Category Archives: Hitchens, K A

‘The Gardener’s Daughter’ by Kathryn Hitchins

‘Plants watered too regularly have shallow roots, Ava-Claire.  A short dry spell will force them to push deeper…  A little adversity brings resilience,” so says the famous horticulturalist, Theo Gage.

Ava is Theo’s daughter and, despite what he says about his plants, Theo has cleared the troubles from Ava’s path and watered her with his love throughout her twenty years.  Although her mother died when she was a baby, Ava has been nurtured by Theo himself, by Paloma (your carer), by your Godfather, Colin Hildreth, even by Marcus (Theo’s business partner).  Then one day, after a trivial argument with Marcus, Ava finds out that Theo is not her natural father and her whole life discombobulates.

Ava seeks the help of private investigator, Zavier Marshall, to find out about her real father. She spirals downwards, stealing money and stashing it away in insecure places.  In the attempt to find out more about her mother, she joins the staff, as a cleaner, at her mother’s former employer, Fun World Holiday Camp, a seedy place where staff are worked to the bone and paid very little, and the security guard is demanding protection money, but, as Zavier comes to realise, it’s worst than that.  This is a thriller, with a strong storyline, lurching from incident to incident.  At first, it’s about Ava trying to find out what she needs to know for herself, but, as the story progresses, it becomes about Ava and Zavier trying to work things through together.

Instant Apostle is, of course, a Christian publishing company, but nowhere is God mentioned.  (This is not uncommon in Instant Apostle books.  The religious hand is normally very light.)   The Gardener’s Daughter is a clever reworking of the parable of The Prodigal Son and the conclusions drawn at the end, by Ava, reflect Christian teaching on love and redemption, but applied to the storyline, not as a sermon.

The Gardener’s Daughter can be purchased from Instant Apostle.

‘The Girl at the End of the Road’ by K A Hitchins

The Girl at the End of the Road - CoverVincent Stevens is no willing boomerang kid. Forced to return to his parents’ house in Suffolk when he is ‘let go’ from his high-flying job in the City, his whole life is on hold – flat, girlfriend, friends, expensive tastes – but he’ll find another high-earning job soon… won’t he?

His parents are clearly stick-in-the-Suffolk-muds. He can disregard their advice, and exorcate their tastes, can’t he? He definitely does not want to spend his Saturday evenings playing Scrabble with them and his friends, Simon and Liz Addington and Simon’s suggestion that Vince becomes a driving instructor is risible. However, he quickly becomes aware that his father is unwell, doesn’t want to worry his wife and needs Vince’s support. He’ll be back to London soon… although it is a bit worrying about his dad.

There’s no decent company in Suffolk, well, not of the sort Vince has become used to. He tried drinking with his old schoolfriend, Jimmy Hodges, but since when did Jimmy, who everybody used to be considered so cool, become such a yokel? Then there’s another old schoolmate, Sarah, who works in the library. Such a frump she’s become, in her old poncho. Nice dog, though. And how was it he came to be teaching Sarah to drive? She’s almost impossible to instruct, because she has this habit of taking everything he says literally. She has some strange friends, with whom she watches DVDs about The Highway Code; Vince feels he ought to keep a watch on these friends until one of them assaults him. Moreover, as Jimmy and his friend remember, Sarah has a habit of straight-talking, as refreshing as the cool Suffolk air and the wide East Anglian skies.

This is an informative and insightful novel about autism, everyday autism as it affects most everyday sufferers – and I should know, having taught many autistic and Asperger’s Syndrome students over twenty years. K A Hitchins wrote this book to raise money for The Mission Enfant Christ International which trains volunteers to work in a disability school in Togo, West Africa. She has donated all her royalties to The Mission.

The Girl at the End of the Road, the author’s first, published by Instant Apostle, is marketed as Christian novel. Like The Key to All Unknown, also by K A Hitchens, which I reviewed last month, the Christian content is understated, existing mostly in the mindset of the main character at the end of the book. I must say I enjoyed The Girl at the End of the Road better than The Key to All Unknown, as its setting and characters were more interesting and the setting more convivial than in The Key. However, I thoroughly recommend both.

I’m going to end by mentioning journalist, Peter Hitchens’ review of The Key to All Unknown in the Mail Online, at least what purported to be a review. He manages to fill most of his article, of about 200 words (I didn’t count), with a self-indulgent splurge about himself and how he and Kathryn have the same surname, mostly about himself though. It is unfair to reader and author alike.

‘The Key to All Unknown’ by K A Hitchins

Dr Tilda Moss is a brilliant life scientist, working at the University of Newcastle. She is single, nerdish, and totally wrapped up in her work. When she meets Michael Cameron, a marketing manager for the company that supplies her instruments, she falls greedily in love, even though Michael is asking intrusive questions about her research, paying for their restaurant meals on his expenses account, and probing her virulent atheism.
For all except the prologue, Tilda is in hospital, in a persistent vegetative state, following a unexplained fall at her house. Everyone around her assumes that she is not conscious, but, even though she is unable to move, even an eyelid or a finger, she is fully aware of everything going on around her, her father and brother’s arguments, reports of the investigation into her death by Inspector Lake, visits by her flatmate, Kiki, and the mysterious Allegra, who claims to be a ‘friend’ and wants to try out new age therapies on her. Tilda cannot communicate. She is just an observer, as everyone around her tries to make sense of the last few weeks of her life. She hears that there has been financial fraud at her place of work and that she is supposed to be in involved, but of course she cannot defend herself.

Tilda is frustrated, angry and terrified. One of the strengths of this work is that the author manages to get inside the mind of someone in persistent vegetative state, the indignities, the boredom, the pain and discomfort which she cannot draw anyone’s attention to, insensitive and impersonal medical assessments, and occasional abuse, along the lines of you-shouldn’t-be-taking-up-a-bed-that-could-be-given-to-a-child-with-cancer. Then there’s the deluded, batty cleaner, Claude, who comes in singing Jesus songs and telling her he’s her guardian angel. As time goes on, she realises that he is.

The story unfolds. When it comes, the explanation for Tilda’s accident is perhaps a disappointment, or is it the book’s greatest strength? The storyline takes some unusual turns, which surprised me. Certainly, there were a few hooks which might have led me there, but they were perhaps a little too understated. The Christian theme is always in the background.

Characterisation is good, but, for me, the person who leaps off the page is gauche but well-intentioned Pauline, a minor character.

Some of verbal imagery is excellent, for instance, ‘The late afternoon – plump and golden as a pear – is swollen with pollen.’ This is taken from the first page, and, by itself, works well in conjuring up a splendid summer day, but some of the other prose in the prologue is too flowery for my liking, such as, ‘The shadow from the tree is creeping over me like a bruise, a dark longing, slow, inexorable.’ Thankfully, the literary stuff does not continue throughout the book. Why are we writers always made to feel we have to use literary style (or die)?

A main character who is in a persistent vegetative state is a bit of a shock to the system. I would understand readers who gave up after the first few thousand words, but it’s worth your while to continue, Dear Reader. ‘The Key to All Unknown’ is a compelling read.

I’m writing this post on the iPad, on the train from Delhi to Shimla, which set off an hour and a half late and has since crawled through a lot of fog. The train carriage is not the cleanest, the squat loo unspeakable, but very nice nice young men keep pressing upon me tea in ancient, bright red, plastic cups and hot vegetable croquettes (think Linda McCartney).

This book is published by Instant Apostle. I was asked to review by the author.