The Runaways

by Victor Canning

On a night of wild storms, two troubled figures escape from captivity. One is a 15-year-old
boy, Samuel Miles, a.k.a. ‘Smiler’, wrongly convicted of theft and sent to a young
offenders institution. The other is a cheetah, Yarra, a restless resident of Longleat Wildlife
Park. Both are in danger from the outside world – and each other – but somehow their lives
become inextricably bound up as they fight for survival on the edge of Salisbury Plain.
A fast-moving and compassionate adventure story, The Runaways is the first book in
Victor Canning’s classic children’s trilogy.

Originally published in the 1970s, it is a shame that Victor Canning and this book, have not achieved the level of recognition they deserve. It is an adventure that delivers an emotional punch, and has so many layers that give it a depth and an exciting sense of freedom and adventure.

I know Salisbury Plain and the towns and villages around it exceptionally well. The Plain is a military exercise area and being relatively ‘untouched’, as it were. It proudly displays to visitors young and old alike, its ancient and modern history in all its glorious wonder, and Victor Canning has captured that magnificently in this book. His writing is superb, and he is one of those who make you realise the power that authors have to incite a deep response to their work. Words that spring to mind regarding The Runaways are heart-warming, emotional, compelling, passionate, poignant…and more.

Setting his tale in real towns and villages, Canning reveals his love of the countryside and its people, for what it means to those living there. To readers of every age, I recommend looking up the places mentioned; it will give a good sense of location, of where Samuel and Yarra have travelled.

Samuel is an unforgettable teenager, on the brink of adulthood, and lost in a world he hasn’t really come to grips with. He awaits the return of his father whom he is convinced will put everything right that has gone wrong. Characters like Mrs Lakey, Miss Milly, and Joe are equally well-drawn. Yarra’s bid for freedom just as compelling as Samuel’s. As she runs through the rich landscape with its own wildlife, including deer, hares, birds, struggling for survival, the exploration of the Plain’s ecosystem through the characters, is almost tangible. Reading from Yarra’s perspective is insightful and somewhat unique at the time it was written.

Samuel and Yarra are both lonely, and want to escape the confines of a captivity neither should be in. It is a story of surviving; not just their flight from the authorities, but also of the hand each has been dealt in life. The friendship and sense of belonging that ties these two characters together gives a deep and emotional layer to this beautifully written book.

I wish this has been available to sell a few years ago when I was a Children’s Bookseller. It would have been pressed into the hands of my young readers and their parents; heavily recommended and always in stock!

You may shed tears as you read, but delight and fascination permeate every page. No matter how old you are – read this book.

It’s wonderful

Follow The Runaways‘ Journey

Salisbury Plain

The Plain is an awesome place. It is home to nature reserves, SSSI sites, ancient barrows, and an amzing and fascinating range of flora and fauna.


Check online for an open-day. Set in the heart of Salisbury Plain, this ancient village was finally evacuated in 1943 to use the War Office land that surrounded it, for D-Day preparations. Some sites to check out.

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