The Day That Went Missing

April 2017

A family story of exceptional power and universal relevance – about loss, about carrying on, and about recovering a brother’s life and death.

Life changes in an instant.

On a family summer holiday in Cornwall in 1978, Nicholas and his brother Richard are jumping in the waves. Suddenly, Nicholas is out of his depth. He isn’t, and then he is. He drowns.

Richard and his other brothers don’t attend the funeral, and incredibly the family return immediately to the same cottage – to complete the holiday, to carry on. They soon stop speaking of the catastrophe. Their epic act of collective denial writes Nicky out of the family memory.

Nearly forty years later, Richard Beard is haunted by the missing grief of his childhood but doesn’t know the date of the accident or the name of the beach. So he sets out on a pain-staking investigation to rebuild Nicky’s life, and ultimately to recreate the precise events on the day of the accident. Who was Nicky? Why did the family react as they did? And what actually happened?

The Day That Went Missing is a heart-rending story as intensely personal as any tragedy and as universal as loss. It is about how we make sense of what is gone. Most of all, it is an unforgettable act of recovery for a brother.


The Apostle Killer (aka Acts of the Assassins)

the-apostle-killer-grey1-232x300The novel Acts of the Assassins is now out in the USA, but it’s in disguise as The Apostle Killer. I’m not quite sure why the wonderful Melville House felt the title had to change, but they’re the experts in the US market, and unlike 52% of my compatriots I haven’t yet lost faith in experts. I think the word ‘Killer’ might have been persuasive – whatever else Acts might be, it’s a killer thriller, a thriller about killers, and I can imagine the subset of readers who like that kind of thing is quite large.

Lo and behold, The Wall Street Journal then picked out the title for special mention in their review: ‘This is a smart, sly unpredictable novel, with uncertainty at its heart. Even Mr Beard’s title is ambiguous. Does it mean “killer of apostles” or “apostle who is a killer”?’

Which I’d like to say was precisely my thinking when I chose it, except I didn’t choose it. Still, I’ll always welcome a bit more ambiguity. Never knowingly unambiguous, that’s my motto. And now it’s in the title, too.

Acts of the Assassins Goldsmiths Prize

ACTS paperbackActs of the Assassins is out in paperback in the UK from early March, and the cover is … exactly the same. And why not? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I love everything about this cover, from the red and black to the hint of icon, not to mention the funny. Don’t think I ever had a cover before that made me laugh.

The folk at Vintage have added on some quotes from the reviews and a reminder that the novel was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize. I was incredibly happy to be involved with the most interesting novel prize this country has. I know I would say that, but try Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone or Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers. These are books that aren’t scared to say boo to the goose.

In the official wording the prize is for fiction that ‘opens up new possibilities for the novel form’. No-one dares use the word ‘experimental’ because some words in literature are damned by a deterrent hint of French. More importantly, the prize is there to reward experiments that have been successful – as B.S.Johnson once said, if it works it’s a novel; the experiments go in the bin.

National Poetry Day: Live the Life of a Poet

the-grands-boulevards.jpg!BlogMy French editor, a poet who’d slipped into publishing because poetry doesn’t pay, was a former colleague from the old Bibliotheque Nationale on the Rue de Richelieu. I worked in the galleries, he was Maps and Stamps, though his true interests were poetry and the spirit of ’68.

He had in mind a verse epic about Paris and life on the Grands Boulevards, the contemporary everyday bursting with ghosts. He had a greedy eye, and could be distracted by fleeting impressions and chance events, so much so that he often forgot to inject himself with insulin. This meant he was forever scurrying into the toilets of a MacDonalds, a syringe between his teeth. Someone would call the police.

When he forgot his insulin his speech slurred and his eyes rolled and the police beat him for being a junkie. Because he was a poet, his soixante-huitard letters of complaint to the Prefecture were full of extravagant words and easy to ignore.

He married late, and for a while displaced his poetic energies into a shop conversion in the ninth arrondissement. He was getting older. The last time I saw him he took me to Chartier, but I had no feel for the poetry of queuing, or the famous cheapness of the Chartier food. I took him to Le Recrutement instead, a rugby bar in the seventh.

We ate much better there, and he told me how married life was a pain to him. His discontent centred on the prosaic failings of a laid table. ‘She puts out a knife’, he said, ‘she puts out a fork. Every single day.’ He was planning an escape to Switzerland, where at the age of nearly sixty he’d get a job washing pots while writing poems about sex workers he’d contacted on the internet.

I could feel his anguish but thought he must be joking. ‘Live the life of a poet,’ I said.

A week later he was found dead in a forest outside Geneva. He’d taken a huge overdose of insulin, or none at all, I don’t know for sure, but he was found by a walker in a closed-off area: No Rambling Beyond This Point. The walker didn’t call in the body for several days because he was scared of getting into trouble.

I remember another friend, from school. I recently looked him up because he was the best of the writers our age. He had the soul of a poet, definitely, but on the internet I found him as a lawyer. Then he left London to run a farm in Yorkshire. It was the new start, the new stanza beloved of poets.

Two years ago, in his mid forties, he was married. Three weeks after the honeymoon he went to an outhouse with a shotgun and shot himself dead.

Acts of the Assassins – Gospel Noir


On the Open Book programme on Radio 4 (I never know what I’m going to say) I said that too much reverence for biblical stories and any refashioning will be tedious. Too little and the updated version becomes facetious. There are observable symptoms for both.

In every over-reverential re-telling of a New Testament story the author cares far too much about what language the characters are speaking.

‘I’ll have the fish,’ said Peter in Aramaic.

The facetious disease is just as easy to recognise – Jesus returns to earth in the present day and smokes dope. Of course he does. Updated, Jesus is always a stoner. It’s just easier to explain him that way.

Luckily there are alternatives. Gospel Noir has antecedents, if not exactly a history. A reader from Canada, Andrew Johnson, sent me this youTube clip of the wonderfully-titled Rinse The Blood off My Toga (1954). The Canadian TV comedy duo Wayne and Shuster wring the Jesus story for gumshoe giggles.

Made me laugh, but the Jesus story also lends itself to an investigation without the facetious topcoat. The story certainly contains a string of mysteries – a missing body, Assassins_frontpossible false witness, the suspicious death of a collaborator (Judas commits ‘suicide’).

And no question the four gospels are dark with noir – a brutal execution, a confused occupying force, a case that never closes – the mystery remains unsolved to this day.

Hard to say, at this point, whether gospel noir is a new genre or just a single novel in Acts of the Assassins. Something to discuss at Hay Festival this year, where I’ll be talking about this and other biblical fiction subjects on Friday 29th May.