The Genesis of Richard Nottingham

As most of you must know by now, the Richard Nottingham series is taking a break. However, Richard certainly isn’t dead and there will be a time when he’ll be ready to whisper some stories in my ear again.

I’ve been thinking about him a little over the last few days, and the way he first came into my life.

Well, perhaps the best way to begin is to say that Richard Nottingham was a real person. At least, a Richard Nottingham was. He was Constable of Leeds from 1717-1737, taking over the post from William Nottingham, who might well have been his father. It was, really, purely ceremonial, and there seem to be very few mentions of him in the records. Quite certainly, he wouldn’t have actively investigated crimes. That would have been left for the night watch, most of whom also served as the Town Waits, or musicians, performing for dances and big occasions. Probably the closest he ever came to a real crime was watching a hanging on Chapeltown Moor.

So yes, I took a few liberties with the truth. No apologies for that. After all, the truth can’t compare with a good tale.

But the first time I wrote about Richard, he wasn’t even the main character in the story. 10 years ago, when I was still living in Seattle, I wrote a novel called The Cloth Searcher. That was an honorary title given to a Leeds merchant – a new one each year – who was responsible for ensuring that the cloth sold and exported in Leeds was of a sufficiently high standard. Given that the place traded on its reputation, quality was important.

In the book, Tom Williamson, a merchant (whom you may recognise from the series) was the Cloth Searcher, and the central character. His wife, Hannah, was an important character, while Richard was relegated to secondary status. And before anyone asks, no, I don’t still have a copy of it.

At that time I was winding down on writing quickie unauthorised biographies (the most embarrassing ones aren’t under my own name), and asked my agent, who only represented non-fiction, if she knew any agent who might be interested. She passed on the name of a British agent who works with several big-name crime writers. To cut a long story short, she read it, and we met when I visited the UK.

She liked my writing, but not the story. Go away and do me something different was the message.

It made sense to have a lawman at the centre of it. Richard Nottingham was fleshed-out, with a wife and two daughters. He also had a past that saw him start off grand, the son of a merchant, then among the poor once his father threw him and his mother art. He’d seen life from both sides, a man who understood and had experience and compassion. He also acquired a deputy, John Sedgwick.

As most detectives in fiction are loners, I wanted Richard to have a family he dearly loved (an idea inspired by Candace Robb’s Owen Archer novels). Not only was it truer to life, it opened up another side to him, and I wanted the people to be as important as the mysteries.

And there was one other rule: just like life, anyone can die. It didn’t matter if they were a central or a minor character, they were all mortal.

I was about ready to let Richard tell his tale.

I did just that, after I moved back to England in 2005, and presented her with an early version of The Broken Token. Two days after receiving it, she signed me to the agency roster and set me to work with their in-house editor.

For a few months we worked together, then presented the head of the agency with the book. Two days later she emailed and said they were cutting ties with me. I assume she didn’t like the book. I don’t really know as she never said.

I did approach other agents, but received no encouragement, and the book lay fallow for quite a while until I was in the library and chanced across a novel published by Crème de la Crime. It was historical crime, set in the 18th century, and the publisher was close to me.

It was worth a shot. I sent off the first 10,000 words and a synopsis. And waited. Then there was an email. The publisher wanted to see the rest. Wait again (cue plenty of nail-biting) until there was another email saying they wanted to publish the book.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history. But now you know the genesis of Richard Nottingham.

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