Eastlondonlines met Kim Slater, author of the youth novel Smart, in the morning at her home in Nottingham. “I can’t write a word without tea,” she said when sipping from her mug. “At least two cups, sometimes even three.”
After swinging at a debut for several years, Kim Slater hit the ball right out of the park last summer with her young-adult novel Smart. The book won the Tower Hamlets Book Award and has been short- and long-listed for 17 other literary prizes. It’s also been translated into five different languages in the year since it was released.
Smart follows the story of Kieran, a young boy with a troubled home life, as he attempts to solve the murder of a homeless man. Although it offers a hopeful ending, it deals with heavy themes like death, domestic violence and bullying — possible throwbacks from the days when she aspired to writing crime fiction.
But the subject matter hasn’t kept her younger readers from engaging with the novel. It’s won several regional literary prizes, where young readers are the judges and vote on their favourite books.
Slater said she was most touched when a young boy told her that Kieran “might feel empty inside,” identifying the fictional boy’s home life with his own.
“Young children are very tough readers, If they don’t like it they will stop reading it. They won’t waste time when the book doesn’t grab them immediately.”
The book started off as a short story written for a class at university, which Slater said was the turning point of her career as a forty-year-old mother and unpublished writer. After completing the first draft in a single Sunday, she realised right away that she “had something special.”
“The story came very naturally to me,” Slater said. “I get this character’s voice in my head and then started working out plots and ideas around it.”
Slater said a major source of inspiration came from living all her life in Nottingham, where her story is set. She envisioned her protagonist having troubles at home and going to the river— the same river that she can see from her bedroom — to get away from it all.
She wrote from her bed for two hours each morning before leaving for work, which involved budgeting for schools in Nottingham. Slater said she frequently had to tear herself away from her stories, and by the time she returned home in the evening she often had lost the thread of her writing.
As a full-time writer, she now has more time and space to work on her second novel, A Seven-Letter Word. She managed to secure representation after years of unsuccessfully trying to sell other works, receiving five offers from London-based agents when she began marketing Smart.
Slater says the tide really turned when she entered university. “Before, I was often held back to let others read my work, because it felt so personal. At university I learned to step back from a story. At university I learned to be a better, more confident writer.”
“I never stopped writing, never stopped believing in this moment where I would hold my published book.”
Although Slater originally intended to write adult crime thrillers, she said she doesn’t regret her success in the young adult genre.
“It is different, but certainly not easier,” she said. “Every author is different, but I like to not have the story completely tied up, leave the readers with a sense of hope as well, with the feeling that everything will be ok.”
Follow Dorien Luyckx on Twitter: @Dorien_Luyckx