Friday, 6 June 2014

Smart Blog Tour: Kim Slater Guest Post - Smart and Art!

There's been a murder, but the police don't care. It was only a homeless old man after all. Kieran cares. He's made a promise, and when you say something out loud, that means you're going to do it, for real. He's going to find out what really happened. To Colin. And to his grandma, who just stopped coming round one day. It's a good job Kieran's a master of observation, and knows all the detective tricks of the trade. But being a detective is difficult when you're Kieran Woods. When you're amazing at drawing but terrible at fitting in. And when there are dangerous secrets everywhere, not just outside, but under your own roof.

Smart is now published in the UK by Macmillan Children's Books and it is a brilliant read. As part of the blog tour, here's Kim Slater to tell you more about Smart and Art.

Thanks for the post, Kim!


by Kim Slater

Smart began life as a short story for my MA in Creative Writing’s Children & Young Adults module assignment. There was no mention of any art in the story in this early version, Kieran simply recorded down clues in his notebook.

Shortly after I decided to develop the story into a full-length Young Adult novel, my fiancé Mac suggested we go to a temporary exhibition of the work of LS Lowry at the Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham.

I hadn’t seen that much of Lowry’s work but like most people, I was familiar with his matchstick people and animals. The exhibition was organised in the various stages of Lowry’s life, including one section with paintings completed after the death of his mother, Elizabeth.

Lowry’s mother was not very encouraging of her son’s art. She could be quite cruel and cutting and showed open dislike of most of his work. Yet Lowry cared for her through illness and although she was always very demanding and controlling of him, he found her death devastating.

As the exhibition began to feature the paintings following her death, I was shocked at the obvious and sudden change in Lowry’s artistic mood and focus. All the people and all the animals were largely gone. Great empty seascapes and dystopian-like scenes prevailed as Lowry’s misery and loneliness shone through.

And as I stood and observed the paintings, I felt his pain, his desperate loneliness because of course, that’s what art, or a piece of literature or music can do to us. It can touch us in a deep place, take us by surprise.

When I got back home and resumed writing, I kept thinking of Lowry’s paintings when I was trying to articulate how Kieran might be feeling while enduring some of his more difficult moments in the book. Before I knew it, Lowry’s artwork became an integral and important part of Kieran’s character, as did his ability to find comfort and inspiration in it.

I believe as a YA author, I have some responsibility to include educational themes in my writing, to coax young people to think beyond their everyday experiences in a subtle and hopefully encouraging way.

It was with this in mind that I included the names of some real Lowry paintings in the hope that YA readers of Smart might look them up online or in a gallery, see if they can imagine what Kieran was trying to convey and question if the paintings perhaps touch them in a similar way.

Below you will find several extracts from Smart, each followed by an image of the actual Lowry painting.

‘Sometimes, when I look at myself in the bathroom mirror, I look like Lowry’s Manchester Man. His eyes are red and his face is sort of crumpling in on itself. My nose and mouth and ears are all there and look the same. But you can see my cracked heart when you look into my eyes.’ 

‘When Lowry’s Mum died, he got very sad. He stopped painting people and dogs. He painted the sea but didn’t put any boats on the water. He painted houses that nobody lived in. They were falling to bits and sinking down into the ground. 
   ‘Derelict,’ Miss Crane called it. 
   When I look at Lowry’s An Island, it makes my tummy go all funny. In it is a big, old house that used to be grand, standing alone on a little island surrounded by water. Even though it is a house and not a person, it still looks sad and lost. 
   When I look at this painting it feels like something is pressing down on my chest. I go all quiet inside, like when I’m curling up under my blanket, away from everyone. 
    That’s what Lowry can do to you without saying a single word.’ 

‘I was creating a seascape like one of Lowry’s. In his Seascape 1960, he drew a view of the North Sea from the north-east coast. Lowry just used pencil on paper but Mrs Bentley said we had to use pastels, which was annoying. 
   I was using grey and plum pastels for my picture, even though most people make the sea bright-blue in paintings. My sea looked massively lonely and miserable. 
   ‘Bleak,’ said Miss Crane. 
   It felt like I was drawing the fizzy lump in the middle of my chest but it came out as the sea.’ 

Of course, this blog post would not be complete without a mention of the wonderful wraparound cover art designed by illustrator Helen Crawford-White and the wonderful Pan Macmillan art team.

The cover is a marvellous representation of the content of the book and the Lowryesque figures really bring to life the way that Kieran sees the world.

 [Click to enlarge]

And let’s not forget the fabulously vibrant end-papers!

[Click to enlarge]
I feel very fortunate that my publisher, Macmillan Children’s Books, has involved me in every stage of the cover process. When I think back almost a year ago from publication date, myelf and MCB uber-editor, Rachel Kellehar, were at the brainstorming stage of how we envisioned the book’s cover might look.
I am sure Rachel would agree that in our wildest dreams, we never imagined anything quite as beautiful and unique!

Please see my website for more information on the writing/publication process or follow me on Twitter: @kimslater01.

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