Realer… a story for 2020

Realer, my latest audio exclusive, this time narrated by the wonderful Gemma Whelan, is about to appear, launched on January 29 by WF Howes and available in all the usual audio outfits.

I first started work on this story four years ago and picked it up again earlier this year during lockdown when the pandemic seemed to give its theme – a murder story hiding behind a discussion on how we deal with isolation an tragedy – an extraordinary timeliness.

And now we’re in the middle of a debate about north versus south, something else that’s current throughout the tale too. I’m going to be very interested to see what people make of the story when it comes out.

But here’s a taster… a new review on the Netgalley page for the project from ‘Laura B’… Thanks Laura!

REALER is one of the first books I’ve come across that visualizes a post-COVID (or at least post-lockdown) world, and Hewson’s world is a dystopian, dangerous place. The good news is that while the Northern England setting is bleak, REALER is a thrilling story that I couldn’t bear to turn off until I listened to it all. Charlotte “Charlie” Mackintosh is a much-bullied ginger living a drab teenage existence among her lower-class peers. Mom is drunky, her beloved Dad has abandoned the family for no discernible reason, and a creepy guy named Rick has moved into the cottage and her mother’s bed. Rick is her dad’s supervisor at a warehouse company that sounds a lot like the one that immediately comes up if you type the letter “A” into any search engine.

It employs a lot of low-skilled people, but not for long, because the robots are coming. But before the robots, comes Realer. Realer is a kind of virtual/augmented reality mash up that lets you travel anywhere in the world (or atmosphere) without leaving your home–something that a lot of people, like Charlie, have gotten used to because of “the pandemic.”

Realers are quickly becoming must-haves all over the world. You simply pop on “specs” or a “hood” (the hood image is uber-creepy because it reminds me way too much of hoods put on people about to be executed), and away you go. Charlie’s dad gives her a Realer of her own. She’s not excited about it, because she’d much rather spend her time drawing birds on paper, or reading books. But she uses it with him to humor him, and to spend time with him. That’s when the real trouble starts.

On one of her first Realer outings, she sees her father murdered. Charlie has no real adult support in her life. At sixteen, she’s not taken seriously by anyone. When the police barely seem interested in her father’s murder, she slowly realizes she must take on the investigation herself. Though Charlie is no Nancy Drew with a flashy car and a wealthy parent to bankroll her. Charlie’s world is bleak and friendless in the extreme. Fortunately she’s smart, and braver than she thinks she is. She dives deep into the Realer world to uncover her father’s connection to it, and discover what sort of toy Realer really is. It’s fascinating to watch her navigate, trying to figure out whom she can trust (no one, she concludes), and whom she can manipulate or fool into revealing their motives.

This is an incredibly timely book, and though the protagonist is only sixteen, it is a cautionary tale that anyone over the age of, say, fifteen will enjoy. It was a bit of a shock to realize how plausible the world of Realer is. If you’re like me, you’ll run to turn off every microphone in your house, pocket, or purse the moment you finish.