Riverkeep by Martin Stewart started life as a short story. He had no idea what happened next. Then he signed his contract and started to panic.
The story came from an article he’d read in the Sunday supplement on the Glasgow Humane Society. He had known nothing about them, but they formed in 1790, and are a charitable institution, and they fascinated him. It was about one man and a rowing boat, who pulled dead bodies out of the water. It still happens, and so the story was born.
He met a man called George who did the job and who was one of the most physically strong men he’d ever met, the kind where a handshake left your hand a little worse for wear. His life was so interesting: he had first recovered a body in the dark in the river at age 14. He told so many gruesome stories, “which I stole and put in the book,” Martin laughs, adding that George did get a big thank you in there.
Riverkeep starts with a 16 year old who’s about to take over from his dad in the role, but doesn’t want to because he thinks it sucks. This was his short story, and as he reads you get a feel of the numbered corpses, life on the water, and the physical strength it takes. Basically, it sounds really interesting.
Martin had no idea where it was going, the short story wasn’t an idea or teaser trailer. “I make things up for a living,” he says, so he just had to do that a little bit more. The short story penned him in: the setting and characters were there; he liked that restriction as it forced him to make logical decisions to navigate the rest of the plot. It had limitations.
The fact that the book is being published in America in July is, to him, the most amazing thing. It’s a story he thought about a lot: he’d almost feel at water at times, he invented scary animals that would just pop into his head at random moments. Though, while he has giant eagles (with horse’s teeth, of all things), he’d keen to note they’re not used as a prop cheat, like in Lord of the Rings, which is definitely appreciated here at least.