Posted on 2016/03/03 , tagged as adrift, canals, helen babbs

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Adrift: A Secret Life of London’s Waterways

by Helen Babbs

Today is the publication day of Adrift: A Secret Life of London’s Waterways, a new book by London-based writer Helen Babbs.

Here at Icon Books, we’ve loved working on Adrift and with Helen Babbs, and we wanted to give you a flavour of what’s to come.


“It was a dark and stormy night.” It’s a well-known opening line and though now something of a cliché, it never ceases to draw me in. Who doesn’t love a stormy night? If, that is, you have the opportunity of curling up in a warm, dry spot with a good book.

With Adrift, Helen Babbs gives us both of these things: a dark and stormy opening scene, and a good book to get us through it. In her beautiful rhythmic style she draws us onto her boat, Pike, dashing all images of harlequin canal boats and bucolic waterway scenes:


It’s dark out. In here it’s warm and orange-lit, flickering. The smell is wet coal and woodsmoke. The sound, violent: high-pitched whistles and metallic cracks. The boat shifts and shudders, moans and rolls, more like a ship at sea than a broad barge on a narrow river. Dislocated branches suck across the Lea at speed, dragging their claws over the roof before rushing mad into the marshes. Suddenly there’s a smash and scraping overhead as the wind grabs hold of the chimney’s hat, rips it off and carries it, bouncing, away. The fire shudders in the stove, spits and starts, then settles again into its gentle, giving roar. Sometimes it’s possible to forget this is a home without bricks, that she floats free of foundations. Not tonight. Tonight she is a tin drum, beaten by a thousand furious drumsticks. Tonight she is the weather’s toy, to toss and whip at will.


The rest of the book takes you on a journey that is just as sensory, tracing Helen’s journey over the course of a year from deep winter to late autumn, from east to west, taking you on a tour of the people, politics, history and wildlife of London’s canals and rivers.

We were delighted to bring May van Millingen to the project too, who brought to life some of the book’s waterways and stopping points in six illustrated maps, helping readers to navigate Helen’s journey and bringing to life the bats and herons, gas holders and cemeteries.


Adrift publishes in Hardback and E-book on 4 March 2016 and is available at all good bookstores.

ISBN: 9781848319202

Price: £16.99

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