Of all the characters in The Clearwater Mysteries, Andrej seems to be the readers’ favourite. I must admit, he is one of my favourite characters too, and yet he started out as someone entirely different. Today, instead of a formal interview with the character, I thought I would tell you more about him but ask him some questions along the way.
Andrej Borysko Yakiv Kolisnychenko
‘That is my name, and no-one can take that away from me.’
Andrej was born in a village called Serbka, in Ukraine, sometime between 1867 and 1869. It might have been a year earlier because he has never been told what year he was born. He knows it was at Easter, though, and when you read ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, you will learn a little more about his birth. His village is a real place, although I have never been there, and it is hard to find information about it online. There is a river called The Balai, and he grew up on its banks, the son of a farmer. His family was large, but most of his brothers and sisters were killed during ‘the troubles’, a fictional rebellion based on Russian invasions of the area and the internal and external wars that took place in the region over time.
One of the reasons Andrej is a favourite character is because he is something of an enigma. He has one of the deepest backstories of any character in the series (though the main seven all have detailed and complex histories), and yet, when I first envisioned him, he was nothing more than a sidekick.
Without giving too much away, here is how the character of Andrej developed.
When I set about writing what is now part one of a ten-part series (plus one prequel), it was a standalone love story between Silas Hawkins, a renter, and Viscount Clearwater (Archer). A classic, rags to riches story if you like. However, all main characters need a foil or a sidekick, and Silas’ was to be Andy, an Artful Dodger type character from the East End. As I wrote his first appearance, I realised that all I was doing was imitating Dodger, and what was the point of that? What would be more interesting? Knowing the Victorian East End was a melting pot of many nationalities, immigration and migrant workers, I thought, why not make Andy an immigrant? Perhaps a Russian… Or maybe, someone even more marginalised… A Ukrainian.
So, Andy became Andrej (the Ukrainian spelling), and he arrives in chapter one of Deviant Desire with a backstory and an existing relationship with Silas.
Andrej, how did you and Silas meet?
I was turning trick in alley because I need money, and this boy, he comes in for piss, and he not see me. Oi! I shout. Fuck off, is my place. Then boy sees that trick is going to stab Andrej, and he piss on man, and Andrej is saved. Then boy he run away, but Dolya, she tell me later that I must help this boy, so I go find him. He is near dead, so Andrej take him home. We are soon friends.
Andrej is quite capable of speaking fluent English but chooses not to. English uses too many words, so why bother? He uses Russian and Ukrainian village words in his speech too. Hence ‘Dolya’ is fate, and he never says yes or no, only Da and Nyet.
I’d fallen for Andrej by the time I realised that Deviant Desire could not be a standalone novel and decided to keep him in the series. He doesn’t play a large part in Twisted Tracks, but he proves his loyalty to his friends, and that theme is the backbone of the entire series. Andrej personifies that theme more than any other character. In Twisted Tracks, he also comes to realise that Archer is ‘Geroy’, his village word for a noble man, as opposed to a nobleman. Andrej has nicknames for everyone and uses them because they remind him of a person’s character. Silas is Banyak, which has various meanings, but mainly, it is an idiot or cooking pot that contains all manner of things. James is Tato, which means ‘daddy’, Thomas is Bolshoydick, which means ‘large penis’ (because, apparently, it is true), and Jasper is Pianino because it means ‘little piano.’
Andrej, why does Silas call you ‘Fecker’?
Is easy. Is because I am handsome fecker. He says this with his Irish accent once, and again, and in the end, the name sticks. I not mind. I am good at fecking, but I not feck lady yet. Not until I am married.
Andrej appears little in book three, which is mainly led by Silas and James, but he is there, getting on with things and keeping an eye on his best friend, Banyak. After book three, I decided that we needed to know more about Andrej. At that time, I wasn’t too sure about Andrej’s past, so I asked him some more questions as I wrote book four.
Andrej, what happened to your family?
Is complicated and sad. My father (I not like him much), he was farmer and militia man. Dead. My first mother, she die when she gives us my sister, Daria. Daria, she and my second mother they disappear in the troubles. I don’t know if they are alive. My other sister, Alina, she was killed by Russians, also my brother Vladyslav. He die in war when he was near thirty. This leave only Danylo, and he go to war, and I not hear about him before I leave Ukraine. Now, I have Danylo back.
Andrej’s backstory comes out during Fallen Splendour. At least, some of it does. Archer calls on him to assist in an investigation. While on their way and sleeping rough during a blizzard, he tells Archer some of his history. Later in the story, he proves himself more than loyal and determined to fight for his life. This involves cutting off three of his fingers. That’s the kind of man he is. During this time, he quietly falls in love with a kitchen maid, Lucy Roberts, and that relationship bubbles away in the background all through the series.
So, Andrej, are you straight?
What is this ‘straight?’ I am man from Ukraine. I am strong. I farm, I ride horses, I learn tricks on horses in Circus with Ivo Zoran, and I am Master of Larkspur Horse. What is ‘straight? [I explain our modern terminology, and Andrej is mildly outraged.] What? You think I am queer like Banyak and others? Nyet. I have big, Ukraine koloty, and I need money, so I use this to make money, so I eat. Men, they like Andrej’s koloty, but I no like what I must do to make money, but I do it. This not make me queer. Don’t say that. You want me to get angry?
At six-foot-four and built like the proverbial brick shithouse, no-one wants to make Andrej angry, so we move on.
In book five, we explore Andrej’s relationship with James as they are tasked with rescuing the son of a famous writer. Again, Andrej proves himself loyal, straightforward, strong, and an expert horseman, and, by now in the series, we are also getting used to him injecting some humour.
In book six, Andrej is again a background character, although a pillar; without him, the deception would not be possible. He does as he is asked, risks his life and suffers for it, but he is there, propping up the others in his quiet, steadfast way. This strength of character must come from somewhere, and I asked him where.
I don’t know. From the Balai, from the way Vlad he teach me the sword, and the way my father he teach me the horse and plough. I know what is right and what is wrong from early years, and when I see my village dying, and Blumkin and the others, they want to run and give themselves to Russians, I say, Nyet. This is not Andrej. I am thirteen years, I think. Maybe fourteen, I don’t know, but I do know I not stay and be killed by Russian. So, I walk.
I go to England which is richest country in world, and there, I make money to come home and look for sister and Danylo. Is long walk. Many troubles, but I meet kind mad with no eyes, and he gives me Banyak the horse, and she teach me loyalnist. [Loyalty.] Then, I fuck men for money and I find ship, and Makarov, and Captain, they help me and they teach me there are good people in world, and I should be one. All that, I think, all that make me how I am.
Home From Nowhere & One Of A Pair
Andrej is in books seven and eight, though they step away from what we are used to in the Clearwater world, and so, Andrej is in the backseat, rather than driving. Other characters get the leads, and we are introduced to two more main players, Jasper and Billy, the nephews of what is fast becoming the Clearwater family.
Andrej, do you think of Clearwater and your friends as a family?
Da. We are friends, for sure, but because of how Geroy likes his house to be, we are more like family now. Geroy [Clearwater], he is like father because he is money and important man, and Thomas, he is like mother because he is bossy and always knows what is right. This makes Banyak [Silas] like the mistress, but that make me laugh, and Banyak is like brother with me now. Jimmy, he is also brother who looks after the boys, that’s Pianino and Vasily [Jasper and Billy], who are like nephews because they are young and naughty. Billy, he get in trouble with Thomas because he say words like ‘Bugger it, Me Lord’ and ‘Pig in shit’, and that make me laugh. Pianino is special, and needs Andrej to watch him, or he cry easily. This is because he is clever with music and did not have nice childhood. So, Andrej watches them all, and we are family.
By now in the series, I decided it was time we knew more about Andrej and Silas. They, after all, started us off in chapter one of Deviant Desire, and yet, their combined backstory had never been explained. How did they become such close friends?
Banyak & Fecks
I might have overindulged myself with this one, and popping a prequel into a series after eight books might seem a bit odd, but I wanted a break from the hardcore action of the first six books and the cosey mysteries of seven and eight. So, turned to the past.
Banyak & Fecks is in four parts.
Part one gives us Andrej’s story from the moment he escapes the Russians. The first part of the book takes him from there to London and up to the point he meets Silas. The second part then flashes back to introduce us to Silas in the Westerpool (Wirral) slums, and we meet a very cheeky, confident young trickster who, when he comes to London, soon falls on hard times. Part three starts the moment Andrej and Silas meet, and their relationship evolves from there to part four. This is when Silas has got over his crush on Andrej. Andrej has ‘fallen in love’ with Silas though only platonically, and the two live together as a couple of besties. It is a classic bromance, only set in the Victorian slums of the East End. The book finishes a couple of days before Deviant Desire starts, during the reign of The East End Ripper (based on Jack the Ripper).
Andrej plays a significant role in book nine. Things that happened in Banyak & Fecks come back to haunt Silas and potentially ruin everything Archer has built over the previous installments. You should read Banyak & Fecks before Negative Exposure to get the best from it, but it’s not 100% necessary. This story returns us to the previous action-adventure, platonic love, bromance themes of the earlier stories. As I wrote it, I was aware that book ten was on its way, and Negative Exposure runs directly into ‘The Clearwater Inheritance.’
Andrej is in every story, there as a main player or in the background, and he is certainly in book ten. Or he will be when I finish it. He plays a major part in ‘the Clearwater Inheritance’, as you will see, and as this might be the last in the series as we know it, you may be in for some shocks.
I’ll finish by asking Andrej one more question.
Andrej, do you think you will ever return to Ukraine?
How I know this? I don’t know what Dolya has for me. I don’t know if my sister and second mother live, so how I know if I go back to look? I have Danylo and now… Now I have other news about Serbka and me when a boy. Now I have big decision to make because in Vienna I meet a man… Nyet. You not know this yet, so Andrej stay quiet. But I say this: my family is Clearwater now. Banyak, Jimmy, Pianino and Miss Lucy. I will marry Miss Lucy one day. She not know this yet, but I will tell her. So, maybe we go to Ukraine and I show her the Balai, but we not live there. Maybe I show her Vienna and… Maybe we stay at Larkspur where I am master of horse, and soon, we have little Feckers in the house. What happen next to Andrej? Only Dolya knows this.
[Actually, I know what happens next to the Clearwater crew, but you will have to wait for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ to find out what that is. Currently, I am aiming for publication in June, maybe at the end of May.]