Diehard Magpies fan Andy Rivers has written his first crime novel. He speaks to Ruth Addicott about ganglords, guns and his eclectic career history.

WASHING traffic cones day after day may not be the most inspiring start for a novel about guns and gangsters, but for North-East author Andy Rivers, it was enough to pull the trigger.

If ever there was proof that bizarre career changes do happen, Andy is it. After a succession of jobs, including one as an outdoor traffic cone cleaner, Andy is finally pursuing his true passion – writing.

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He has just finished his first novel, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, which is released this month, and is in the midst of writing his second.

Ostensibly a stand-alone crime novel, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer tells the story of a man called Billy Reeves, who survives a povertystricken, violent childhood in Newcastle and has just got his life on track when a childhood bully comes back to haunt him.

Set in the tough backstreets of Tyneside, there are gang lords, guns, gangsters and grime. Throw in a few bent coppers, a corrupt judge and an army of bouncers and you have, as fellow author Danny King describes it: “A thumping debut from a barnstorming new talent”.

Although Andy didn’t have any run-ins with psychotic ganglords when he was a lad, some elements of the book are from past experience. “I knew some very dodgy characters,”

he says. Whether they were washing traffic cones isn’t clear.

HAVING grown up on a council estate in Byker, Andy never envisaged he could be a novelist.

“I always wanted to be a writer, but never had the confidence,” he says. “Most people I knew worked in a factory or warehouse or went into the Army. It took me a long time to realise I wasn’t constrained by my background.”

After leaving school at 16, he took his first job going, working at a steel factory in Gateshead, then as a barman in Butlins, a joiner on a Spanish building site, a mobile sandwich salesman – he even sat on the conveyor belt in a chocolate factory once. His role? “Picking off the bits that didn’t look right.”

One of the few jobs he did enjoy was working as a holiday rep on coach trips to Spain, but that came to an abrupt end when he got sacked for selling ‘home-made’ hot dogs.

“I used to boil them in the tea machine at the back of the bus, then sell them to passengers for £1 a go,” he says. “It was fine until we had to give these customer satisfaction forms out. I usually used to sift through and bin all the bad ones, but one got through and someone made a jokey comment that the catering wasn’t up to scratch and their hotdog was cold. Head office weren’t too impressed.”

It wasn’t until he started working as an outdoor traffic cone washer though, that he really began to reassess what he was doing.

“As soon as I’d finish one cone, it would start to rain and I’d have to wash it again,” he recalls. “It was a horrible job. Horrible.

I used to get through a couple of hundred a day. The only upside was it wasn’t on a main road.”

After a few months, polishing the cones to perfection, a pal turned up and offered him a job on a building site in Barcelona. He didn’t know one end of a concrete mixer from the other, but didn’t let that bother him.

It turned out to be a bit like Auf Wiedersehen Pet, only warmer, and Andy loved it.

“I found myself dropped into a whole new culture,” he says.

“There were pickpockets, robbers, transexual prostitutes… It opened my eyes.”

Whether it was the banter with fellow builders or characters he stumbled across on Las Ramblas, Barcelona was the shot in the arm he needed. Mixing with people from so many different backgrounds gave him the drive to pursue his ambition.

In 2004, following the death of his close friend, fellow football fan Colin Moore, Andy was spurred into action and wrote his first book.

They used to go to Newcastle games together.

“We always said we should write a book,” he says. “I drove back from his funeral in the early hours of Christmas morning. There was only me on the motorway and I just thought I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to put myself out there and do it.”

The outcome was I’m Rivelino, an account of the 30 years he’d spent supporting the Magpies.

Andy has been a die-hard Newcastle fan since he was six and remembers going to his first match in 1976.

Although he left the North-East in 1994 for work and now lives in Banbury, in Oxfordshire, he remains an avid fan and goes to games as much as he can.

He didn’t have to look too far for material for his first book. He has an endless stream of stories from slipping the turnstyle operator a fiver to get into the ground to being chased across the pitch by away fans.

Like most fans, Andy has spent many a night on the supporters’ bus – a nine-hour coach trip to Bournemouth being the worst when the driver got lost en route. “We arrived 20 minutes after kick-off, Newcastle had already scored,” he says.

Although he’s now happily married, he still misses the North. “I miss Newcastle every time I go back, it’s such a vibrant, buzzing place – the beer’s a lot cheaper too,” he notes.

He wrote his latest book while holding down a job building gear boxes for Ford GT40 Supercars. But just as the book reached completion, he was made redundant and is now in the process of looking for another job to keep him afloat while he writes the second.

There must be a traffic cone somewhere that could do with a good clean…

■ Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, published by Byker Books, is due out on July 12. Andy will be doing a book signing at Oxfam, in Jesmond, on July 10, at 10.30am.