Asking Your Indulgence

Forgive me. I hope you’ll indulge me for a minute or two. On Friday my publisher forward me a review of my new novel, Fair and Tender Ladies, from Publishers Weekly, a journal aimed at the publishing trade, including most bookseller and libraries, in the US.

The review itself (more of that at the end) was gratifying. But what lifted my heart more than anything was the fact that all six of the Richard Nottingham novels have received starred reviews there. I’d never expected that. No writer does. We sit at the computer and do our best, day after day and hope someone gets it. That’s all we can do.

I was lucky. Finally Lynne Patrick, then the publisher of Crème de la Crime and now my editor and friend, liked The Broken Token and too a chance of putting it out. Then Severn House, which bought the imprint, kept publishing the books.

Now I have this body of work, and these reviews. I sometimes used to scoff at people who were humbled by praise. Not anymore. I feel humbled myself and not quite sure how it all happened.

Oh, the review…

“Effective portrayals of brutality and genuine emotion and loss distinguish Nickson’s well-crafted sixth Richard Nottingham novel (after 2013’s At the Dying of the Year). In 1734, Nottingham, Constable of the City of Leeds, carries out his duties despite his wife’s devastating death. His hopes for fulfillment now lie with his grown daughter, Emily, who has opened her own school for the poor, and who is seriously involved with Rob Lister, one of Nottingham’s assistants. He fears for Emily’s safety after vandals attack her school. Meanwhile, several people die unnaturally, including Jem Carter, a man who was searching for his 16-year-old sister. In addition, a former crime lord returns to town, and Nottingham again has to navigate a prickly relationship with his bosses. The author’s willingness to shake up the status quo marks this as one of the best historical series set in the first half of the 18th century.”

Thank you.

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A Few Thoughts To End March

March has been an eventful month. Right at the tail end of February At the Dying of the Year came out, the fifth Richard Nottingham mystery, and a book I’m very proud to have written. It cut deep into my soul and drained me emotionally to write it.

Then, for March, my publisher scored a Kindle 100 deal in the US for The Constant Lovers. The upshot is that the book’s been featured on the Kindle 100 page and pushed by Amazon. And, to help, the publisher lowered the prices of the other ebooks in the series. Having kept track during the month (as well as pushed them on Twitter and Facebook – sorry!) it’s definitely had an effect. At one stage three out of the four books were in the Top 20 in the Kindle Historical Mystery section. I know, a small sub-genre, but it made me very, very happy.

As if that wasn’t enough, I finished the rewrite of the sixth Richard Nottingham book, Fair and Tender Ladies, and heard back from the publisher – within 48 hours, no less! – with an acceptance. The result of this is that I’ll end up with four novels out during 2013, a pair of Richard Nottinghams, The Crooked Spire, my medieval book set in Chesterfield, and the one we’re coming to next.

March 29 was the publication day for Emerald City. It’s a very different kind of book for me, and the only one to date that draws on the write what you know theory. It’s set in Seattle, where I lived for 20 years, set in the just pre-grunge (hate that word) music scene, and it’s a murder mystery featuring a music journalist (which I still am, although I’ve never actually murdered anyone. Yet). But it’s the closest to the present day that I’ve come, although the central character is female, a change suggested by the publisher for very practical reasons, as it meant that the excellent Lorelei King could narrate the audiobook, and she does a superb job of it.

There was also a week’s break in Whitby, no snow but a withering wind off the sea for most of the time. Yet it was curiously enjoyable, discovering a church with beautiful medieval wall paintings in Pickering and a day in Durham, where I’d never been before and seeing a Norman cathedral. I’m more familiar with the slightly later elegance of York and Lincoln, so airy and light. By comparison, this seemed somewhat oppressive. The city itself, however, was lovely. And, of course, a walk along the beach to Sandsend and a little time at the abbey.

Now I’m back where I should be, in the Leeds gas strike of 1890, trying to catch murderers and find a missing girl.

To any of you who bought one of these books this month, or at any time, thank you so much. It sounds trite, but I really do appreciate it.

That Rewrite Thing (Thank God)

At the beginning of February my publisher gently but firmly rejected the next Richard Nottingham novel. That happens; it wasn’t what they wanted, not what they thought would sell. And they’re the experts in that area.

Yes, of course my stomach lurched when I got the news. But, really, as a writer you have two choices at that point. Dump the book entirely or listen to what the publisher’s said and rewrite the thing.

I did the latter and you know what? I’m very glad I did. What I’d had before was a very fair tale, a yarn, perfectly fine for what it was but…it didn’t have the emotional depth. That’s probably because its predecessor, At the Dying of the Year, had been so draining to write. I was all emotioned out.

The new version is more of a whodunit, as my publisher wanted. But it’s also more, a deeper, darker book, a real Richard Nottingham book, the mood of melancholy carrying over from the end of the previous volume. I dug deep into myself, and I’m glad I did, glad that I’d been made to do so. It’s a much better book, too, if I do say so myself.

The moral? That out of bad news, something far more worthwhile can grow.

On Monday I sent the new version of Fair and Tender Ladies to my publisher. Today I heard from them. They love it and they’re going to publish it. It’ll be out in September.

A 1733 Interview with Richard Nottingham, Part One

From the Leeds Mercury, 1733:

As the citizens of our good town will know, among the public offices in Leeds is one of Constable. Whilst many of those who abide within the letter of the law may be unaware that the role is anything more than ceremonial, those of a nefarious and dubious character know all too well that our Constable is someone to be feared, a man who uses his rank wisely to see that they’re punished for their misdeeds.

Earlier this year our present Constable, Mr. Richard Nottingham, was incapacitated by a grievous knife wound in the act of apprehending some dangerous criminals. For some time the outcome of his life lay in the balance. Praise be to God, however, that he returned from such a brink and currently finds himself recuperating at home.

Constable Nottingham was gracious enough to accede to request from your humble correspondent and answer questions for the Mercury. We deem this interview to be of great account to those in Leeds, that they may acquaint themselves with a man who’s proved himself to be such a valued servant to the city.

We wish you well of the day, sir, and hope your condition’s improving.

Slowly. Another month and I should be back to my work. To tell you the truth, I’ll be glad of it; I wasn’t made to be idle.

You have no thoughts of retirement?

Perhaps my wife would like that but she knows me too well to insist. I love my job. I’ve been doing it sixteen years now (Editor’s note: Mr. Nottingham was named as Constable in 1717) and I can’t imagine anything else. Certainly not doing nothing.

Who has been your greatest foe?

Greatest? I’m not sure that’s the word I’d use for him, but probably the most dangerous was Amos Worthy. He died a year ago, taken by cancer. He was a pimp, a money lender, he had a hand in much of the crime we had here.

And yet he was never in court? Never sentenced to hang or transported?

He was a wealthy man. Money can buy power and protection. Perhaps it’s best just to say that Mr. Worthy used his riches wisely. Those who might testify against him or threaten him would change their minds or decide to leave Leeds. A number of years ago, back before I became Constable, there was a man named Tom Finer. He vanished overnight. We’ve never discovered what happened to him.

Leeds is a place that is changing in every way. It’s growing bigger and richer each year. Has the nature of the crimes from which you defend us altered?

People drink, they argue and fight. Nothing’s changed there and it probably never will. Men grow weary of life and kill themselves. I’ve seen men and woman kill for passion. I’ve seen them steal and even murder to be able to feed their families. I’ve seen things most people could never believe. We have more people in Leeds than ever before. The rich are richer and the poor grow poorer and more desperate. There are plenty hereabouts with next to nothing. When folk are like that they end up feeling they have nothing to lose, and they’re right. Even the danger of having their necks stretched up on Chapeltown Moor doesn’t seem like much. Imagine having empty pockets and an empty belly then seeing a man wearing a coat and breeches that cost more than you’d be able to scrape together in three months. How would you feel?

Those are very radical opinions, sir. You make Leeds sound like a dangerous place.

It can be. It’s my job – and those who work with me – to keep people safe. All the people of Leeds, not only those who live in the grand houses.

The second part of our conversation with Mr. Nottingham will be published in our next edition, which will appear seven days from now. We trust you will find it as edifying as the first.

ImageAnd a reminder that the next novel featuring Richard Nottingham, At the Dying of the Year, is published in hardback in the UK on February 28th.