Tag Archives: Rachel Ward

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.

Numbers translated

I loved Numbers by Rachel Ward, even when called Döden i dina ögon. As the ultimate language snob I always say you need to read everything in the original as far as possible, so am busy eating my words.

Döden i dina ögon

For some reason I never got round to reading Numbers when it was first out, and after meeting Rachel in Edinburgh last year I felt I really must. And still didn’t. And it’s not always the thought that counts. Then I came across a review of the Swedish translation on a teenage blog, and Rachel hadn’t even heard it was out there yet, until I told her. She offered me one of her translated copies, which has been languishing for months, waiting for me to get into a translation mood. Because I do not feel like reading Swedish while in Sweden. Call me weird, but I feel better doing it the other way round.

It’s a scary concept, this idea that 15-year-old Jem can look into the eyes of people and see the date when they will die. (But one that the witch in me can sympathise with.) So she and her friend Spider avoid getting caught up in a bomb attack because she works out something bad is about to happen. Then they have to run away as the police believe they are terrorists.

They become close during their escape, but things don’t go too well, which is hardly surprising for two disadvantaged teenagers. And Jem can see that Spider will die soon. She desperately wants to prevent it.

As the first of three books Numbers obviously still has some way to go before the reader knows all. There is a cliffhanger, but it’s a mild sort of cliffhanger, because after what happens in Numbers you feel ready for almost anything. Rachel has already moved the plot into the future by the end, and I can’t help wondering if this is significant.

Bookwitch bites #20

Lots of new books this week, just ready to take on holiday. (It’s good for you. See below for proof.)  I am not managing to keep pace with Lucy Coats and her Greek Beasts, the last four of which are now out for your enjoyment. And Mary Hoffman’s Troubadour is out in paperback. The second book in Alex Scarrow’s TimeRiders series called Day of the Predator has just been published, but I’m afraid I’ve not had time to read it. Story of my life.

I may be away from it all, but I’m still capable of discovering the odd gold nugget. As I turned to the really quite excellent teen blog Tonårsboken the other day, I noticed they’ve branched out and are doing interviews. Well, one anyway. They liked Rachel Ward’s Numbers so much that they emailed her with some questions ‘in impeccable English’ according to Rachel. And within 24 hours they had her answers translated and published. In times when far too many bloggers blog quite boringly and badly, it’s great to see two 15-year-olds do so much and to do it so well.

It looks like Nick Green has finished revamping his website. I notice he’s used my excellent photo again. It’s from Bolton two years ago. I really will have to set Daughter on him to come up with something new. But I’m glad he likes the picture enough to recycle it. (My bill’s in the post, Mr Green.)

In a New York Times blog Tara Parker-Pope writes about the importance of reading. It’s good to know that you can measure the advances gained in reading by just making sure children have one book to read over the summer holidays. And her argument is back to the old idea that to read anything at all is better than to read nothing. Even if it’s about Hannah Montana.

2010 Branford Boase shortlist

Gulp. This is bad. Not the shortlist, but me. I haven’t read a single one of them! Yet.

I hope this state of affairs is not an indication that I’m out of the loop. I do have two of them, Devil’s Kiss and Numbers, waiting for some loving attention. Admittedly Sarwat’s book has waited very long, but had made it onto one of the aforementioned holiday reading piles. Even before Monday’s announcement of the shortlist for the Branford Boase award, I mean.

Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda, edited by Lindsey Heaven (Puffin)

Stolen by Lucy Christopher, edited by Imogen Cooper (Chicken House)

Life, Interrupted by Damian Kelleher, edited by Anne Clark (Piccadilly Press)

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera, edited by Shannon Park (Puffin)

Big and Clever by Dan Tunstall, edited by Ross Bradshaw (Five Leaves)

Numbers by Rachel Ward, edited by Imogen Cooper (Chicken House)

Paradise Barn by Victor Watson, edited by Leonie Pratt (Catnip)

Seeing as Branford Boase winners tend to go on to do very well, it’s a case here of having to find out more. And I hope that the six that don’t win, also go on to great things.

Some more photos for you…

if you haven’t already had enough. In fact, here are more photos even if you have.

Ian Rankin 2

Lynne Chapman and Julia Jarman 2

Gerald Scarfe 2

Linda Strachan and friends

Judith Kerr 2

Neil Gaiman

Val McDermid 2

Debi Gliori signing 2

Henning Mankell

Michael Morpurgo

Malorie Blackman 4

Adèle Geras and Jonathan Stroud

Anne Fine

Keith Gray 2

Rachel Ward

Michael Holroyd

Steve Cole

Jacqueline Wilson

Klas Östergren

Lucy Hawking

Henning Mankell

Theresa Breslin and Adèle Geras

Nicola Morgan

Keith Charters 2

Gillian Philip 2

Marina Lewycka 2

Philip Ardagh

Patrick Ness 2

Melvin Burgess

Elizabeth Laird 2

Bali Rai 3

Louise Rennison

And that’s it. So called ‘normal’ service will resume here really soon.


So what did Anne Fine say, really? I’m of the opinion that she spoke exactly those words that were quoted in the Times yesterday, but I didn’t feel then that she meant it quite as people are interpreting it.

Anne Fine 2

My theory is that Daughter and I weren’t the only ones who thought that an event with Anne Fine and Melvin Burgess discussing the more troubled end of YA literature would be quite interesting and potentially exciting. Someone was obviously taking more careful notes than I was, but I do recognise the quote just about word for word.

It made perfect sense to me at the time (And I’m not saying this because I’m a little scared of Anne. I am, but that’s not why I’m saying it.) and it didn’t seem contentious in the least. It’s a fact. Books were different before, from what they are now.

Someone is doing that molehill thing, because there was nothing juicier to get from the discussion on Sunday evening. Anne Fine is a former Children’s Laureate, and the kind of person the press take an interest in. I simply don’t understand why there is a debate. I would also like to know whether those who have thrown themselves into this were actually there? If they weren’t, this debate risks the same fate as when Anne reviewed Doing It in a slightly one-sided manner. That time I believed her, until someone else made me look at it from both sides.

Or maybe I’m just stupid, and didn’t notice the undercurrents the other evening.

‘This boy will never amount to anything’

Well, he did. Last week he received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama, accompanied by his daughter whose ‘charm is no substitute for hard work.’ I’ll get back to this father-daughter team later.

Steve Cole

I will never ever get teenagers. Ever. Given the choice between seeing Jacqueline Wilson or Steve Cole on Sunday morning, Daughter went for Steve’s talk about his Astrosaurs. She enjoyed it a lot, although she felt she was the oldest child there. Wrong thinking I said; she was the youngest adult. Steve was so noisy I heard him through the walls. The press people apparently wondered what was going on next door to their yoghurt pod.

Jacqueline Wilson

Meanwhile, the witch went to see Jacqueline, along with a vast number of girls and mums, and a sprinkling of dads. Jacqueline wore black jeans and a black and turquoise top, and the famous rings shone along with the bangles on her arms. She talked mainly about her teens, because the subject for the day was My Secret Diary which was out in the spring. And she did say that she might write a third autobiographical book about her time in Dundee, writing fake horoscopes and readers’ letters, as long as she can censor her diary notes a little. Sounds good to me.

Per Wästberg

As I raced along to the talk by the ‘lazy’ girl from paragraph one, Daughter was anything but lazy. Her task was to shoot Per Wästberg, part of the Meeting Sweden programme (How did they know I was going to be there this year?), when he emerged for his photo call. Except he didn’t, so when she saw a likely Swede she inquired, in Swedish, if he was Per. The poor man said he wasn’t, but took her all the way into the authors’ yurt ( a real no-no) and put her in front of this famous Swedish writer, who was even more confused with the idea of the Bookwitch blog, but posed anyway.

Lucy Hawking

When the witch goes back to school, she wants to have Lucy Hawking for her science teacher. I can’t think of anyone who can talk so well and so sensibly on physics and space and anything else related. Lucy kept the attention of her roomful of children, while explaining dad Stephen’s ideas, which they have turned into two books for children. George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt is new this year, and there will eventually be a third book about George. Lucy and Stephen are, of course, the people mentioned above. I think they turned out OK in the end.

We got to see how (not) to gargle in space. Asparagus will be a suitable crop on Mars, when the time comes. Comet’s go ‘very fast’. Robots don’t get homesick in space. The questions from the children were really very good, but not many people can say what went before the Big Bang or why it happened. Not even Lucy. And look out for the toothbrush in orbit round earth, if you happen to be up there. I asked Lucy if she wants to travel in space, and she does. Preferably to the moon. I was too shy to ask for the phone number for her co-writer for book one.

Henning Mankell

Lunch was gulped down fast, in order to catch Henning Mankell’s little publicised signing in the childrens’ bookshop. In fact, there was hardly a soul there, but I don’t think that was why he was pleased to see me. (Anyone would be pleased to see me, wouldn’t they?) He looked so morose that I addressed him in his own language, though his English is very good. The ‘mini interview’ went something like this:

‘Hello, we’ve met a few times in Gothenburg.’ ‘ Yes, I remember you.’ ‘Uh-oh, that sounds ominous’, said Daughter. ‘What do you mean?’ asked Henning. ‘Only that you may remember me for all the wrong reasons. I could be one of those bl***y old women you get everywhere.’ ‘I don’t think so. I’d have remembered. But there are a few of them around.’ ‘Yes, and I’m often one of them.’ He looked remarkably happy after this exchange. But you would, wouldn’t you, when ‘one of those’ leaves him in peace.

Klas Östergren

Next victim for a photo shoot was Klas Östergren, except he didn’t show, initially. Just as we were leaving for our next rendez vous he turned up in the rain, and as we departed he had someone’s lens half an inch from his nose. The man’s quite good looking, but that’s ridiculous.

The two witches had been invited to afternoon tea at the Roxburghe Hotel by the very, very kind Theresa Breslin, so the road was crossed, and the comfortable lounge was found. Daughter has clearly been deprived, and was very excited by the posh surroundings. Thank you Theresa, it was wonderful. The perfect respite to a busy day. And I’m not averse to similar offers, if anyone is feeling generous. Not all at once, though.

Adèle Geras

Back across the road to see Adèle Geras, and photograph her. We enticed her round the back, where all the big names get shot. As she left again, Theresa turned up, so we all trotted back to the ‘studio’, whereupon the paparazzi fell out of their little pod and descended on Theresa big time.

Theresa Breslin

Resting in the yurt, Klas Östergren appeared, looking for a place to be interviewed, so we offered our seats. He was also quite grateful to be encountering Swedes in a Mongolian tent in the middle of Edinburgh. He’s been brought up properly, so we shook hands.

Bali Rai

In case nobody has noticed, my social calendar for Day 5 was quite full, really. We met up with Clare from Random (a really Randomy weekend), and apart from the fact I thought she’d have blond hair, it was as good to meet her as I’d thought. Clare brought out Bali Rai for a short chat. And more photos round the back. Predictably the paparazzi emerged again, just needing reassurance that Bali was indeed a real writer and a little famous. Even my copy of his book, City of Ghosts, was photographed. Don’t think Bali knew what hit him.

Adèle Geras

Jonathan Stroud

We breathed for a few minutes before trotting off to the talk by Adèle Geras and Jonathan Stroud. Really liked the way the two of them had planned it, with short introductions, followed by a reading, and ending with them asking each other questions, before letting the audience loose. Good way of doing it.

Our final port of call for the day was back in the same tent again, for the much awaited discussion with Rachel Ward, Melvin Burgess and Anne Fine. Daughter said she didn’t want to miss the Anne-Melvin encounter for anything. I wanted to see if they’d both survive it, and I think Melvin had wondered the same thing. There were one or two references made to the blasting Anne did of Melvin’s Doing It some years ago.

Melvin Burgess, Rachel Ward and Anne Fine

They were all alive and well when we left for the day. And the discussion was good.

(Photos by H Giles)