Finding The Leaden Heart – Gods Of Gold

As I’ve mentioned before – and I’ll be saying again and again – the end of March sees the publication of my new book, The Leaden Heart. It’s the seventh in the Tom Harper series, set in 1899, on the cusp of a brand-new century that is set to bring more changes that anyone could imagine.

In the weeks leading up to it seeing the light of day, time to revisit some of the book in the series…

Hard to believe that it’s only five years since Tom made his first appearance, met as he sprints down Briggate in pursuit of a thief. That’s where it all started, with Gods of Gold, set during the 1890 Leeds Gas Strike, which the union won in just three days, a rare example of the workers coming out on top.

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It was strange that the book even appeared. I’d written six Richard Nottingham novels, and my publisher asked for something different. I’d always sworn I’d never set anything in Victorian times. But after that I read about the gas strike and I knew it ought to be celebrated. I received help from a strange source, a woman I’d met before, as I’d written a short story about her (Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw). She sat down next to me and said, ‘I was there, luv. I was the landlady at the Victoria. Why don’t you let me tell you about it?’

And so Gods of Gold came about. The title is from a poem by Tom Maguire, one of Leeds’ great unsung political figures, a man who did so much for the working classes here, only to die in poverty far, far too young. He’s buried at Beckett Street Cemetery.

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Joanne Harris, the bestselling author (who has a new book coming called The Strawberry Thief) was generous enough to praise the novel: “A vibrant sense of living history, with strong, well-drawn characters…I loved it.”

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I made a trailer for the book, and here it is, all dusted off and YouTube shiny.

For the launch, I even had 10 tee shirts made, featuring the cover image. Remarkably, nine of them sold, and I still have the other in a drawer. And there were book marks.

Apart from Tom, the book also featured Detective Sergeant Billy Reed, who’s featured in every book so far, as well as Constable Ash, who’s grown since his introduction in uniform. But there was someone else, that woman who told me all about the strike. Annabelle Atkinson.

She’s Annabelle Harper now, of course, and has been for a long time. But they were still courting in those early days, and I had no idea how important a figure she’d become in the series, it’s emotional linchpin, in fact. As the series progresses, in many ways it’s become the story of the Harper family, how they change and age over the years, as much as they’re crime novels or historical fiction. Or why not all three? I ended up writing a play about Annabelle, called The Empress on the Corner, which was performed a few times. A couple of scenes were filmed, including this, which recounts how she and Tom first met. The Victorian pub is part of Abbey House Museum in Leeds – they were kind enough to let us film.

In those days I didn’t know the books would end up taking on such a life of their own. At the risk of sound pretentious, the series has taken on the feel of my magnum opus. Like any writer, I was fumbling in the dark, not sure where things were heading. I have a much clearer sense of things now. That doesn’t mean the people will do what I expect and hope. After all, they’ve gone their own way in the past six books.

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The Tin God Launch – The Film

I know many of you don’t live in Leeds, so there was no chance of you attending the full launch of The Tin God on Saturday. And for some who do live here, well, it was a hot, sunny weekend, a Bank Holiday; there were other commitments.

I asked a young filmmaker who’s won awards for her work to document the event.

She came up with an absolutely wonderful piece of work, and I’m grateful.

 

There’s also a full report on the event that you can read right here, and it’s an absolute cracker!

Come And Do The New Eastgate Swing

The first copy of The New Eastgate Swing – the second book to feature Dan Markham (Dark Briggate Blues) set in 1950s Leeds – has arrived in the post. It’ll be in the bookshops early next month, in paperback and waiting for you.

You can read about it here, but there’s jazz, the lingering strands of the Second World War, the growing threat of the Cold War, spies, assassins, and, yes, a touch of 1950s romance.

There’s going to be a launch for the book at 7pm on Thursday February 11 at Waterstone’s on Albion Street in Leeds. It’s free, I promise fun, and, well, FREE WINE. If any of you fancy dressing up in 1950s clothes, there might even be a prize for you.

And did I mention FREE WINE. Maybe I did. But I’m sure you don’t need any inducements. My publisher’s going to be there, so a good turnout would be very much appreciated. And you get FREE WINE.

So come along. Please.

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What and How, And Especially Why

To all those who logged on Sunday for what was should have the world’s first streamed book launch, my sincere apologies. It ought to have happened. We had video – but the audio let everyone down. It was fine at soundcheck, it was fine an hour later. But on broadcast? Not a peep of sound.

I don’t know why. I tried everything I could, but nothing worked. But people stuck around, and we ended up with Two Bronze Pennies having what was certainly the world’s first book launch by instant messaging.

But…I still felt bad about it. So I sat down and made a little movie about the book. What caused me to write it, and how the world today all too often seems to sadly reflect the world of 1890. What a short, short way we’ve come.

It’s not long, only about six minutes. Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and sit down. Let me entertain you – and maybe make you think a bit. Oh, and if you really can’t get enough, further down is a link to a longer extract. And you can, if course, buy the book and read the whole thing. I certainly won’t mind if you do…

And this place offers free delivery worldwide:

http://www.bookdepository.com/Two-Bronze-Pennies-Police-Procedural-Set-Late-19th-Century-England-Chris-Nickson/9780727884916

Another Day

Well, the global streamed launch for Two Bronze Pennies is two days away, and this is your final reminder (promiise!). All you need to do is click  https://www.concertwindow.com/89118-chris-nickson   to take part. No registration, no pack drill. 6 pm Sunday UK time, 1 pm Eastern US, 10 am West Coast, 7 or 8 pm in Europe. I hope you’ll log in, even if it’s just for five minutes – it’ll only be about 45 minutes in total.

To sweeten the deal, and try to persuade you, I’m going to tempt you with a brand new Tom Harper story. Can’t say fairer than that, can I? Call it something for the long weekend – and please, enjoy.

He finally found the woman at half-past five on a cold November evening. She was sitting on the pavement, knees clasped against her chest like a small child. Right there on Briggate, in the very centre of Leeds, people moved around her without noticing, without caring, just an impediment as they made their way home.

Detective Inspector Tom Harper bent down next to her.

‘Ada?’ he asked and she turned her head slowly, as if she’d been off and away, thinking of other things.

‘Hello luv,’ she said. ‘Do I know you?’

‘No,’ he told her with a smile, ‘but everyone’s been looking for you. Do you think you can stand up?’

It had started twelve hours before, when a woman had dashed out of her house off St. Peter’s Place. Not even light yet but she was yelling, ‘Mam! Mam! Where are you?’ until the copper on the beat came running.

‘You’ll have the whole street up,’ he told her. ‘What’s the matter? Where’s Ada gone?’

‘If I knew I wouldn’t be shouting for her, would I?’ She gave him a withering look and started to shiver. Just a thin dress with a shawl caught around her shoulders to keep out the winter cold. No stockings, just a pair of clogs on her bare feet. ‘I woke up and looked in on her and she’d gone.’

He looked at her. Constable Earnshaw had been fifteen years on the force, the last five of them around here. It was a poor area, no more than a loud shout from the nick down at Millgarth. Filled with rooming houses, the Mission, a run-down Turkish bathhouse in among the back-to-backs. Too many people crammed into houses that needed to be torn down. But it was what they could afford.

‘Outhouse?’ he asked.

‘I already looked,’ Millie Walker told him. She shook her head, wrapped her arms around herself, trying not to cry. ‘She’s gone again.’

The first time had been the year before. Ada Taylor was old, half-blind, spending more hours lost in the past than she did in the present. She talked to her husband, dead for nigh on twenty years, as if she could see him right there in the room, and to Dollie, Millie’s younger sister who hadn’t lived past the age of eight. Sometimes she was fine, making as much sense as anyone, cackling with the other women who gathered on the doorsteps and gossiped. But when her mind slipped, no one knew how long before it would return. Or even if it would come back.

Everyone in the area kept an eye out for her, leading her back home if she began to wander. One day, though, she managed to just disappear, gone for an hour as people searched, until they found her down by Marsh Lane, standing and talking to someone that no other person could see, calling him granddad, listening to the answers only she could hear.

There’d been two other occasions since. Once at the start of spring, when someone finally spotted her over on Kirkgate, so soaked after a heavy shower of rain that Millie was scared her mother would take a chill and die. Then in the summer when she ended up on the river bank – and God only knew how she’d walked so far with bad knees and swollen ankles – just sitting with her legs dangling and smiling up at the blue sky.

This time, though, there was no telling how long she’d been gone.

‘I felt the sheets in her bed,’ Millie said, ‘and they were cold. Like ice.’ She was trying to keep her face steady and her voice strong. The weather had been bitter the last few days, she could almost taste the snow in the air, along with all the soot and the stink.

‘You get the people out around here,’ Earnshaw told her. ‘Go all around. I’ll get the bobbies out.’ He waited until she gave him a short nod then turned on his heel and dashed away.

Harper was at the station just before the shift changed at six. All the night men looking ready for their beds, faces red with the cold. And the ones on days looking glum at the idea of twelve hours out in the weather.

‘Sir?’

He looked up, setting aside the report he was writing.

‘Morning, Victor. Time to go home for you, isn’t it?’

They knew each other; Earnshaw had shown him some of the ropes when he’d been a recruit, in the days when he’d been too eager to please and believed everything anyone told him. The older man had helped him quickly rub off some of the green and give him an edge.

‘Not this morning, sir. I’ve got something. And old woman who’s vanished in the night. She’s a bit, well, you know.’

‘How long’s she been gone?’

‘Anytime up to eight hours, sir. That’s the problem. She’s done it before, an’ all.’ He explained quickly, giving a short description of the woman. ‘I thought I’d go back and help out if I can.’

‘What do you need?’

‘I know you get out and about. If you can pass the word, please, sir. I’ve let Sergeant Tollman know. Everyone’s going to be watching for her.’

‘I will,’ Harper promised.

‘Bless you, sir. A few of the lads are going to come with me. Happen we’ll find her soon.’

By dinnertime there was no sign of her.

Harper had had a full morning trying to track a thief who’d broken into at least twenty houses. He had the man’s name, but he’d gone to ground somewhere, nowhere to be found. It was a time to go around the pubs and corners, to ask his quiet questions and mention Ada Taylor as he was leaving. Half the men he talked to couldn’t care – they could trip over her and not give a damn – but others nodded with serious eyes. They their mams and their nanas.

To mke it worse, he was working alone; Sergeant Reed was in court, giving evidence in a fraud case and likely to be there all day and half the next.

At three the word reached him. The man he wanted was hiding in an empty cellar on Commercial Street. Sold out for three shillings, and the inspector paid it gladly.

The only way in was a set of steps off Packhorse Yard. At the top he took a deep breath and moved as quietly as possible, keeping one hand against the wall to steady himself. Under his boots he could feel the stone, greasy and slick. One slip and he’d tumble all the way down.

The door at the bottom was pulled to, but gave when he pushed lightly on it. The day was already near dusk, the light dim. Inside it would be black.

God alone knew what the man had in there to protect himself. And all detectives carried were their police whistles. It was going to be bluff.

With a kick, he rattled the door back off the wall.

‘Police, Jem.’ He let his voice ring out. ‘I’ve got three coppers out here who are cold and angry. They wouldn’t mind warming themselves up on you. It’s your choice.’

If he’d been given the wrong information he’d look a right bloody fool. And he’d be getting his money back from someone, no mistake on that.

He waited, flexing his hands into fists. Ready. Harper knew his hearing was poor, all down to a blow six years before. The man could be creeping across the floor right now and he might not even know it.

Then the face was there in the doorway. Dirty, hair ragged, a weeping sore filling one cheek. The inspector grabbed him, turned the man against the wall and snapped on the handcuffs on tight.

One thing done, at least.

Writing out the report took an hour, but at least there was a good coal fire burning in the office. No sign of Ada Taylor, though. The word that she was still missing had rippled through the station. He could only imagine the thoughts going through her daughter’s mind.

Ten past five and the door opened suddenly, Tollman peering through.

‘Disturbance, sir. Corner of Briggate and Boar Lane. Sounds like they need all the help they can get.’

Harper ran, panting, but it was still three full minutes to reach the scene. Traffic was stopped, omnibuses, carts, and trams all one behind the other. There had to be fifteen coppers already there, truncheons out, herding two groups of youths apart and cracking a head or two. All over bar the shouting and the arrests.

In the November darkness it was time to call it a night. And that was when he saw Ada Taylor.

He helped her up. She was cold, shaky, but she could shuffle along if she clung tight to his arm.

‘You’re like Bert,’ she told him with a coy expression. For a moment the years parted and he could see the pretty young girl she’d been so long ago. ‘You should have seen Bert. He was good-looking, too. I should never have turned him away for Eddie. I’d have had handsome children then.’

The cocoa house was nearby. He helped her inside and bought her a cup, watching as she gazed around the place, not saying a word, drinking with dainty sips.

‘Come on, we’d better get you home,’ he said finally. ‘Your daughter must be beside herself with worry.’

‘I can see your fortune,’ Ada said. It came out of the blue and took him by surprise. The voice didn’t even sound like hers. It was darker, graver, something he couldn’t quite pinpoint. Her eyes seemed to be staring at something far away. ‘You’re never going to be a rich man unless you do one thing.’

He’d play along, he thought. Who knew what was going on inside her head?

‘What’s that?’ he asked.

But as quickly as it arrive, the moment passed. The confusion had returned to her face.

‘Who are you again?’ she asked, sounding like an old woman once more.

‘Someone who’s getting you home. There’s bound to be a hackney outside. You fancy a ride in that, Mrs. Taylor?’

It was the best part of seven o’clock before he climbed the stairs at the Victoria. A long day, but then they all were. Still, he had a thief ready to go to trial and there was someone back with her family. He’d experienced worse.

‘Tom?’ Annabelle called from the kitchen as he opened the door.

He walked in and put his arms around her.

‘Busy day?’ he asked.

‘No more than usual. You look all in.’ She stroked his hair.

‘It was interesting,’ he said. ‘I almost found out how to be rich.’

‘What?’ Her eyes widened. ‘Don’t be so daft. What on earth are you talking about?’

He smiled.

‘Honestly,’ he told here, ‘I wish I knew.’

Two Bronze Pennies – The Global Launch Event

As (I hope) you’re all aware, Two Bronze Pennies comes out in the UK next week. I’m incredibly proud of the book (go here to read a bit about it and here to read about Tom Harper’s world in 1890s Leeds), and it’s received some great reviews.

My book launches for the Richard Nottingham and Tom Harper books have so far all been in Leeds; after all, they’re set here. I can’t afford do do book tours, sadly. And so…I want to invite you all to my place for the launch. Virtually, anyway.

As far as I’m aware, no one’s done a live, streamed book launch. If I’m right, then this will be a first. On Sunday, May 24, direct from the <cough> grandeur of my living room comes the global Two Bronze Pennies book launch. It’s at 6pm UK time, which should allow as many people as possible from around the world to tune in. You don’t have to sign up for anything – although I may offer links for buying the book – nothing to join, no money to pay. Just enjoy.

Thankfully, it won’t all be me. I’ll talk a bit about the book, read a little. But there will be a couple of special guests. I’m very proud and happy that my friend Shonaleigh, the last drut’syla (a storyteller in the Jewish tradition, has offered to tell a story. That’s very apt, since the story takes place in the Leylands, what was then the Jewish area of Leeds. And there (fingers crossed) will be someone who’s written about the Jews in Leeds to talk briefly about what life was like there.

There’ll be a chat room where you can ask questions – smartarse answers guaranteed – and interact. And it’s only 45 minutes out of your life. A new way to launch a book and thank all of you for buying, borrowing, and reading them.

The URL for the event? I’m glad you asked.  Simply click here, or it’s

https://www.concertwindow.com/89118-chris-nickson

See you there – and don’t worry, there will be reminders. Many, many, many of them! Let’s do something new, shall we?

Gods of Gold Book Launch

The launch for Gods of Gold is happening on Thursday, September 11, from 6.45-8pm. It’s at the Leeds Library, the oldest subscription library in Britain, and in its present location since 1808.

It’s a wonderful place, and I feel very lucky to be having an event there again. There’s going to be wine and cake, and the library has promised to have newspapers (and possibly artefacts) relation to the 1890 Leeds Gas Strike – which forms the backdrop to the book – on display. And yes, the workers won!

Everyone is welcome, and I hope you’ll come, but you will need to reserve a place. Call the Library on (0113) 245 3071 or email enquiries@theleedslibrary.org.uk.

Last time I was there, it was packed, and I hope it will be again. There will be copies of the book on sale, of course, as well as just a few Gods of Gold tee shirts.

Come on along.

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