When I started out, I had a plan of sorts for the Tom Harper books, a series arc, if you like. Of course, like all good books, they’ve long since ignored that and developed their own scheme that looks further into the future than I’d ever imagined when it all began.
But in 2015, when Two Bronze Pennies appeared, it was still sticking close to the idea.
I definitely wanted to write about the Jews in Leeds. They’ve been such a powerful, vital force, although in 1890, most of those here were poor and powerless, crammed and squeezed into the Leylands, just north of the city centre.
I did that, and I hope I did it well. There are some references to the legend of the Golem (at one point I wanted to call the book The Golem of Leeds, but my publisher said no. A wise move, in retrospect).
It’s a novel of changes. The influx of immigrants to Leeds, the prejudice against them that still echoes in today’s Islamophobia. The change, the rift that occurs between Tom and his sergeant, Billy Reed.
And there’s another story in there, too, that of Louis Le Prince, the man who arguably invented the moving picture. He lived in Leeds, developed those early movies here, and vanished without trace on a visit home to France.
Le Prince’s first film, taken in his father-in-law’s garden in 1888
Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge, shot by Louis Le Prince in 1888
Even today, more than a century on from those times, no one knows what happened to him. But a mystery like that was too good not to use in a book about Leeds at the time. Sometimes life makes your decisions for you.
I wanted to capitalise on the wonderful reviews that Gods of Gold had received. I had plans for the launch people. Big plans. Something that could involve people from all over the world.
Live streaming was still new and unusual then. Hard to believe, I know, when it was only five years ago, but that’s the case. I signed up to use a particular platform. I was going to talk, answer questions people typed, and my friend Shonaleigh, a storyteller and drut’syla, was going to tell a Jewish story (please go and see her if you ever have the chance; she’ll transport you).
For whatever reason, when the time came, I wasn’t able to connect to the platform. It was all a bit of a bust. I felt foolish, that I’d let everyone down and disappointed them. My big plans had crumbled, defeated by technology. I did the only thing I could – hurriedly made this video the next day and posted it (apologies for the sound quality). The beard has long since gone, you’ll be pleased to know.
The reviewers liked the book (thankfully). And with two books, Tom Harper was on his way. From swearing I’d never write Victorian crime, I was up to my neck in it. But the characters didn’t intend to keep to the plans I’d made for them…