James Ward's "Other Books"
Before the author of Tales of MI7 started to write espionage fiction, he wrote books in other genres. What are they called, and what are they about?
The Weird Problem of Good is a novel that won a gold star on the Harpercollins website (now defunct), Authonomy, and was also longlisted in 2010 for the Harry Bowling Prize. It is a romantic comedy about an arranged marriage between two Hindus: Prem Sharma, a deeply moral, clinically obese priest's son, and Nasreen Sanim, a beautiful but spoilt dreamer; and what happens when she dumps him at the proverbial altar, and a Czech gypsy woman comes out of nowhere and into both their lives. It is about how love and friendship can triumph even in the unlikeliest of situations. Yes, there is evil in the world, and decent people sometimes make stupid choices, but with enough determination and goodwill, things can nearly always be turned around. It is set in and around Middlesbrough, the author's birthplace.
The House of Charles Swinter is the most ambitious and sweeping of James Ward's original novels, and is his first serious attempt to write a 'state of nation' novel, on the 19th century model, for today. It went through three re-writes before finally taking its present shape in 2005. It deals with old age, as we experience it in the West, and the exploitative aspects of globalisation, and sees the two as subtly linked. It is by turns a ghost story, a detective novel and a thriller - although, more than all of these, it is a romance. It is based partly on actual events at the time, principally the Asian Tsunami of 2004. It begins when eighty year-old Charles Swinter goes to Thailand seeking a bride. And the destruction he wreaks as a result. Luckily, love wins out. It takes 160,000 words to do so, but the outcomes are so good, it is (hopefully!) worth it.
The Bright Fish is a supernatural novel about two young people who have won a trip on a luxury cruise, and find themselves in odd company. As the novel moves forward, the 'oddness' becomes more pronounced, until they realise that they are not quite where they thought they were. More, that some of their fellow passengers are undergoing horrifying transformations. This is not a gruesome novel, nor is it meant to scare anyone. Rather it uses the disorientation (probably) involved in entering a subtly alternative universe to address deep questions about who we all are and what, if anything, we are doing on Planet Earth at all. And why there is anything rather than nothing. And yes, that's right: heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft.
An Evening at the Beach is a collection of 27 short stories in different genres. One - ' 'London Virgin' - won the Republic of Ireland Writer's Club prize in 2009. Another, 'The Bacchae' was highly commended by Aesthetica magazine in 2010. 'In Munro House' won the Dark Tales competition, and was subsequently published in that magazine's collection. Of all the stories in this book, however, the author's favourite is probably 'The Utter Tat Milk Jug'. Which never won anything!
21st Century Philosophy uses selected popular texts as a window through which to examine contemporary social and cultural issues. James Ward has a master’s degree and a DPhil, both in Philosophy from Sussex University. His doctoral thesis was examined in viva and passed unconditionally by David McLellan, Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Kent and author of many standard texts about Marx in English. In 1998, he won joint first prize (along with Martha Nussbaum and Lars Gårding) in a philosophical dialogues competition organised by the Humanities Research Centre at Oxford University and the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. Its subject was Søren Kierkegaard. The dialogue was performed at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm, in front of an invited audience, and subsequently published in Comparative Criticism vol. 20 (Cambridge University Press, 1998).
A New Theory of Justice and Other Essays consists of six essays, each of which attempts to break new ground in philosophy. Altogether, it runs to just over 40,000 words – just over half the length of an average novel. The principal essay is about justice, and argues that we don't need a theory of justice apart from a theory of morality - and that it is the business of philosophers of ethics to provide the latter. We do, however, need a theory of how the word 'justice' is used, and that turns out to be a more interesting topic than might be supposed. Other essays look at the possibility and nature of animal thought (could they perceive things, and think in ways we can't?), and the question of free-will. More details can be found on the relevant page of your favourite online bookstore. Click on the cover if you are interested.
The Latest Noel and Metals of the Future are two volumes of poetry. All poems are different, and, as rule, there is not much to be said about collections. And even among professional writers, poetry is a minority interest. However, it is probably more durable than novel-writing; it likely takes more skill, and it probably says important things that philosophy can't. Which is not to say that any of the poems in either of these books is any good. In the author's defence, they weren't written for a profit!
Hannah and Soraya’s Fully Magic Generation-Y *Snowflake* Road Trip across America is about John Mordred's three sisters, plus Hannah's protégé, Soraya Snow. In different ways, all four women are at daunting crossroads in their lives. Hannah and Soraya, whose idea the journey was – and on whom the novel focuses - are members of a rock band about to break up; Charlotte’s business is going bankrupt; Julia is a novelist who has recently relocated to Norway with her new husband, and she’s acutely homesick.
Hannah has a potentially devastating secret. The truth will out, of course, but it won’t be easy. In the meantime, she must come up with a ‘big idea’ to save her band, and her two sisters have to work through their own problems.
But life’s most significant dilemmas are often best resolved by cooperating. As the trip progresses, there are spectacular fallings-out and makings up, but surprisingly, it begins to look as if each member of the group possesses part of a key to help the others unlock the seemingly unlockable. America challenges, entertains and infuriates them in equal measure, but they also fall in love with it.
Tunbridge Wells Ghost Stories and Wadhurst Ghost Stories are collections of short stories, set in real-life locations, spanning over a century of history each. They're partly an attempt to create a new kind of ghost story, based not on Britain's antique heritage (manor houses, ruined castles, secluded lakes, etc.), but on Europe's esoteric 'philosophies': alchemy, Hermeticism and Rosicrucianism, amongst other worldviews. Obviously, that doesn't mean the author believes any of those things. He simply thinks reading a fictional story about them might be a good way of passing a chilly winter's evening in front of a log fire.