Tom Rob Smith is a British thriller author and screenplay writer. Tom’s debut novel, Child 44, was nominated for several awards including being listed for the Man Booker Prize, it was then produced into a film starring Tom Hardy. He has also written The Farm and Agent 6.
One of Tom’s books, Child 44, was set in 1950s Russia and required a lot of research. He talks about the process of getting access to the right materials. “I obviously travelled but I would say far and above the travel was just the books. Obviously the history books were wonderful and brilliantly written. I don’t think that I came across a single book that was awkward or uninteresting.”
Tom also used the materials he found that had been confiscated by the Secret Police to give him an insight into the repression of information and forceful definition of what it was antiSoviet. “It was sort of ironic that the Secret Police confiscated all these diaries that probably would have been lost and were never intended for publication particularly by a 13-year old girl,” referring to one of the actual confiscated diaries.
A unique insight
“They have just been reproduced now so you can read this girl’s diary and suddenly you are sort of in her world in 1934, which is when I think her diary was confiscated. It even includes all these sort of annotations the Secret Police made on the diary of what was anti-Soviet and what wasn’t. So there was a lot of material there to get you into that world. I just concentrated on the emotional questions rather than the material details.
“I do a good chunk [of research] to start off with so that I’m not completely clueless basically. But then obviously research is an endless process. You could read forever on these subjects and so you continue reading. You learn new things and in a way that is part of the fun because it reinvigorates passages that you’ve done and you see new things that you can work in and you go back and you rewrite. So it’s a constant process.”
Tom’s tip: Focus on the idea
“I would say really work on that idea before you set off on it. Really think it through. Is this the idea that you want to work on for the next year, year and a half, two years? Is this the project that you really believe in because so many people get to Chapter 4 or 5 and then stop. In the end you can’t do anything with that.”
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