August’s been a busy month with five new books published, ‘The Mark’, my YA novel about two homeless teenagers, came out first (some good reviews on Amazon thanks to kind writer friends) and then, this week my four gypsy stories ‘The Travellers’. Research involved getting to know local travelling families – who were really helpful and welcoming and I couldn’t have written the books without their input. Some GRTs (Gypsy/Roma/Travellers) even read the mss to make sure I’d not made any cultural blunders. Altogether a very positive experience; I really hope these stories will help break down some barriers.
Really thrilled by the five star Amazon review of ‘The Mark’ which popped up yesterday:
‘What a tremendous read this is. It’s a fast-paced thriller for teens and YA, one which deals with the issue of child abuse that’s very much in the news of late; it’s full of insight and humanity. But as the story unfolds it becomes something more than that, something mysterious, even spiritual, turning it into a modern morality tale that lifts it above the common run. Rosemary Hayes creates a contemporary world that’s full of dangers for young people, especially those who have been rejected by family for one reason or another. It is full of people who are only interested in exploiting them, not caring if they destroy them; and yet she shows that there are good people everywhere too, ready to rescue and protect them. If this makes it sound too serious or polemical, it’s not: once you pick up this intense and exciting story of the haunted and the hunted you won’t be able to put it down until you reach the consoling but unsentimental ending.
It’s a realistic tale of modern Britain, of two very real teenagers – Rachel, an out-of-control, fourteen year old runaway from care who self-harms and suffers from some kind of mental illness that manifests itself under stress, and Jack (not his real name), a mysterious sixteen year old also on the run, though we don’t know from what until near the end. From the beginning we know there’s something strange about their meeting and teaming up. Rachel is Jack’s ‘mark’, but teasingly we do not learn what this means until most of the story has been told; surprisingly, but brilliantly, its meaning proves to be other-worldly, of spiritual significance and psychological force. Jack rescues Rachel from a gang who are grooming her for sex; for the first part of the story they are on the run from her handler who is posing as her boyfriend. The author has done her homework here: it’s a realistic portrait of what happens to such girls who are vulnerable because they have no parents or guardians to protect them (think of recent scandals in Rotherham and Oxford). Escaping the city, they end up on a fruit farm to earn some much needed cash, and Rachel is befriended by some farm workers there (the scales of good and evil are always moving up and down in this story). Jack, however, is less fortunate: he has to board with three villains in a caravan who bully him and who, he discovers, are running a scam. Another flight is necessary…
Apart from the unexplained ‘mark’ idea, up until this point the novel seems to be a straightforward thriller. But now there’s an unexpected step-change in the narrative which takes it to a new level; it’s an intensification of the imagination which only really first-rate authors achieve. I won’t say what happens for fear of giving it away, but it involves a possible time-warp and extraordinary powers of visualisation. We gradually realise that there’s something uncanny about Jack, that he’s not all that he seems. Then we’re back to everyday reality and the two are on the run again, heading for London, this time pursued by the police, or so it seems, because Rachel’s ‘Missing’ photo has appeared on the front page of a newspaper and she’s recognised on the train. As we reach the climax, Rachel just escapes falling into the hands of more sex workers – rescued by Jack’s dog Jasper – and finds a safe place, while Jack, whose situation cannot be resolved, drifts further and further away. In a coda set ten years later, we learn not just how Rachel has turned her life full-circle but the real nature of Jack.
Reflecting on the story, we see that at one level it is a study of two very damaged young people who have learnt not just to distrust others but, more fundamentally, themselves, who learn to form a relationship which crucially involves looking out for others and never letting them down. It’s one of life’s crucial lessons.
I’ve read many of Rosemary Hayes’s novels; this is up there with the best of them. Her characterisation, her skill at telling a story, the economy of her style, its crystal-clear clarity, her humanity and sympathy for the outcast and the marginalised, above all her willingness to enter dark areas of young people’s experience and show where redemptive forces might lie, are very much on display here. Once again she’s written a wonderfully engaging novel. Not to be missed.’