I am delighted to welcome author Andy Griffee to Live and Deadly. I really enjoyed his debut novel, Canal Pushers and knowing that the follow up, River Rats is due to be published shortly, I asked Andy to write a piece for me on writing that all-important second novel.
Before he does, let me share with you, the blurb for River Rats, out next week.
Jack Johnson has a talent for trouble – wherever he goes on his narrowboat, it seems to follow him. Moored up on the River Avon in the beautiful Georgian surroundings of Bath, he’s working at the local paper when a prominent magistrate and heritage campaigner is attacked and drowned. Could it be a serial killer copying the Canal Pusher? Or a biker gang who swore revenge on the magistrate?
Against his wishes, Jack is pulled into the investigation by his ambitious editor who wants the scoop. Jack and his friend, the war widow, Nina, have also been drawn into another struggle.
The moorings of a small settled boating community sit alongside a huge former industrial site that property developers want to fill with luxury housing. Nearby residents are enlisted to petition against the boat people, and as the campaign spirals out of control, lives are threatened. Who is helping their enemies? Another gripping tale of corruption and intrigue from the riverbank, full of dark waters and deadly secrets.
Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it! Now over to Andy.
At the end of my last blog for the wonderful Live and Deadly, I described how my publishers had demanded the outline of a second book before they would give me a contract for the first one, Canal Pushers. And so, having written my debut crime thriller as a ‘pantster’ (ie by the seat of my pants over the previous two and a half years), I was forced to become a ‘plotter’ with a carefully planned chapter-by-chapter outline of the sequel, River Rats. Well, it is now a year later, River Rats will be launched this April 2nd and boy, have I learned a lot in the process.
Once again, our intrepid hero, a divorced and largely unemployed journalist called Jack Johnson takes to the UK’s waterways on his live-aboard narrowboat Jumping Jack Flash. And once again, he is accompanied by a mysterious young war widow called Nina Wilde who he met by chance on a towpath in the Midlands. This time, however, the action moves on to the West Country and the city of Bath.
I know Bath well having been a young newspaper reporter on the Bath Evening Chronicle in the late 1980s. It may be a UNESCO World Heritage site, tourist honeypot and boast eye-watering house prices, but there has always been a seamy underside to this city. Its undercurrents of crime and homelessness provided me with plenty of news copy at the time. So, it seemed a perfect location for my latest story about a small community of narrowboats who come into conflict with violent and unscrupulous property developers and corrupt Councillors and council officials.
I was also very familiar with the River Avon, the location of my hotly contested fictional moorings, and the Kennet and Avon canal where growing numbers of boat owners seek a toehold to live their alternative lifestyles on the fringes of this most expensive of cities. Last May, I hired a 68 foot long narrowboat for a weekend jaunt out to Bradford on Avon and back to research a trip that is mirrored in River Rats. This coincided with my father’s 80th birthday and so it turned into an extended 12-strong Griffee family event.
The weather was hot and sunny, the canal was crowded, the boat was very long (but cramped) and tiredness led to short tempers and ill-judged words from the skipper (me). In the event, it was perhaps fortunate that a real murder didn’t take place!
However, further research trips to my old newspaper’s stomping ground became a real pleasure as I rediscovered old drinking haunts and patrolled the banks of the Avon. I was looking forward to returning to one of the city’s best independent bookshops, Mr B’s Emporium, for the official launch of River Rats but sadly the coronavirus has put paid to that.
When it came to actually writing the book, my outline plot proved invaluable and the process sailed by in about 3 months flat. There was no extended period of writers’ block like last time and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And yet…the doubts crept in almost as soon as I sent off the first draft to Debbie Hatfield, my editor at Orphans Publishing. And these doubts multiplied as I walked my dogs and thought it through further. I could do better, I told myself. Why were the police being so slow to agree with Jack’s suspicions about the motive for a murder of a leading magistrate? Was someone from the tiny boating community secretly helping the unscrupulous developers? How could I introduce some more exciting set-piece incidents? The questions crowded in, and slowly I thought them through so that when the first draft came back, with Debbie’s perceptive suggestions and line-by-line comments, I decided to set to work on a wholesale rewrite.
And this time, it was much more organic. I focused on better character development and a deeper level of relationship between Jack and Nina. I replaced too much ‘tell’ with much more ‘show’ and I deliberately replaced many long descriptive passages with shorter, sharper sections of dialogue. I also incorporated a substantial new plot-line about a fictional Hells Angels gang called the Bristol Bulldogs and used them to inject more humour into the book.
And so, having striven to be a good ‘plotter’ for River Rats – and garnered the benefits of knowing how it would end before I started it – the final book has become a blend of the two techniques and I think it is all the better for it. I think this makes it the work of a ‘plantster’ – a combination of plotting and pants-flying! I hope readers will agree and the many kind reviews of Canal Pushers on Amazon and Good Reads seem to suggest there are many waiting for the next instalment in the Jumping Jack Flash series.
As a former journalist and BBC executive, I still have much to learn about this new industry I find myself in. Sadly, my planned schedule of launch events, lectures, talks, literary festivals and book-clubs which were crowding into my diary have been cancelled and I am trying to replace them with social media activity including a virtual launch party on Facebook Live. My nerves about the reaction to the latest book are under slightly more control than they were last time, but I am still puzzling how a 58-year-old debut crime thriller writer gets to be noticed by the immensely powerful reviewers of the national press. At least other writers who link up with me on Twitter’s #WritingCommunity and #AmWriting are supportive.
Oh…and I am also busy working on the plot outline for the third book in the series. It doesn’t yet have a title, but I do know that Jack is moving his boat onto the Isis at Oxford and many happy research trips are now beckoning me to the city and its dreaming spires. I recently returned from a week’s writing retreat in Budapest where I worked through the book’s plot – but I also know to leave plenty of room for the creative imagination as well when I come to writing the damn thing.
River Rats is published on April 2nd and is available for pre-order now as a hardback and e-book. It is available directly from www.orphanspublishing.co.uk, and we are also asking readers to support Mr B’s independent bookshop by ordering it directly from them at this difficult time via https://mrbsemporium.com/shop/books/river-rats
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.
Please support an independent bookshop by ordering River Rats from Mr.B’s emporium of reading delights