Yesterday my agent heard back from the publisher which had been weighing whether to publish my new book. Needless to say, I’d been on tenterhooks (a good Leeds expression, by the way) since it had been sent off.
The result, as those who saw my Facebook and Twitter posts will know, is that Crème de la Crime will publish Gods of Gold in April next year – and four months later in the US, as usual.
So what is Gods of Gold? It’s the first in a new series set in Leeds, this time in the 1890s. The small town on Richard Nottingham’s time has grown and grown, bringing in the suburbs. It’s an industrial place now, full of dark Satanic mills and factories. Street after street is filled with back-to-back housing, the homes of the poor. Most of the buildings are black with soot from all the chimneys.
It’s a place much closer to the Leeds of the present day. Not just in time, but in attitude; it’s very recognisable. The main character is Detective Inspector Tom Harper. He’s 31, from a working-class background. Left school at the age of nine and worked 12 hours a day in a brewery, but was determined to become a policeman. He’s worked his way up from walking a beat in the yards and courts off Briggate – still around 160 years after my earlier Leeds series – to plain clothes.
His partner is Detective Sergeant Billy Reed, a man who spent time in the West Yorkshire Regiment and was in Afghanistan during the Second Afghan War. The nightmares of those times still come to him, leaving him a troubled man who finds it safer not to grow attached to people.
As the book opens, Harper’s wedding to Annabelle Atkinson is just a few weeks away. She’s a new type of women, not so much ahead of her time, but in the vanguard. After growing up very poor in the Bank – the area of Leeds where most of the Irish settled – she became a servant at the Victoria pub in Sheepscar. The landlord, an older widower, fell for her and married her. When he died, she took over the business and made it more successful, then opened two bakeries to cater for the working men at the factories all around. She’s based, in part at least, on stories about a relative of mine who was the landlady at the Victoria (the pub is now gone, turned into an Indian community centre. I did have a drink there once, back in the ‘90s, and it seemed a wonderful place). So a fictionalised version of my own family’s tale is one thread in the tapestry.
The books are more political. The first one unfolds over the backdrop of the 1890 Leeds Gas Strike, one that the workers won (and it’s well worth reading about the strike).
I suppose that this series is part of my continuing love affair with Leeds. The place won’t let me go – possibly just as well as I’ll be moving back there within a month. It’s the start of something new, and it pulls at me just as hard as Richard Nottingham ever has.
The big test, of course, will to be see how all of you like it…