Wednesday, June 22, 2011

GIVEAWAY: Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton: Author Interview and Review

Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton
January 1, 2011; Sourcebooks, Inc.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Leo took one step forward and then stopped. This was it-the road away from everything he knew. He could turn back. But then who would save his family from starvation? No, Leo was their last hope. He must go on...

The journey is not easy-he'll have to sleep on the streets, steal food, and even fight off greedy soldiers. Along the way, Leo discovers the kindness of strangers and the loyalty of friends. But he also learns there are some people you just can't trust, especially when you're on the wild road to America. (courtesy of Goodreads)


Please welcome Nigel Hinton to Alison Can Read!

1. Can you briefly describe Walk the Wild Road?

Walk the Wild Road is a story of adventure and courage which takes as its starting point what happened to my grandfather. He lived in a poor family in Poland and in 1870, when he was eleven, he decided to ease the family’s poverty by leaving home to make his way alone in the world. My young hero, Leo, similarly leaves the safety of home and sets off to try to get to the sea in the hope of catching a boat to the USA. On the way he meets up with another boy, Tomasz,
who also dreams of finding his fortune in America. Together, they face dangers and challenges as they cross a country at war.

2. You've written books for children, young adult, and adult readers. How do you shape your writing for each age group?

It is less that I consciously make decisions in the shaping of the writing, than that the material itself seems to set the tone of the writing. The characters and the plot seem to demand to be written in a particular style. Of course, I am aware of the target audience and that must influence the tone and the vocabulary that I use but the sentences which arrive in my mind from my subconscious (or wherever such things come from) generally arrive in an appropriate form. The conscious part is when something arrives which doesn’t seem right; at that point my logical, critical faculties can spot it and say, “Oh no, you can’t put it like that” or “No, that sentence is too long and complicated”. Then it’s up to the creative, unconscious part of my brain to offer an alternative for my consideration. In fact it is scary even thinking about this because, in the end, you realize that you don’t know how or why a sentence with those words in that order actually comes into the light. All you know is that no one else will write this or that paragraph like you will. I can’t write JK Rowling’s books (if only!) and she can’t write mine.

3. I always admire authors who do historical fiction. It requires a lot of prep work. Can you describe your research process?

First of all, I tried to find out as much as I could about my grandfather’s life. He was born in 1869. My father was born in 1892. I was born in 1941. When I came to ask about his life, my grandfather had been dead for over fifty years, and my father had also died. I was amazed and saddened by how little I could find out. It was barebones stuff – poor family, left home at eleven, crossed Poland to the sea, got on a boat and went round the world as a cabin boy. I had a few clues about where his village was but since Poland did not really exist, at that time, having been partitioned by Prussia, Austria and Russia, even place names were different from today. After a lot of research on the internet, I finally found the small hamlet where he had lived and its current Polish name.

I then found a map from that time and was able to guess at the most likely route he would have taken for his walk to the sea – with all the Prussian names of the towns and villages he would have passed and all the geographical features such as rivers he would have encountered.

I began reading all the histories of Poland I could find, relying most heavily on Norman Davis’ great work: God's Playground. I also read the four volumes of the novel The Peasants (Chłopi) by Władysław Reymont to give me a taste of Polish peasant life.

It became more and more urgent for me to visit Poland and make the journey he had made. In April 2005 I set out and found the house my young grandfather had lived in, then retraced the steps he had made down the Vistula to Gdansk (Danzig) to find that boat which would carry him away from his homeland. In the process I visited every museum I could find, looking at artefacts, photographs and maps of the period, absorbing it all until I felt that I could create an authentic background against which my young boys’ adventures would take place. A detailed account of the journey I made can be found on my blog:

4. What were some books that you enjoyed when you were a teen and what are some books you've enjoyed recently?

There were far fewer books for teenagers when I was that age – it was barely a market back then, although Teen-oriented films and music were beginning to emerge with James Dean and Elvis Presley leading the way. So, I pretty much moved from books aimed at children – principally school stories – straight to adult books. Between 12 and 14 I was obsessed with stories about the Second World War, especially memoirs of soldiers and escapees from Prison Camps. Then I moved on to comic fiction for a year– I devoured PG Wodehouse books. By the age of 15 I was reading general fiction – classic and contemporary. I read indiscrimately, moving unjudgmentally from Dickens to Gone With The Wind and Forever Amber and Tolstoy and Thomas Hardy. I was hungry for stories.

The last twelve months has been a great time for books – almost everything I have picked up has been excellent. Highlights have been: Love and Summer by William Trevor, A Season in Sinji and A Month in the Country by JL Carr, Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada , The Radetsky March by Joseph Roth, One Day by David Nicholls, A House in Flanders by Michael Jenkins, Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow. I also re-read Dombey and Son.

5. Can you offer one piece of writing advice aside from the ubiquitous read and write often?

Read and write often! Practice visualization. If you are writing about someone in a room, encourage your brain to get into creative mode by visualizing the room. You need not feel you have describe anything you see, unless it is obviously going to be useful and appropriate, but I believe that the more real you can make that room, the more inventive your brain becomes and the more real your character will become, living in a known environment. If you find it hard to do this at first, encourage your brain by asking questions – what is on the floor: carpet, linoleum, wood? what is on the walls? what can be seen from the window? Make the settings and details real inside your mind: THAT garden, THAT road, THAT motorbike, THAT hill, rather than some vague garden, road, motorbike or hill.

The more you practice this, the more your brain will automatically ‘see’ this stuff when you are writing.


Walk The Wild Road takes us to a world that most of us can barely imagine. Where class is everything and the aristocracy can essentially sentence someone to death for petty wrongs and grudges. Where drought and famine force loving parents to sell their children to keep the whole family from starving. Where the hope of a better life in America is worth risking you life for.

Leo is a young boy (about 12) in Prussia (now Poland) in 1870. He is the oldest child of a large family of poor farmers. Years of bad harvests leave his parents with no choice but to put the oldest children to work. Leo quickly makes a grave, albeit well-intentioned, mistake that has him fleeing the Baron's house to escape imprisonment and death. He decides to head for America where he can make his fortune as a free boy.

If only he can survive the journey out of Poland. The book takes Leo through one danger after another. He's too young to do this on his own, so he has to rely largely on luck and the kindness of others. the author does a good job of showing how many people can be cruel, but even more are kind and helpful. Leo is lucky to find a plucky friend in Tomas. As lighthearted as Leo is serious, Tomasz pushes him to take chances and Tomasz's confident front opens doors Leo would otherwise never find.

This would be a great book for middle school boys. The story moves quickly. Danger is not sugar-coated. Leo faces real risks and people he knows get hurt. With Tomasz, the book has some light, funny moments that break up the tense, serious plot. There's no romance in this book, which is a pleasant chance. It's a classic boy's adventure story.

Rating: 3.5 / 5


I am giving my copy of Walk The Wild Road by Nigel Hinton away to one of you. The book has been read, but is in excellent condition.


  1. Hmm, this sounds like a great book. My grandmother is in Poland right now and she tells me all kinds of stories from over there. Nice review!

  2. Wow! A story like this coming from a true life event is just so hard to imagine. An 11 year old going out on his own. What? That's crazy. But those where what the times were like back then. Tragic, really.

    Thanks for the review and interview. The answer to question three was pretty fascinating. The author did such extensive research. Very admirable.

  3. Sounds like a great adventure story. It's fascinating how much research went into it. :)

  4. A very interesting interview and I really enjoyed the author's advice to writers. My grandfather had a similar experience, leaving Hungary to come to Canada at the age of 15 or 16 with his older brother. I can only imagine how frightening it had been.

  5. Amazing info on her research! Great interview! the book sounds wonderful!

  6. Wow, this book sounds amazing! I also loved the interview, very interesting.



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