As I’ve mentioned before – and I’ll be saying again and again – the end of March sees the publication of my new book, The Leaden Heart. It’s the seventh in the Tom Harper series, set in 1899, on the cusp of a brand-new century that is set to bring more changes that anyone could imagine.
In the weeks leading up to it seeing the light of day, time to revisit some of the book in the series…
Hard to believe that it’s only five years since Tom made his first appearance, met as he sprints down Briggate in pursuit of a thief. That’s where it all started, with Gods of Gold, set during the 1890 Leeds Gas Strike, which the union won in just three days, a rare example of the workers coming out on top.
It was strange that the book even appeared. I’d written six Richard Nottingham novels, and my publisher asked for something different. I’d always sworn I’d never set anything in Victorian times. But after that I read about the gas strike and I knew it ought to be celebrated. I received help from a strange source, a woman I’d met before, as I’d written a short story about her (Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw). She sat down next to me and said, ‘I was there, luv. I was the landlady at the Victoria. Why don’t you let me tell you about it?’
And so Gods of Gold came about. The title is from a poem by Tom Maguire, one of Leeds’ great unsung political figures, a man who did so much for the working classes here, only to die in poverty far, far too young. He’s buried at Beckett Street Cemetery.
Joanne Harris, the bestselling author (who has a new book coming called The Strawberry Thief) was generous enough to praise the novel: “A vibrant sense of living history, with strong, well-drawn characters…I loved it.”
I made a trailer for the book, and here it is, all dusted off and YouTube shiny.
For the launch, I even had 10 tee shirts made, featuring the cover image. Remarkably, nine of them sold, and I still have the other in a drawer. And there were book marks.
Apart from Tom, the book also featured Detective Sergeant Billy Reed, who’s featured in every book so far, as well as Constable Ash, who’s grown since his introduction in uniform. But there was someone else, that woman who told me all about the strike. Annabelle Atkinson.
She’s Annabelle Harper now, of course, and has been for a long time. But they were still courting in those early days, and I had no idea how important a figure she’d become in the series, it’s emotional linchpin, in fact. As the series progresses, in many ways it’s become the story of the Harper family, how they change and age over the years, as much as they’re crime novels or historical fiction. Or why not all three? I ended up writing a play about Annabelle, called The Empress on the Corner, which was performed a few times. A couple of scenes were filmed, including this, which recounts how she and Tom first met. The Victorian pub is part of Abbey House Museum in Leeds – they were kind enough to let us film.
In those days I didn’t know the books would end up taking on such a life of their own. At the risk of sound pretentious, the series has taken on the feel of my magnum opus. Like any writer, I was fumbling in the dark, not sure where things were heading. I have a much clearer sense of things now. That doesn’t mean the people will do what I expect and hope. After all, they’ve gone their own way in the past six books.