Tag Archives: Rachel Ward

The Cost of Living

Reading Rachel Ward’s first adult crime novel, The Cost of Living, brought home to me quite how middle or upper class crime novels tend to be. Even the ‘harder’ ones seem not to have such very normal characters as Ant and Bea in Rachel’s book.

Rachel Ward, The Cost of Living

In her early twenties, Bea works in the local supermarket at the checkouts. (I now know more than I ever knew I needed to learn about how supermarkets work…) Ant is slightly younger, and has bad history as far as work is concerned. He’s not sure he will last the [first] day. Bea has an agoraphobic mum and Ant comes from a family known for being trouble.

And the two don’t get on very well to begin with. But when a stalker attacks, and later on kills, young females in their little town, Bea starts sleuthing and Ant sort of helps.

The fear in the town is quite palpable, and I worried enormously whenever you could tell that something was about to happen. Or when Rachel wanted us to think there was danger round the corner.

I had a good idea of who the killer was. Just a shame I was wrong. But it goes to show that you can be bad in different ways, and that the obviously bad characters might not be so bad after all. Again, like normal people.

There are some unusual sexual pairings, which again makes the story stand out. Bea is a strong girl who not only works and solves crimes, but looks after her mum and also tries to make sure her customers are safe from abusive partners, and so on. What I won’t accept is that as a size 16 Bea is fat. She’s not.

Described as ‘an Ant & Bea mystery’ I wonder if this means there will be more? I wonder if their little town can take more crimes? But if there are more, then Bea is really well placed in her checkout, where life unfolds and she sees everything.

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Odyssey – the Aarhus 39

We have a lot in common. But also, we don’t. That’s no bad thing, though.

Daniel Hahn has edited this collection of translated short stories. I think there are 21 in this, the older, group of stories of journeys from around Europe. If the list of names looks longer than 21, that is because the stories have both illustrators and translators as well as authors. So it’s been a big job to do, this collaboration with the Hay Festival in Aarhus. The Aarhus 39 stands for all the authors involved, as there is a collection for younger readers as well. (And personally I’d prefer to write Århus, but I can’t have everything.)

Odyssey - Aarhus 39

Anyway, this is very interesting. Daniel points out how similar [young] people are, wherever they come from. I agree, but it’s also obvious that we are different. Equal in worth and importance, but a little bit just ourselves.

Another thing about all the languages the stories were written in. You look at the name of the author and you think you know what language they use. But you could be wrong. So many seem to have made a journey or two themselves, and their stories are in a new language. This is fascinating and points to a new kind of Europe.

The Nordic short stories seem to be more into drugs, bullying and illegal behaviour. Further south it is more weird and entertaining. But none of that matters; they are stories about being young, and the journeys are either actual journeys, or about someone learning something about themselves.

I can’t possibly describe them, either their contents or the style. There are too many and they are too varied. The stories are short (yes, that is what a short story is), and mostly easy to read, and interestingly illustrated. They make you think.

If I were to criticise anything, it’s the size of the font. It is too small. And the very worthwhile list of all the contributors at the back; well that font is even smaller and made my eyes ache. But this is such a good idea, and we want more of it.

Just in bigger print.

Coffee, beer and a book launch

You’ll have to excuse me, but I saw so many authors on Thursday that I am unable to list them all here. Not because the list would be too long, but simply because I no longer recall absolutely everyone, nor did I necessarily see or recognise them in the first place. But if you were there, tell me and I will add you to the list.

I had crawled out of bed to go and have ‘coffee’ with Marnie Riches who was also in town. She’d been doing her own book related things the night before, and was now up for grabs while on her way to CrimeFest via Paddington. We chatted and drank ‘coffee’ and then I accompanied her to her train and made sure she got on it, to join her murderously minded colleagues in Bristol. (I provided her with a secret list of who to talk to there, but I doubt she’ll obey.)

After some admin and a good rest (because having ‘coffee’ is hard work…), I packed my going to do an interview and going to a book launch bag and went off to Hampstead in the rain.

Anthony McGowan's beer

First I did a recce at my second Waterstones in two days, before walking uphill (they have some surprisingly steep hills in Hampstead) to a very old pub suggested by Anthony McGowan as a suitable venue for me to grill him on all kinds of authorly secrets. He was right; it was a good place to go, even if there was a slight but steady drip of water from the skylight above me. Before leaving for the book launch we were going to, Tony took his t-shirt off, but that wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

He brought me along the scenic route to Waterstones, and we encountered new author Nicole Burstein in a café across the road, and she came along as well. And then everyone started the game of turning their books face out on the shelves. Nicole’s bookshop past also meant she had to tidy all the book piles on the tables, and I have to admit it’s hard to resist…

Caroline Green, Rachel Ward, Joy Court and Anthony McGowan at the Read Me Like a Book launch

Laura at the Read Me Like a Book launch

More and more authors kept arriving at the shop, and even a few ordinary people. Liz Kessler, whose launch it was – for Read Me Like a Book, arrived accompanied by her wife. Before long the upstairs at Waterstones was full of guests, and after a while it was just about too crowded to move about and take photos of people, because there was always someone else ‘in the way.’ But believe me when I say they were all there.

Read Me Like a Book launch

There were drinks, and there was the most enormous cake. And you can’t celebrate a novel like this without some speeches. Orion’s Fiona Kennedy spoke of her decision to publish Liz’s book; because she ‘didn’t want anyone else to have it.’

Read Me Like a Book launch

Liz herself talked about why she wrote Read Me Like a Book, and how things on the lgbt front have changed over the last twenty years or so. She thanked all the people in her life who had made the book possible, from her former English teacher, to her wonderful agent and her publisher, to her wife.

She read a chapter from the book, where Ashleigh stays behind to talk to her English teachers, just because she needs to.

Liz Kessler at the Read Me Like a Book launch

Finally there was a short speech from Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall. And I believe there was even a little time left for the buying and signing of books

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.