The Early Days of Running Water

A chance remark on Twitter left me thinking about the early days of water supply in Leeds. In my second novel set in the city, Cold Cruel Winter, I have a scene set in the pumping station by below Leeds Bridge (as it’s shown in the 1725 Cossens map).

Some houses in Leeds – the wealthier ones, obviously, received running water from the end of the 17th century. Engineers George Sorocold and Henry Gilbert undertook work todrawn water from the river Aire and pump it through a network of pipes to a reservoir on Wade Lane, above St. John’s church. From there pipes were laid to the houses of subscribers (there’s also mention of hydrants for fire engines; how true this is, I’m not sure). However, although they might have had running water, the ways of hot water on tap were still a long way off.

A water wheel, it would seem, was attached to the bridge (the third span, evidently), and, once lead pipe had been laid under the streets, a total of 2.5 kilometres, or a little over a mile, it reach the reservoir or cistern. Historian Ralph Thoresby recalled the pipe being laid under Kirkgate. The process began in 1694, with Sorocold, an engineer who’d work in Derby, among other places, evidently in charge of th4e project; certainly it’s his name that’s most associated with it.

The lead pipes for pushing the water, which was pumped by early steam engines through the system, were of lead, 75mm in diameter, and possibly some were bored trunks from elm trees, which were commonly used for pipes in the early days of water and sewage.

It’s perhaps surprising that the rich folk of Leeds had running water so early, one of the first cities in England to offer this. But it was a subscriber service, and likely not cheap. In a place with a population of between 6-7,000, only a few would have been able to afford it so it might well have been a while before there was a good return on investment. But within 60 years there was a need for a new pumping works, and a century after the system was built, three new cisterns were added, close to where Albion St. stands today – by then Leeds had around 17,000 residents and was, to some degree, fat off the wool trade.

The Launch Party

The last few weeks have been stressful. It’s not just the holiday cover in the part-time job I do, more than doubling my hours and taking away from writing work (novels and unpaid), it’s the preparation for the launch of Come the Fear.

It went off very smoothly in the end, thanks to those who participated and Blackwell’s Leeds who arrived with copies of the book to sell. And great kudos to everyone at Arts@Trinity (the old Holy Trinity Church), who did a great, unruffled job most professionally and provided the perfect venue, a church built in 1727, right in the period of the books. As I reflect there, the real Richard Nottingham – and there was a real one, the Constable of Leeds – would have walked in that place, probably many times. I was in his footsteps, something that truly gave me pause.

But making sure everything was in place, at a distance of 80 miles, could be fraught at times. The phone calls and emails began in the summer, setting the date, letting people know, working with others, like the fabulous Leeds Book Club and Leeds Libraries in order to involve them (and thankfully they wanted to be part of it). It’s been an interesting and rewarding trip.

The night was all I’d hoped it would be, in its own ways quite magical. It took a good 48 hours to recover fully. The book had come out a fortnight before the launch party, but that saw it well and truly christened. But I will say that I’m not planning a launch for the next one (due in February). It’s not even the work involved. The question is – how do I top that?

The Paradox of Publication Day

The official UK publication date of my new book, Come the Fear, is August 30. Yet last week, even before I received my author copies of the novel from the publisher, a friend in America already has hers, ordered from Book Depository and sent airmail. Other people I know have received pre-ordered copies.

That’s fine. I’m grateful to anyone and everyone who spends their money on a copy, but it does create a small paradox. There are bloggers and reviewers who’ve timed their release of pieces around the publication date. But when copies are already being shipped, how relevant does that publication date become?

In the greater scheme of things, of course, this is nothing, not even a trifle. But it certainly leaves me wondering. Anyway, now’s the books been released to the wild, I hope some of you will read it and enjoy it. Remember, too, that if you’re in Leeds on September 14, the launch for the book will be at Arts@Trinity on Boar Lane at 7.30 pm.

Music, Politics…and Pussy Riot

Music has been a form of protest for centuries. A glance through any folk song collection reveals that, with people railing against injustice and laws that punished the poor but never touched the rich.

In the 20th century – the era when recordings really began and started to be commercially available, and the radio let thousands listen to something that otherwise might only have been heard by a few – Woody Guthrie, the Dust Bowl balladeer whose centenary was celebrated last month , had a guitar that killed fascist and words that described the plight of those who had little and lost everything anyway as the bankers grew fat.


Bob Dylan, who at the start of his career was very much Woody’s heir, made his reputation as a protest singer, coming out of the very politically aware folk revival (on both sides of the Atlantic) in the 1950s and early ‘60s.


After that, it was reggae and punk that took up the mantle, with Bob Marley, a longtime champion of the underdog becoming a global superstar, and bands like the Clash and others spitting out words of venom against a heavily weighted system. From there, jump to Crass, Chumbawamba, the modern folkies and…Pussy Riot.

The Russian women have taken a stand in a country and time where that’s politically dangerous. It’s easy to be a critic in the fairly liberal air of the West, but in Putin’s Russia words carry huge power. Their actions have been deliberate, their primary-colour appearances cartoon-like with the deliberate anonymity of balaclavas. Anyone could be Pussy Riot; they’re speaking for millions over there.

And now three of them are in court for their actions, for the ‘crime’ of performing a song that dares to suggest Putin should go in a church. It’s sacrilege. But in an Internet world, everything is broadcast, Tweeted and disseminated in minutes. We know what’s happening in their trial, how they’re being treated, and the fact that, on the surface, the trial is a politically motivated farce intended to stifle any opposition to Putin. The man himself told the British PM, David Cameron, that he thought the woman should be punished lightly. It’s an astute move. If the judge gives a very light sentence, then the power of Putin over the courts is obvious. If not, then he can shrug and insist that the judicial system is independent and there’s nothing he can do to influence it.

But the fact that so many people around the world know and care about what’s happening in this courtroom in Russia, that these women have become a focal point, shows that music can still carry a punch far beyond its weight, that it still matters, and that the art of the protest song, whether satirical, veiled, or blunt as a fist in knuckle dusters, is still vital to the well-being of society.

For all the talk of the Olympians competing in London being heroes, these women are the real heroes of 2012. They knew from the start exactly what they risked. They’re putting their freedom on the line to stand up and be counted. And that’s worth remembering and praising. Be glad that we live in a time when we can all learn exactly what’s happening and see the system exposed for the sick, totalitarian sham that it really is.

Let Good News Abound

It’s a time when good news seems to abound (and, aptly, it’s Yorkshire Day). The other week, up in Leeds, I was showing my son the interior of Holy Trinity Church, which dates from the times of my Leeds novels. It suddenly struck me that this would be the ideal place for the launch of the fourth in the series, Come the Fear. After a quick word with the venue director – it’s now called Trinity Arts – things were set in motion, and a week ago everything was confirmed. There will be readings from the book by young actors, storytelling from a couple of England’s top storytellers – Shonaleigh and Simon Heywood (who’ll celebrate their marriage just two weeks before) – along with music and artwork from young artists inspired by passages from the novel. Hopefully a great evening’s entertainment, and for anyone around Leeds on the evening of September 14, come on down.

And then, yesterday, my publisher made an offer, which I accepted, for the next book in the series, At the Dying of the Year, which will be published February 2013 in the UK (June in the US). I’m thrilled. It was a difficult book to write, very emotional and draining. I won’t say why, but I will let slip that it’s the fifth in the Leeds series. Whether Richard Nottingham himself is in it – my mouth’s zipped, and if you read Come the Fear you’ll know why.

On top of that, I’m working on the publisher’s edits for the first of my Seattle books,Emerald City, which will appear as a simultaneous ebook and audiobook in the next few months and waiting to hear the audiobook version of The Broken Token. I feel as if I’m beginning to make at least a little headway. It’s been a long, hard slog, but when I finish something and feel that it’s good, it’s all worthwhile.

Bodies In The Bookshop

A couple of years ago I was at an event called Bodies in the Bookshop at Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge. It’s a venerable institution, crammed with volumes, but the press of people and authors (about 30 of us) all signing books for people, wasn’t the best for preserving sanity.



This year they invited me back, and the setup has changed. It was on a Saturday, rather than a weekday evening, and consisted of eight different panels. I was on one concerning historical crime, along with Ros Barber, Robin Blake, Rory Clements and Peter Moore – with whom I had a great discussion, as we’ve both worked as music journalists. Well moderated, it was a joy, but perhaps the biggest thrill was that it took place in the debating chamber at Cambridge Union, where so many august people have spoken. That alone made it all worthwhile.

I’d love to say it offered a chance to mingle with other writers, but there was little of that. I had a brief walk around the town before the event (my son and I had done Cambridge properly two years back), then a quick trip to Fopp afterwards, where the Black Keys’Brothers and a 2-CD best of Bob Dylan for a fiver each really made the trip worthwhile, before heading back home.

But it was very enjoyable, a chance to talk and be directed, a contrast to a different event in Leeds earlier in the week at Oxfam Books. That, too, was a joy, hopefully helping them put a little money in their coffers and to show my son an area of Leeds where I spent a couple of years before moving to the US, and a visit to old stomping grounds.

50 Shades of Yorkshire – the start


She saw the advert in the Yorkshire Evening Post and it was as if it spoke to her soul. ‘Wanted,’ it said, ‘lass to work in chippie. Hard graft, but good rewards and free scraps.’ She read it again and again, and she knew it was fate calling. This was a job made for her, with the sensual feel of fat and batter.

It was up in Leeds, but she wasn’t going to let distance stop her from following her fate. The next morning she dressed well in her fanciest coat, taking the rollers out of her hair before she finally put on the new headscarf from the market her mam had given her for Christmas, and took the bus from South Elmsall.

The journey was tortuous, but that only strengthened her resolve. If she could get there before three, the job would be hers. She willed the driver on through the puddles, noticing how, as she moved north the people began talking funny, saying town instead of tarn and right instead of reet. It scared her, being in this alien land.

She found the place at five minutes to three. Green’s Fish & Chips, the sign read, and her heart raced to see it, scarcely contained by her lacy 38F bra. A world of promise lay inside.


‘Eh up, luv, what that having?’ a girl said to her. She was dressed in whites, the clothing pristine and pure except for the stains across her front. 

‘I’d like to see t’owner,’ she answered, he voice as meek as a mouse in a cattery. ‘About t’job.’

The girl nodded at a door with the word ‘private’ painted on it. A door of temptation and promise, she thought.

‘Go through there, luv, and up t’stairs. Office is at top. I’ll ring him for thee.’

‘What’s…’ she began, and had to force herself to breathe before she could continue. ‘What’s ‘is name, please?’

‘Herbert Green. Right bugger wi’ ‘is hands he is, too.’ She surveyed the lush form in the low cut dress. ‘He’ll be over you like a rat on a corpse.’

Herbert Green. Even the name sounded magical, she thought as she climbed the stairs to a small waiting room with two old chairs and a coffee table. She balanced her handbag on her lap and waited, crossing one leg over another. Finally, after five minutes, a door opened and a man stood looking at her.

‘Thas’s here about t’job?’

He had a deep, masculine voice that flowed liked water through a slag heap. His belly bulged invitingly against a 1974 Leeds United home shirt, and over the waist of his brown terylene trousers. He had a thin, cruel mouth, and he gave her a smile that would have been overwhelming with a full set of teeth. She felt the heat flow through her. She’d never seen a man like this, one who exuded power and the smell of mint humbugs in equal portions.

He began to turn away from her, back into the office. She stood quickly to follow and tripped over the rug, sprawling behind him. He offered a hand to help her up.

‘Do that near t’fat fryer and tha’ll be ruining a tenner’s worth o’ chips’ he warned her. ‘Can’t be going arse over tit here.’ She held his hand a little longer than she needed, relishing the strong grip. ‘And summat else, lass, you forgot to put your kecks on this morning.’

She blushed deeply, embarrassed by her stupidity, the haste in which she’d dressed to come her following him into the office. The windows looked out onto a row of back-to-back houses and the desk was scarred wood. This was a man’s office, she thought, the centre of an empire.

‘What’s tha name?’ he asked, and she could feel his eyes boring into her. She could never have any secrets from this man.

‘Call me…Doris.’

‘Aye, right. What experience do you have, Doris?’

‘None,’ she admitted, lowering her eyes. ‘I’ve done nowt.’ Suddenly there was pleading in her voice. ‘But I’m eager to learn. I want this. I want it all.’

‘Steady on, lass,’ he said quietly, reaching across the desk to pat her wrist. So there was tenderness in him, too, she realised. He was a complete man. ‘Can tha make a decent cuppa?’

‘Pot to the kettle,’ she said, ‘and let it steep for three minutes before I pour.’

He smiled and she knew. The job was hers.

‘When can tha start?’

‘Now,’ she said impulsively. She had nowhere to stay in this strange town, no money, no spare clothes, not even a pair of knickers. But life was giving her a chance, and for Herbert Green she was willing to take it.

‘Champion,’ he told her. ‘Champion.’

50 Shades Of Yorkshire

She left me tied to the chair, unable to move. Luckily there was rugby league on’t telly. The way she moved on holiday gave a whole new meaning to Leeds United away strip. She was dressed to the nines for me, like a chip shop goddess, snapping the clip on her suspenders. “Right then, love,” she told me, “I’m off to bingo.” She looked back over her shoulder at me, her eyes full of sensual warmth. “Whippet,” she said, “whippet good.” The dog whimpered. “By ‘eck,” she warned, “I’m going to make tha peas the mushiest ever, big lad.” He was dressed in a dark blue suit that was nothing less that Burton’s best, the dog hair lovingly brushed from the material, with a C&A bri-nylon shirt and his Leeds Rhinos tie. His Hush ~Puppies has been cleaned, the brown suede crisp, the soles silent as he walked to meet her. Later, at home, he hung up the jacket. “What’s that?” she asked in surprise. “Belt…and braces,” he whispered in her ear, knowing that she loved a man who looked after himself. She ran calloused fingertips between his shirt buttons, pressing herself close to him so he could take in the scent of salt and vinegar crisps. “Oh luv,” she said adoringly, feel the juices run as she held his kebab tightlu “you wore the string vest.”

For The Last Several Weeks I’ve Been A Woman…

For the last several weeks I’ve been a woman. Well, not in my daily life, but in my writing. I’ve been changing the main character of my Seattle mystery Emerald City into a female. It’s affected every dynamic in the book and made me much more aware of what women go through – and even more so in 1988 when the novel is set – every day. Seattle has always been a progressive city, and it was back then, too, but it’s never been perfect. In some ways the book is a love letter to the city where I lived for 20 years, as well as to its music scene, life and to The Rocket, that most glorious of music papers. But it’s become a love letter with a different edge to it in the rewriting. It’s now back with the publishers, the people who first suggested the sex change, so I’ll be waiting for their reaction and hoping they love what they read. I’ve even started on the follow-up, set six years later, with the first chapter complete (and I don’t plan on continuing it for a while yet). Right now I feel I can breathe again, if only for a few days until I receive a critique on the new Richard Nottingham novel from my most trusted reader. But I need that little space, as my son arrived – from Seattle – for the summer. For a little while I can enjoy him every day.

Making That New Character A Woman

For my new Seattle Emerald City series of books, my main character was a male music journalist – something I did myself in that city. I say was quite advisedly: the company that’s publishing the books (simultaneously as ebooks and audiobooks) suggested making the protagonist female. It wasn’t a demand, by any means, and I understood the practical rationale behind it (one of the women behind the company is American and an award-winning ebook narrator and actress – Lorelei King). But it appealed to me. I’m male, think like a man. Now I’m changing the character’s sex and it’s proving to be a wonderful, deep challenge. It affects every dynamic in the book, every interaction with every character, male and female. More than that, I have to get into her head and learn to think, and more especially feel, as a woman. What writer wouldn’t relish? Seattle in the late 1980s was far more feminist than most parts of the US. Gender politics were rife, as were gay politics, which were interlinked. That has to be part of it, and it’s made me think and become more aware of the sexism inherent in everyday life. It was more so then, and quite casual, but it still exists. It was even there in the music scene, not too bad but still there. There were some female music journalists around, but men remained in the majority and they made up most of the musicians. A woman writer said to me that women feel more. That might not always be exactly true, but in general women are more aware of their feelings, and they’ll discuss them, with partners and friends, so that has to becomes part of the equation of character, too. Add to that the fact that I’m inserting this character into a story that’s already written, although there will be some changes and it becomes even more interesting. Am I enjoying it? Absolutely. Will it succeed? I hope so, but you’ll have to read for yourself to decide. That’s your challenge…