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Interview: March 2011

March 2011

British sensation Rachel Ward is the author of THE CHAOS, the highly anticipated sequel to NUMBERS, which tells the story of Jem Marsh's son, Adam --- who not only sees the date of a person's death when he looks into someone's eyes, but also feels the terribly shocking pain of it.

In this interview with's Sarah Rachel Egelman, Ward gives the scoop on how she envisioned her award-winning series, elaborating on how the concept for Numbers evolved and the qualities that set Adam apart from his parents. She also reveals which prophetic power she'd like to have (that is, if she was forced to choose one), shares her thoughts on the not-so-distant future, and gives readers an inside look at the conclusion to her incredible trilogy. Did you know all along there would be a sequel to NUMBERS? Or did you find you had more of the story to tell after the first book was done?

Rachel Ward: Originally, I had envisaged a trilogy, but it was completely different from the books I've ended up writing! In fact, I condensed what I thought would be the second book into the last chapter of the first book, NUMBERS, to give it an extra twist --- which left me more or less starting from scratch with books two and three. I did want to explore different angles of the story in subsequent books. NUMBERS was very fatalistic, more so than I actually am, and so I wanted to show characters in THE CHAOS fighting against the future and trying to change it.

TRC: In writing THE CHAOS, did you change your approach to writing, or do anything stylistically different from NUMBERS?

RW: THE CHAOS is written from two alternating viewpoints, which is very different from having a single narrative. The first draft of the book was written completely from Adam's point of view, but it just didn't work, and his character wasn't coming through strongly enough. With two viewpoints, the whole thing became stronger. I wanted to show the story from the point of view of someone who has the gift (Adam in THE CHAOS is like Jem in NUMBERS), but also how this is viewed by somebody close to them (Sarah).

TRC: How is the protagonist Adam like his parents, the main characters in NUMBERS, and how is he different?

RW: Physically, Adam is a good mixture of his parents. He's not as ridiculously tall as his dad, Spider, but he's inherited his edginess and restlessness. In a way, he's as isolated and alienated as his mum, Jem. But I think he's got more of a temper than either of them!

TRC: Adam, along with the others in the book, is under constant threat: ecological, political, social, etc. Are any of these threats or dangers more frightening to you than the others?

RW: Well, I worry about most things! I think the thing I worry about most is the alienation of some young people --- their lack of self-belief, their lack of belief in a better future for themselves and for the world in general, and their inability to believe that they can make a difference. I don't know what the answer to this is.

TRC: The central characters --- Adam, Sarah and Val --- all have a special gift or talent, such as seeing numbers or auras, or having prophetic dreams. Which gift would you prefer to have? And which one would you never want?

RW: Well, I wouldn't really want any special gift. I have feet of clay, and I like living in the real, physical world, which I find beautiful, surprising and inspiring enough (as well as worrying, upsetting and puzzling) without having any extra-sensory gifts. However, if you forced me to choose, I'd see auras. That seems to me to be a fairly harmless gift, one that enhances your view of people. I definitely would not like to see numbers --- no way!

TRC: Which character was the most fun to write? Which one was the most challenging?

RW: I love writing about Val. She's so non-PC, feisty and also a bit frightening, and she has inappropriate hair --- What's not to like about her? Actually, I hate smoking, and she smokes like a chimney, so I don't like that part of her, but, alas, it is central to her character and lifestyle. Adam was the most challenging character to write. It took me a long time to find his voice and understand where he was coming from.

TRC: Absent parents, loss of innocence, teenage parents --- these themes factor heavily in the book. Did you set out to address them in a specific way, or were they just part and parcel of the story you were telling?

RW: I didn't deliberately set out to cover any particular issues. Most of them found their way into the story more or less "naturally" --- though I did consciously choose to make Jem parentless in the first book, because then I had much more of a free rein in writing her adventures. And I suppose the same applies to THE CHAOS. My main characters exist in a world where adults are treated with suspicion, and they have to find their own way of dealing with their problems.

TRC: The events in THE CHAOS are in the not-too-distant future of 2027. Do you imagine the world could radically change in the next 16 years, or are we already close to the kind of world Adam lives in? Or is 2027 just a date to set the story in?

RW: I chose 2027 because that would make Adam a teenager, and I wanted THE CHAOS to be his story in the way that NUMBERS was Jem's. The whole surveillance side of things isn't that far away in the UK, so that wasn't a big leap. There are thousands of closed-circuit security cameras in our town and city centers. It actually doesn't bother me, but the idea of being microchipped does --- that moves it to a different level.

TRC: What is your favorite scary book? How about your favorite book of all time?

RW: I don't have a favorite scary book --- I've only just started reading thrillers, and I don't read horror or anything too frightening. I have enough disturbing stuff going on in my own mind without reading other people's disturbing thoughts!

I also don't really have a favorite book. I love THE SUMMER BOOK by Tove Jansson, but mostly for the first chapter, which is something that I do re-read from time to time.

TRC: What are you reading now?

RW: I'm reading MORTAL CAUSES by Ian Rankin. It's a traditional detective story, set in Edinburgh, Scotland. I hope I like it, because he's written lots of books, and it's great to find a writer whose work you can trawl through with anticipation. Ann Tyler is one of those writers for me. The last book I read was TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis. I haven't seen the latest film version by the Coen Brothers, but I really want to. The book is fabulous --- 100% enjoyable.

TRC: Is there a third Numbers book planned? If so, can you give us any hints about what readers can expect?

RW: Actually, yes --- there's even a sneak peek at the new story in the very last pages of THE CHAOS. I'm currently writing INFINITY, the conclusion of the Numbers trilogy. I should have finished it by now, but hopefully I'm in the final straight (or, as you say in America, the homestretch?)! In it, I'm expanding the original numbers concept --- which had to do with fixed death dates --- to explore the idea of living forever and what that would actually mean. It's a really scary story, and I'm a bit disturbed that I have these ideas lurking in my mind. You wouldn't really guess they were there if you met me, and I think my family is a bit freaked out!