Where Waters Meet is set in a fictional world based on C18 Britain; much of it takes place in rural settings including the village Watersmeet, but also features the more urbane sea port town, Rockpoint. There are two main strands to the story. The first concerns a man called Allhan who emerges in a feral state from a vast northern forest to find his way in the rural society he had once inhabited. He meets a woman called Elgiva and they travel together to Rockpoint to establish a new life together, but within this there is a slowly unfolding mystery: who is Allhan, what was he doing in the forest, who was he before the forest? The second strand also contains a mystery. Twin brothers Alaric and Alsoph Cooper grow up in the village of Watersmeet. Polarised characters they come to have a dramatic impact on the life of their community, while slowly it is revealed that there is a very particular connection between them. Both these mysteries collide dramatically at the end of the book. There are a broad range of characters involved in the story including a number of strong women (who I hope I’ve written well - I’m aware of the man writes female characters problem), and an underlying theme of how to get life either right or wrong and how it is possible to get beyond the latter. Redemption, to use an old word.
You had childhood that most boys dream of so what can you tell us about his?
Very secure loving family is the background to it all. Then I think having opportunity to be a child - pretend games, Lego, drawing, reading, making Airfix kits, fishing with nets in the local canal - a lot of simple but enjoyable stuff. And then it was a time when you could be out and about without your parents. Hours and days spent on a local common, riding and crashing bikes, climbing rocks, playing the Splits with vicious penknives - out until dark without either me or my parents worrying. A high (or low?) point was making a canon with copper tubing, roller bearings and gunpowder - smashed someone’s bedroom window about 500 yards away. School wasn’t so easy - too skinny and only averagely bright, but I made good friends to compensate for that and share a growing passion for music in our teens.
You studied sculpture at college, so at what point did you begin to write?
In my mid-twenties. I found that I couldn’t fit sculpture around a day job, so I segued to playing kit drums (quite well - still do) and having a go at writing. The initial problem with the latter might have been that although I went to a Grammar School, I was never taught grammar...
Please tell us about your first meeting with your wife.
We were both doing Art Foundation courses in Nottingham. I’d seen Elaine around of course, but one day she was walking down stairs to the studios carrying a little known LP, Waves by Jade Warrior, which I happened to love. I said ‘Oh I love that album’ or something similarly obvious and we both blushed. Not long after we went out for the first time - saw a movie (not saying which) went to a great pub in Nottingham known as The Trip where we discussed The Naked Ape, and ended up the evening with Elaine trying to teach me to waltz in the snow down a street in an area called The Park. Very romantic - I remember going home elated and unsure if it had really happened.
How did you come to get into bookselling?
In my twenties I worked in a community of mentally handicapped people, running a pottery. I have great memories of all those I worked with, but I found it very tough and eventually had to be signed-off because of stress and depression. Later that year I was looking for new work, couldn’t find any, and eventually got a job as a part-time, temporary Christmas unpacker at Waterstone’s in Exeter. I seemed to have a reasonable flair for it and over the next 15 years, worked on the shop floor, managed shops, and ended up in a couple of senior H.O. roles. Having been made redundant three times during that period it all came to an end in 2007. I now work for a charity helping people get out of debt – sadly, a growing need.
You say that your earliest attempts at writing should have been burnt, so what did you write about in the early days?
I’d always loved myths, and stories like The Lord of the Rings, along with writers like Marquez, John Fowles and some of the classics. So I tried a variety of ideas and approaches, mainly short stories, and generally they were ghastly, but one very short ‘myth story’ called Alaric and Alsoph, later became the starting point for Where Waters Meet.
In the book selling business you must have had your fair share of choice of reads, so who are your favourites?
Patrick O’Brian, Jane Austen, Peter Benson (little known, out of print, beautiful writing), Mikhail Bulgakov, Mervyn Peake, Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Odyssey, Beowulf, Donna Tartt’s Secret History, Edith Pargeter (Ellis Peters), Tolkien, Conan Doyle, Marquez, Mary Renault, Shakespeare, Winnie the Pooh. I could go on ...
Please can you give us a review of the book you are currently reading?
If only it was something of great import, but in truth a bit of a comfort read: Ellis Peter’s, Cadfael: An Excellent Mystery. But comfort read is I think unfair. The books are very well crafted, with fully rounded characters, historical veracity, and good plots. Firmly rooted, wonderfully humane, with a great feel for both romance and gritty reality. If you’ve forgotten about good old Cadfael, give him another go. The books make me feel calm and positive.
What is next for you?
I have already written two ‘sequels’ to Where Waters Meet, though sequel might be a misnomer. The first is the backstory of a character in WWM called Rhys Morgan - something of a rogue - and the second introduces and new set of characters (and a new theme) which crosses over the same time period as Where Waters Meet inhabits. That one is in the first person, to ring the changes. Beyond that I have about four novels on the stocks in different times and settings, but all concerned with the vicissitudes of life - getting things right & wrong, and working through the consequences, sometimes going to hell in a hand basket - but always underpinned by hope. I guess much will depend on whether readers like Where Waters Meet. I hope so.
Where Waters Meet by John Franks is published by Alliance Publishing Press and available in all good bookshops and on Amazon.