Teens' Book of the Month: Riverkeep
Book: Riverkeep by Martin Stewart | Age category 12+
Riverkeep is a gripping debut novel by Martin Stewart which will immerse you in a dark, fantastical world.
Wulliam’s family has tended the Danek River for generations, recovering the bodies of those who have drowned. When the story begins, however, Wulliam’s father gets caught by the current and emerges from the river possessed by a dark spirit, meaning that a reluctant Wulliam must take his place as Riverkeep. From this point, the book follows Wulliam as he makes an epic journey downriver to find a cure for his father before the spirit consumes him.
The story of Riverkeep is sinister, and Martin Stewart creates an atmosphere to match with rich descriptions of the Danek River and its bleak surroundings. Yet the characters Wulliam meets on his journey provide welcome comic relief from the intensity of the story, making this a skilfully written debut and a compelling read.
We have 5 copies of Riverkeep to be won! To be in with a chance of winning one, just answer this question:
Wulliam is the Riverkeep of which river?
Q&A with Martin Stewart
We have heard that you secured your publishing deal in a rather unusual way. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I definitely did! The unusual publication journey for Riverkeep began when I decided to contribute a short story to an author friend’s blog. I’d written a middle grade book and found an agent―Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency―but after pitching it to publishers I ended up with a surprise offer from Penguin to turn the blog story into a novel. So rather than selling a finished debut, I’d sold something that didn’t exist―at all. The story was never meant to be anything other than it was, I’d never thought about what happened next. So far, so thrilling/life-changing/terrifying.
What kind of research did you do for this book and how did you enjoy the research process?
The initial seed of the story was planted by an article about The Glasgow Humane Society, which was established in 1790 "for the rescue and recovery of drowning persons". A full-time officer was appointed in 1859, and since then only four men have held this post. The current and last of them, George Parsonage, took over from his father in 1979. In his lifetime on the River Clyde he has rescued around 1,500 people and recovered over 1,000 bodies.
The Society’s unbroken chain of humanitarian service was incredible enough, but when I discovered that George had been only fourteen years old when he had first recovered a corpse, the seeds of a story were sown. I loved the idea of the river as a haunting presence, at once familiar and strange. I was duly inspired, and wrote a short story about a boy named Wulliam who was on the cusp of inheriting his father’s service.
So my research, such as it was, started there―I met George and listened to his stories about life on the river, to get a sense of what it was like to be a young man living this extraordinary life. And from there I just built a story from my imagination. Too much research would have bogged me down, I think, so all the years of stories that had festered in my mind flowed onto the page, peppered by the small, constant, internet-based research I’d never imagined I would do as a writer: ‘crab mouthparts’, ‘rigging terminology’, ‘whaling songs’, ‘burning flesh smell’, ‘names for parts of chair’!
What books did you enjoy reading as a teenager?
All of them! Until I was in my mid-20s I finished everything I read, like there wasn’t a choice, and if I wasn’t enjoying something I’d just speed up to finish it sooner. I’m also a committed re-reader, which I think is a brilliant thing for anyone who’s interested in being a writer―reading your favourite books for a second or third time and digging into the craft. The authors and books that jumped immediately into my mind when I thought of my teenage reading were: Adrian Mole, Ian Rankin, I Am Legend, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Jurassic Park, Stephen King, Chris Brookmyre, Frankenstein, Nick Hornby, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jekyll & Hyde, and loads and loads of non-fiction.
The answer is to read everything you can get your hands on when you’re young, even things you don’t much care for, to soak it in and build your reader’s/writer’s brain. And there’s so much scope to engage with the world of books now―young readers are so well served by a rich, diverse, intelligent YA community that produces stunning books and communicates positively through social media. I’d have loved to have had that when I was a teenager.