An evening with Richard Beard at Mostly Books

Last night I was at a rather special author event at my local indie bookshop Mostly Books with local(ish) author Richard Beard.  Mark in the shop had long ago persuaded me to buy Beard’s last novel, Goldsmith Prize shortlisted, The Acts of the Assassins, but sadly I’ve not read it yet – I know I’ll have a real treat in store however, after hearing him talk and a quick chat over signing last night.

Author photo by Dru Marland

Beard’s latest book is autobiographical, an elegant and daring addition to a growing clutch of highly personal books that deal with grief. That’s where any similarity with Cathy Rentzenbrink’s The Last Act of Love (see here) or Max Porter’s novella Grief is the Thing With Feathers (see here) ends.The Day That Went Missing recounts a tragedy that happened to Beard’s family in 1978, how the family dealt with it and how he is finally beginning to come to terms with it.

Beard was 11 years old, second of four boys, the family were on holiday in north Cornwall. He and his 9-year-old brother Nicky had snuck to a cove around the corner from the main beach, they went in the sea and both quickly got out of their depth. Richard had to make the decision to save himself, and Nicky was caught by the undertow and drowned.

Then his family essentially clammed up. The boys didn’t attend Nicky’s funeral. Richard went back to his boarding school without Nicky, and did his best to repress  his grief. It wasn’t until forty years later, after his father died, that Richard felt he could talk to his mother about Nicky and that opened up the well-spring of grief, but also a desire in Richard to give Nicky the inquest that had been denied him and his brothers. The result is this book.

Hearing Richard talk about  what happened was mesmerising. He calmly, matter of factly, summarised the facts, prompted by questions from Mark and later from the audience. They discussed the frustrations and the unexpected funny moments. Richard had obviously been very hard on himself, and although his voice never waivered, his eyes often glistened and gave a wistful smile at the appreciative applause at the end of the formal part of the evening.

Throughout, Beard stated his belief that his novels and other books were all building up to this one, describing them as ‘clever’ rather than ’emotional’. That’s not the case with The Day That Went Missing.  I started reading it as soon as I got home, and his writing is so immediate, it takes you with him all the way. I’m only a quarter of the way through, but I can already recommend this memoir to you without hesitation. More notes to come on completion, but this book is already special.


Source: Own copy bought at Mostly Books and kindly signed by Richard.

12 thoughts on “An evening with Richard Beard at Mostly Books

  1. I have this book on my Kindle and very much look forward to reading it. I am drawn to bereavement memoirs in general, and I’ve seen Beard speak before at Greenbelt Festival. The only book I’ve read by him so far is Lazarus Is Dead, in which there is a brief mention of a brother’s drowning — it wasn’t until I read an interview with Beard that I realised this was an autobiographical insertion.

  2. What a traumatic experience that must have been, and how surprising that the family completely clammed about it (probably with the best of intentions, to spare the children). I have read The Acts of the Assassins, but that was a very different kettle of fish.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      You could tell he’s not over it yet – probably never will be. The book is a step on the way… Looking forward to The Acts… though – must make space for it in my schedule!

  3. This book sounds wonderful. The description of his other books building up to this one reminds me of Jeanette Winterson’s publishing history, which had many books that led up to her autobiography, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

  4. My goodness, what a tragic tale. I can imagine how the family clammed up rather than dealing emotionally with the accident, but how damaging must that have been in the long run. Must be a very powerful read.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      The resulting book is a real detective story – beautifully structured. Powerful indeed.

  5. I tend to shy away from grief memoirs on the whole, but this one does sound very intriguing (not least because the family involved sound the spit of Mr Litlove’s family, lol!). I’ll be very curious to read your review, Annabel!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      He’s a very interesting chap – I’m longing to read his novels now. More thoughts on this book though coming soon.

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