British author Smith evokes the horrors of the civil war after the Russian Revolution in Red Winter.
Where did you get the idea for Red Winter from?
For some of my books, I know exactly where the idea has come from, but for others—like Red Winter—things are a little hazier. Having written The Child Thief, I knew that I wanted to write something with a similar setting. I also knew that I wanted to feel the influence of Russian folk tales woven through the story. I spent a lot of time reading many traditional stories and was gripped by how dark they all were. Then the opening image popped into my head, the lone man arriving in an empty village, and I began to ask myself who he was, why he was there, and why the village was empty.
What surprised you the most as you researched the period?
My first degree is in Russian language and politics, so I had some knowledge of the Russian civil war, but the more I read, the more I realized how complicated it was. I’m fascinated by the number of armies and beliefs, the way they were differentiated by color, and the way they affiliated themselves with one another, then broke off those loyalties. Basically, the country was in chaos. The thing that surprised me the most, though, was the extent of the atrocities people committed upon one another. It’s something I struggle to understand. Everyone knows there was a revolution in 1917, but few know about the chaos that surged across Soviet Russia in the wake of that revolution. It’s an incredibly complex, confusing, and violent period of history.
Does your fiction, including your YA work, share any themes?
Isolation and lawlessness are two themes that appear in most of my novels. I like to put my characters in difficult settings, as well as difficult situations, forcing them to use their own resourcefulness to overcome their difficulties. My characters often have to battle against nature as well as their human antagonists, and they don’t have mobile phones and Internet connections to help them. Family and friendship are usually important in my books, too.
Has Red Winter been published in Russia, or will it be?
No, it hasn’t been published there, and I sometimes wonder how well it would be received if that were to happen. I don’t think I pull any punches when describing the awful things that happened across the country during the civil war, and my previous book, The Child Thief, touches on the ill treatment of Ukrainians at the hands of the Russians. I’m not sure how well that would go down in Russia, particularly given the current political climate over there.