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.

Would you like to comment?

  1. Great interview. Tom is a new author to me but I've seen his books so much that his work is familiar. Now to read one.

  2. Thanks Jessica, let me know which of his novels you decide to read and I hope you enjoy them.

  3. Like Jessica, Tom is a new author to me. However, having read the interview I look forward to reading The Farm. Thanks for this - it is always a good thing to try a new author or genre!

  4. That's wonderful May, I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Please let me know :-)

  5. Excellent interview, Tracey. I'm looking forward to reading THE FARM asap. It sounds very intriguing.

  6. Thanks so much, let me know which parent you believed in The Farm.


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