A Small Free Kiss in the Dark – Glenda Millard
Pages: 216 (ARC)
Release Date: 1st May 2011
Other Titles by this Author: The Naming of Tishkin Silk; Layla, Queen of Hearts; When the Angels Came, Bringing Reuben Home, The Novice, and many more
From Goodreads: 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 goods, diapers, and baby formula, they must stay out of sight of vicious gangs and lawless soldiers. 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. 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.
I went into reading A Small Free Kiss in the Dark with no expectations as I’d heard very little about it in the blogosphere. And it blew my socks off.
Skip tells his story, and I mean he literally writes his story and mentions the craft of his doing so, in a hauntingly beautiful way. Reading A Small Free Kiss in the Dark I noticed the artistic nature of Glenda Millard’s prose. Skip’s narration is poetic and stunningly beautiful. He has a way of looking at the world that intrigues me to no end. It’s like he sees the world through a foggy, dreamlike lens that distorts reality into a huge image of art and words.
A Small Free Kiss in the Dark is largely set in an abandoned fairground called Dreamland that is evoked so vividly that I felt if I just opened the book wide enough I’d be able to step through the words and take a ride on Skip’s pinto carousel horse. Glenda Millard uses metaphors, similes and imagery so, so artfully that I felt my bedroom walls dissolve around me as I read. Just astonishing.
As you may have guessed from my review so far, Skip was by far my favourite character in A Small Free Kiss in the Dark and was what made me furiously turn the pages. Some of the things that he said made me smile and my heart break simultaneously. He’s incredibly wise and perceptive for a young boy, and yet still so innocent and willing to give his all for those he cares for.
I adored this novel and if by reading this review one more person picks it up I’ll have done my job. Go read it now!
And now for a guest post from the woman herself:
Collecting caterpillars, metaphors and metamorphosis.
It's April and autumn in Australia. Early mornings are crisp and sunny. I've been for an hour-long walk in the Whipstick Forest under the blue-grey canopy of eucalyptus leaves, between the ridged black trunks of the Ironbark trees. Families of kangaroos and wallabies graze in adjoining paddocks. There's plenty of green grass – unusual at this time of the year. But we've had rain, too much of it in places.
Rosie, my daughter, is home from university in the city. By the time I got home she'd already put new blades on her car's windscreen wipers and was about to do some work in the vegetable garden. I asked if she'd had breakfast. She hadn't but said she'd like toast and tea in the back garden if I was willing. I was willing. Anything seemed attractive compared to sitting inside writing a guest blog!
The wood-fired oven is burning in the back garden. It's been burning since yesterday afternoon.We're getting ready to make sourdough bread, portuguese tarts, ciabatta and pizza. My sons and their partners are coming for lunch. They've gone fishing this morning – for redfin. They'll be hungry when they get here.
While I toasted bread over coals in the oven I told Rosie I had to write a guest blog – this blog – sometime today. After breakfast we walked slowly up and down the rows of broccoli with the sun on our backs, picking caterpillars off the lacy leaves and I confessed I didn't have a clue what to write about. Rosie suggested caterpillars. I laughed and moved on to the potted lime tree where I found a different type of caterpillar. He hadn't made holes in the leaves, he'd devoured them completely. He was almost as long as my little finger, black with beautiful lemon-lime markings. I showed Rosie and told her that despite the denuded tree I'd spare the caterpillar's life in the hope he'd metamorphose into a magnificent Swallow-Tail butterfly.
'So what will you write about?' Rosie said, reminding me I was supposed to be inside writing.
'Collecting caterpillars,' I said. This time Rosie laughed. But I'd just realised where small ordinary things, often taken for granted, can lead you. Caterpillars could be a metaphor for inspiration. And where might we find these wonderful creatures, but on the leaves of life.
In one of a series of novels I wrote for younger readers, there's a scene where the grandmother, Nell Silk, gathers her large unconventional family together to collect cabbage-moth caterpillars from the leafy-greens in the vegetable garden. It's not so much the activity but the togetherness that Nell and her family enjoy. Many of the other novels in the series refer to an outdoor, wood-fired oven, home-made bread and pizzas.
It's standard practice for me to empty my pockets after morning walks, to inspect the items I've collected on the way home. Often there are feathers, sometimes fallen nests, half-shells of hatched eggs, pretty pebbles, red leaves curled as commas. Ordinary things that feed our souls and give our stories fuel to burn brightly in people's imaginations when they read the words.
Caterpillars come in various shapes and sizes. Some have stunning decorations and others are so well camouflaged they're almost invisible. That's why we have to be observant, take our time, turn the broccoli leaves over.
In my experience, caterpillars usually don't give us complete stories. I once discovered one that resembled a newspaper heading, 'Urban Tribes'. I glued it into a scrap book and studied it for a while before I discovered it was really a beginning. It was what started me writing A Small Free Kiss in the Dark.
Another of the caterpillars I met appeared to be a man, but on closer inspection was the restorer of antique carousels. This and one that looked remarkably like a beautiful domed building provided me with settings for my story.
The metamorphosis of a caterpillar sometimes takes my breath away. Pennyweight Flat Children's Cemetery, a real place near the small country town where I was born, and one of the most melancholy places I know, was transformed from a sad green grub into a place of absolute peace for Tia, the troubled dancer in A Small Free Kiss in the Dark.
I should no longer be surprised by the potential of the ordinary for the sublime. But somehow I always am. There's a skip to my heartbeat each time I rediscover it. I have to stop now. It's time to cook pizza. But all the time I'm doing it I'll subconsciously be checking for caterpillars.
Make sure you check out the other stops on the A Small Free Kiss in the Dark tour.
Thank you to Templar Publishing for providing me with a review copy and organising my stop on the tour.