I have a treat in store for you today, gentle reader. CANAL PUSHERS is the debut novel from Andy Griffee; the first in a series of Jumping Jack Flash crime novels set on the waterways of England.
Here’s what the blurb says about the book.
Jack Johnson is newly divorced, recently made redundant and in search of a fresh start. But when a young boy he meets on the canals turns up drowned, trouble seems determined to follow him. With the encouragement of Jack’s unlikely companion, Nina, who’s come aboard his narrowboat, Jumping Jack Flash, to help him navigate the waterways of the Midlands, Jack is soon tangled up in a police investigation that doesn’t quite add up. Is there a serial killer stalking the towpaths? Jack’s got more pressing problems too: can a canal boat outrun an organised crime syndicate and a media manhunt?
Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? I can tell you it’s a great read, but my review will come nearer to publication. In the meantime, I asked Andy, a former BBC journalist, what prompted him to explore the hidden underbelly of the country’s picturesque canals and waterways in his new thriller, CANAL PUSHERS?
It was a newspaper story that immediately caught my eye – not least because I had spent three happy years at Manchester University and even more happy years messing about on canal boats. It described an unusual spate of drownings in Manchester’s canals and speculated that a serial killer might be responsible. I was a senior manager and journalist at the BBC at the time and I followed the story closely as claim and counter-claim were made, academics commented and the bodies of more young men were found in Manchester’s dark and deep waterways. Of course, the police were keen to dispel any notion of a serial killer being at large, saying there was no evidence and that bereaved families were being needlessly distressed.
The story came back to mind after I left the BBC and began to think about realising a lifelong ambition – to write and publish a novel. After a 30-year career in journalism, I was eager to escape its iron disciplines and simply make up a story. And so, Canal Pushers was born. I transferred the action to the canals of the Midlands, where I live, and came up with a story which interwove a burgeoning romance between two strangers, a network of drug pushers and a serial killer who drowned passers-by while masquerading as a fisherman. I knew how the three separate storylines would begin but I didn’t have a clue how they would intersect with each other or resolve themselves in a satisfactory way. I have subsequently learnt that this approach is that of the Pantser (i.e. writing by the seat of one’s pants!)
I have three dogs and I walk them for an hour each morning in the glorious Worcestershire countryside. These walks proved invaluable as I pondered how I would develop my characters and plot on the blank screen that waited for me. But back at my desk I was stuck: for six months nothing could or would be written and I despaired of bringing it all together. In the end, I decided to clock-in each day at 10 a.m. and stick at it until 4 p.m. — no matter what. Finally, it clicked. Jack Johnson, the divorced and penniless ex-journalist and Nina, the fragile and secretive woman he meets on the towpath next to his new home — a 64-foot narrowboat called Jumping Jack Flash — started to come to life.
This all makes it sound like something of an ordeal. But I enjoyed the creative process for Canal Pushers more than almost anything else I have done in a full and happy life. I lost myself in the writing and was astonished to look up and see that hours had passed in a flash. But would anyone else like it?
When my publishers, Orphans, read my manuscript I was summoned to a meeting where it was gratifyingly compared in tone to the work of Dick Francis. Brilliant! However, there was a catch. Was I a one-book wonder? They wanted to be sure that Jack Johnson could live on and fight another day. I had plenty of ideas to keep Jack and Nina occupied, and so I set to work again, moving Jumping Jack Flash onto the Kennet and Avon canal at Bath and outlining 30 chapters of a sequel in which Jack and Nina join a small community of boat owners and grapple with violent land developers.
This time, I couldn’t make it up as I went along, as my editor expected a coherent story with no hanging threads. I spent a happy fortnight plotting exactly what would happen with the aid of the snooker table in my study and lots of bits of paper. Orphans were sufficiently convinced by the outline of River Rats to give me a contract and it will now be book two in the Jumping Jack Flash series of crime thrillers.
And just like that, aged 57, I have embarked on my second career. The countdown has begun towards publication of Canal Pushers in May and I have been caught up in the excitement of final proofs, publicity shots and cover designs. River Rats is now written — much more quickly and less painfully than my debut novel — and as a brand-new member of the Crime Writers’ Association perhaps I am beginning to learn my new trade. Despite my excitement at all the details, my friends seem to be particularly interested in the launch party and so I may charge them extra for signed copies!
Canal Pushers by Andy Griffee is published by Orphans Publishing on 2nd May 2019.
Andy Griffee is a former BBC journalist and media consultant with a fascination for stories. He began his journalism career at the Bath Evening Chronicle, and then spent twenty-ﬁve years at the BBC, culminating in his role as Editorial Director of the redevelopment of Broadcasting House. Andy lives in Worcestershire and, when he isn’t writing, rears rare breed pigs, struggles to keep a 1964 Triumph Spitﬁre on the road and enjoys hiring narrowboats with his wife Helen.