Tag Archives: Rachel Ward

Water Born

Water Born is the sequel to Rachel Ward’s The Drowning, and when I read it, at first I thought I’d gone mad. Were her characters really called Clarke and Sarita?

Rachel Ward, Water Born

No, they were not. You’ll find out why as you read on. Water Born is about their daughter Nic, who loves swimming. That also didn’t feel right for Carl and Neisha, considering what happened in The Drowning. But it, too, has an explanation.

Like the first book, this is pretty scary stuff. It’s obviously fantasy (it is, isn’t it?), so you can’t use logic to work out what is happening to Nic and all those teenage girls who are drowning. Or why things are strange whenever Nic swims.

As always with Rachel, this is so compelling you feel you must continue reading. Clarke is older and wiser now, but still as temperamental. At least when he gets scared. And if he‘s scared, what about the poor reader?

Set in 2030, society appears to be the same as it is today, so it’s really our current values we see in the reactions from the people around Nic when things turn bad. Her parents are OK, apart from their water hang-ups, and she has one very resourceful friend when the world turns on the family.

Read with caution if you aren’t very comfortable with water. Or even if you are. You never know.

Celebrating Jacqueline Wilson’s 100th book

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Right, I’m vertical again. Have had four hours of sleep, so this will be absolutely fine. It seems I wasn’t even the most far flung guest at last night’s Opal Plumstead bash at the Ritz. Dundee beats me very slightly. The really good thing about long train trips is the reading a witch can get done. By Darlington I had been scared witless by Rachel Ward, and I continued with Danny Weston, who continued to scare me with more water based ghostly shenanigans.

Must have sat next to either an author or an editor, because I could tell that a novel was being edited on my right, all the way to King’s Cross. Which has altered beyond all recognition since I was last there. (To begin with, I had to adjust my expectations from thinking I was at Euston.) I saw the Harry Potter trolley and the long queue of people wanting to catch the train to Hogwarts.

Royal Institution

After a very brief look at clothes for librarians, I detoured to Green Park for a sit on a bench, before walking to the Royal Institution for a look around the Faraday Museum. I’ve never managed to be in the right part of London at the right time. I disgraced myself with the Elements Song down in the basement, before a nice pot of tea. Actually, it was only Twinings, so whereas my rest was nice, the tea was Twinings…

Ritz chandelier

And at last it was time for the Ritz! I spoke to probably four doormen and similar, before getting my flower arrangements right and finding the Music Room. (Where else would you be told to turn left by the flower arrangement?)

Jacqueline Wilson was celebrating her 100th (book, not birthday!) in the company of 100 guests (no, I didn’t count), so what was I doing there, you ask. I have no idea. Clutching a glass of water, and eating rather a lot of rather tasty canapés. (Made a bit of a mess with the egg one.) Trying to rub shoulders with interesting people. The lovely Naomi made sure I spoke to Jacky early on, and I realised I ought to have brought a present, when my co-guest handed over a cute dog portrait.

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That wasn’t the only gift. There was a striking handmade Opal Plumstead stocking, of the Christmas variety. And like at all children’s parties, there was a party bag (purple) for the guests at the end of the evening, containing a signed book and some Opal Plumstead sweets.

Opal Plumstead bag

There were speeches. Annie Eaton had a paper to read from, to get it right. And she read out a letter fron Nick Sharratt, who couldn’t be there. He loves working with Jacky, but no, they are still not married, and no, he can’t ask her to put every child he meets into one of her books.

Jacqueline Wilson

Jacky also had a paper, because – as she said – there had been champagne. Lovely speech, which was followed by two young men singing a song (from Hetty Feather the play, I believe) which listed every single JW book title, or so it seemed. The cast from Hetty Feather were all there, and I even met ‘Jem,’ aka actor Matt Costain. He wore a name badge which claimed he was in actual fact Jacqueline Wilson, but I didn’t believe that for a moment.

I’d worried in case book no. 100 would be deemed a nice even number to stop at. But book 101 is already in the bag, and book 102 is in the process of being written. Fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. (Although my shelves have pointed out they don’t see how they will cope.)

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It was one of those events where an increasingly forgetful witch sees familiar faces and has to think hard who they belong to. So, there was one JW book character; driver Bob. Jacky’s daughter was there, as was Simon Mayo. Lots of publishing people, Jacky’s first agent, Julia Eccleshare, Anne Marley, Caro Fickling, Philippa Dickinson…

'Hetty Feather'

And many thanks to ‘Dear Trish’ who pointed out I’m not a Tom, Dick or Harry. One can’t always be sure.

The Drowning

Rachel Ward, The Drowning

I must agree with Rachel Ward here, and suggest that if you have any hang-ups regarding water, you’d better not read her new novel The Drowning. It’s a bit spooky, and it contains a lot of water based horror.

But if you don’t worry – any more than normal – about water, this is a great horror thriller, set in a gritty, poor area of an English town, featuring some not terribly savoury characters. And that’s another thing; I generally don’t enjoy too much of this kind of background in a book, but The Drowning is quite spectacular.

Also, you can’t really work out how it will end. It could be bad. It could be good. The big question is whether something supernatural is going on, or if it’s all in Carl’s head.

Carl wakes up half drowned, not remembering what has happened. His older brother Rob is dead beside him. There is a muddy looking girl nearby. And he just doesn’t know what’s been going on. But water sets him off on a peculiar journey for the truth.

That truth isn’t particularly nice. Carl finds that Rob wasn’t always a nice boy. He discovers that quite possibly he himself wasn’t all that nice. Their single mother drinks, and they live in a dreadful little house. People in the neighbouhood seem to fear him.

What did he do? And how did Rob die?

And what is that water doing?

Drip. Drip…

Numbers: Infinity

Admittedly, on the cover of my copy it says Döden i dina ögon – Slutet, but it is the same book by Rachel Ward. She has diligently supplied me with all three Numbers in Swedish, and I have now reached the end.

Rachel Ward, Döden i dina ögon - Slutet

That’s what the translated title means, which is a little more final than infinity. So it was my usual mantra of me thinking ‘this is a book for young readers, it surely can’t end totally badly.’ And despite its dystopian nature, there were a few characters still around on the last page.

Adam keeps seeing people’s death dates in their eyes, and he hates it. But after little Mia apparently escaped her date and switched to someone else’s, he doesn’t know what to think. Sarah still dreams true dreams, whereas Mia sees everything in colours.

They are living in a camp with other survivors after the great catastrophe two years earlier, and Adam is sick and tired of being recognised as ‘the one’ and he is also worried in case the authorities will catch up with them. Someone does turn up, and it seems it might be Mia’s ability to switch that is of most interest to them.

The authorities claim they want to use Adam’s skills to determine how not to waste resources on the wrong people, and he and Sarah have to try to avoid ending up in custody. But Sarah is pregnant again, and there is the question what talents the new baby will have…

As ever, very exciting, and not for the fainthearted.

More Numbers in Swedish

I couldn’t get through this book fast enough. That’s Arvet by Rachel Ward, or Numbers 2: The Chaos, as it would be to you. Rachel has had me continue my slightly out of character reading of her books in translation. And they continue feeling perfectly fine. I suspect the Prime Minister’s speech got a little garbled en route, but that’s all.

Rachel Ward, Arvet (Numbers 2: The Chaos)

Here we are in 2026, almost a generation on. Well, it is a generation later, but they are pretty short generations, what with the teenage pregnancies. And there is another one in this book.

Jem’s son Adam has the same thing his mother did. He sees when people will die. And in this case a lot of them will die on New Year’s Day 2027. The question is how, and if Adam can do anything about it?

He saw Jem’s death date, and had no way of preventing it. Adam now lives with his great grandmother, and they move to London when Weston is evacuated, despite Jem having warned them they mustn’t on any account go to London.

In London nearly everyone’s death dates are 2027, including the people at Adam’s new school. That’s where he meets Sarah, who has seen Adam in her recurring nightmares, and she is very scared of him.

It’s possible to guess roughly what will happen, and also something of what Sarah’s nightmare really means, but it’s still fantastically exciting. It’s a near future dystopia, which is scarier for being so similar to our present, and for seeming so likely to happen. The clichés uttered by politicians, the police and local authority staff sound just like what we are already hearing today.

I can’t even begin to guess what will happen in the third part of Rachel’s trilogy. But I must read it. After all, a few people actually survived. I need to see if they can keep going, and if there is hope for us.

When Rachel went to Stockholm

When I heard that Rachel Ward was going to Stockholm to open a bookshop I could barely contain myself. Never mind that it might actually be fun for her, and an honour and all that, but I could get her to tell us what it was like. So here she is, spilling all on the cutting of ribbons (I trust there was a ribbon?) and eating ambassadors and other little things:

“‘I’ve got nothing to write in my blog yet,’ I say to Husband on the train from the airport into Stockholm.

‘You can start with how expensive Swedish public transport is,’ he replies grimly. (Well, sorry!)

Expensive, yes, but feel the quality. Whisked from the heart of the airport at great speed in a train where all the carriages look First Class. The space! The upholstery!

Husband is here to talk science with our host, Wilhelm Engström. For me, the business part of our trip is an evening at the English Bookshop in the company of members of the Swedish British Society. The bookshop is fairly new and sister to one in the university town of Uppsala which has been open a lot longer. It’s tucked away in a sidestreet on Lilla Nygatan in the Old Town (Gamla Stan).

The English Bookshop, Stockholm

I meet Christer Valdeson, one of the partners, and Tiffany, his lovely American assistant. Their enthusiasm for books, reading and their shop is infectious. They’re genuinely committed to creating a community around the shop, running reading groups and story times, tailoring recommendations to their customers and looking for new services to deliver, like printing out English language mini-newspapers on demand. It’s a wonderful place and one that deserves to succeed. Do call in and see for yourself if you’re ever in Stockholm.

There’s just enough room for the audience to squeeze in. I give them a quick rattle through my route to publication, and what it’s like to be published, including a few trusty anecdotes that won’t let me down (e.g. how I met my publisher, Barry Cunningham, the man who signed J K Rowling to Bloomsbury – a story always met with smiles and even the odd gasp, very satisfying), followed by reading the London Eye bit from my first book, minus the swearing. I’m pleased by the reaction to my talk, given that they’re not my normal target audience. There are lots of questions and even some sales.

Rachel Ward at the English Bookshop

After a short break, I’m followed ‘on stage’ by Wilhelm. If the term ‘gentleman scientist’ doesn’t exist then I think we should bring it into play – it certainly applies here. He’s very entertaining company, with seemingly boundless interests and energy. He’s recently channelled some of it into publishing a joke book gently poking fun at Americans and his presentation is warmly received, even from the several Americans in the audience.

Presentation over, I’m now officially on holiday. Stockholm is a wonderful place to walk around. There are enough attractions here to amuse a visitor for plenty more than three days, but you don’t actually have to visit anything. You can just walk and walk and walk. The last couple of years in the Ward household have been a tad alarming and stressful, and Husband and I both appreciate the chance to spend some time together just chilling. Of course, there’s always a café around the next corner for when we need to warm up.

Or we can retire to our hotel, The Lord Nelson, which is quite literally packed to the gunnels with Nelson memorabilia. Portholes, binnacles, and yes, gunnels – they’re all here. We do call in at Junibacken, a story museum/experience based around the work of Astrid ‘Pippi Longstocking’ Lindgren, but including other writers as well. We felt a bit self-conscious as the only adults there without children, especially on board the ‘story train’ as it chugged slowly out of the station in full view of the long queue, but it was well worth the embarrassment. The train takes you on a charming, even moving, journey through Lindgren’s storyscapes. Not afraid of an unhappy ending was Astrid – it’s amazing that Swedish children appear so emotionally unscarred.

Courtesy of Wilhelm, our evenings are spoken for; dinner with the ambassador and a trip to the opera. It’s so like our home life that we fit right in…hem, hem. Actually, it’s a little glimpse of a different sort of life altogether. Strange the places that being a writer will take you to…”

Yeah, Rachel’s posh frock went from Stockport to Stockholm, unlike me, who went the opposite direction. And I would say that it looks as if she wore that divine coat again, which I admired last year.

From garret to glamour

‘You’re going to have to take my necklace off’ is what Cathy MacPhail said within seconds of meeting me last night. And I tried. I really did. But that necklace went nowhere. Very glamorous it was, but perhaps not the thing for showering in.

Apart from my lack of necklace-removing skills, I had a new modus operandi going yesterday. I waylaid the winners of the Stockport Schools Book Award at their hotel, which conveniently is only a few minutes away from Bookwitch Towers.

So, I started with Cathy, whose novel Grass won the Key Stage 3* group. I admitted to Cathy that I had looked at her book lots and lots of times, and every time I had chickened out. She thought that was shocking (and possibly other more unprintable thoughts), but I have since gathered Cathy likes horror films, so I’m sure my instincts were right.

We sat in the bar discussing all the other book awards Cathy has won, which is quite a few. They are all different from each other, but Cathy has also won in Stockport before.

As we chatted, Rachel Ward appeared, suitcase in hand and looking very film starry straight off the train – having narrowly missed missing her connection down south – and she was immediately roped in to remove Cathy’s necklace, which she did. They’d never met before, either. Then Rachel ordered some tea, which I would guess the situation required by then.

Rachel won KS 4 with Numbers, and she hasn’t won quite as many awards as Cathy has, but then Numbers is her first book. And, I’m sorry, but this will be a necklacey sort of blog, because she was wearing a really interesting necklace, too. Just like last time I met her.

Stockport Plaza

The two ladies decided to share a taxi to the Plaza later, and Cathy went to change while Rachel and I talked about her poor, ill dog. And children and universities. Then she too went to get dressed in her finery, while I waited to snap them both getting into their pumpkin.

From Cathy I gathered that the Early Years award and the KS 1 award were both won by Julia Donaldson, but that Julia was heading directly to the Plaza without passing Go, which is why I didn’t see her.

That just leaves the KS 2 award, and let me tell you how much time I’d spent googling and trying to second guess who the winner would be and checking author’s photos online so that I might be able to tell who it was, if I ran into them. And as I was sitting there, I did see a couple dressed up very nicely and thought they could be KS 2. Except she didn’t look like any of the faces I’d seen in my search.

Easily explained by the fact that she turned out to be Jane Norriss, wife of Andrew, the author of Ctrl-Z. So, some back-to-front sexism here. I was expecting a woman… Andrew was really pleased to meet Rachel (well, who wouldn’t be?), and they were all three extremely keen to be photographed together. I’m not used to that. Normally one has to struggle with these garret types.

Rachel Ward with Andrew and Jane Norriss

Worried pumpkin driver turned up, but Cathy didn’t. She eventually sauntered in ten minutes late. So, hurried photo session with her while the others fled out the doors to calm the driver down. They weren’t going anywhere fast, though. Still trying to cross the A6 when I hobbled home.

Cathy MacPhail

That’s Frockport for you.

This morning, or even all day today, they will be singing for their supper by going round the local schools. Two for Cathy and three for Rachel.

* KS 1 = ages 5 to 7, KS 2 = ages 7 to 11, KS 3 = ages 11 to 14, KS 4 = ages 14 to 16.