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Bethanne
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Registered: ‎10-24-2008

Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

A very warm Center Stage welcome to Tom Rob Smith, whose debut novel CHILD 44 thrilled many readers with its eery evocation of life in the Stalinist-era Soviet Union. 

Tom Rob Smith was born in London in February 1979 to a Swedishmother and an English father. His immediate family lived in London whilehis summers were spent at his grandparents’ remote farm in Sweden where theywere beekeepers. His parents made their living working together in a smallantiques business where his father discovered and restored antiques while hismother sold them.  

At seventeen, he wrote his first play. Upon graduationfrom high school, he won a place at Cambridge to study English Literature. Hedeferred enrollment to teach English to children in a remote village in theBaglung region of Nepal at the foot of the Anapurna mountain range.   

During his three years at St. John’s College Cambridge, hefounded InPrint, a literary magazine that is still running today; editedthe May Anthologies, an Oxbridge collection of short stories; and hisplay Losing Voices was produced by the prestigious Marlowe Society, thefirst student play they had ever funded.  

After graduating in 2001, he received the Harper Woodcreative writing fellowship that he combined with a year-long exchange positionat the University of Pavia in Italy.  Upon his return to England, heworked on a several long-running television shows as a writer and a scripteditor. He was hired by the BBC World Service Trust to help create Cambodia’sfirst ever soap opera that was used to convey health messages to the public.

It was shortly after that that he sold his first screenplaywhich won him a commission to adapt a short story by British science fictionwriter Jeff Noon. It was during this time that he stumbled across thetrue-life case of Andrei Chikatilo that proved to be the inspiration for Child44 and now its sequel, THE SECRET SPEECH.  

Tom Rob Smith lives in London. 

 

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evollbach
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Registered: ‎06-17-2008

Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

Tom, I'm very glad to see you're back. I read CHILD 44 during the week you were here (barnesandnoble.com) last time and hoped I'd find you here again for THE SECRET SPEECH, which I just finished reading last night.

 

Congratulations; you wrote another winner. 

 

While I read THE SECRET SPEECH I had to stop several times to try to find out what was fact and what was fiction. I couldn't determine everything. I know that there really was Kruschev's Secret Speech, but I couldln't determine whether it was true that he gave more detail about atrocities on February 25 and later revised it to give less detail. Was that true?

 

I wonder about the truth of other parts but don't want to give anything away for people who haven't finished the book yet. Can you at least tell me whether any of the characters were not fiction?

 

Beth

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Tom_R_Smith
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

Hello Beth,

 

It's nice to be back. I hardly feel like I was away... 

 

I'm pleased you enjoyed THE SECRET SPEECH. I loved doing the research for this book, it is such an extraordinary period of internal turmoil that bubbled over in several places. At a glance those events seem quite separate but it was interesting connecting them. 

 

I should say first of all that this book is a thriller, a work of fiction, and I would never position it as historical text. Having said that, the key events which this fiction hangs off are all real. The uprising on the boats were real and indeed many were even extraordinary than I felt I could get away with as an author. The uprisings in the Gulags were real and once again were remarkable in their intensity, absurdity and brutality. 

 

Your specific question refers to the speech itself. Every quote from the speech is real. I haven't made any of that up. It is striking, even today, how shocking some of it is. Imagine being a listener who has never heard any vocalised criticism of Stalin. As for the retraction, that too is true, a much "softer" version of the speech was late released because the first was so sensational and disruptive. 

 

So a basic rule of thumb would be where events refer to real people, those events are based on historical fact. Where events refer to my characters those are obviously fictional. All the main characters in the book are fictional. I never put my dialogue into the mouth of people that actually existed. The real historical figures are all in the margins of my story.  

 

 

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evollbach
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5


Tom_R_Smith wrote:

The uprising on the boats were real and indeed many were even extraordinary than I felt I could get away with as an author. The uprisings in the Gulags were real and once again were remarkable in their intensity, absurdity and brutality.  

 

 


So my guesses were correct about the uprisings on the boat and in the Gulag.

 

What about the musician whose songs survived in the mind of another musician? Is that fiction based on what might have happened?

 

Something I was conscious of throughout the book that I want to thank you for: characters' last names. They were short and pronounceable unlike the names of Russians in most other books. I never know how to pronounce a name full of consonants where vowels should be.  :-)

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evollbach
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

Another question I meant to ask:

 

I couldn't find information on the Internet about those gangs that are a big part of THE SECRET SPEECH.  I assume those really did exist, right?

 

And did the gangs really scamper through the sewer systems like that kid, the pickpocket did? If so, they must have announced their comings just by their stink.

 

Beth

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tgem
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

Tom Rob Smith,

 

Last summer I started reading your book, Child 44, while taking the train along the West Coast of US.  I so enjoyed your generous correspondence during my stay in Portland, OR.

 

I've been off the boards for a long time.  My favorite group, Life and Literature, disbanded. I was pleasantly surprised to see your return.

 

I have yet to purchase your new book, which I remember you saying you finished, while on line with us last year.  Living in my rural location, I will need to search, or drive over the mountains to one of bigger towns.  Knowing I'm a huge fan - verging on fanatic - you know I will.

 

Any recommended settings for beginning this book?  Have you been working on another?

 

Hope all has been going very well for you.

 

Sincerely,

 

tgem

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Tom_R_Smith
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

One of the most infamous uprisings on a boat was referenced in the book, when a group of prisoners set fire to the grain store in an attempt to force their way out. The guards merely let them die of smoke inhalation. In another incident, the boat was caught in ice and the guards left the prisoners on the boat while they escaped over the ice. To me, that moment is the kind of decision I'm drawn to writing about. As a guard, do you release the many thousands of prisoners who hate you, who understand that death is a certainity if they reach the gulags, or do you leave them to die? I try and imagine the discussions that took place. There would be no way the small number of guards could control the prisoners in those circumstances. Of course, perhaps there was no discussion at all, perhaps it was obvious that they the State would look far more harshly on them for letting some escape than for allowing all of them to die. 
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

As for the musician, he is a fictional character. However, it isn't difficult to imagine the huge amount of talented people that were lost during these arrests - the geniuses that we will never get to know, their music, plays, or inventions, all of which were lost.

 

It's heartbreaking, and no more heartbreaking than the murder of an ordinary citizen, but is another way of measuring the loss rather than a mere number. 

 

The gangs were real. In fact, the gangs of Modern Russian are descendents of those gangs. 

 

As for the sewer system, it is indeed a maze - and there are many secret tunnels built by the State. There are Russians who travel around them today as a hobby! 

 

 

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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

Hello Tgem, another friend! I've come home... I should add at this point that talking part in last year's discussion is not a prerequisite for talking part in this years discussion. 

 

Anyway, at the risk of sidestepping into a personal catch up, it is great talking to you again. 

 

I like the idea that an author should suggest a setting for reading the book, as well as the book itself. I know exactly what you mean, though, I remember reading MOBY DICK on a disastrous French exchange, living in a rural farm house, sitting up in a plum tree, avoiding my exchange. My French teacher would have been appalled that the book was in English, in fact, I'm slightly appalled looking back. But, what can I say, I was going through my antisocial years. I am beginning to wonder when those are due to stop. Maybe when the third book is finished... (that was in case my editor reads this... )

 

 

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evollbach
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5


Tom_R_Smith wrote:

I like the idea that an author should suggest a setting for reading the book, as well as the book itself. I know exactly what you mean, though

 


Speaking of a setting in which to read a book, although I'm not exactly sure what was meant by that, I'll always remember the setting in which I read a book by Richard Preston, THE DEMON IN THE FREEZER. That's a nonfiction book about viruses the government has locked away in a freezer. I was sick with pneumonia when I read that book. I can honestly say I FELT it.

 

As for THE SECRET SPEECH, and this is really true, I couldn't read a torture scene because my leg hurt from sitting and reading too much. (Too much inactivity makes my leg hurt, anyway. Reading about knee torture made is worse.)

 

So, Tom, you could suggest a setting in which the reader could feel the book.:-)

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lapais
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

Is there plans for a third book?

 

Laurie 

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tgem
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

evolbach,

 

Sorry if that was a cryptic reference.  I almost posted the link to:

 

Child 44 , showing the figure on the railroad tracks.  There was also an awesome website for the book, which had an eerie graphic display of this cover.  You understood though - I think sometimes reading especially a mystery or thriller in a similar setting can add to the spookiness of it.

 

 

 

 

 

Well, I'll come back sometime tomorrow, after I purchase :

 

 

The Secret Speech

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'm sure I'll be reading it nonstop, in time to make a few comments in the remaining days.

 

tgem  

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evollbach
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5


tgem wrote:

 

 Well, I'll come back sometime tomorrow, after I purchase :

 The Secret Speech

 

I'm sure I'll be reading it nonstop, in time to make a few comments in the remaining days.



tgem:

 

I promise, you WILL want to read it nonstop. But, in my opinion, you should stop and ask questions at various points. That's what I wish I did. Now I've finished reading it and don't remember all the spots in the book that I wanted to ask about.

 

I should have taken notes. I usually use a highlighter to mark spots I want to remember (a good reason for owning the book rather than borrowing it from the library), but my cat kept trying to play with it. I had to put it away.

 

Beth

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evollbach
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US Sales

Tom,

 

How well did CHILD 44 sell in the US?

 

When I have read a book that I felt was really good, I want to talk about it with everyone I know.  I did that after I read CHILD 44 and now I am again not only with THE SECRET SPEECH, but I also have to talk about CHILD 44 when I talk about THE SECRET SPEECH.

 

I recommended both books in a post on gather.com. They're short and don't get into the detail that most book reviews do because I really hate reviews that give away the story. That's why I rarely read book flaps; they're the worst offenders. Or the reviews in THE NEW YORK TIMES are always well written but say too much. I read the first and last paragraphs.

 

Beth

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Tom_R_Smith
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

 

I had runner's knee when I wrote that scene so I felt Leo's pain actutely. The key to those scenes was to make them about character, the character of Leo and the character of his adversary.  

 

Well, reading the book while on holiday in Budapest would work well. It's a great city, fascinating and beautiful. 

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Tom_R_Smith
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

Hello,

 

I am about forty thousand words through the third book, which is about a third in terms of content. It's the last book in the trilogy. Just as the book is about the stories of our main characters coming to an end, it is set against the backdrop of the regime which is also coming to an end. Those two things intertwine.

 

All the best

Tom

 

 

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Tom_R_Smith
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Re: US Sales

Excitingly it was a NYT bestseller both in hardback and paperback.

 

Globally, across all the countries the book is published in, by the end of this year, we will have sold over a million copies of CHILD 44.  

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evollbach
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Sales

Also, because I've been keeping an eye out for the sequel to CHILD 44, I noted that THE SECRET SPEECH was available in the UK about a month before it was available in the US. So the UK got a headstart on us, and I wonder how well it's selling there.
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evollbach
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Re: US Sales


Tom_R_Smith wrote:

Excitingly it was a NYT bestseller both in hardback and paperback.


I'm glad to hear that CHILD 44 was appreciated by a lot of people here. I didn't know that it was on the NYT's bestseller list because I so rarely check it. I disagree with it more often than I agree with it.

 

Beth

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tgem
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Re: Tom Rob Smith, June 1-5

Good morning,

 

Those who twitter are tweeting about The Secret Speech.  Using the search feature, one can find other Tom Rob Smith fans.

 

It's pretty cool - I like being linked to lots of independent book stores.  Recently, there were lots of tweets about the Book Expo 09, and real-time author sitings - like someone having lunch with Sherman Alexie, another favorite.

 

Tom Rob Smith:  I like the fact that your trilogy covers a certain time period in history.  When you finish your trilogy, do you see yourself continuing in the same style of writing or something else?

 

I'm off to buy your book now.  Have a great day.

 

tgem