Looking up the River Avon towards Pulteney Bridge and Weir.
Tomorrow, Thursday, March 19th, l had a lunchtime appointment to meet an author at Pulteney Weir. It happens to be the fictional setting for a terrible murder which violently opens the first chapter of a crime thriller he has written – based in and around Bath.
I am afraid coronavirus – and my ‘at risk’ category – has put off my get-together with Andy Griffee but – instead – l have sent some questions up to his home in Worcestershire and he has kindly answered them.
Andy is a former BBC journalist who started out at the Bath Evening Chronicle before moving on to a 25-year stint at the BBC, culminating in his role as Editorial Director of the redevelopment of Broadcasting House.
‘River Rats‘ is the second of two novels in the series of Johnson and Wilde crime mysteries which are set on the canals and waterways of the UK. He published the first – ‘Canal Pushers’ – in May 2019 at the age of 57.
Here’s our Q and A session.
Why choose Bath as your crime location?
‘It seemed the perfect place to juxtapose tensions between a small liveaboard boating community and the relentless demand for more high-end properties. Importantly, it also boasts both a canal and a river for my hero Jack Johnson and his sidekick Nina to moor up on for a while. The idea of the Johnson and Wilde series is that the couple move on around the country in Jack’s narrowboat, Jumping Jack Flash. They were based in the Midlands for my debut novel Canal Pushers and I’ve now decided they will move on to the River Isis at Oxford for book 3. I have already mapped out the plot but I haven’t got a title yet!’
2. Obvious knowledge of the place – do you have a connection?
‘Very much so. I was a reporter on the Bath Evening Chronicle for three years in the late 1980s. It made me see beyond the tourists and the architecture to the real city beneath. All human life is here and I reported on most of its aspects including crime, corruption and poverty. However, it was also one of the happiest periods in my life when I met and fell in love with my wife Helen, who was also a reporter on the paper and its drama critic. We lived in a small miner’s cottage on the Mendips and we were married here. Our reception was at the Priory Hotel and then I left to join the BBC in Bristol and begin a 25-year-career with Auntie.’
3. Seem to know a fair bit about canal/river people too.
‘I have hired narrowboats all my life but never yet owned one. I’m like Ratty in Wind in the Willows; I love messing about on the river. I went on my first canal trip when I was twelve and immediately loved seeing the landscape from a wholly different perspective and at just four miles per hour. I also love the cosy intimacy of the boat interiors and I’ve had some great holidays, drinking whisky and playing poker with my mates at Stratford, taking my father on an 80th birthday voyage to Bradford on Avon and trying to get my teenager children to enjoy ‘living in a corridor on water’ at Oxford.’
4. You had a full career as a journalist – ending up with the BBC – years spent dealing with facts. So what turned you to fiction.
‘Writing fiction has always been a lifelong ambition, ever since I was a child reading Famous Five and Secret Seven for the first time – but the relentless demands of my journalism career, the need to pay a mortgage and all the other pressures of daily life crowded in. Now I have the time and financial freedom to give it a real go and I’m loving it. There is a real sense of liberty in choosing whichever path you wish to explore for your characters without being shackled by the rigidity of facts and credible sources. You are no longer limited by anything other than your imagination and the reader’s suspension of disbelief. ‘
5. You dealt with real life drama – did that help in creating your own fictional situations.
‘As a journalist, I have had to interview people in the most dreadful of circumstances and I have also put myself in dangerous situations at times. I suppose those experiences all help me to make my main character as credible as possible. He too is a journalist by background and has the innate curiosity and stubbornness which makes for a good reporter. There’s also quite a lot of journalism in the books – especially River Rats where Jack is freelancing for Bath’s local weekly newspaper and its somewhat idiosyncratic (but fictional) editor. ‘
6. Bathonians will be delighted with the places that feature in River Rats – it’s ironic that Mr B’s Emporium – which gets a mention – won’t be seeing you soon for a book launch – because of the Coronavirus situation.
‘I am really gutted that our launch party can’t be held at Mr B’s Emporium on April 2nd. It’s the very model of what a great independent bookshop should be and I hope everyone will continue to support it during these difficult times. Hopefully, we shall be able to come back at the end of the summer and raise a glass or two in celebration. But you’re right, many of Bath’s loveliest places feature in River Rats and I suspect that one day I shall move back from the countryside, live here and spend my time revisiting all of the pubs which are featured in the book!
River Rats is out on April 2nd but signed hardback copies can be pre-ordered directly from orphanspublishing.co.uk (price £18.99) and it is also available as an e-book (£4.99) – or why not pop into Mr B’s and order your copy of River Rats or Andy’s debut novel Canal Pushers there?’
Thanks for that Andy. I am no professional reviewer of books but thoroughly enjoyed a helter-skelter ride of thrills and spills through this tightly plot-packed novel.
Picking out all the local references added to my enjoyment and l know that tales of riverside redevelopments – and the trials and tribulations of life afloat on a narrowboat – are REAL issues too.