Rich and Mad

My novel for teens: First love, first sex, and everything in between.

Why did I write Rich and Mad?


Falling in love for the first time is also the primary theme of William Nicholson’s compelling and funny Rich and Mad, now out in paperback. An astonishingly versatile author, who has written plays and screenplays (Shadowlands and Gladiator among them), as well as adult fiction, Nicholson began writing for children a few years ago and this is his first novel for young adults. I would definitely place it at the adult end of the spectrum, since there is plenty of graphic sex and adisturbing subplot concerning violence against women. But within that it is a tender, moving, unexpected and intelligent take on family life, sibling relationships, mid-life angst and, above all, first love and first sex, which examines why we always want what we can’t have and don’t want what is there for the taking. The central characters are wonderfully believable and in Rich, Nicholson has created a lovable, geeky antihero who worships Larkin and gets his ideas about love from a battered copy of The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm’s 70s classic on human behaviour, which his friends suspect is a sex manual. He feels so real you suspect he might well be based on the author’s young self. Alone among his peers, Rich refuses to have a laptop or a phone, reasoning that anyone who really wants to talk to him will actually come and find him. That’s what I call brave.

Lisa O’Kelly, The Observer, April 4 2010


WITH screen credits for blockbusters such as Gladiator and First Knight, William Nicholson must be a writer well used to the term ‘epic’. For the rest of us, perhaps, the closest we can come in real life are those all-consuming feelings of falling in love for the first time, and fortunately Nicholson’s on hand to guide readers on this equally heroic journey. One of the most striking aspects of Rich and Mad (Egmont, 6.99), however, is the lack of histrionics, special effects or CGI set-pieces. Rich Ross and Maddy Fisher are pretty average 17-year-olds and their quest for love is gently witty and moving, never over-blown or gushing. Undoubtedly the final ten pages of the 440-page novel are what everybody will talk about: first love naturally leads to first sex. Yet Nicholson wants to tell the full story of an epic teenage adventure and robbing the audience of this particular climax would surely feel dishonest.

Keith Gray, The Scotsman, April 5 2010

Writers rarely stray as far from their territory as WILLIAM NICHOLSON has in RICH AND MAD (Egmont, £6.99). To go from fantasy writing – he is best known for his Wind on Fire trilogy – to teen fiction is tantamount to dating outside your species. But for something that is against the laws of nature, Nicholson has done a fine job. He has spoken of his concern about the “pornification” of teenage sexuality and this novel is an attempt to redress the balance, but anyone hoping for a literary crusade in favour of abstention will be disappointed. Maddy’s mission to fall in love and understand sex starts with her and a friend watching porn, a woman with bunny ears fellating a headless man “…it was like a little god wanting to be worshipped. On and on with the worshipping, bowing before it, kissing it, on and on. I wanted to hit it with a spoon…”. Nicholson is brilliant on the anxieties and awkwardness of sex, and when Maddy and Rich finally realise their destiny, after both suffering the bitter humiliation of unrequited love, their consummation is realistically short but sweet. But it’s definitely national-curriculum-approved “sex within a loving relationship”. Less realistic is the instant repair job done on Maddy’s parents’ broken marriage, and Rich’s reliance on The Art of Loving – romantic heroes should not read self-help books. (Age: 13+)

Dinah Hall, Sunday Telegraph, April 4 2010