Children’s Book Award: a Guest Post by Kim Slater


by Kim Slater


The theme of art plays a big part in ‘Smart’, although I never planned it that way. This is the story of how it came about . . .

I was still studying at university for my MA degree in Creative Writing in 2012 when we were asked to write a short story for young adult readers of 3,000 words, for an assignment. I’d had the voice of a character – who I now know to be Kieran – in my head for a couple of weeks, which is the way I always get my ideas for stories. So, one Sunday, I sat down and wrote a short story called ‘Smart’.

I really liked the story when I’d finished it, the way you occasionally know you’ve got something good when you finish a piece of work. When I took it to my MA group for feedback, all the other students loved it, too! After years of sending work out to literary agents and never getting off the submission pile, I decided to seize the moment and develop the short story ‘Smart’ into a full-length YA novel.

I worked in Nottingham schools at the time and luckily for me, my impulsive write-a-novel decision fell in a school holiday.  I battened down the hatches, put my comfies on and began to write solidly; 3,000 words plus a day, which is quite a hard slog after about a week. After a while, I felt myself going a bit stir-crazy so my husband suggested we go see an exhibition of L.S. Lowry’s work at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre.

The exhibition organised the paintings in the time periods of Lowry’s life and although the early paintings were what I’d come to expect of Lowry – matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs – his later work, following the death of his mother, had become very bleak and verging on dystopian.

Some of these pieces affected me deeply, as of course, art can often do. Almost everyone has felt lonely and sad at times, I certainly have, and I took these feelings away with me and somehow, the art and emotion found its way into the book when I began writing again.  Lowry’s art became a brilliant tool to help Kieran deal with his difficult feelings, helping him not to feel so alone.

I used the names of real Lowry paintings in the book in the hope that ‘Smart’ readers might look them up online. I run lots of workshops in schools all around the UK and we explore how the art theme in the book helps Kieran express himself and the children learn how to ‘get into Kieran’s head’ when they look at the paintings.

The painting below is called ‘An Island’ by L.S. Lowry.  This is what Kieran has to say about it in the book . . .


‘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 in 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.’

[Excerpt from ‘Smart’ by Kim Slater]


Smart is shortlisted for the 2016 Children’s Book Award in the Books for Older Readers category. It is published by Macmillan Children’s Books.

You can find out more about the award here and you can vote for your favourite books here.

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