Since it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon and other online shops, I’m hardly giving away any secrets when I reveal the cover and tell you a little bit about the next (eighth!) Tom Harper book. It’s called The Molten City, and see Tom and Annabelle firmly in the 20th century.
Detective Superintendent Tom Harper senses trouble ahead when the prime minister plans a visit. Can he keep law and order on the streets while also uncovering the truth behind a missing child? Leeds, September 1908. There’s going to be a riot. Detective Superintendent Tom Harper can feel it. Herbert Asquith, the prime minster, is due to speak in the city. The suffragettes and the unemployed men will be out in the streets in protest. It’s Harper’s responsibility to keep order. Can he do it? Harper has also received an anonymous letter claiming that a young boy called Andrew Sharp was stolen from his family fourteen years before. The file is worryingly thin. It ought to have been bulging. A missing child should have been headline news. Why was Andrew’s disappearance ignored? Determined to uncover the truth about Andrew Sharp and bring the boy some justice, Harper is drawn deep into the dark underworld of child-snatching, corruption and murder as Leeds becomes a molten, rioting city.
Just to start, I have to tell you the Kirkus Reviews, one of the major trade journals in the US, has given The Hocus Girl a starred revew (they also gave one to my last book, The Leaden Heart). you can read the full review here, but this is the final line: “This historical tour de force reminds readers who come for the mystery that life hasn’t changed for the disenfranchised.”
I’ll take that.
They say that an author draws on people he knows for his characters.
I beg to differ.
I feel that in many cases I simply channel the people who populate my books. But if they have any traits, they’re not from people I know; they’re all small facets of me.
Richard Nottingham, for instance, is a very straight arrow, an utterly honest and upright man. Someone to be admired. He’s who I’d like to be, in an ideal world. The Leeds equivalent of the sheriff from a Western (albeit an old one). Amos Worthy is that creeping darkness in my soul. It’s there, I just need to let it out.
Dan Markham is cooler than I’ll ever be, a man at home in a jazz club or standing up to a criminal. He has style, something I’ve always aspired to but never achieved. Carla, his girlfriend, is the creative spirit I always wished I could be. But I never have quite managed to throw off the shackles of society.
Lottie Armstrong. She’s strength in adversity, someone who doesn’t give up. I suppose in some ways I have that, since I kept on fight to be published and eventually got there. But she’s a woman and that automatically makes her stronger than any man. And revisiting her 20 years later, she’s still got the resilience under all the sorrow. Urban Raven, from The Dead on Leave, has some of the same qualities. But with a crude plastic surgery face, his obstacles are more visible and obvious.
Simon Westow is resourceful, brave, intelligent, a man who’s overcome his past. That’s not me, of course; I’ve been far luckier than that. But I’d like to believe I had to spirit to be able to work my way up. Maybe I would, too. But probably not. Jane…Jane is my real darkness, the side we keep in because that’s what society teaches us. There are times I feel as isolated from the world as her. As an only child I’m good at keeping things inside, at being able to compartmentalise everything in my head. She’s the extreme, with everything coloured by a very deadly nature.
Tom Harper? He’s perhaps as close as I’ve come to a younger me, and his hearing problem certainly mirrors my own
Annabelle? No, Annabelle is channelled. She truly did come out of the ether. But thank God she’s here.
It’s hard to believe, but next Spring it’ll be 10 years since my first book set in Leeds was published – The Broken Token, in case you’re curious. There will be a new Tom Harper novel appearing then, the eighth in the series, which will mean I’ve published a total of 22 novels and a collection of short stories set in Leeds in the last decade.
That’s not counting a couple of plays and involvement in the exhibition The Vote Before The Vote, where Annabelle Harper stepped into Leeds history.
I’m going to celebrate it. 10 years is worth celebrating. It took a while to figure out how, though…
It has to be stories. After all, I’m a writer. So from November to next March I will have a short story with one of my Leeds characters each month. I’ll be starting with Dan Markham, taking him into the very beginning of the 1960s, then working my way back through time – Urban Raven, Lottie Armstrong, Tom Harper, Simon Westow, and finishing, quite rightly, with Richard Nottingham.
It’s going to be a challenge. I need to try and capture the essence of each of them, and in some cases it’s been a few years since we met. But I never like to make it easy for myself. I’ve even come up with a logo for everything 10th, just to warn you.
The Dan Markham story will appear in early November. I hope you’ll like in. In the meantime, you could read the new Simon Westow book, The Hocus Girl. It’s out in the UK in hardback now, and it’ll be available everywhere as an ebook from November 1.
Every so often I have to think about the things that make me write.
It’s a compulsion, there’s no doubt about that, and my first novel was published quite late in life (I was 55) that I’ve been filled with a hunger to say all the things I’ve wanted to say in books.
What changed everything for me was writing about Leeds. Leeds as it might once have been. When I began writing novels, I hadn’t loved in Leeds for 30 years. I had no idea what things were like in the day-to-day now. I was back often to see my parents, but I wasn’t here. I couldn’t write about it now and make it feel real.
The history of Leeds had captured me several years before that. I like to think it still does. But that’s what I keep checking it to consider. My next book (The Hocus Girl) has plenty of things from the city’s past: the first steam locomotive able to move heavy loads, Joshua Tetley opening his brewery, and the government using agent provocateurs – something uncovered and written about in a Leeds newspaper. Making history part of a tale is something I relish. I try to bring Leeds alive, to make people feel they were there, walking the streets.
Joshua Tetley’s Brewery
Next spring, my novel Rusted Souls, the eighth in the Tom Harper series, is centred around the 1908 Suffragette Riot, which actually happened, although it wasn’t a great riot and the Suffragettes weren’t really behind it. My characters are involved in this history. Not in a Zelig way, but because it’s happening around them in Leeds. It’s natural that they’d be involved.
Leeds isn’t London. It doesn’t have that glamour. It doesn’t even have the big history of York. But it’s a city that made its fortune on wool, grew powerful and rich with industry, and saw its fortunes decline with industry began to decline after World War I. These days it’s money is in retail and digital. The thing is, rich or poor, it’s my home. I care about it. I’m proud of it, happy to be from here. If I have a loyalty to any place, it’s Leeds.
That passion for the city isn’t the only thing that makes me write – I like to tell a story and crime provides the perfect moral framework for drama and tension, good against evil. I like to create characters. Or perhaps I channel them, I’m not really sure.
As I said, it’s a compulsion. But you know what? I’ll never feel bad for writing about the place I feel in my bones.
I write. It’s largely how I define myself, it’s what I love to do. My chance to be published arrived when I was 54, and since then I’ve grabbed it with both hands. And until three years ago, I was generally as happy as Larry.
Since then, however, I’ve gone up and down. It’s politics, and I know I’m far from the only one. But I’m lucky, I do have something to take me away from the world and its problems for a while.
Maybe it sounds silly that a piece of ground 10 metres by 7.5 could bring me so much joy, could lighten the load so much, but it does. I’ve had the allotment for four years now. It came with raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, rhubarb, and strawberries. It was overgrown and neglected. It needed plenty of work. It was utterly on a whim that I call in a put my name down for one. I didn’t really garden, and flowers had never greatly interested me. But after about twelve months I received a call – was I still interested.
Yes. The romance might not last, but I’d give it a shot.
That first year was mostly about that. I enjoyed the fruit, apart from the currants, which I dug out, and I had chance to clear a little ground a plant a few things. Since then I’ve been watching, listening, reading, learning and experimenting.
The winter days when I can dig in compost and manure and wonderful, as if the year is beginning to wake and I can stretch my muscles after a few months of doing nothing. It’s not nothing, of course – garlic and some onions have gone in during the autumn – but it feels like it.
I could go on about the things I’ve done but let’s face it, unless planting things is a pleasure for you, then you’ll find it boring. Let’s just say I’ve made some big changes in the last 12 months; well, as big as you can on 170 square metres. And this year I feel I’m utilising every scrap of space. It means I have to tread very carefully to avoid killing plants.
What is growing on the plot? I’m glad you asked…
Onions, garlic, kale, radishes, several types of lettuce, salad leaves. Two varieties of peas, mangetout, runner beans, two varieties of climbing beans. Squash, cucumber, carrots, corn, tomato, green and yellow courgettes. Leeks, spring onions, parsnips, spinach. Rhubarb, plum, tree, strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, raspberries, dwarf apple tree. And potatoes. Plenty of potatoes. A bit of lavender and rosemary, too, but I don’t really count those.
When I’m there I’m doing what needs to be done, the physical work that requires thought solely about the task at hand. I never consider checking my phone. It only comes out if I want to know the time. In today’s world, that’s freedom of a sort.
I could talk about mindfulness, that trendy word. But instead I’ll simply says that going there (it’s about five minutes’ walk from home, which was part of the appeal) makes me feel better and happier.
And there’s a hug bonus. All that fruit and veg, with things to ear from May onward. From the look of the strawberries, I’m going to be making plenty of jam this year (I know, there’s no need to say a word…).
It’s not something that would be a slave for everyone. It works for me, and that’s fine. So if you ever wonder what I do when I’m not writing books set in Leeds, now you know.
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.