Interview with S.S. Turner, author of Secrets of a River Swimmer

Welcome to the book tour for Secrets of a River Swimmer by S.S. Turner! Get to know the author a bit better with today’s interview and then read an excerpt from this literary fiction novel. Follow the tour for even more. Best of luck entering the giveaway!

As Freddy gazes at the majestic river gushing past him in the depths of a Scottish winter, he’s ready to jump in and end his life. But what happens next is not what Freddy expects. From the moment he enters the river, Freddy starts a journey which is more beautiful, funny, and mysterious than he could have imagined. And through this journey Freddy’s story becomes interweaved with a cast of unforgettable characters who are equally lost and in search of answers. Eventually they all unite in their quest for an answer to the biggest question of them all: will the river take them where they want to go?

In the tradition of inspirational works of fiction like The Alchemist and Life of Pi, Secrets of a River Swimmer is at once a profound exploration into living with meaning and an affecting story of people on the cusp of change.

Read an excerpt:

From Page 21-22

My thoughts drift to picture what life as a gillie must be like. I imagine you start the day by carrying all the fishing equipment your fat and wealthy clients will need for a day of luxurious and fully-catered fishing. You carry everything while they take it easy, and you locate the best spot to fish for the largest possible salmon. Your local knowledge about fishing spots has to be extraordinary. You then set up the fishing rod, position your client in the right spot, and talk them through what they need to do to catch that magic fish they’re all searching for. Of course, your clients are always searching for the largest catch of the season, so they can go home and brag to their friends and family about what skilled fishermen they are. It’s obvious to you, if not to them, that the subtext is being able to sing to the world that they have massive willies, bigger than everyone else’s.

Beyond fishing, you’re forced to listen to whatever the hell it is your clients want to talk about for the eight long hours you’re on the river. Your clients are all obscenely wealthy, so it’s more than likely you’ll hear a lot of moaning about all the small things in life they’d like changed. Many of them will complain about local wind farm developments, council plans to develop their neighborhood, and, of course, the big one: immigration. They all believe immigrants are responsible for all the problems in the world. These people are your quintessential NIMBYs, and will always complain about progress if it affects them in any way, no matter how minor. You do whatever you can to bring the conversation back to fishing because it’s an easier conversation for you, and less productive grounds for their complaining. They’re slowly sucking the life out of you with their negativity, so you carefully select your words to bring the conversation onto a more positive pathway. And, of course, your ultimate back-up plan, as it is for many British people, is to pull out the ultimate conversation filler when you’re at rock bottom: the weather. Yes, it’s a desperate move and the equivalent of holding up a white flag, but needs must.

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Have you ever had an imaginary friend? 

Not as a child but as an adult yes! We lost our beautiful golden retriever Mia a few months ago. She was my best friend so it was a very painful loss for me. However, I still feel her energy in my life at unexpected moments like when I’m gardening or walking at the beach. She’s become the imaginary friend I never had as a child. 

Do you have any phobias?

My biggest fear is being average—the idea of not living the best version of own existence terrifies me. This is a key theme in Secrets of a River Swimmer. I believe it’s also a key theme in many other peoples’ lives and is a symptom of modern living. We all have so many options available to us these days, but most of us aren’t sure we’re on the right path amidst this vast ocean of choices. 

Do you listen to music when you’re writing?

Always. I love music and I find it helps me write. 

Do you ever read your stories out loud?

Yes. I often read passages out loud during the editing process as I find words often sound different when they’re read out loud. Reading out loud reminds me to use as few words as possible, and to stick with simple words. 

Tell us about your main character and who inspired him/her.

The main character in Secrets of a River Swimmer is Freddy. Freddy is a nice guy who feels lost in the modern world. His kind, gentlemanly ways are often misinterpreted for weakness, and many people have taken advantage of him as a result. But he’s had enough. He’s ready to throw everything away because his career, his family, his life isn’t what he wanted. He’s just not enjoying anything anymore. So in a moment of desperation he’s drawn to the Tweed River in the depths of the Scottish river. And he throws himself into the freezing cold dangerous river to let it carry him away.

But what happens next isn’t what Freddy expects. From the moment he enters the river, Freddy begins a journey which is more beautiful, funny, and mysterious than he could have imagined on dry land. And through this journey Freddy’s story becomes interweaved with a cast of unforgettable characters who are equally lost and in search of answers. Eventually they all unite in their quest for an answer to the biggest question of them all: will the river take them where they want to go? 

Freddy’s character was inspired by my own life. Like Freddy, I became lost around twelve years ago. And life Freddy, I was working as a fund manager in Edinburgh. But I found the investment world to be myopic in its sole focus upon making money at any cost. I became repulsed by the way people in the investment industry and the world at large treated people, animals and the planet badly if it meant they could make more money. I was ready for change. 

The River Tweed emerged as my savior just as it did for Freddy. I wasn’t suicidal like Freddy was, but I was just as lost as Freddy was. I was in a career which didn’t provide me with any joy, struggling with the dark, cold, wet Scottish climate, and wondering how on earth I’d ended up so lost. Then one day, I received a phone call from Matt, one of my closest friends. Matt and I have been close ever since we met on a sea kayaking expedition along the Turquoise Coast in Turkey. We’d bonded because we both adored nature and we were both a little bit mad when it came to pursuing outdoor adventures. Anyway, Matt suggested we aim for a monthly boys’ adventure halfway between the hundred-mile distance between us. We checked a map and discovered the River Tweed was exactly halfway between us. 

So we met at the Tweed one day shortly afterwards. Without thinking too much about it, we jumped into the river. We were amazed by how majestic the river was, how big the white water rapids were, and how bloody freezing the river water was. We survived the river’s dangers that day, and emerged from the river with newfound energy, clarity, and love for our lives. It was like pressing a reset button on life, and we loved every moment. 

From that day onwards, we agreed to meet at the Tweed River around once a month. We did that for around five years. And just like Freddy, every time we immersed ourselves in the river’s waters we experienced love, joy, and fun in more beautiful ways than we could have imagined on dry land. We’d laugh like kids at the silliest little things. We’d feel euphoric to be accepted and free and alive. We’d meet fascinating characters alongside the river who were shocked and amused that two crazy humans were swimming so close to the enormous salmon in the river. We’d have life-affirming conversations that put the world to rights. We’d speak our truth to one another and to the universe. 

After a few years of our river swimming adventures, I was healed in ways beyond my understanding at the time. Matt was as well. We both had more clarity, joy, love, health, and laughter in our lives thanks to those few years of river swimming. Freddy’s journey is similar albeit more dramatic. Thanks to the river, he journeys from a point of desperation towards transcendence. 

S.S. Turner has been an avid reader, writer, and explorer of the natural world throughout his life which has been spent in England, Scotland and Australia. Just like Freddy in his first novel, Secrets of a River Swimmer, he worked in the global fund management sector for many years but realized it didn’t align with his values. In recent years, he’s been focused on inspiring positive change through his writing as well as trying not to laugh in unfortunate situations. He now lives in Australia with his wife, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and ten chickens.

https://www.thestoryplant.com/secrets-of-a-river-swimmer

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9 thoughts on “Interview with S.S. Turner, author of Secrets of a River Swimmer”

  1. Thanks for hosting the interview Andi! I’ve signed up for your daily afformations so I’ll look forward to those…

  2. Thank you for sharing your interview and book details, this sounds like an excellent read. What type of stories do you enjoy reading?

    1. Thanks Bea. As most writers do I love reading. I really enjoy books which take you into new fascinating worlds while addressing deeper issues. For example, I enjoyed Terry Kay’s Song of a Vagabond Bird. It takes you in directions you aren’t expecting when you start the book, and by the time you’ve finished it you feel like you’ve lived in the book’s world…

  3. Does listening to music while writing ever distract you? or does it bring some ideas

    1. Hi Marisela, what a cool name you have. I find listening to music is inspiring as long as it’s the right type of music. I’m listening to Joni Mitchell right now and she’s helped me greatly today. But I think heavy metal or rap may be distracting for me:)

    2. Hi Marisela, good question. I find the right music helps my writing but the wrong music is distracting. For example, Laura Marling and Joni Mitchell have become great supporters of my writing but I can’t say the same about any heavy metal bands…

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