A KIND OF DROWNING is a big departure for me both in subject and style and probably the fastest novel I have written. It started life as a short story, a sort of tragic comedy where a suspended from duty detective copes with a sudden and drastic change of fortune. I posted it up on ABCTales.com and it garnered a few positive reviews.
But I hadn’t gone any further with it. Through 2018-2019, I was working on the last novel of my wartime Eva series; EAGLES HUNT WOLVES. I had a new editor, Des Suffing who lives in Spain and after a year of to-ing and fro-ing on emails, the novel was released in January 2020. I planned to launch it at the Newcastle Noir Crime writing festival in May when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. After lengthy consideration, the festival was first deferred and then cancelled. Then Ireland went into lockdown. With time to kill, I decided to get a more professional shape to my writing life. I built and invested in a website.
By May 2020, I had the website up and running and the hosting site paid for, and I began to cast around for a new project. I looked back over an old notebook and found the rough outline of my burned-out cop short. I thought it had potential and decided to write out a full five hundred word synopsis. Five hundred words became a thousand. This new tack and new idea lifted me out of the funk of a novel completed and the sense of the writing stagnation a five-book series had brought.
With the main character, P. J. Crowe, I took the slapstick comedy out and decided to create a character who saw the world though a fractured vision. I put him in a small seaside town, off the beaten track and decided to put him in a mental and professional crisis. By putting Garda Inspector P.J. Crowe ‘Up a tree and throwing rocks at him’ at the start, the tension is set. He is isolated in a small town where a tragedy occurs, and despite everything he’s going through he’s not convinced it’s an accident.
The story came after.
The first draft clocked in at 25 000 words, at this point, I thought it was worth polishing up. I worked and reworked the first three chapters and decided to feed them out to trusted readers for their feedback. First on the list was Sue Procter at ThinkForensic in the UK. I sketched out my ‘crime / tragedy’ and within weeks, she was back with the science of what I was looking for. I built an entire chapter around this and sent it back for approval. A few tweaks and several rewrites later, Sue validated it. I now had a ‘hub’ around which the story would revolve.
I had my protagonist, I had my ‘incident’ (or supposed crime with the technical nous behind it), I had my location. Now I could tap into the key Lockdown themes of this Covid-19 Crisis: Isolation, mental health, and survival.
Then at the suggestion of another beta reader, I changed the focus and the direction of the book. I made it almost exclusively through Crowe’s POV. I eliminated the ‘noise’ of the various scenarios and essentially made it, (in cinematic terms), a one long tracking shot from his arrival into the town and return to Dublin.
The draft is now 38 000 words and the last beta reader came back in relation to the antagonist. He appears too early in this draft, and when he does, it ‘jars’ within the story. So I cast back toward the book that EAGLES HUNT WOLVES’ story arc follows – Peter Benchley’s JAWS. I reread that classic book again and watched the movie and I redrafted again, making the antagonist’s appearance later and with greater impact.
A KIND OF DROWNING is a noir novel – a Chandleresque, Ken Bruen, Hammett, and Spillane dark in its concept. I wanted the characters to grow through dialogue rather than actions and I wanted to stay clear of the technical and procedural jargon and let the story evolve through Crowe’s eyes.
I think its my best novel to date; a culmination of 14 years of writing that has finally come together in this book.
But I will let the reader decide on that.
(c) Robert Craven
About A Kind of Drowning:
The man standing at the funeral in bubble-gum pink hair is P.J. Crowe. His career as a detective is in tatters – he’s facing dismissal, vilified by the press and his wife’s about to leave. Lying low in a small seaside town he spots a ‘Help Wanted’ ad in the kitchen of a local café. It offers him an escape from the public and his spiralling mental health – and it’s where Thea Farrell worked – until she was found dead at sea.
And herein lies the problem: Thea was an Olympic medallist, silver for swimming and Crowe’s burned-out synapses are starting to join the dots – it wasn’t his case, but his cop’s senses tell him that Thea wasn’t the drowning kind.
And the suspect may well be in the congregation.
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