Delighted to be hosting John Steele today on my blog as part of the DRY RIVER blog tour. My thanks to Sarah of Book on the Bright Side Publicity for the invite and organising the feature post. First let’s find out a bit about the author and his book!
About the Author
John Steele was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1995, at the age of twenty-two he travelled to the United States and has since lived and worked on three continents, including a thirteen-year spell in Japan which inspired Dry River. Among past jobs he has been a drummer in a rock band, an illustrator, a truck driver and a teacher of English. He now lives in England with his wife and daughter. He began writing short stories, selling them to North American magazines and fiction digests. Dry River is his third novel and the third Jackie Shaw book. The first two, Ravenhill and Seven Skins, are published by Silvertail Books.
When ex-undercover agent Jackie Shaw visits northern Japan for a holiday, he is in search of relaxation, an escape from the brutality and tragedy of his past.
But when a local man is butchered as he spies on a young woman in the seedy heart of Sapporo’s entertainment district, Jackie is dragged into the hunt for a terrifying serial killer and begins a long and bloody battle with vicious yakuza gangs.
From the twisted underbelly of one of Japan’s largest cities to the vast, unforgiving wilderness of the northern territories of Hokkaido, DRY RIVER is a uniquely menacing and compulsive thriller which will take you to places you’ve never been before.
If you like Barry Eisler, Mark Dawson, Adrian McKinty or James Clavell, you’ll love John Steele’s books. DRY RIVER is the third book in John’s Jackie Shaw series and the most gripping yet!
‘Where do you find the time?’
If I had a pound, or dollar, or yen for every time someone asks this question I’d have that new laptop I’ve been dreaming of for the last two years. Mounted on a purpose-built dashboard extension in my gunmetal Aston Martin Vantage.
It’s a fair question. I live in England with my wife and young daughter, 400 miles and a stretch of water named the Irish Sea away from my family; 5,000 miles from my that of my wife. I work full-time and my better half is addicted to the gym (they do say opposites attract) so much of my evening is spent dishing out dinner and bathing a rambunctious four year-old. Once Mrs. Steele returns from her spin class, or body-attack, or whatever other physical torture she’s endured for an hour or two, there’s just enough time to grab a couple of hours of grown-up time before sleep. Then the entire hectic cycle kicks in again.
The truth is I snatch and filch whatever moments I can to write whatever scene or conversation or blood-soaked fistfight is next in my protagonist Jackie Shaw’s mayhem-packed life. I guess you could call it guerrilla writing. Lunchtime at work? Hide in an empty room and get down to that face-off with the homicidal gangster in an abandoned hotel. Sitting on the bus? Write that seduction scene with the Japanese femme-fatale in the seedy hotel room. Enduring the nightmare root canal you’ve been putting off for months? Take the time in the dentist’s chair to make plot connections in your head and nail down a mental picture of the location for your climactic scene (I kid you not – I was under the drill for two hours just a couple of weeks ago and got a shedload sorted in my head: they do say the best writing comes from a place of pain).
I write because I love it, it frees me in some way I can never quite nail down, and – my wife will attest to this one – I’m a stubborn bastard. No way am I going to let life get in the way of my hammering those words down on the page or monitor. I start a book with nothing and over months of a war of attrition between me and all the distractions modern life can throw at me, fortified by the odd beer or six, I sit down to look at the manuscript one day and find a word count of 60,000. It’s too late to turn back and, months and thousands more words, and numerous drafts later, I’ve got a book.
I write for me first but, in the case of my first novel, Ravenhill, my daughter second. I’m from Belfast in, depending on your political nationalist stance and level of linguistic pedantry, Northern Ireland, the north of Ireland, the United Kingdom, or Ireland. My wife, Tomoe, is Japanese. My daughter, Hana, was born, and lives, in England. God help her, she’s already navigating her way through the Japanese demands for perfection in all endeavours, obsession with manners and fascination with detail; and the emotional thunderstorms both happy and otherwise, bluntness of opinion and predisposition to tell your life story – hell, any story – to the complete stranger serving you in a shop or standing next to you at the bus-stop that comes with a Northern Irish father. How she can be expected to navigate the labyrinthine knot of political and religious tension and violence in my homeland’s past and, to a lesser degree, present is anyone’s guess. For the most part, I hope she won’t have to. But my first novel, Ravenhill, was an attempt to give her a glimpse into life in Belfast at a time when the ‘Troubles’ were still in full swing.
As a result, it became a mission for me to get the damn thing published. I contacted many, many agents and received many, many warm, complimentary and ultimately useless rejections. I sent the book to publishers, some of whom replied with constructive criticism. One of whom told me the book was a good read of ‘publishable standard’ then rejected it in the next sentence. Most of whom I never heard from.
But that obstinacy I mentioned earlier refused to permit me to throw in the towel. There’s a reason my family carry the Steele surname: ‘One firm to the point of obstinacy. Unyielding’. Finally, my publisher, Silvertail, showed interest. The rest was an incredible education. Editors, proof readers and cover artists all contribute to hone and polish my novels into the books on sale today. I wrote a second novel, Seven Skins, and now my third Jackie Shaw book, Dry River, is ready for publication. Unlike Ravenhill, it is not intended as a slice of life for my daughter. The Japan of the book is the dark underworld of the yakuza and the seldom-discussed discrimination toward the Burakumin underclass. It’s an adult read with a slice of the sadism and sex that can permeate some of the seedier entertainment districts in Japanese cities. The narrative travels to the wild, sometimes brutal, always breathtaking landscape of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and it’s towering, jagged mountains, glassy lakes and active volcanoes. I hope it’s a wild ride.
And now I’ve got a thirty minutes before I head out to work. Just enough time to grab my coffee, kiss my family goodbye for the day, and work through that sting operation in book number four.
Thanks so much for this fab post, John. As a writer myself, who works FT, I can appreciate the ‘where do you find the time’ question – my answer always is, ‘If you want to do it, you will make the time’. Readers, if John’s thriller sounds up your street, you can grab your copy here (not an affiliate link):