Year 5 interview author, Dan Smith

Having loved The Invasion Of Crooked Oak, Year 5 were thrilled when we got an early copy of Dan’s latest book, The Beast Of Harwood Forest to read before having the chance to send our questions off to him. So imagine our utter delight, when on reading our questions, Dan offered to answer them live in our classroom! But first – the book!

What’s hiding in Harwood Forest …?

When Pete, Nancy and Krish arrive at Heathland Camp for a school trip, they’re in for an adventure – just not the kind they were expecting. Nearby sits the abandoned Harwood Institute. The crumbling buildings are out of bounds but strange screams come from the surrounding forest at night. Secrecy surrounds the events that took place at the institute during the war, so Pete and his friends make it their mission to find out the truth. But the forest is hiding a sinister secret, and the trio could be in real danger…

Are some mysteries best left undisturbed?

With links to the oldest written epic poem, Beowulf, and to the mysterious world of biological engineering, The Beast Of Harwood Forest is an utterly  gripping, thriller of a book packed with suspense and delivering a growing sense of dread as we head deeper into the forest. Sci-fi horror for children at its finest, that delivers just enough scares to get hearts racing without causing nightmares!

Each of our main characters have a strong personality and together they make a great team. Chris King’s illustrations really bring the characters, settings and The Beast to life!

There are real ethical debates within this story that will help to grow empathy too.

Here’s what Year 5 thought:

  • I thought it was really interesting and I just kept wanting to read more.
  • It was really exciting and I loved listening to it.
  • It was absolutely fantastic – I loved everything about it!
  • I can’t wait for the next book in the series!
  • It was packed full of adventure and suspense and was a bit scary too. 
  • It’s inspired me to find out more about the kind of experiments he talks about in the book!

And now, to the interview!

1. Miss Cleveland has a lot of amazing books on her bookcase (including all of the ones you have written for children). Why should we pick yours?

One of the most important things about reading for pleasure is that you have a big selection of books to choose from, so it’s great to hear that Miss Cleveland has so many on her shelves. I also think it’s important to choose the books YOU want to read, so I would never say that you have to pick mine. But, if you’re looking for some sci-fi action, a story about Viking revenge, some World War II adventure, or a creepy mystery … then I’m your guy!

2. Which of your characters are you most like?

I’m not a lot like any of my characters, but I’m a little bit like all of them. Does that make sense? I think all of my characters have a little bit of me in them, but I’m not brave enough to be Pete, or clever enough to be Krish, or inventive enough to be Nancy.

3. How do you come up with your sci-fi villains?

I usually use a mixture of things that are real and things that are made-up. To me, that makes them feel more believable. For instance, the cause of the trouble in The Invasion of Crooked Oak is inspired by a very real fungus that infects insects, and The Beast of Harwood Forest is inspired by the real belief that there is something strange living in Harwood Forest – not far from where I live. I then add my own twist by taking inspiration from books and films and video games.

4. Have you ever come face to face with a beast in real life?

Well, if I had, I’d probably have to keep it secret …

5. How is writing a series different from writing a stand alone book?

The Crooked Oak stories are a series without being a series because they don’t have to be read in any particular order. That means I don’t have to worry too much about continuity, but if you read all the books you get a much better picture of who the characters are. And that’s one of the biggest differences between writing a series and writing a stand-alone book – the characters. I’ve had so much pleasure writing about Pete, Nancy, and Krish for a second time, and it’s been fun throwing them into different creepy situations. We might even see them again sometime soon …

6. You have written books for adults and children. Which do you prefer?

I like writing both, but writing for young readers often feels more fun. It also feels more special because young readers express so much wonder and excitement for stories – something that often inspires me.

7. What would you do if you weren’t an author?

What I’d really like to be is Han Solo. He is, after all, the coolest smuggler in the galaxy. Failing that, I’d like to be Bear Grylls -but I’m not brave enough- or a rock star -but I have no musical talent. Maybe I should stick to being an author.

8. If you had to be in one of your stories which one would you be in?

That’s a tricky one. All of my stories are so dangerous. Below Zero would be far too cold. I’d probably be the first to get infected in Crooked Oak, or fall victim to The Beast of Harwood Forest. Maybe I’d be better off in Boy X, trying to survive on the jungle island of Isla Negra … at least it would be sunny!

9. Did you have a favourite book as a child?

I loved Tintin books when I was younger (and still do), but I think my favourite book was ‘The Runaways’ by Victor Canning. Don’t worry, no one else seems to have heard of it either. It was the first book in a trilogy about a boy called Smiler.

10. And finally, which characters from science fiction would you like to go on a socially distanced picnic with? Is there anyone you would definitely not want to be there?

I reckon the kids from Stranger Things would be fun at a picnic. Or the gang from Guardians of The Galaxy. I definitely wouldn’t invite Darth Vader because he’d just spend the whole time being grumpy. And the alien from Alien can stay at home, too.

Huge thanks to Year 5 for coming up with such amazing questions, Barrington Stoke for arranging for Dan to join us in our classroom, and to Dan for such an fun and engaging afternoon.

With comments like, “It’s just amazing being able to chat with an actual author,” “I’ll remember this afternoon forever,”  “He was very funny and gave us great answers,” and “It’s made me want to be an author too!” it was a truly inspirational afternoon!

Read More

Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer

This week’s book recommendation links to Remembrance Sunday, and is suitable for children in Year 4 up…

Lily is a fell runner and is training for the first big race of the season in the Lake District village where her grandparents live. She discovers from her grandmother (who has Alzheimer’s disease) that her great-great grandfather was a trench runner during the last few days of  World War I. Given a box of his things, Lily becomes enthralled with his trench running logs which contain far more information than times and distances – it’s a diary of his time in France.

Full of family, endurance, determination and heart, this is a well researched reminder of the lives of the men in the trenches that we remember this Sunday, and how we can honour their memory through our actions today. Kindness and empathy echo throughout the story that you are sure to be as determined to finish as Lily was to read Ernest’s diary entries.

 

Read More