Thursday 14 September 2023

Writing the Lure of Water

It was early autumn, a clear day with a cloud-scudded sky, and they had leapt into the water, their skin kissed by silver bubbles. They raced each other against the current, up to where the weeds stood tall, suspended in fronds, and the newly fallen leaves glowed like jewels from the bottom of the river. 

- Extract from SILENT WATERS, publishing 14th September.

What is it about the water that draws us? Is it that, like the flames of a fire, water is always moving? Are we hypnotised by it?

I am certainly drawn to writing about the water. I love the beauty of it, and the power it can wield. In truth, I fear it, and there's something wonderful about writing about what we fear. Perhaps that's why a lot of writers write. Because writing whatever 'fear' means to us enables us to explore something difficult. Most importantly, when we write 'The End', we have survived it.

Everyone knows water can be our friend – a clear blue lagoon, a holiday swimming pool for our kids. But it can also be a foe, and it's not just the obvious expanses of water we should look out for, like the dark shadow of the rip in the sea, or the rainfall that falls so fast and so heavy that it causes floods and landslides. No, quite often, the most dangerous areas of the water are the ones we don't think anything of; the village pond, the bathtub, the river we run alongside everyday. 

I found a way to write my enchantment with water into a thriller – and it was by exploring the profession of police diving. In SILENT WATERS, I explore the perils of it via my protagonist, Jen Harper, a full time police diver, as I was lucky enough to talk to a diver to research the book. I can verify for absolute certainty that diving is one of the toughest jobs within the police; it requires such grit and determination and patience and I have the utmost respect for anyone that specialises in it.

I asked my contact what drew them to police diving, and they had replied with the joyful simplicity that they loved the water: the depth and the murk of it, the smoothness of it and its rhythmic calm, how the light plays on the surface of it, but also, conversely, its blackest corners, too.

Police diving allows a variety of environment, and a variety of cases, but an officer that specialiaes within that unit doesn't hold the day to day grind that most police officers incur. Divers are never involved in the ‘whys’ of an investigation, only the hunting of what’s crucial to solve them. Divers do a job and then they move on, rarely finding out the resolutions of a case they’ve searched for. Quite often they find out what happened in a case when they see it on the news.

There’s nowhere underwater you can think of that a diver hasn’t been or won’t go; the sea, in lakes and rivers, canals, sewers and wells. A police diver is someone who craves a very particular type of challenge, and who has a deep drive for success against odds when looking for lost belongings, vehicles, weapons, bodies. 

It’s a person who is comfortable being claustrophobic, who likes working in the silence. And perhaps there's something calming about this – in our busy world, perhaps the quiet of the water is comforting. Perhaps the fact that a diver cannot see when in the water and has to do everything by touch, is also comforting, womb-like. They are in a submerged world, with only their heartbeats for company.

Not only did I want to explore the police diving but I wanted to really convey the feeling of being underwater, the delight of it, and the danger. I read books about individual relationships with water (The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka), articles from members of wild swimming communities, and nature books about what water tasted like in rivers, and what vegetation grew along the river banks. It was brilliantly immersive. So much so, that I've found myself writing my new book set against the backdrop of a Scottish Loch. More on that to come..

Silent Waters by L V Matthews (Welbeck Publishing Group) Out Now

Is blood thicker than water? At five a.m. one summer's morning, police diver Jen Harper wakes to find herself submerged in the silt of a river with no memory of how she got there. Forty-eight hours later, she's called to dive in the same river in search of a missing woman, Claudia Franklin. But for Jen, this is no ordinary job. Her and Claudia's families were entangled for decades - there is unresolved resentment between them, unspoken secrets. Jen hasn't seen Claudia for twelve years now. Or has she? 

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