What a wonderful book about tragedy, the tricks that memory plays on us all, and the bottomless capacity for denial that lies at the heart of a public school upbringing. I was quite undone by it – and also surprised, at times, by eruptions of laughter. For it proves, if proof is needed, that there’s nothing stranger than a conventional English family.’ Deborah Moggach
‘A compelling autobiography showing the need to erase an early tragedy and the necessity, many years later, to discover what exactly happened. This is an unforgettable family story that explores human nature and involves us all.’ Michael Holroyd
‘This is a brilliant piece of writing: a book that is as mordantly and often brutally funny as it is moving. Beard’s exploration of how we used to cope with grief, and of how we cope with it now, is compassionate, unsparing and unforgettable.’ Tom Holland
Shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize
A charismatic cult leader is dead. One by one his followers are being assassinated. Enter Gallio.
Gallio does counter-insurgency. But the theft of a body he’s supposed to be guarding ruins his career. Years later, the file is reopened when a second body appears. Gallio is called back by headquarters and ordered to track down everyone involved the first time round. The only problem is they keep dying, in ever more grotesque and violent ways. How can Gallio stay ahead of the game when the game keeps changing?
Acts of the Assassins is about one man’s struggle to confront forces and events beyond his understanding. No matter when they may have happened.
‘Brilliantly original and absurdly compelling … it’s a book you’ll read in one, frantic gasp.’
‘Richard Beard is one of those rare writers whose novels are at once radically inventive and brilliantly entertaining. Mysterious and affecting. Set in a Roman world that boasts air travel and motivational speakers giving talks in luxury hotels, it is as joyously original as it is a page-turner to read.’
‘The Acts of the Assassins is…spectacularly successful. It is thoughtful and clever and brutal and true… It is a Chinese puzzle box of a novel. A garden of forking paths. A page-turner. A modern classic.”
“Extraordinarily funny…confident and enchanting”
‘One of the strangest and most interesting novels written this century… Brave and gripping.’
‘One of this year’s most gripping and unusual thrillers.’ Mariella Frostrup
‘A darkly funny, virtuoso performance… so cleverly done it almost winks at the reader.’
‘Controversial, thought-provoking, funny and challenging, Acts of the Assassins is a delightfully fantastic and utterly compelling tale.’
Sunday Business Post
Published in USA by Melville House as The Apostle Killer:
‘Darkly mysterious… A smart, sly, unpredictable novel.’
The Wall Street Journal
‘Beard’s sharp humor drives this mind-bending, time-compressing tale.’
Like most men in their early thirties, Lazarus has plans that don’t involve dying. He is busy organising his sisters, his business and his women. Life is mostly good, until far away in Galilee, without warning, his childhood best friend turns water into wine.
Immediately, Lazarus falls ill. And with each subsequent miracle his health deteriorates: a nasty cough blooms into an alarming panorama of afflictions. His sisters think Jesus can help, but given the history of their friendship Lazarus disagrees. What he is sure of is that he’ll try everything in his power to make himself well. Except for calling on Jesus.
Lazarus dies. Jesus weeps. This part we all know.
But as Lazarus is about to find out, returning from the dead isn’t easy. You think you want a second chance at life, but what do you do when you get it? Lazarus has his own story, he is his own man, and he is determined to avoid the mistakes he made the first time round.
A thrillingly inventive, genre-bending novel, Lazarus is Dead is the definitive account of the life, death and life of Lazarus, as never told before.
‘It is the narrative voice – cultivated, wry, yet not too knowing to sustain a note of wonder – that makes this novel so compelling.’
‘An idiosyncratic delight… yet again, Beard shows himself to be one of our most inventive novelists.’
Mail on Sunday
‘Beard strikes just the right tone… Enough flesh and blood is added to the bones of Lazarus’s story to make you care about his eventual fate… Lazarus is Dead is a delightful falsehood – a brilliant novel and a shining example of gospel untruth.’
‘Beard’s take on Lazarus is nothing less than astonishing—and he respects the reader by taking religion and religious questions seriously.’
Kirkus * Review
‘As gripping as a thriller and endlessly thought-provoking… Surprising, spellbinding, witty and utterly original.’
‘This clever and original book keeps the reader guessing until the death – and beyond‘
‘A brilliant reimagining of the Lazarus story…wry, incisive and surprisingly moving.’
‘What an extraordinary book this is – ingenious and gripping in all the best ways – both exhilaratingly fresh and mordantly ironic. It’s also a tremendously good read.’
‘No ordinary novel: it is a brilliant, genre-bending retelling and subversion of one of the oldest, most sensational stories in the western canon.’
Sunday Business Post
For years Richard Beard would take spontaneous holidays with his motor-cycling friend Drew. They would spend a few days walking, camping, cycling, canoeing – outdoor, manly fun – before returning to everyday life: wives, children, jobs. Richard was writing novels. Drew was working in the engine-room of cross-channel passenger ferries. Then one year Drew phoned to announce a complication: he was planning to have a sex change.
This is the story of how Drew became Dru, of what happened to their friendship, and their adventures in wildest Wales the first time they went camping as man and woman. It is warm, sad, funny; an intimate tale of shared humanity.
‘How big is the change from man to woman? Becoming Drusilla is a brave and intelligent book, because it is not so much an attempt to answer that question, but to strike out all the previous answers with a red pen.’
Diane Purkiss, Daily Telegraph
‘This is a gentle, wise and touching book, full of warmth, humour, friendship and humanity (though I don’t mean to be winsome: Beard doesn’t flinch over the gory details of the operations, nor, among other things, over Dru’s heroin addiction). Like the good novelist that he is, Beard has resisted the lure of a predictable transsexual ‘transformation’ narrative and the temptation to look for answers. As a result, by the end of the book, Beard – and we along wih him – has arrived at a genuine and much more subtle understanding of what his friend has been through, and what she has become.’
Nick Parker, Literary Review
‘A fascinating biography … [Beard] is an excellent communicator and excels at turning the academic knowledge into understandable sound bites … optimistic, poignant and ultimately uplifting.’
Dr Harvey Rees, Bristol Review of Books
‘Excellent … enlightening and brave … not only does he write a sensitive and subtle biography, he also deconstructs his own ideas and assumptions about himself, and what it means to be a man.’
‘This beautifully written and thoroughly well-researched book is Beard’s searingly honest attempt to understand what his friend had gone through … It is deliciously un-PC, unpreachy, refreshingly free of sentimentality, and, at times, drily comic.
This book’ s genius is to tackle the life of Drusilla Marland and give us a sense of her lived experience, her ordinariness as a woman, born in a particular time, under a particular set of circumstances, in a particular culture; he gently portrays her inconsistencies and foibles, her talents and weaknesses, her courage and nobility – in other words, her humanity.
Beard’s graceful admission of love and humility, at the end of this gentle tribute is touching and life-affirming. This book left me marvelling about human nature. There aren’t many of those kinds of books about.’
Dermod Moore, Irish Post
‘A wonderfully sympathetic account of how and, possibly, why Drew became Dru.’
Val Hennessy, Critic’s Choice, Daily Mail
‘A sensitive and attractive account of a renewal of friendship . . . Beard comes to realize that the extraordinary thing about his friend is just how delightfully ordinary she is.’
Roz Kaveney, Times Literary Supplement
‘Funny, touching and insightful.’
‘Honest and deeply thoughtful . . . [a story] gently handled by this most sensitive and, at times, very humorous book.’
‘Fascinating and funny.’
Libby Purves, Radio 4 Midweek
‘Becoming Drusilla is a remarkable story of friendship, courage and humanity. Achingly funny, bruisingly heart-rending and deeply honest and personal, the story is gracefully and humbly told and free of mawkish sentimentality.’
Becoming Drusilla Reading List
These aren’t all the books I read, but they’re the ones I found most helpful or illuminating.
Ames, Jonathan, Sexual Metamorphosis, Vintage, New York 2005
Ames, Jonathan, What’s Not to Love? Scribner, London, 2000
Ashley, April, The First Lady, John Blake, London, 2006
Angier, Natalie, Woman: An Intimate Geography, Anchor, New York, 2000
Bibby, Bob, Special Offa, Eye Books, London, 2004
Bloom, Amy, Normal, Bloomsbury, London, 2003
Boyd, Helen, My Husband Betty, Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York 2003
Bornstein, Kate, Gender Outlaw, Routledge, London, 1994
Cossey, Caroline, My Story, Faber and Faber, London, 1991
Califia, Pat, Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism, Cleis Press, San Francisco, 1997
Cherry-Garrard, Apsley, The Worst Journey in the World, Pimlico, London 2003 (Constable 1922)
Cowell, Roberta, Roberta Cowell’s Story, William Heinemann, London, 1954
Ensler, Eve, The Vagina Monologues, Virago, London, 2001
Ettner, Randi, Confessions of a Gender Defender, Chicago Spectrum Press, Chicago, 1996
Finney Boylan, Jennifer, She’s Not There, Broadway Books, New York, 2003
Greene, Graham, Travels with my Aunt, Penguin, 1971
Household, Geoffrey, Rogue Male, Chatto and Windus, London, 1939
John, Brian, Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Aurum Press, 2004
Jones, John B., Offa’s Dyke Path, HMSO, London 1976
Kafka, Franz, Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Penguin, London 1961
Kay, Ernie and Kathy and Mark Richards, Offa’s Dyke Path South, Aurum Press 2004
Kay, Ernie and Kathy and Mark Richards, Offa’s Dyke Path North, Aurum Press 2004
Morris, Jan, Conundrum, Faber and Faber, London, 1974
Morris, Jan, Pleasures of a Tangled Life, Arrow, London, 1990
Morris, Jan, Wales, Penguin, London 2000
Ovid, Metamorphoses, Penguin, London, 1955
Sinclair, Iain, Landor’s Tower, Granta, London, 2001
Thomas, David, Girl, Signet, London 1995
Wells, H.G., The Invisible Man, Oxford Classics, Oxford, (1897)
Wheeler, Sara, Terra Incognita, Vintage, London 1997
‘Feeling the way I do now, it’s not a feeling I ever want to have again.’ Andrew Flintoff speaks for a nation.
The Ashes, 2006/07: Australia 5 England 0. The nightmare returns.
For twenty years, Australia has produced competitors so gritty they order sandwiches with sand in, and not just at cricket. Fourth in the medals table at the Athens Olympics, Tour de France contenders, Davis Cup champions, and the Socceroos 3–1 winners over England. For Richard Beard, the football was the last straw.
So, on the well-established principle that if you want something doing …, he travelled down to Australia for seven rounds of hand-to-hand sporting combat, to find out just what makes the Australians so good, and how to beat them.
‘Beard has some previous form in the area of rubbish sport: his Muddied Oafs, published three years ago, is one of the funniest rugby books you will find. He retains his comic form on his Australian quest . . . Beard and his Manly pursuits clearly saved England in 2005. Where the bloody hell is he now?’
Andrew Baker, Daily Telegraph
‘I’m not sure he found what he wanted, but he had plenty of fun not finding it.’
Independent Best Sports Books for Christmas
‘Because Beard is a writer rather than a sportsman, it’s actually a fine read, combining social history with humour, travelogue with sports biog … Perfect for when we’re struggling at the MCG.’
London Evening Standard
‘Despite being written by a Pom, it’s (whisper it) a hilarious and thoughtful book.’
‘peculiarly English . . . going to Australia to take on the locals at sports . . . Beard does this with dry humour and aplomb.’
‘An extremely funny part-travelogue, part-self discovery and part-investigation into how the 53rd most populous country became world beaters.’
James Mason is a deacon in the Church of England sent to Geneva to help with the closure of the city’s Anglican church. While trying to off-load Thomas a Becket’s toe-bone, the church’s only treasure, he discovers that relics have a life of their own. As professed in the Middle Ages, they impose the characteristics of their original owner on whoever approaches too closely.
In the spirit of self-improvement, James Mason can’t help but notice that Switzerland’s cemeteries contain the world’s most impressive collection of dead famous people.
In contact with a selection of the celebrity dead unearthed from Swiss cemeteries, from Charlie Chaplin through James Joyce to John Calvin, James Mason is soon forced to decide what kind of person he really is. And how best, in the modern world, to live.
A device with huge comic potential, and one that Richard Beard exploits with ferocious intelligence and considerable wit . . . a rollercoaster philosophical journey of Stoppard-like brilliance.’
‘Beard is a hugely playful novelist who thrives when making things most difficult for himself. Dry Bones is scabrous and profane, but also very human in a good way, and probably a little bit profound too.’
Independent on Sunday
The playful, witty English novel is not dead: Richard Beard’s story of a young vicar who digs for the bones of famous people in the graveyards of Geneva is lively, imaginative and entertaining.
Beard covers a lot of ground in his novel: the blandness of today’s Church; the lives of Thomas à Becket, Richard Burton, Charlie Chaplin and Elizabeth Taylor’s dogs; and the gullibility – or otherwise – of people who believe in the power of relics to intercede in their lives. Farce is never far from the surface of the writing, but farce is often employed as a cover for essential truths, and Beard knows it.
Switzerland’s cemeteries are bursting with celebrity bones – Jung’s knee, Chaplin’s shoulder and Calvin’s hip. Richard Burton’s leg is worth almost as much as Thomas à Becket’s toe. What is most refreshing about this crisp farce is its suave lakeside setting and cast of ingratiating Euro-clerics.
Some gimmickry of form or plot is a great alleviator too – as in Richard Beard’s Dry Bones, about the hunt for profitable relics in present-day Genevan churches and graveyards (Thomas-à-Becket’s toe, Calvin’s bones, Richard Burton’s skull, and such) – a compellingly zany engagement in a sort of secular resurrectionism in the face of profound religious decline.
Valentine Cunningham, British Council Literature Matters magazine
There is Rugby Union: the fast, compelling, TV-friendly combat sport in which sponsored gladiators are sold on their ability to crash into each other at top speed, and sometimes even to avoid each other and score. And then there’s rugger.
Rugger was once the serious version of rugby, more than a mere game, a fierce contact-sport developed in Victorian public schools to forge manly and unshakeable character. For a hundred years boys played rugger and made themselves into men. They also drank too much beer and took their trousers down in public.
Richard Beard sets out to examine this contradiction by revisiting his seven former rugby clubs in four different countries. He meets Booker prize-winning authors and former England hookers, explores rugby’s rivalry with soccer, its surprising attraction for nonconformists, and its unlikely role in organised crime. All while trying to get himself a game.
This is Beard’s quest into his rugby-playing past, where he’s lived the sport in many of its varied forms. By the end of his wayward journey, he almost qualifies to judge whether rugger has achieved what the Victorians always intended, and made him a better man.
The book rugby has been waiting for … a likeable, literate and landmark tour-de-force.
‘Richard Beard’s journey to the heart of rugby captures the soul of the game. Hugely enjoyable.’
‘A rich and pointed and yet loving trawl through the heroic undercard of rugby.’
‘An elegiac, fascinating and insightful book.’
‘Nobody who enjoys both rugby and reading can fail to like this book.’
Scotland on Sunday
‘One of the year’s funniest books.’
‘His is an enviable journey of camaraderie and sporting dreams that will resonate with all team players.’
‘Muddied Oafs, The Last Days of Rugger, will evoke a surging response from anyone over the age of 25 . . . this is rugger in the blood, that blind love that sometimes knows no reason save that it is there and there is nothing to do about it.’
Daniel Travers, a cautious aspiring cartoonist, sets out to visit Eurodisney with his firebrand teenage cousin, Daphne. Daphne is full of inventive ideas for sabotage.
‘The Cartoonist is a rare and wonderful thing: a storming good read, more subtle than Fight Club and packing a far harder punch.’
‘There’s something timeless and touching about Daniel’s longing for a real experience in a fake world.’
‘The Cartoonist is a wonderful book – hilariously upsetting from beginning to end.’
‘Beard should be applauded for so thoroughly biting the Disney hand; at his best he is very vicious.’
‘The Cartoonist hones in on the dark, corporate side of Disney’s magical kingdom ….. high-quality, light-handed satire.’
In Damascus, every noun in the novel (with twelve exceptions) comes from the Times newspaper (London) of 1 November 1993.
This makes the book, by definition, a novel of its times.
Within this constraint, Hazel Burns and Spencer Kelly have to take life as they find it, and 1 November 1993 was the day on which the Maastricht treaty on European Union came into effect. From this date, all Britons officially became citizens of Europe, even those who were falling in love.
‘Damascus is utterly, optimistically charming.’
Los Angeles Times
‘A deft and charming novel … we credit Beard’s characters with their wisdom, and feel at the novel’s end that some strange mystery has been enacted for us.’
New York Times Book Review
‘A life-affirming, hope-giving profundity.’
‘A book with a real difference, which dramatically poses, and answers, the question ‘How much can a life change in an instant?’
‘Damascus is an extraordinary and wonderful novel from one of the most exciting new writers in Britain.’
‘Mr Beard’s wackiness has a shrewd precision that makes it infectious’
New York Times
‘Magical realism meets the Maastricht Treaty: an unlikely scenario, but with ease and ingenuity this young British novelist builds from it a charming fiction.’
X 20, A Novel of Not Smoking follows the first 20 days of Gregory Simpson’s attempt to give up cigarettes after smoking 20-a-day for ten years. Every time he craves a cigarette, he occupies his hands by writing something down instead.
Because he only writes when he wants a cigarette, everything Gregory writes down has something to do with smoking. The novel therefore recounts the story of his smoking life, and cigarettes turn out to have featured centrally at every significant moment.
‘A great idea, and almost flawlessly executed … beautifully achieved. One thinks, fancifully, of the construction of a cigarette itself, a unity composed of thousands of different strands.’
‘Loaded with encyclopaedic detail on the history and iconography of smoking, this comic novel nevertheless aims at deep seriousness, and Beard’s writing can be breathtaking.’
‘A play of wit and pain, a novel of ideas as a succession of comic and touching skits … contemplates the nature of human frontiers and the boundaries between ego and intimacy.’
Los Angeles Times
‘Delightful and strange, on one level a sardonic detective piece, on other levels an inquiry into the addictions and obsessions of love and life.’
‘Unusually intelligent, funny and readable’
‘Wonderful … an intelligent look at a prevalent dilemma and an engrossing story of the classic search for truth and meaning.’
San Diego Tribune