The story starts with a freshwater bug seemingly flouting the laws of nature.
The Gerridae, also known as a Jesus bug, glides atop a lily pond as a young child named Kirk watches, transfixed by the insect’s refusal to sink.
We blink and the child is a teenager.
Kirk is running past railcars in the north end of Vancouver as a pack of bullies clamber behind him.
He runs to the lip of a canal. He keeps running.
The boy runs atop water.
Kirk’s ability to flout nature’s laws and the implication he may be the son of God is the subject of River Boy, the second novel by Central Lonsdale resident and longtime Vancouver Sun reporter Alan Daniels.
“I wanted a coming of age novel,” Daniels says, speaking in an English-accented baritone. “I wanted a story that would resonate with mothers and sons.”
Kirk is raised by a loving but flustered single mother who imagines trading parenting tips with the Virgin Mary.
“As a teenager, was he surly and uncommunicative?” she wonders. “Could he walk on water, for Christ’s sake?”
Daniels, 77, describes himself as an agnostic.
Looking up from his coffee, Daniels discusses the responsibility organized religion bears for suffering throughout the world.
“The established religions . . . have really cocked things up,” he says, making no effort to lower his baritone in a sparsely crowded coffee shop. “If the son of God were to be born on Earth today the Christian religion would be very opposed to his arrival because they’ve made so much money over the years from the Jesus brand.”
That’s why he opted to position the Christian religion “the villain” in River Boy, he says.
“They would resent an intruder,” he concludes.
The impetus for the novel was to write about a boy who is different, Daniels says. The question quickly became: “How different could he be?”
Answering that question was a four year process as Daniels wrote and rewrote the tale, working when inspiration moved him.
He took a patchwork approach, writing “the bits that most excited me” and connecting them as he went along.
“It’s not important to begin at the beginning,” he says. The beginning has a way of revealing itself as you move forward, he explains.
Lakes, waterfalls, canals and the Fraser River all flow through River Boy.
“Rivers have a special place in my heart,” Daniels says, reflecting on his boyhood on the mouth of the River Thames in England.
“It was like being raised by a village,” he says. “Everybody looked after everybody else.”
After spending three and a half years as an indentured apprentice at his local newspaper, Daniels worked at various newspapers in the United Kingdom before moving to St. John’s, N.B. and applying to the Vancouver Sun.
“They turned me down but never returned the clippings,” he says, noting that those newspaper clippings included some pretty good feature stories.
After sending a “very nasty letter” to the paper’s managing editor, he was offered a one-month job. He stayed for 30 years, commuting for many of them from his home on Grand Boulevard.
He hadn’t planned to live on the North Shore until he and his wife inherited a poodle, he says.
“The only place we could find that would take dogs was in North Vancouver,” he says, noting the low vacancy rates of the early 1970s.
“When we first moved here there was nothing on the waterfront. There was a shingle mill, basically. And now look at it.”
Daniel’s debut novel, Spank - The Improbable Adventures of George Aloysius Brown, was an erotic comedy about consensual spanking.
Writing a book is fun, Daniels says. Looking for a publisher, however, is “so demoralizing it’s not even funny.”
He’s aware some authors find publishers and agents and subsequently sell millions of books.
“I wasn’t able to do any of those things,” he says with a laugh. “And it’s crushing.”
While there wasn’t a prejudice against him due to his age, Daniels notes that agents often look for young writers who might pen 10 more novels.
“Somebody at my age is not going to be around for 10 novels,” Daniels says. “I just didn’t write a good enough book at the end of the day. That’s what I tell myself anyway.”
In another era, River Boy might have been confined to a desk drawer but Daniels recently published the tale as an ebook.
“God bless Amazon,” Daniels says. “It enables all of us, with varying degrees of success, to publish and just put it out there. Which is all you want to do at the end of the day.”
River Boy is likely his last novel, he says.
“It’s just too much of an emotional commitment. Another four years. My wife says she’ll divorce me,” he explains with a chuckle. “We’ve been married 48 years so I really don’t want that to happen.”
However, Daniels is currently working on a play and regularly posts poetry.
“I will continue to write,” he promises.