What People Are Saying About The Leaden Heart (And Some Thoughts Of My Own)

Last night I was in a library talking to people about The Leaden Heart. I was happy to do it – and not just because it’s one of my favourite libraries, the one I used all through my childhood.

I’m proud of it. It’s out there with my name on it. Months of work and thought went into the writing. I want people to read it.

One gentleman said he thought it was the best of my books, with strong parallel stories and very tight plotting. That last bit, if it’s there, is more good luck that planning. I don’t plot. My characters lead the stories. The most I do is nudge them.

This morning I’ve been thinking about what he said. It chimes with the reviews the book has received. I’m gratified. I honestly believe that with The Tin God, my writing moved up a notch. That’s something every writer wants, to make each book better than the last. We learn, we strive to improve. It’s there too in The Hanging Psalm and now this. And having gone through the publisher’s edit for The Hocus Girl, which appears this autumn, I feel it’s also in that.

But I’m glad others see it. More than people may really know.

Thanks to all who’ve read the book. I’d love it if all of you did, whether it’s buying a hardback or ebook. And if you leave a review, may your soul be blessed.

Meanwhile, a look at some of those reviews might sway you.

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The Very First Leeds Novel

I write about Leeds. That’s not a statement to surprise anyone. But I’m not the only person to do that.

Over the last few days I read a book. Nothing unusual there; I devour books. But this one is a bit of a curiosity. Published in 1929, it’s the very first book set in Leeds (as far as I’m aware). That makes it important. Well, a it’s fictionalised Leeds, which is given the name Fleece. The History of Button Hill, written by Gordon Stowell, is set in Chapeltown – the names of all the areas of Leeds are changed – from the mid-1890s, when people moved into the new houses close to Reginald Terrace, through to the middle 1920s (in fact, Back Reginald Terrace was renamed Button Hill in the 1980s in honour of the book).

I’d heard about it for years and I’d expected it to be pretty poor and overly sentimental. But then I found a copy in the library and decided to give it a chance. I was wrong about it. It was stupid of me to judge without looking. Yes, there’s definitely a sentimental side to it, but it’s tempered, especially towards the end. The book doesn’t shy away from the way World War I and that first day of the Somme affected all of Leeds. It’s good, and absolutely believable. And it doesn’t always keep the stuff upper lips.

The book traces an arc over 30 years, with the main character a baby born just after the book opens. His generation, and their parents, are the focus and how the enthusiasm for an area have become diluted, by money, by events. There’s even a very surprising plot twist at the end of the book – but no spoilers.

I know nothing about Stowell, and there’s not a great deal about the man himself online. But he obviously knew Chapeltown, from down around Sheepscar all the way past the Bentham Arms (the Mexborough Arms, or Three Hulats as it is now) through Chapel Allerton (Button Top) around the Gledhows (Gledmere) up to Moortown, Roundhay and Oakwood (Moorhay and Oakhill).

For all the insight, it’s very much of its time, with the touches of casual, thruway anti-Semitism that were so widely accepted then, even in a city with a large Jewish population. And it’s relentlessly middle-class – but then, so were the people who lived in Chapeltown back tin those days. It’s a sobering reminder of just how exclusive the suburb was – and wanted to believe it might remain.

Button Hill

“The prime reason was not the housing of the working class population…For them only too many houses have been provided, street after street of squalid little back-to-back dwellings, with no gardens or yards and little sanitation. The people who were hardest hit were the really nice people, the people with nice ideas and aspirations, who, though not extravagantly rich, had still made a little money for themselves and could afford to send their children to the Grammar school or to the new Modern School. To such as these the new suburb on Button Hill was a godsend.

Builders were turned loose on the estate. It was split into gaping rectangles. Water, gas, and drains were laid. And presently a dozen rows of desirable villa-residences shot up as if by magic, and all the contours of the hill were permanently changed. The old turnpike was cleared away, and the Fleece Tramways Company, extending its track, put on a new service of horse-trams out to the Bentham Arms. Removal vans became a familiar sight up Bathwater Road as the best people in Fleece moved themselves and their furniture to a more worthy setting.

Lord Bentham in his wisdom had decreed that the builders were to restrict themselves to villas of a superior type. Retail shops and licensed premises were barred. From the outset the new suburb could not help but feel itself exclusive and superior. Its modestly imposing homes were manifestly designed with some pretensions to that subtle quality known as “class.”

To call it a garden city suburb would have be an anachronism, but it was the nearest thing to a garden city suburb that the imagination of man had conceived up to that date. It was spacious and leafy. Native trees had been spared wherever possible, and every house possessed its green cutilage, a lawn, and a curly footpath of concrete or imported gravel, to give the illusion of landed proprietorship on a small scale. Moreover, the genuine untouched country was still so near that on summer mornings, as you stood at the bedroom window inserting your tiepin, you could sniff the dew-flavoured hedges and the turned hay, and find it difficult to believe that you were yet within half an hour’s tram-ride of the office……”

When smaller houses are built on the west side of the main road, residents look down on them. The people aren’t quite up to snuff. By within the space of 30 years, Button Hill itself is in the start of a slow decline.

The people themselves are the main focus of the story. What happens to them, where and how they end up – those who don’t die. But behind it all, the character of Button Hill itself remains a constant, even as it’s growing and changing.

The History of Button Hill is an important, and surprisingly readable, Leeds novel that journeys from innocence to experience. It’s vivid, and a moving portrayal of a time, a place, and a generation.

A reminder, if I might, that while my new book, The Leaden Heart,  isn’t set in the desirable suburb of Chapeltown – the focus is on the working-class part of Harehills – it’s out in hardback and ebook and will let you seek what life was like in Leeds in 1899. It’s also a lot easier to find than The History of Button Hill.

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Two Events

I don’t often use the blog to talk about upcoming events, but there are two in the next couple of weeks that are going to be rather special.

My good friend Candace Robb is going to be in England promoting her new book, and we’re doing a couple of evenings together, one in Leeds – where my books are set – and one in York – the setting for her work.

I first came across Candace’s Owen Archer books when I lived in Seattle. They were so convincing that I thought she lived in York, or nearby. I found out just a few years ago that she’s a Seattleite. We were in the same place at the same time and never even knew.

We cover different periods. Hers is the late middle ages, the back end of the 1300s and into 1400. Mine is later. I’m a big fan of her books, I have been since I read the first of them around 20 years ago.

We share the same publisher now, and she’s just put out A Conspiracy Of Wolves, the first Owen Archer book in 10 years. I’ve read it, and it’s excellent.

And my new Tom Harper novel, The Leaden Heart, has very recently been published. Between us, we have a bit to discuss, and the events are a double book launch for us! Buy a copy, get it signed (please)

If you can, I hope you’ll come to the Leeds event (link here) on May 16 in the evening, or the York event, also an evening affair, on the 21st (link here). Both are free, you only need to book a seat.

It would be lovely to see you!

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The Leaden Heart On Ebook (Read An Excerpt)

May Day.

A time to celebrate workers, and the fact that everywhere, The Leaden Heart is now available on ebook. Fair makes you giddy, doesn’t it?

Certainly, the reviews from the last couple of days have made me smile. Kirkus called it possibly my “finest” yet, and then there was this.

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Is that enough to convince you?

Then maybe an extract from the book would persuade you to part with your hard-earned money. I hope so, because one’s included here. Whatever ebook platform you use, go and get it – and thank you!

 

‘Superintendent Harper.’

The voice was a bellow, the sound of someone used to giving orders and being obeyed. He stood at the entrance to the office, Tollman looking helpless behind him.

The man was as big as the noise he made. A hefty paunch held in by an expensively-cut suit and waistcoat, jowls sagging on his cheeks, and a double chin that shook as he spoke. Small, dark eyes that seemed to absorb the light.

‘Councillor May.’ Harper stood, slowly extending a hand to a visitor’s chair in his office. ‘You should have let us know you were coming. What can I do for you?’

‘I’m on the Watch Committee.’ He glared, fire in his eyes. ‘I don’t need an invitation to see how one of the divisions is spending the public’s money.’

‘Of course not. Tea?’

May waved the idea away. He remained standing, a heavy, looming presence in the room, eyes moving slowly around until his gaze settled on the map.

‘What’s that?’

‘Related to a case.’ He wasn’t about to offer a word more than necessary.

The councillor snorted. ‘These murders?’

‘Yes.’

‘Something else you’re wasting time and good brass over. What’s happening about the burglaries? I’ve got people telling me they’re terrified to go out.’

Harper didn’t believe a word. May could conjure outrage from the empty air. He loved nothing better than stirring a crowd by appealing to its prejudices. Nobody named, just a wink, a nod, a hint; he knew how to work them. He despised the police, insisting he was on the Watch Committee to keep them in check.

This was the first time since Harper made superintendent that May had stirred himself into Millgarth. And it wasn’t a friendly visit.

‘We’re working on that. We have some suspects.’

‘Some suspects?’ He shouted out the question. ‘What good is that to honest people who are scared they’ll come home to find all their valuables stolen?’

Harper gritted his teeth and forced himself to smile.

‘As I said, Councillor, we’re making progress.’

‘Not enough.’ He moved around the room as if he owned it, picking up a piece of paper, glancing at it then putting it down again. He seemed to fill all the space, to take all the air. ‘In case you don’t already know, a number of us feel you shouldn’t be in this job.’ A lower voice now, more intimate and threatening. ‘We’ve taken our concerns to the chief constable.’

‘So I’ve heard.’ He wasn’t going to show any trace of fear. He wouldn’t give May that satisfaction.

‘We’re going to keep on with it until he replaces you, Harper.’ The words came out in a hiss.

Harper stared at him. ‘That’s your privilege.’

‘I’ve been on the council for a long time. Plenty of people owe me favours.’ May gave a thin, hard smile. His eyes glittered with hatred. He took a step closer. Harper could smell his breath, whisky and red meat. ‘That’s how politics works. And when you’re ready, you collect them. It’s easy to ruin a career. Just like that.’ The snap of his fingers sounded like a gunshot.

‘I can’t stop you trying.’ The man was goading him. Harper bunched his fists, but he didn’t move. He wasn’t that stupid. Hitting a councillor? Instant dismissal, no appeal.

‘I know you can’t.’ The dark smile returned for a second and vanished again. May loved the sound of his own voice. ‘And I’ll win. Do you know why? Because I have power and you don’t.’

He extended his hand. Without thinking, Harper took it, and May dragged him close. A whisper that fed like poison into his ear. ‘I know men in this city who could make you disappear for five pounds and give me change for the pleasure of the work. Think on that, Harper. Imagine how your Godawful, jumped-up wife and little girl would feel when you never came home.’

A hard squeeze of the hand, a final, bitter look, and May was gone, only the stink of him trailing in the air.

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On Sale! On Sale!

Apologies to those outside the UK, but it’s out of my hands…

For those of you who do live in the UK, though, Amazon currently has the hardback of The Tin God for £4.30. That’s actually £6 cheaper than I can buy it with an author discount from my publisher. The Kindle ebook is £4.14.

I don’t generally advise people to buy fromAmazon, but this is too hard to refuse. Go here for all the details (and I hope one or two of you will buy).

Not only that, but the Kindle version of The Crooked Spire is currently 99p – right here.

Thanks.

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Elegy – A Richard Nottingham Story

Richard Nottingham rarely makes an appearance these days. Right now, at least, my focus of Tom Harper (and The Leaden Heart is just out – please buy a copy!) However, eighteen months ago Richard was in Free From All Danger, the first book in several years to feature him. Yet people still seem to love him. They ask if there will be more. A few weeks ago I had a spate of requests that me me back into things I’d written about him. I came across this, a story I’d started and never finished.

This time I completed it, looking back into the far past, to Cold Cruel Winter, a pivotal novel for me. The second with Richard, my first for Severn House, one that was named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by Library Journal in 2011. It established him and it helped establish me.

Hopefully, this story – and it’s small, it’s personal (although longer than I expected) – does Richard justice.

 

 

Leeds, August 1736

Two years. It always surprised him. It should be longer, he thought. It felt longer. Time past, time passing. But not so quickly now, as if someone had slowed the hands of the clock. A chance to keep memory close. To hold on to ghosts.

Richard Nottingham stirred. The dog days of summer, brilliant light through the cracks in the shutters. He’d woken before first light, just lying in bed and letting his thoughts wander. He heard his daughter Emily leave to go and teach at her school. Then Rob Lister, her man, now the deputy constable in Leeds, had gone with his clank of keys and the solid tread of his boots across the boards. Lucy the servant moved around downstairs, opening the door to the garden and tossing the crumbs for the birds.

Life went on.

He poured water in the ewer and washed, then dressed in old breeches and thin woollen stockings.

 

The road was dusty and rutted, the hot air tight in his lungs. Sun flickering through the leaves onto the water of Sheepscar Beck. He crossed Timble Bridge and walked along Kirkgate to the Parish Church, then over the path he knew so well.

Two years, eight months, and thirteen days since she’d been murdered.

 

 

He went to visit his wife, to talk to her, the way he did every single day, thinking of nothing in particular. Just a few minutes of conversation, a chance to hear her voice in his head, to try and make amends once more, although he already knew she forgave him.

And then he saw it. The pieces smashed and scattered across the grass.

For a moment he couldn’t move. It had to be a dream. Then he was on his knees, scrabbling around all the pieces, the fragments, and piecing them together on her grave until her name was Mary Nottingham once more. Beloved. Died 1733. Beside it, the memorial to their daughter Rose was intact.

Why? Why would anyone do that? He looked around and saw that a few others had been damaged. But he didn’t care about them. Only this one.

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‘You must have heard them.’

Jeb looked after the ground, sleeping in a small shed at the back of the burying ground. He was tall, like a long streak of water, a man in his fifties, back bent, straggly hair grey and thin.

‘I din’t,’ the man insisted. ‘I told you.’

He stank of ale, eyes rheumy.

‘For God’s sake, Jeb, someone took a hammer to that stones,’ Nottingham said in disgust. ‘And you were so drunk you never stirred.’

His mind was raging and he strode away to the jail. The smells in the building were so familiar. But there was another man behind the desk where he once sat. Simon Kirkstall. The new constable.

‘Visiting old glories?’ The man had a politician’s face, smooth and shiny, the periwig clean and powdered, his long waistcoat colourful in sharp reds and yellows.

Prissy. Exact. That was how Rob had described his boss. Fractious, a know-nothing who knew everything. Nottingham had listened and commiserated, glad to be gone from the job. He’d chosen to walk away from being Constable of Leeds and never regretted his decision. The corporation had given him the house and a small pension, enough for the little he desired.

‘I’m here to report a crime, Mr. Kirkstall.’

The constable picked up a quill, dipped it in the ink and waited.

‘What’s happened?’

‘Someone’s been destroying gravestones at the church.’

Kirkstall put the pen down again.

‘I see.’

‘My wife’s was one of them.’

The man chewed his lip.

‘I’m sorry to hear that. But…’ He gave a helpless shrug. ‘You know how it is. Too few men and too much crime. A murder, robberies, a young man missing for a week. I’ll make sure they ask around and try to find something. But that’s all I can promise for now.’

Nottingham stood for a moment, staring at the man and seething.

‘I see. I’ll bid you good day, then.’

 

He wandered. Down to the bridge, watching carts and carriages lumber along in the heat. Past the tenting fields with all the cloth hung to dry and shrink, through the rubble of the old manor house and around, back to Lands Lane.

Sadness, anger, emptiness.

Why?

Up on the Headrow, as he walked by Garraway’s Coffee House, a sharp tap on the glass made him turn.

Tom Finer sat at the table, his hand resting against the window.

‘You look like a man with the world on his shoulders,’ he said as Nottingham settled on the bench across from him. ‘Would a dish of tea help? Coffee?’

‘Not today.’

Nor any other day; he’d never developed the taste for them. Ale was fine for him.

After almost twenty years away, older and claiming to have left his crooked past in the capital, Finer had returned to Leeds. Nottingham had still just been a constable’s man when he first knew him. Finer had a finger in everything, but nothing was ever proven against him before he vanished one night.

He seemed smaller than the last time they’d met, as if he was slowly withering away with age. In spite of the warmth Finer was well wrapped-up in a heavy coat, with thick breeches and socks.

‘You must have been to the churchyard.’

Nottingham looked up sharply.

‘Why? What do you know?’

‘Not much more than you. I heard talk first thing so I went down there. I’m sorry.’

‘Do you have any idea who…?

Finer shook his head.

‘If I did, I’d tell you.’ He paused. ‘But did you notice which ones they were?’

‘My wife’s. Why? Who else?’

Finer was silent a few moments, chewing on his lower lip.

‘Go back and look again,’ he suggested. ‘Look outside your own pain.’

‘Why?’ Nottingham asked. ‘What is it?’

Finer stared at him.

‘You’ll see.’

 

He stood by Mary’s grave, resting his hand on the broken stone, and let his gaze move around. He understood what Finer had been trying to tell him. If he’d been thinking he’d have noticed straight away.

One was the memorial to Amos Worthy, the man who’d kept Leeds crime in his fist until the cancer rotted him and pulled him into the ground. Someone he’d hated and liked in equal measure.

The other was the stone for John Sedgwick, Nottingham’s deputy, beaten and killed in his duties.

Messages for him. From the past.

He gathered the remains, puzzling them whole again on the grass.

Why? Why would someone come crawling out of history now? He was no one these days. No longer the constable, not a man of note. Nobody.

 

Nottingham walked the courts and yards, asking his questions. He had no position any more but folk remembered. But all his talking brought nothing. No one knew, no one had an answer. Not even a hint. The closest he came was at the White Swan, when the landlord said someone had been asking for him.

‘Who?’

‘He wasn’t much more than a lad.’ The man shrugged. ‘No one I knew. Looked like a Gypsy, if you ask me. Left his lass and bairns standing in the doorway.’

Strange, he thought. Were the two things connected?

Morning became dinnertime. He pestered men as they ate. Nothing. Over the bridge and south of the river, into the streets that led off the London Road. No Joe Buck to ask these days. He’d left Leeds, searching for something more, the black servant Henry gone with him.

The town he’d known for so long was changing.

 

The church bell rang four as he walked back up Marsh Lane. Head down, lost in his thoughts as the dust rose from his footsteps. He’d go out again later, round the inns and the beershops. Someone knew and he’d find out.

‘I heard about it.’ Lucy the servant eyed him. ‘Who did it, have you found out yet?’

He slumped into the chair and shook his head.

‘I will, though.’

‘There was someone here looking for you earlier. Came at dinnertime.’

Nottingham cocked his head.

‘Just a lad. Not much older than me. Had a lass and little ‘uns with him.’

‘What was his name?’

‘Didn’t tell me, just that he’d come back later.’

‘Did he look like a Gypsy?’

Lucy thought.

‘Aye, happen he did. Who is he?’

‘I don’t know.’ Very strange indeed. He gave the girl a strained smile. ‘We’ll find out if he comes back.’

 

Emily returned home in a fury. She’d been to the churchyard and seen it for herself. Nottingham listened to her, seeing so much of Mary in her face.

‘Why would they do that to mama?’ she asked.

‘To hurt me.’ It was the only answer. Some sweet destruction to shatter his past. Before she could say more, there was a knock on the door. Maybe one mystery would be solved, at least.

Yes, he was young, dark hair hanging straight to his shoulders. Ragged clothes, a bright hoop in his ear. But tall, bulky, already a man from the look on his face. Someone half-familiar, a face he believe he almost knew. A man with a smile on his lips.

‘Hello, boss. How are you?’

With those words, it flooded back. All Nottingham could do was stop and stare. Joshua Forester, the young cutpurse he’d taken on five years before. His girl had died, the lad had been beaten and he’d chosen to go off with a band of Gypsies. But he looked well from it.

‘Come in, lad, come in. Your family, too.’

Soon they were seated around the table. Lucy brought bread and cheese and small beer, standing by the door to catch this glimpse into Nottingham’s past.

‘I don’t remember your wife’s name,’ Josh said and reddened.

‘Mary. She’s dead.’

‘Boss, I’m sorry.’

‘I should tell you that John Sedgwick’s in the ground, too. Someone killed him.’ The boy always had high regard for Nottingham’s deputy constable. Old days, probably best forgotten. ‘And you, what have you been up to?’ He smiled at the children. ‘I can see some of the results.’

‘That’s Frances,’ he said, indicating the girl. The name of his girl who’d died. ‘And the boy’s called John. My wife, Nancy. She’s part of the Petulengro clan. I work with them. I’m a horse dealer now.’ He lifted his hands to show the thick calluses on his palms and fingers. ‘We’re camped on Woodhouse Moor for a few days, on our way down to Buckinghamshire. While we were here I wanted to see you.’

‘And you’re very welcome’

It did make his heart soar to see someone doing so well, the new life amongst all the death and the senseless destruction. They talked for almost an hour until Josh gathered together his wife and family. At the door he saw them off just as Rob Lister was returning. Emily’s man and the deputy constable of Leeds.

‘Company?’ he asked.

‘Someone who worked for me a while ago. Passing through Leeds.’

Lister glanced at the family walking towards Timble Bridge.

‘They look like Gypsies.’

‘They are. And you and I have something to discuss.’

‘Aye,’ Lister agreed. ‘We do.’

 

The night was balmy. It wasn’t hard to keep watch over the graveyard, and he wouldn’t trust Jeb to stay awake and sober. Nottingham never slept much any more. He sat in the church porch, letting the darkness wrap around him. He listened to the soft snuffling of animals in the dark, the last sounds of humans fading, then felt the embrace of the hours.

A few times he stood and walked around, as silent as possible.

But no one came. No more damage.

With first light, he ambled up Kirkgate, smelling the cooking fires the servants had lit in the grand houses. Briggate was beginning to come to life, the butchers in the Shambles under the Moot Hall opening their shutters for early customers. He passed without a word, fading into the background.

Tom Finer was up with the lark, already in Garraway’s, reading the London newspapers and enjoying his coffee.

‘You look like a man who’s spent a restless night,’ he said with a smile.

‘I have.’ He settled back on the bench. ‘How did you know?’

Finer raised a thick eyebrow. ‘Know what?’

‘About the gravestones.’

‘A little bird told me.’

Nottingham wrapped his fingers around the old man’s wrist. It was bony and brittle in his grip, as if it might snap all too easily. He stared into Finer’s eyes.

‘Which little bird?’ When the man didn’t answer, he squeezed. ‘That was my wife’s gravestone.’

‘A young man I pay to gather gossip.’ Finer tried to look unaffected, but his mouth as stretched and the skin was tight over the bones of his face.

‘A name?’

‘You wouldn’t know him.’

Probably not, now he was no longer constable. But Rob Lister might. ‘A name,’ Nottingham repeated.

 

‘I know the lad,’ Lister said as they ate dinner in the White Swan. Stew for him, bread and cheese for Nottingham and mugs of ale on the table in front of them both. ‘I’ll find him this afternoon.’

Rob had grown into a thoughtful young man. Hard when the job demanded, but compassionate, too, and utterly in love with Nottingham’s daughter, Emily. Seeing them together, the tenderness and humour between them, he was always reminded of the way Mary approved of the match: ‘They’re perfect for each other, Richard. Like two halves finding each other.’

Nottingham would go home this afternoon and rest, ready to be out again tonight. What kind of man harmed gravestones like that? And why those three? What grudge, what anger could move someone like that? All through the night, as the stars moved through the sky, he’d tried to come up with names and found nothing that fitted.

Who?

 

He’d been wearier than he imagined, sleeping into the evening to wake disoriented and with aching limbs.

Downstairs he sat with Rob as he ate. A young man’s hearty appetite after a long day of work.

‘He’ll meet you at eight on Timble Bridge.’

‘Does he know who did it?’ Nottingham asked.

‘He wouldn’t say.’

‘He’ll tell me.’ He’d make damned sure of it.

‘Watch out for him. He’s a little weasel. He’ll try to rob you if he can.’

‘But will he tell me the truth?’

Lister considered the question for a moment. ‘If you don’t leave him any other choice. Take your knife.’

 

First, the graveyard. Still full light, the evening warm enough to sweat as he worked, picking up all the fragments. He’d cleaned up Mary’s headstone yesterday. Now he tidied Amos’s and John’s. He’d almost finished when he felt someone kneel beside him and looked across.

Josh Forester, with a sad smile on his face and a colourful scarf knotted at his neck.

‘I went to your house, boss,’ he said. ‘Your lass’s man reckoned as you’d be here. Says you visit all the time.’

‘Every day. It’s all I have left of her.’

‘I understand.’ He ran hard fingertips over the carving in the stone. ‘I don’t know who’d do this, but I’ll tell you something I’ve learned. It’s probably not worth much, but a headstone doesn’t mean anything.’

‘I know.’ Nottingham’s voice was hushed.

‘Frances, she went in a pauper’s grave. No markings. You remember that, boss.’ He tapped the side of his head. ‘But she’s still here. They’re alive as long as someone remembers. This…it’s just trappings, isn’t it?’

‘Maybe it is.’ He pushed himself upright, feeling the creak in his knees. ‘But it means something to me. I have to meet someone. It won’t take long. If you wait, we can go for a drink.’

Josh smiled. Bright white teeth. Young teeth. ‘Aye, I’d like that. I’ll be right here, boss.’

 

He stood on Timble Bridge, hearing Sheepscar Beck burble and flow under his feet. It had been a dry summer and the water was low. The sound was pleasing, musical and rich. It filled his heart. But he was ready as he heard footsteps approaching.

A boy? He didn’t know why he was so surprised. The lad looked to be ten or eleven, with suspicious eyes that darted around, dark, matted hair, and dirt ingrained into his skin.

‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you,’ Nottingham said.

It was like coaxing a feral animal. Like the wary boy he’d been himself at that age, living for three years on the streets, surviving by wit and cunning and ruthlessness.

He placed two pennies on the ground and moved away.

‘I only have one question – who’s been damaging the graves?’

‘I’d never seen her before.’

‘Her?’ The word shook him. He couldn’t believe it. It was impossible to imagine any woman doing that. He took a deep breath. ‘Tell me about her.’

‘I couldn’t see much. It were dark and she had a shawl over her hair. And a hammer in her hand. I wun’t going to get too close to that.’

‘Where were you?’

‘Sleeping. There’s a dip in the graveyard near High Court. I were in there and heard her.’

‘Is there anything you remember?’

‘She meant it,’ the boy said. ‘Not just for the sake of doing it. Like she hated those people. She knew which ones she wanted.’

‘I daresay she did.’

‘And she weren’t young. You could see that. She moved slow, like it hurt her.’

‘You’re an observant young man.’

The boy shrugged and scooped the money from the ground.

‘Wait,’ Nottingham told him and brought out his purse. The boy darted for it, knife out to cut the strings. But Nottingham turned away, grabbing him by the hair and pushing him down to his knees. ‘Don’t. You’re too slow. I was stopping this long before anyone even dreamed of you. I was going to give you tuppence more.’

‘I’m sorry, mister.’

‘Maybe you are.’ He pushed the boy away, took out the coins and threw them on the dirt before walking away towards Leeds.

 

‘A woman?’ Josh Forester frowned, cupped the mug of ale and drank. ‘That seems odd.’

They were sitting in the White Swan, a welter of conversation all around their heads. It felt strange to be here with Josh. His memories of the lad were of someone so young, so full of pain. And here he was, grown, filled-out. A man with a life that suited him.

‘It surprised me, too,’ Nottingham admitted. ‘But why not? Women can hurt, too.’

‘Do you think she’ll be back?’

‘I don’t know.’ He leaned back. The woman had done her damage. Why would she need to return?

‘And you’ve no idea who it is, boss?’

‘None at all.’ He gave a weary smile. ‘I’ll be out there again tonight. Maybe she’ll decide she hasn’t had enough yet. Who can tell?’

Josh smiled. ‘Do you fancy some company?’

He stared at the young man. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes. We’re going south tomorrow, this will be the last chance.’ He took another drink. ‘You changed my life, boss. I’d like to spend more time with you.’

 

It was a companionable silence. A warm, dry night, with just enough moon to throw light across the graveyard. They settled in the church porch and waited. The last drunks rolled and sang their way home. The nightjars called and turned silent.

A snuffle of animals in the distance. A badger, a fox.

He found himself starting to doze, chin settling on his chest, then quickly sitting upright, stretching his neck and looking round sheepishly at Josh.

It must have happened again. He was aware of the touch on his shoulder, then warm breath and words whispered into his ear.

‘Footsteps, boss. In the churchyard.’

Silently, he stood, ready, feeling the other man stir behind him. But he waited. Impossible to tell yet who it might be. A couple seeking out a private place. Someone with no better place to sleep.

Time seemed to stretch. He breathed slowly, listening for the faintest sound. Then it came: the tapping on steel on stone.

Nottingham pressed himself against the church wall, turning his head, waiting to hear it again, to know where the woman was in the graveyard. Josh had already disappeared, moving like a ghost through the night.

It was unmistakeable. Mary’s headstone once again. Without thinking, he started to run, feeling every stride in his knees. He needed to get there before too much damage was done.

He knew every inch of this ground, moving sure-footed without even needing to look.

But he wasn’t fast enough.

Josh had beaten him to the spot, big hands clamped around a pair of thin arms, stopping her from struggling.

‘She’s not going to cause a problem, boss.’

‘Keep her still. I want to see her face.’

Nottingham pulled the shawl away. A small, faded woman with stringy grey hair. A thin mouth, most of the teeth missing. Eyes filled with hate. She drew back her lips and spat at him. But there was no power. It dribbled down her chin.

He didn’t recognise her. Nothing about her.

‘Who-’ he began, but her rusted voice cut through his question.

‘Abraham Wyatt.’

The years turned away and he groped for her name. Caroline. Something like that.

‘Charlotte.’ The word seemed to come of its own accord and he saw her cold grin.

‘Now you remember, don’t you? You killed him, you and Worthy and that other man.’

They had, and the man had needed to die for all he’d done. Back then he’d let her go, though, never expecting to see her again.

‘Why? Why try and demolish my wife’s headstone?’ He didn’t understand that. But the answer was simple.

‘Because you don’t have one, and I’ve watched you come here and spend time with her.’ Her eyes glistened. ‘I knew this would hurt you.’

She understood too much, he thought. Nottingham tried to picture her as she’d been when he last saw her, but the image refused to come into his mind. All he could see was the woman as she was now, living on the past and her anger. She’d loved Wyatt; that had never been in doubt. She’d remained devoted to him through all the years he’d been exiled, transported to the Indies.

‘What do you want to do with her, boss?’ Josh’s question interrupted his thoughts.

‘Take her to the jail.’

She fought, pulled against him and dragged her feet. But the young man was bigger, stronger, used to wild beasts. A few minutes and the night man had her in a cell.

‘What’s the charge?’ he asked.

Nottingham didn’t know.

‘Ask Mr. Lister in the morning.’ Rob could think of something.

 

Outside, the night was still, heavy with the scent of flowers.

‘Thank you,’ Nottingham said.

Josh smiled and shook his head.

‘The least I could do, boss. I told you, I owe you a lot.’

‘On your way tomorrow?’

‘We pack up first thing.’ He raised his head and studied the sky. ‘In an hour or two. Then south.’

‘When you come through here again…’

‘I’ll stop, boss. I promise. You look after yourself.’

‘You, too. And that family of yours.’

They shook hands. Nottingham stood and watched as Josh strode up Briggate, out towards the Gypsy camp on Woodhouse Moor. Finally he turned and began to walk back to Marsh Lane.

A headstone could be replaced. But the woman could never destroy his memories. Josh was right. Mary was remembered.

A Sale Of Effects – 1919

With five matches left in the season, Leeds United might – just might – make automatic promotion to the Premier. If not, we have the agony of the playoffs.

But that means I’ve picked a football story to finish the week of stories (and each one has the subliminal ad making you want to buy my new book, The Leaden Heart. This is what happened after Leeds City was removed from the Football League. It was the first time they had it in for us, but certainly not the last. Like several others, this is from my collection of short stories based around Leeds history called Leeds, The Biography. And since as you asked, you can buy it here!

LCFC1913-14

Billy Cartwright moved down King Street, leaning heavily on the crutch so the cast barely touched the ground. After a week he had the hang of it and he could swing along easily, almost as quickly as someone walking.

At the Metropole Hotel he eased himself up the stairs. A sign with an arrow stood on an easel – Leeds City Sale – and he followed along a heavily carpeted corridor to a large room already covered in a fug of smoke. Cups of tea stood on some of the tables, and men in good suits sat puffing on their pipes and talking as they looked through the list of items for sale.

He saw a hand go up and Fred Linfoot waved him over. All the players had gathered together at the back, crowded around three large tables. The auction hadn’t begun yet but the ashtrays were already full, cigarette butts crushed down together.

“How long before it’s off?” John Sampson asked.

“A week,” Billy answered. The broken leg was stretched out, the crutch lying on the floor, out of the way. He glanced around. There were men here from every club in the league, older businessmen with serious faces and brass in their hearts. Prosperous men who sat straighter as the auctioneer approached his lectern. It was time for business and that was why they’d come to Leeds.

A Sale of Effects, the notice had read. Only four words. Billy had seen the advertisement in the Yorkshire Post, scarcely believing four words could take in so much. Metropole Hotel, 17th October, conducted by S. Whittam and Sons. He’d looked at it again and again before he’d pushed the paper across the table. Another hour or so and it would be as if Leeds City had never existed. Even the goal netting and the balls would be sold off. The players auctioned like they were slaves.

He knew who’d fetch the best price – Billy McLeod. He was the best player by far, the one everyone would want. He sat quietly, listening to the conversations around him.

It was all a stupid bloody mess and if it hadn’t been for Charlie Copeland they wouldn’t be here today. The way he understood it, if Charlie hadn’t reported the club to the FA for paying players during the war, none of this would have happened. Or if Leeds had been willing to produce its books when it was asked. Instead, the chairman had refused and they’d all paid the price. Kicked out of the League, wound up, everything must go.

There’d be more to it, Billy thought. There always was, wheels within wheels, and someone would have made something. They always did, although none of it would come down to them on the sharp end.

The auctioneer banged the gavel and the room was suddenly silent and alert. He was going to start with the players, the club’s most important asset, he said, some short speech about how sad this occasion was, the end of an era.

Billy’s mouth was dry. Everything rested on this. He’d be happy if someone offered two hundred pounds for him. Even a hundred or just fifty. Anything to keep him playing.

The problem was that he’d never run out for the club. He only turned eighteen during the summer and signed for the club in September. Then, during the second week of training there’d been the tackle. As soon as it happened, he knew. It was all he could do not to yell and start crying like a kid. A broken tibia, that was what the doctor said after they’d driven him to the Infirmary. Eight weeks in plaster. And after that it’d be a good three months before he’d be fit again, the muscle built back up and ready. By Christmas – if he was lucky.

They’d been the worst six weeks of his life. Cooped up at home every day, just his mam for company while his father and his brothers went off to work. No brass in his pocket. Just down to Elland Road for the home matches, wishing for time to pass until it could be him out there.

He was good enough. He had to believe he was. He’d played inside right for Leeds Schoolboys until he left when he was fourteen, and then he’d been in the works team at Blackburn’s, the Olympia Works up on Roundhay Road. Saturday mornings off, paid, to play up on Soldiers’ Field. It hadn’t been a bad life. The old factory that had once been a roller-skating rink was fun, a good bunch to work with.

But he’d known he wasn’t going to stay. At fifteen he tried to join up, to follow his brother into the Leeds Pals. A worn-out sergeant told him to come back when he was old enough. He did, a year later, birth certificate tight in his fist. A week later he was in Catterick, learning what it meant to be a Tommy.

By December of ’17 he’d been in France for six weeks. He was already scared, sick and dirtier than he could have believed. Half of those he’d known in training were already dead, He was numb inside, just living from hour to hour. After a week in the trenches he’d wondered if he’d ever feel warm and dry again. After three weeks, he didn’t care, just as long as he lived to the end of this war and he could know some silence again.

Come Armistice Day he didn’t know where he was. It was simply another muddy hole in another muddy, lifeless landscape. It could have been in France, Belgium or Germany. He didn’t know and it didn’t matter. The important thing was they could put down their guns and not worry about being killed.

He could look forward to a hot bath, Billy thought, and going home. Looking around, he could see the same thought in every pair of eyes.

 

He ended up walking halfway to the coast. Their transport never arrived and after waiting for three days the brigadier gave up and ordered them to start on foot. It was a slow march. They were all eager to be back in Blighty, but they were weary, half-fed creatures. The leather of Billy’s boots had rotted away in places, he had trench foot; each step took effort. The further they travelled from the front, the more they seemed to be walking into a dream of green fields and houses that hadn’t been demolished by shells. The type of places they’d almost forgotten.

He wasn’t home for Christmas. He’d spent that in hospital while they tended his feet. He hobbled home in January, his mother’s arms around him as soon as he was through the front door. Not his oldest brother, though. He’d never come back.

Billy was still thin, still weak. He wasn’t even eighteen yet and he’d seen enough death for seven lifetimes. His ma made him beef tea three times a day and forced as much food as he could manage down him. He started back at Blackburn’s and began training for the works team again. He ran after work and cut down on to ten Park Drive a week.

Before the end of the season he was the first choice for inside right again, more reckless now, as if he knew there was nothing in the game that could scare him. He tackled hard, he ran and he scored, three goals in five games.

The summer, with no matches, left him restless, too full of energy but with nothing to do until his birthday and his trial for Leeds City. He kept up the running, taking off after work for a circuit of Roundhay Park, along by the big lake, through the gorge and back before catching the bus home. Saturday afternoons, when Leeds were playing away, he’d try to cajole workmates into a kick around, something to keep his skills sharp.

Until the trial he’d been confident. For too long people had told him he was a good footballer. He was always the best in any team. But the others there were his equals. Some were better, he had no doubt about that. They made him sweat, made him play, made him think. And when it was over, for the first time he had to wonder if he was good enough.

For the next three days he was on edge, going straight home from work to see if there’d been any post for him. When it finally arrived he let it sit in his hand, as if its weight might tell him what was inside. It took courage to open the envelope, and he had to breathe hard before unfolding the letter.

Dear Mr, Cartwright…

He read it through twice to be certain he was right. They were taking him on at three pounds a week. For the rest of the evening he couldn’t stop smiling, then couldn’t rest in his bed although he had to work in the morning. He gave his notice, and before the end of September he was training every day at Elland Road, seeing the men he’d only cheered from the terraces. More than that, he was playing against them and just beginning to understand how much he had to learn. He wasn’t good; he’d barely even started.

The divot shouldn’t have been there. They all said that later. But he’d been chasing down a long pass, watching the ball, not the pitch. His studs caught and he went down awkwardly. Barely two weeks into his professional career and he’d broken his leg.

 

Each club offered a sealed bid for the players they wanted. Billy wasn’t surprised when McLeod went for £1,250. He outclassed everyone else in the side. Glancing over, he could see the mix of pride and relief on the man’s face. Then it was Harry Millership and John Hampson, a thousand each. And then it was down the line – eight hundred, six hundred, five – all the way to Frank Chipperfield, off to Wednesday for a hundred. That left seven of them looking worriedly at each other. The auctioneer coughed. Four had new clubs. No fee. No one for Mick Sutcliffe, Charlie Foley. Or for him.

By the time he was listening again, they were selling off the goal posts and the nets. He pushed himself up, leaning heavily on the crutch, and made his way out, threading through the tight spaces between tables. None of the men from other clubs bothered to look up at him.

Out in the corridor he stopped to light a cigarette. As he was about to move off again, he heard the man say,

“Billy.”

He turned. The manager was there, Mr. Chapman, the one who’d picked him out from the trial. Just like Leeds City, he’d been banned from football, that was what Billy had heard, although the rumour was that he was going to appeal. He was growing heavy at the waist, the start of jowls on his face. He gave a sad smile.

“Yes, boss?”

“I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry, lad. I had a word with them, said you had potential. But they didn’t want to take a chance.” He shrugged slightly.

“Thank you, boss.”

“Don’t give up. You have talent. Keep trying, all right?”

“Yes, boss. Thank you.”

He turned and hobbled away.