Why you need to add this Norwich author’s debut novel to your reading list

Norwich-based author Richard Lambert, whose debut novel, The Wolf Road, is out on October 28. Pictur

Norwich-based author Richard Lambert, whose debut novel, The Wolf Road, is out on October 28. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

The Wolf Road by Richard Lambert is one of October’s eagerly-anticipated new books.

Norwich-based writer Richard Lambert’s debut novel for young adults, The Wolf Road was due to be published in April, but its release was pushed back to the end of October because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Already creating a buzz among critics, the powerful study of grief and loss tells the story of 15-year old Lucas. When he survives the car accident that kills his parents, one memory stays with him – of the wolf that caused the crash.

Forced to leave his home and live with his Nan in the remote wilderness of the Lake District, Lucas struggles to adjust to his strange, new world. And when he learns that a wild creature is killing livestock on the mountains, he knows it’s the wolf, that it’s come for him, and that he must face it.

But that means confrontation – with Nan, school bullies, the authorities – and it also means going onto the high fells in a hunt that becomes a matter of life and death…

Richard was born in London and moved around a lot as a child. Following a short career in academia, teaching medieval history at the University of Bristol, he decided to pursue creative writing full-time. He graduated from UEA’s prestigious MA in Creative Writing with a distinction and won a place on Escalator, a talent development scheme for writers in the east of England, run by the city’s National Centre for Writing. Also a published poet, the wilderness is one of Richard’s inspirations. His poetry collection, The Nameless Places, was written after he won a grant to walk the 95km River Waveney and capture its natural beauty and industrial past.

And when researching The Wolf Road he spent time on a wolf-walking experience based in Cumbria and spent hours in Colchester Zoo, studying the creatures up close, getting to know their powerful presence and their liquid-like movements.

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When was The Wolf Road originally due to be published and when is it now scheduled to come out?

It was originally due to come out in April – slap-bang in the middle of lockdown. The bookshops were closed, the book distributors shut, and Amazon weren’t taking new titles from publishers so it was physically impossible to get the book out there. It’s now scheduled to come out on October 28.

How did you feel initially when the decision was taken to delay the book’s publication?

I’ve been writing for 20 years, and it’s been a dream of mine to get a novel published. I nearly got published before only to be rejected at the last stage, so to finally get a novel accepted was a big deal for me. Then to get within a few weeks of publication and to have it not come out felt really tough. I went round cursing darkly and swearing for some time.

How will the book’s release look now? Are you switching to doing events online?

I’ve done a few online events already. There will be more, and radio – and there’s been one really nice early review so far. There’s a but – it looks like there will be another lockdown so I’m keeping all my fingers crossed that the novel will finally make it to the shelves in October!

What help and support has the National Centre for Writing’s Escalator programme given you along the path to publishing your first novel?

The programme gave me a real confidence boost. And Chris Gribble at the National Centre for Writing helped me put together an application for an Arts Council grant – which I was awarded. This meant I could work part-time in my day job for a bit. One of the things I did with the time was revise The Wolf Road with the book’s editor, Mikka Haugaard, so it helped me in the process of publication.

Nature is a huge influence on your writing. Did you turn to it for catharsis during lockdown?

I am guessing that for many people the pandemic has caused great difficulties – stress, claustrophobia, fear, anxiety, a feeling of powerlessness and, perhaps, grief. I’ve noticed that my own difficulties, even though they don’t vanish, decline when I go into the garden and root around in the soil, dig up weeds and plant seeds.

What was it like holding a copy of your novel in your hands for the first time?

It didn’t seem real at first. I love the cover. It’s by a wonderful illustrator, Holly Ovenden. It’s pretty special to see what was once a story in my head become a physical object. I walk taller. I’m keeping my fingers crossed I’ll see it on the bookshelves of the Book Hive and Waterstones in Norwich at the end of October.

The Wolf Road by Richard Lambert is due out in paperback, published by Everything With Words, on October 28, priced £8.99.