  The plot is tight and the tension is palpable, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it.  

I was also pleased to learn the movie rights have been sold, hopefully it's not too long before we can watch The Farm on the big screen.  Get it, read it now!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
06 August 2014

Introducing BookGirlTV

Introducing Tessa Smith McGovern, the driving force behind BookGirlTV. Tessa cuts through the advertising and publishing hype to find the best new books to read and takes you behind the scenes with today's top authors.

BookGirlTV also works to shine a light on under-recognised female writers, (both emerging and best-selling authors) and provides readers with an interactive, entertaining and life-enhancing monthly video book club that will suit anyone’s busy schedule.

The most recent edition of BookGirlTV’s author interview show, ‘Just Books with Tessa Smith McGovern’ features an interview with Linda Fairstein about her book Terminal City, which reveals the “dark side” of New York City’s Grand Central Station. (You can watch the interview below).

BookGirlTV also produces a series called BookGirlBUZZes, 1-2 minute book reviews that tell you what a book’s about (don’t worry, no spoilers). The email newsletter also keeps people in the know about new episodes of BookGirlTV and offers the chance to win free books, many of them signed.

About the BookGirl: Tessa Smith McGovern loves books, and is a lifelong reader and writer. Originally from England, she published her first short story in 1996 and has continued to publish work while also founding eChook Digital Publishing and hosting and producing BookGirl.TV. Tessa also teaches at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, NY.
04 August 2014

Winner Announced: Craven Giveaway

The Carpe Librum Craven giveaway closed at midnight last night, and I received some great entries.

Entrants were asked which place they would like to go (or prefer to avoid) if they had the gift of retrocognition, like the protagonist in Craven by Melanie Casey.

After processing the entries using random.org, the winning entry selected belongs to:
Claire P. 
*Jessica (Frellathon)

Claire's entry was: I would probably want to go somewhere historic like the Tower of London, it would be so interesting from a historic point of view but also really exhausting because of the horrible way they met their death.

Congratulations Claire, please email me with your Australian postal address no later than midnight Sunday 10 August.*

* (If a valid postal address isn't received then a second winner will be drawn).

Thanks must go to Pantera Press and Melanie Casey for providing a copy of Craven to make this giveaway possible.

Thanks and happy reading!

* Unfortunately more than a week has passed and I can't track down Claire P. so I have no other choice but to draw a new winner.  Congratulations to Jessica (frellathon), please email me with your postal details by COB 19 August.
02 August 2014

Review: Dancing on Knives by Kate Forsyth

* Copy courtesy of The Reading Room, Random House Australia and NetGalley *

Kate Forsyth is one of my favourite contemporary Australian authors, and I've read and reviewed Bitter Greens (5 stars), The Wild Girl (5 stars) and Dragonclaw: Book One of the Witches of Eileanan (4 stars) over the last few years.  I've even had the pleasure of interviewing Kate on Carpe Librum, you can click here to read the interview.

Dancing on Knives is her latest novel, published in June 2014 although it's not a re-telling of a fairytale.  Dancing on Knives is set on a run-down coastal farm outside of Narooma in NSW and is the story of a family torn apart by secrets.

At twenty years of age, Sara is the oldest daughter of the family, and is so haunted by past events she hasn't left the family farm in more than 5 years.

Dancing on Knives is a rural murder mystery with Sara trying to work out who killed her talented and moody artist father while finding herself in the midst of a budding romance.

Dancing on Knives is a gritty and dark tale and I really felt the isolation of each of the characters.  The mystery kept me guessing although I wasn't moved by the romance.  It's interesting to note that Kate Forsyth originally wrote this story at the tender age of sixteen and since then, it has undergone several incarnations over the years before being published as Dancing on Knives.  

It must be said that I didn't enjoy Dancing on Knives as much as her other novels, however it was refreshing to read something entirely different from this author.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. I loved the reference to Brett Whiteley and his work on page 198 of the novel; he's my favourite Australian artist of all time.