Other Writing

  • Jun 16,

    ‘Utterly compelling, top proper stuff. I loved it to bits. The energy of it! I really felt for them (all) by the end.’
    Ian Marchant, Author of A Hero for High Times

    In 1975, as a child, Richard Beard was sent away from his home to sleep in a dormitory. So were David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

    In those days a private boys’ boarding school education was largely the same experience as it had been for generations: a training for the challenges of Empire. He didn’t enjoy it. But the first and most important lesson was to not let that show.

    Being separated from the people who love you is traumatic. How did that feel at the time, and what sort of adult does it mould?

    This is a story about England, and a portrait of a type of boy, trained to lead, who becomes a certain type of man. As clearly as an X-ray, it reveals the make-up of those who seek power – what makes them tick, and why.

    Sad Little Men addresses debates about privilege head-on; clearly and unforgettably, it shows the problem with putting a succession of men from boarding schools into positions of influence, including 10 Downing Street. Is this who we want in charge, especially at a time of crisis?

    It is a passionate, tender reckoning – with one individual’s past, but also with a national bad habit.

    ‘Engaging and readable, powerful and cogent. A vivid portrait of the political elite exposed for the vulnerable men/children they are.’
    Joy Schaverien, Author of Boarding School Syndrome

    ‘Insanely readable.’
    Tom Holland, Author of Dominion

    ‘If you want to understand the aura of entitlement and untouchability shrouding our governing class, look no further than Beard’s witty, unsparingly sharp and deeply moving anatomy of the emotional culture of England’s boarding schools.’
    Josh Cohen, Author of How To Live, What To Do

    , ,
  • Feb 22,

    “Cumulatively powerful … brutally honest … a memoir of real truth and heartbreaking emotional heft.” Andrew Holgate, The Sunday Times

    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, and 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?

    “A book of consistent astonishments … Beard is one of our most accomplished authors, and this is perhaps his most readerly book, in that it is all about decoding and deciphering, interpreting and imagining. But it is also just stricken.” Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

    “A monument to the power of literature … a wonderful memoir but also a salvage operation in which he writes himself back into life. His book deserves to stand on the same shelf as William Fiennes’s The Music Room, as a remarkable homage to a lost brother.” Nicholas Shakespeare, The Spectator

    “An absorbing, unsettling and at times painfully difficult read … an important examination of grief and denial and the huge damage caused by the idea that feelings and emotions are something best packed away and ignored.’ Charlotte Heathcote, Daily Express

    “A touching, painful disquisition on memory and forgetting and the tendrils that tie us to the past.’ Caroline Moorehead, Guardian

    “This captivating book, both heart-rending and jaw-dropping, unfolds like a detective story.” Brian Viner, Daily Mail

    “This memoir breaks all the rules. It’s brimful of anger and guilt, fails to deliver an uplifting ending and opens with a death … This is the stuff of true grieving and remorse, the acid peel of genuine soul-searching, whose sting few of us are capable of bearing. And it sings.” Marina Benjamin, New Statesman


    , ,
  • Aug 29,

    At the age of fifteen, in 1980, at St Mary’s RC Grammar School in Blackburn, Graham Caveney was sexually abused by his headmaster, Father Kevin O’Neill. Caveney’s subtitled Memoir of an Adolescence starts with this fact, as how could it not? The trauma is ‘something that the survivor, the sufferer, carries within them; the wreckage that is part of their self.’

    What Caveney brilliantly achieves in this powerful, distinctive memoir is the positioning of his repeated sexual abuse in the landscape of an early 80’s adolescence. Before the abuse, Caveney is a clever, bookish boy born into the ‘Respectable Working Class’ of Accrington, his dad a groundsman at the local comprehensive and his mum a factory worker. He is not at that time nervous, and for the most part neither is this book, which is by turns honest, angry, funny, thoughtful, acerbic and desperately sad.

    The slightly perplexing title does say something about the innocently pretentious teenage years Graham Caveney might have had, if it weren’t for an abusive priest. The title is from a 1980 song by cult New York guitar band The Feelies, themselves named after the mass entertainment promised in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World. At his grammar school Caveney was intent on saving himself from traditional provincial brain-death with ‘Upper Case Literature and lower case music.’ He discovers Oxfam overcoats, ‘bad poetry, Beckett and dread.’ In those days teenagers took their sulking seriously – were Franz Kafka or Joy Division having a good time? They were not.


    This book review was published in the Times on 26th August 2017 and the full text is available here, possibly behind the paywall unless you never look at the Times, in which case you have two free articles of which this could be one.

    , ,