This complex and haunting exploration of life on the edge and what it takes to triumph over adversity is a story about the indomitable nature of hope.
Two young boys, an old tramp, a beautiful teenage dancer, and the girl's baby-ragtag survivors of a sudden war-form a fragile family, hiding out in the ruins of an amusement park. As they scavenge for food, diapers, and baby formula, they must stay out of sight of vicious gangs and lawless solders. At first they rely on Billy, the only adult in the group. But as civil life deteriorates, Billy starts to fall apart. Skip, who is barely into his teens, must take over and lead them on a search for sanctuary.
I hardly know how to find the right words to review A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard. It's a really sweet book and the main character's voice is one that pulled me into the story from the very beginning. Once I started the story, I couldn't put it down and I found myself feeling all sorts of different emotions that I didn't know how to deal with. It's that sort of book. But in a good way of course.
Skip is homeless. He had a home but it wasn't very good, so he left it. Despite the rough life that it's hinted at that he has led so far and despite the hardships Skip has had as a homeless boy, he still maintains this wonderful and innocent view of life. His passion is drawing with chalk on the pavements around him - he sees the world around with such exquisite detail.
Skip seems drawn to another homeless person, Billy. And when disaster strikes and the city is falling apart under air strikes, the Skip and Billy band together. Joining them is a little boy, Max who has lost his mother. They think it best to leave the city and they end up in an abandoned fairground. Joining their little group are a beautiful teenage dancer, Tia and her baby. As a group, they search for food and supplies for the baby and find the best ways to make it through the war.
It should be quite a grim story so far. A homeless man and two young boys struggling to survive while the world falls apart around them - but it isn't. There's passion in the characters, Billy's music, Skip's artwork, Tia's dancing. The strong bonds and relationships between each of the characters - especially Skip and Billy, and Skip and Max. Though all are strangers at first, there is such generosity and kindness between them all. What is most surprising, is how Skip seems to be almost overjoyed at this new situation he is in, as it's everything he's always wanted - a place to belong with his strange, new rag-tag family. I also really loved the juxtaposition of a world torn apart, and our characters living in a theme park.
I think what A Small Free Kiss in the Dark does really well is show how even in times of crisis and despair, there is still hope and friendship and kindness and family. Beautiful little book, one well worth reading!
Thanks to the kindness of Glenda's publishers, Templar, I am today's blog tour stop with this interview with the lovely author of A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, Glenda Millard. Hello Glenda!
First of all, I'd like to say how much I loved A Small Free Kiss in the Dark! For those who haven't read it, can you tell me a little something about the story? And the title?
Thanks Michelle. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading my book and thanks for helping me with this blog tour.
While I had many ideas for the title of this book, I couldn’t settle on one. We were almost to the end of the editing process when my publisher suggested the eventual title, A Small Free Kiss in the Dark. It is a quote from a line spoken by Skip, the leading character. Immediately she mentioned it I knew it was right as those few words seemed to capture the essence of the book; a small innocent kiss, between two young people searching for love and acceptance. A bright moment in what otherwise seemed a very bleak world.
A Small Free Kiss in the Dark is the story of Skip, a twelve year-old boy whose view of the world is highly influenced by his love of art and beauty and also by years of living with a neglectful father and later with paid carers who abused him.
Skip runs away to the city where he meets Billy, an old homeless man. Billy recognises Skip’s artistic talent when he sees him draw on the pavement with coloured chalks and takes him to a library to show him books on the great artists.
Then war breaks out. In the aftermath of the terrible destruction Skip and Billy meet five-year-old Max who is waiting fruitlessly for his mother to come for him. The city is almost destroyed but Skip’s deep desire for family sustains him as he, Billy and Max are forced to move on in the battle to stay alive, to feed themselves and find refuge.
When the trio reach a derelict fun park they meet Tia, a young dancer with a tiny baby. Despite the threat of the soldiers on the hill, lack of food and accommodation in the house of horrors, Skip is happier than he’s ever been before.
But then things start to go wrong. Billy lets him down, he’s not sure whose side Tia is on, Max still wants his mother and once again Skip has no adult to turn to for help.
This is a story of the power of hope.
If you were to write a permission note giving my readers reasons to read A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, what would it say?
You have my permission to look through the eyes of an artist and see rare beauty in the most unlikely places. Permission is granted to you, to fall a little in love with Skip and with Max. I grant you permission to wonder what life would be like for you, if you woke up tomorrow and your city, your country was in ruins. And finally, I give you permission to get inside Skip’s head and his heart, to discover what it it like to be unloved and to find out how amazingly strong hope is.
The main character in your story, Skip has trouble sleeping and uses visualisation techniques in order to fall asleep. In the same situation, what happy memory would you visualise?
I think I would visualise my one perfect day that I have described below. Some people claim that visualisation can work back-to-front. They say that if you imagine something often and accurately it actually occurs. Maybe if I imagine that picnic it will happen!
One of my favourite parts of A Small Free Kiss in the Dark is when Billy takes Skip to the library. What do libraries mean to you and how important are they to you?
When I was growing up there wasn’t much money to spare, so books were often given as birthday or Christmas gifts. We lived on the outskirts of a small town and it didn’t take long to read all the books stocked in the primary school library. Visits to town were infrequent, but when I went to secondary school I travelled by bus because the school was in town. And the town had a library. That library evoked a delightful sense of excitement and expectation in me. Libraries still do that. I can go in with no idea of what I’d like to borrow and come out, arms laden with books. For me there can be no such thing as a quick visit to the library.
At the library, Skip saves three books. If you could only save three books from being destroyed, which three would you choose?
If I was in Skip’s situation and could save only three books;
I’d save one book of pictures - probably one of Van Gogh or Monet’s - to remind me of how beautiful the world once was.
Secondly, I’d save a book of words - perhaps Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men,’ to remind me of how decent and just and admirable man can be and also simply because I love those books both for the stories they tell and the way they are written.
And finally I’d save a book of empty pages so I could write on it.
Skip is quite the artist. I was just wondering if you had a favourite artist or piece of artwork?
Skip and I share similar tastes. I love Monet’s work and also Van Gogh’s. Waterlilies and Starry Night on the Rhone River are two of my favourite paintings.
Skip works hard in order to create for Max and Billy a 'perfect day' - what would a perfect day for you be like?
There are many places where I could happily spend a perfect day. I’d choose a picnic in the country. It would be autumn. The sun would be shining. The air would be still. There would be trees and scented roses in bloom. I’d reach my destination by hot air balloon. It would touch down beside a tartan picnic rug. There’d be deck chairs, cushions, rugs, books, endless flasks of hot tea, egg and lettuce sandwiches, melting moments biscuits, chocolates and no deadlines. But the most important thing would be that, just like Skip, I’d choose to spend it with my family.
And finally, I found A Small Free Kiss in the Dark to be an interesting mixture of quite grim circumstances together with swirls of hope. Can you tell me a little bit about this?
I wrote A Small Free Kiss in the Dark against the advice of my husband - I think he’s forgiven me now. You see when I told him about my idea for a book set against a backdrop of war, he commented that no matter how resilient the human spirit is, war is disempowering and especially so for children. So I put the project on hold. I didn’t want war to be the focus of the story and I did want to demonstrate that hope can survive even the most dire circumstances. But I wasn't sure if I could achieve either of those things. Eventually I decided that the only way I’d ever know would be to write the book. So I did and I’m very pleased you referred to it as an interesting mixture of grim circumstances together with swirls of hope as I feel as though I have achieved what I set out to do.
Thank you Glenda for those brilliant answers! A Small Free Kiss in the Dark is officially published on the 1st of May, do look out for it!