A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

A Long Way From Home – Familiar and Unfamiliar Places by Rachel Ward

One of my favourite modules at university was called ‘A Sense of Place’.  One afternoon, our tutor took us for a walk around Durham and asked us to write a descriptive piece about the places we visited. Before we set off he gave each of us a piece of paper with a different message on each one. Mine was ‘Don’t forget to listen.’ My piece of writing was disproportionately skewed towards sound, but his point was made. Be fully alive. Be aware. Use all five senses.

I started painting eighteen months ago, and particularly when I’m painting outside I’m aiming to capture more than what a place looks like. For me painting en plein air isn’t really about the finished product – it’s about being in a place, observing, feeling, using my senses, experiencing the moment. I’m happy if my painting reflects the appearance of a place, happier still if the viewer can imagine what it feels like there, can taste the approaching rain in the air or hear footsteps …

In writing, a sense of place adds hugely to storytelling. Some of my favourite books are rooted in their environment (The Tenderness of Wolves, Dark Matter, The Summer Book). Sometimes I almost don’t mind about plot and character if I enjoy ‘being’ in that particular place.

I’m in the middle of an Ian Rankin-a-thon at the moment, going from one of his books to another. I’ve visited Edinburgh a few times, but the Rebus and Fox books make me want to go back there and take another look.  As it is, I’m happy to spend the summer in the multi-layered city he writes about so well – tourism, high finance and politics living side by side with criminality, poverty and people falling off the edge – and a setting that encompasses castles and shops, tenements and Georgian elegance, seaside and squalor.

Usually I base my books in places I know well, although I take liberties with geography which I think is allowable. The Numbers books include London, the South of England and, particularly, Bath. The Drowning and Water Born both feature a version of Keynsham, where I worked for ten years and a town of which I am very fond.

I’m currently writing about a very different sort of place, man-made and ‘alien’. My characters live on a space station, in harsh and claustrophobic conditions. Obviously, I’ve never been on a space station. I’ve done a little research, read around the subject, been to listen to the rather wonderful Commander Hadfield. (Delightfully, ‘research’ can also mean going outside in the evening and staring up at the night sky, looking for International Space Station passes and shooting stars.) As I’m writing, I’m aware of everything my characters are missing – the daily variations of temperature and weather, fresh air, the people that inhabit the places they’ve left behind them. Everything around them is filtered – air, water, information. Can I make this environment as believable as the places I know and love? Can I make it a place where readers want to linger and find out what happens next? We’ll see.


Rachel Ward grew up in Bookham, Surrey. After school she studied Geography at Durham University and combined working for a number of local authorities with raising a family. Her first book NUMBERS, has been published in 26 countries and was the winner of several awards including the Flemish Children and Youth Literature Prize 2011, Angus Book Awards 2010 and the Salisbury Schools Book Award 2012, as well as being shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2009, the Branford Boase Award 2010 and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturepreis 2011.
NUMBERS 2: THE CHAOS was released in June 2010 and the third and final book in the series, NUMBERS 3: INFINITY was released in June 2011. THE DROWNING and WATER BORN were published in 2013 and 20143.


This entry was posted on August 12, 2015 by .

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