by Dan Smith
That was the reaction from my publisher when they saw the first, rough draft of my latest book, SHE WOLF.
The thing is though, for me it didn’t feel like a new direction. I researched and wrote a story the way I always do. So I put the comments out of mind and carried on with the editorial process. But when that came to an end and a few other people read the manuscript, they said the same thing – that it was so different from my other books – and I began to wonder why.
Set in AD866, SHE WOLF is the story of a young Danish girl called Ylva, who finds herself orphaned and alone in a foreign land (England) when her mother is murdered by a three-fingered Viking. Revenge was very important to Vikings. If they were wronged in some way, they believed the gods expected them to take revenge, so Ylva swears to the gods that she will track down the three-fingered man and kill him. She sets out across the wintry forests of Northumbria to find her revenge, but it’s a difficult task and she reluctantly accepts help from Cathryn, a Saxon warrior, and her young companion, Bron. But it isn’t long before the tables are turned on Ylva and her new friends. Instead of being the hunters, they become the hunted. Ylva finds herself hiding from the three fingered man, and running from a pack of hungry wolves that roams the forest.
So I have found myself wondering what’s different about SHE WOLF? Why is this a ‘new direction’? It shares common themes with my previous novels. Friendship. Courage. Trust. Loyalty. Survival. I never write down to my young readers, never patronise them, and I like to think they can feel empowered by reading a Dan Smith novel. Most of my stories are character driven, and those characters are smart, resourceful, and flawed. It is their actions that drive the plot of my stories. My protagonists often find themselves with difficult decisions to make . . . but they don’t always make the right ones, and they feel the consequences of making bad choices. In that respect, SHE WOLF isn’t so different from my other novels.
I wondered if it might be the setting that makes it different. After all, I haven’t published another novel set in the Viking Age. I have published novels set in other historical periods, though. Two of my novels for younger readers (My Friend The Enemy, and My Brother’s Secret) are set during World War II. But while it’s probably true to say that SHE WOLF is more of an adventure story than those earlier historical novels, I have written other adventure stories. My last three novels were full-throttle action adventures that took readers to the Finnish wilderness (Big Game), the jungles of Costa Rica (Boy X), and the frozen wastes of Antarctica (Below Zero).
So perhaps what makes SHE WOLF different is that I’ve combined the styles of my previous novels to write a historical-action-adventure. Yes, that must be it . . . or is it because SHE WOLF is my first novel to feature a female protagonist – the fierce and resourceful Ylva, who has grown to be one of my favourite characters. Abrasive, surly, and unforgiving, she’s hard to like when we first meet her. She doesn’t change her mind easily, and finds it difficult to understand nuance and subtle jokes. But she has her dog, Geri, whom she loves and needs more than anything in the world. Ylva’s relationship with Geri is central to the story because it lets us see her softer side as she gives him a voice and uses him to offer her an alternative point of view.
Or is it the way I’ve written the story? Is it the more figurative, lyrical language I’ve used? The types of characters I’ve created? Has my love of the time period shone through? Is it the way I’ve woven legends through the tapestry of the story, telling of Viking heroes and Norse Gods?
The truth is, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the core of what appeals to us about a story, and I don’t really know what makes SHE WOLF different from my other novels. Whatever it is, though, the early reviews have been excellent, so I’m going to keep searching for an answer!
SHE WOLF by Dan Smith is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House). You can find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and www.dansmithsbooks.com or connect with Dan Smith on twitter @DanSmithAuthor
This is a guest post by Dan Smith and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.