The Anchoress Will Be Coming Soon – And Some Norman-Era Fiction

First of all, apologies. I’ve been quiet for a little while. Physically well, thankfully, but preoccupied with this and that. Writing the new Tom Harper, of course, but I was also asked to take part in another project called Street Stories, which will take place on Quarry Hill in Leeds. It’s the brainchild of Leeds City College and put together by #foundfiction. Small pieces of writing will be displayed as street art around various parts of Quarry Hill, and I’m one of four writers creating work for it. Mine will cover aspects of the area as it was: Quarry Hill flats, of course, but also the 1645 plague cabins, St. Peter’s Well, the death of Tom Maguire and more. It’s something different, every piece is very compressed, and it’s an interesting challenge.

Some of you will be wondering exactly when The Anchoress of Chesterfield is likely to appear, or even if it will appear. The initial publication date of June 1 is now a memory, and another date of the end of June isn’t going to happen. But it’s at the printer, and I’m told that it will be available in paperback and as an ebook from the end of July. Not exact date, I’m afraid, but this appears concrete. Thank you for being patient, but these have been very different times, as well all know.

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I showed you a little of my Civil War period novella, The Cloth Searcher. Before I began work on that, I revisited and picked up the threads and completed another story I began a few years ago, this one set in Norman-era Leeds, called Norman Blood. I’m now going back over it, slowly. Another novella. Here’s how it begins:

Note: Ledes was the name given to modern-day Leeds.

1

1092 AD

He rarely dreamed now. In the beginning the night mare had ridden every time he closed his eyes, slipping through the blackness like a cutthroat and gripping him so close he could smell its graveyard stench. Then, slowly, almost without him knowing, it had faded and become a fearful memory.

But last night it had returned, more powerful for having been away so long. Screaming, growing louder and louder before dropping into a single moment of dead, empty silence.

Then a welter of noise filled the space. Sounds he hadn’t noticed before. Shouting, hooves. The metal rasp of weapons drawn. The crackle as a thatched roof caught fire and the night flamed.

He was hobbling through the darkness, desperate to keep out of sight. But even when he was a mile away and more, he could still hear the soldiers shouting in their foreign tongue; no doubting the meaning and their hatred. Killing, rape, the devils in hell let loose to roam, all the order and the law gone from the earth. Blades hacking at flesh and tearing at souls.

Somewhere, someone must be alive. They must be, or all the world would be blood.

When he woke, he was breathing so hard that his chest hurt, hands clenched tight into fists, the t tears tumbling down his cheeks.

Trembling, Erik had to ease himself out of the bed, careful not to wake Inga, then paced up and down on the earth floor of the house, letting its cold hardness, its realness, into his body, until the demons danced away. Hours later, in full daylight, he could still taste the smoke and death on his tongue, a poison no gulp of ale could take away.

For the dream to come back after all this time…it had to mean something.

 

The villagers always closed their doors as the soldiers passed. It was safer, like a cantrip to keep evil at bay. There were only ten men this time, churning up the mud as they marched rapidly along the road. Beyond the houses and the church, their feet clattered as they crossed the bridge over the beck until the hard beat of marching softened into the distance.

Every week it was the same, a patrol sent out, as if the Normans were fearful that people might flare up and oppose them again. But who was left to fight or forge the weapons? Who had the will? The army had conquered, it had destroyed the land far and wide. The soldiers had used their iron and steel to choke away hope.

The Harrying. That was what they called it.

Death was the word he used. That was the truth of it.

All across Yorkshire, manors had burned. Animals butchered in the fields and left to rot. Not only the stock: people were killed, hundreds, maybe thousands of them, unshriven and unburied. Those still alive fled, praying for safety, begging for deliverance. But God had turned His face away, unhearing, unforgiving. No food, no shelter. No hope. No life. They died beyond counting during the winter, children and parents withered to sacks of bone and heart and flesh until they barely made a meal for the wolves.

But Ledes…Ledes was spared. A miracle, that was what the people here believed. God’s blessing. But he knew that the reality spoke far less of heaven and much more of power. It was a military decision, nothing more than that. A finger stabbed down on a rough-drawn map. Keep this place with the ford over the river. We can station our men there.

Erik brushed the wood shavings from his lap and put the knife back in his belt. He’d whittled the end of the post to a sharp point that would go easily into the ground. Since Sunday, his wife had been reminding him that the gate between their toft and the pasture needed repair.

The job was there in his head, but every hour of daylight had been filled. He was the reeve, elected by the others when the manor became property of the monks in York. Each dispute about the size of a villager’s planting strips, who should do what, when they should do it, ended with him.

Erik sighed. Since the spring ploughing and planting began, it had been one task after another. Decide this, measure that, give an order, settle an argument. Finally, last night, the procession of people hammering on the door stopped.

Then the night mare visited. But it had ridden on again, thank God. No one had needed him this morning. And now he finally had time to do something for himself. He hoisted the post on to his shoulder and limped to the end of the garden. When he was young he’d jumped from a tree and broken a bone on his thigh. It was never set properly, leaving him to walk like this.

On the horizon, ravens swooped down on something, then scattered high into the air as a buzzard dived. The first fingers of spring and the ground was beginning to soften after the long winter. Pray for a warm summer and a good harvest.

The scents of life drifted on the air. Off in the distance he could see lambs, newborn and tentative, discovering the astonishment of movement. Every year it was the same, and every year it enchanted him and made his heart soar.

He loved this ville. It was home, it was comfort. He cherished the people here, even when their voices and demand and questions wearied him. Erik had been surprised when they put him forward as reeve, grateful when they voted for him.

In return he took all his responsibilities seriously, sitting and making his judgements at the manor court, tallying harvests, making sure the priest received his tithe and the monks had all they were owed.

He’d been on God’s Earth for almost forty years, as close as he could guess; an old man now, with all the pains and failings of age. But he tried to do his duty by everyone.

And he put them all in front of himself. That was his wife’s complaint. Inga was right. But what could he do? He could hardly turn them away or make them wait. So jobs like this were tucked into odd, quiet hours when the chance arose.

Erik dug into the soil with the tip of his knife and set with post in place. He’d set a rock aside, heavy enough to need two hands. The dull sound of stone on wood, over and over and over, until it was seated straight and secure. Now the gate would close properly; no animals would wander into the garden and eat what his wife grew. Inga would be happy.

The manor had improved since it became the property of the monks. They paid rents every quarter day now instead of giving their labour, and what man wouldn’t work harder for himself than for a lord? But the monks had also taken the best pasture to graze their sheep. The best pasture, of course, and the villagers had to tend them. Less ground for fallow or farming.

His eyes followed the line of low trees that grew along the stream that marked the northern boundary of the manor. The villagers were busy with ploughing and sowing and digging. At least if they were occupied, he’d have some time. And he still needed to plant early seeds in his own strips.

He stretched, an ache of satisfaction in his arms, then turned towards the house. For a moment the clouds parted and the sun shone, the glimpse of colour and brightness welcome against the grey. Erik smiled, then caught a glint of metal from the corner of his eye. Two of the soldiers were running back along the road to their palisade.

Suddenly every sense of pleasure vanished. He was alert, a prickle of fear running down his back.

The Anchoress Of Chesterfield – A Taste

As most of you know, I write about Leeds. I bloody love Leeds. But I like NE Derbyshire too; I spent a few years living there, and I have a series set in medieval Chesterfield, featuring John the Carpenter. The fourth The Anchoress of Chesterfield, comes out June 1 (that’s the plan, anyway). Fancy a little bit of it? Oh, it’s available to order, and the ebook is cheap.

Chesterfield, September 1370

 

John felt the axe bite into the wood, deep enough for it to stay. He straightened up and stretched, then wiped the sweat from his face with an old piece of linen. Chopping the branches from a fallen tree was labour to make the muscles ache and moan in protest.

It had come down during the night, blocking the road that led north from Chesterfield to Sheffield. At first light the town bailiffs were out knocking on the doors, begging all the craftsmen and labourers in town for their help. Everyone with tools and a strong back. John the Carpenter had been one of the first, bringing his mute assistant, Alan. Soon a dozen men and more were working on the tree with axes and saws. It was an old, thick elm that had rotted at its core until the weight became too much and it had toppled.

Now the trunk lay in sections the height of a man, each one pushed to the side of the road. The only task remaining was to strip the branches, and they were almost done with that. John told Alan to fetch them ale from the jug a kindly goodwife had left. Only six men were still working. Themselves, three foresters who seemed locked into their labour, never joking or gossiping, and a farmhand, a sullen man sent along by his master who kept pausing to grumble.

The sun sat high in the sky. But it was September now, with none of the fierce heat that had burned his skin all summer and turned it the colour of tanned leather. A pleasant day, with the high clouds flitting and dancing above the fields.

At least he’d be paid for this, John thought. Fourpence, a full day’s wage. And there were one or two pieces of wood he might be able to scavenge and shape into things later, once business has ceased for the winter.

Truth be told, he was grateful for any money at all. It had been a meagre year. The only good thing was that the prayers of all in the town had been answered; no cases of plague in the heat of summer gave them all the hope that it might never return. He crossed himself at the thought.

For him, though, things had been hard. Two more joiners had moved to town and brought competition. Their work was rough and ready, they weren’t proper craftsmen; still, they were able to handle most jobs that had been his. Men who charged less than he did and took much of his business. Incomers. Silently, he laughed at himself.

John had been here for ten years now. He was married, he had three children. Much of the time he felt part of the fabric of Chesterfield. Still, to some who’d been born and raised here, he was as much an outsider as someone who’d arrived just the week before. Another decade and he still wouldn’t be a native to people like that.

He carefully pulled out his axe, wiped it with an oily rag and inspected the edge, running it along his thumb, before putting it back in the leather satchel. The tools he owned had once belonged to his father. They’d served the man well until he died in the Great Pestilence. God’s blood, that was more than twenty years ago now. A lifetime and more.

The hammer, the saw, the awl and everything else had kept John alive as he wandered from place to place, growing from a boy to a young man and learning to harness his natural feel for wood. Life on the roads had taken him to York; for several years he’d honed his craft there, constantly employed in the frenzy of church building until circumstances forced him to leave. Only after that had he ended up in Chesterfield.

This was home now. He was settled, he’d lived here longer than anywhere else. To anyone looking at his life, he was a success. He’d become a family man with all the responsibilities that brought. He had his business as a carpenter, he owned two houses, he employed one man. But he knew how readily appearances could deceive.

One of the properties, on Saltergate, had been in his wife Katherine’s family; she was the oldest child, she’d inherited it when her mother died. The other, around the corner on Knifesmithgate, had belonged to Martha, the old woman who was friend to them both. She’d willed him her house when she died two years before. By then John and his family were already living there, caring for the woman in her old age. Martha had stood godmother to two of their children and they’d named their younger daughter after her; her memory would live on in his family.

Both houses desperately needed work. They’d been ignored for too long. John had done what he could, but so much was beyond him. The roof at Martha’s old house leaked into the solar. It was going to need new slates before winter set in. If he left it for yet another year, the beams would begin to rot and it would be a much bigger, harder job. But a tiler would cost money he didn’t have in his coffer.

He rented out the Saltergate house. The amount it brought barely covered all the never-ending list of repairs.

The constant worry about money grew more pressing every month. It kept him awake long into the night and gnawed at his heart. No peace. The other day he’d seen his reflection in a pond, shocked at the way his hair was turning grey and the lines that furrowed his face.

This year it was coming to a head. He was going to have to make a choice. Unless something happened and a fortune tumbled into his lap, he’d have no choice but to sell one of the houses. And he had no faith in miracles. Not for a man like him.

He loved Katherine’s brother and sisters, but he was glad they were no longer part of the household. Fewer mouths to feed was a blessing when he had three children of his own. His brother-in-law Walter and his young bride were settled with her parents in Bolsover, while Katherine’s two sisters were in service on a farm near Holymoorside.

He sighed and began the walk back towards Chesterfield. It wasn’t far, no more than a few minutes away. The spire of the church soared high into the sky, visible for miles around, as clear and welcoming as any beacon.

He’d worked on that when he first arrived in the town. Only for a short time, though. After a few days John had found himself a suspect in a murder in the church tower, a stranger who needed to clear his name.

That had happened ten years ago. Where had the time gone? It happened when he first knew Katherine, before he’d become a husband and a father and all the things that had happened since. John felt the weight of his own history pressing down on his shoulders. What could he do except carry on? With God’s blessing, everything would be fine. He had to believe that. They’d all survive and prosper in His grace.

‘Who knows, maybe we’ll have work waiting for us in town,’ he told Alan, with the kind of hope he didn’t feel.

The lad was twelve now, as much a natural as a carpenter as John had been himself. He carried his own leather satchel of tools that banged against his back as he walked. He was growing into a tall young man with broad shoulders, his hands rough and thick with calluses from the work they did. Alan was old enough and certainly skilled enough to strike out on his own. But he was mute and he didn’t know how to write. His fingers were quick to make signs, but most people would never understand them. It was impossible for him to obtain work himself, and he needed to be with someone who wouldn’t take advantage of him. Six years before, the boy had started out as John’s apprentice and bit by bit the lad had learned everything he had to teach. Now he was… what could he call him, John wondered? An assistant? An equal? He clapped a hand down on the boy’s shoulder and watched the tiny flakes of wood rise from his battered tunic.

The road was dusty; they’d had no rain for over a fortnight. A few horses and carts passed them, and he could hear the sounds of the weekday market on the north side of the church as they climbed the hill. A town of stone and slate, of timber and limewash. Beautiful, in its own coarse way. Home.

Not too much more than a week and the annual fair would begin. It would be eight days of feasting, noise and entertainment, with all manner of goods for sale. Music and players, tumblers and jugglers. It would all begin with a service and blessing in church on the day of the exaltation of the Holy Cross. Already he could sense the excitement around town. Every year it was exactly the same. The children caught it first, dancing through the days in anticipation, then the fever started to affect the adults.

For a brief while, Chesterfield would feel like the most important, magical place in the kingdom. People came from all over for the fair. Not just the North, nor even England, but everywhere. John had met many from beyond the borders: Welshmen, Irishmen, even a Dane once, with his happy, sing-song accent; a German and a man from the lowlands of Holland. An entire world came to Chesterfield, bringing things beyond the locals’ imagination. Goods to buy, foods to taste. Minstrels and clowns to entertain. There would be merchants and goodwives shouting out their wares and displaying all the luxuries on offer. Everything from the ordinary to the exotic. His children were counting down the days. Foolishly, he’d promised Martha a length of ribbon from the fair. She’d remember, of course, but he had no idea how he’d be able to afford it for her. The worry of an empty scrip crowded his mind.

Before he went home he’d stop at the Guildhall and pick up his wage for today’s work. Four good pennies to spend on food. Katherine would be glad to see that. The garden behind their house had been fruitful this year, but the season was coming to an end and it didn’t offer them bread or milk or meat. Only the occasional hen that had grown too old to lay eggs.

He looked as Alan nudged him and pointed towards a man hurrying along with a forceful stride and a determined look in his eye. He was wearing a dark green woollen tunic bearing the coroner’s badge, he had a sword hanging from his belt, and he was coming directly towards them.

Pray God the man wasn’t seeking him. It couldn’t be good news if someone like that wanted him. Either something awful had happened, or the coroner wanted his help. Six years had passed since the last time that had happened. That was when de Harville was still alive and held the office of King’s Coroner. Katherine had always hated the idea of him working for the man. Three times it had happened, and he’d always undertaken the work reluctantly, but what choice did anyone have when a rich man in authority demanded his services? The last time he’d almost been killed. Enough, his wife insisted, and he’d been quick to agree.

Then de Harville died, and John was thankful that his successor, Sir Mark Strong, had chosen to go his own way. He had no desire to be tangled up in any of that again.

‘Are you John the Carpenter?’ the man asked as he came closer.

‘I am.’ He felt his heart sink.

‘The coroner would like you to attend him.’

‘Me?’ John asked. ‘Are you sure you have the right man? Why would he want me? I’ve never done any work for Coroner Strong.’

He knew the words were hopeless, but he had to say them, to try and ward all this off.

The man shrugged. He was well-muscled, with fair hair and a ruddy complexion, a pair of smiling blue eyes.

‘Nay, Master, I’m not the one to ask. I’m just the messenger. All I do is what I’m told, and my order was to come and fetch you. I don’t know what he wants. But I can tell you this: there’s a body at Calow and he’d like you to see it. You’re welcome to walk out with me if you choose.’

Calow? It was nothing more than a hamlet half a mile from the town. He could picture it in his mind: just three or four tumbledown little cottages and a tiny church with an anchoress’s cell. What could have happened out there to draw the coroner’s attention?

‘Is it a murder?’

The man shook his head. ‘Couldn’t tell you, Master. He gave me my order, that’s it.’

‘Who is it?’

‘I can’t say that, either. Coroner Strong will tell you himself, Master.’ His face flickered with impatience. ‘We should set off.’

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A New Chesterfield Book

I regularly receive emails from people who ask if there will be another John the Carpenter book. My response has been probably not after The Holywell Dead a couple of years ago.

But never say never…

Today I signed a contract for The Anchoress of Chesterfield. It’s set in 1370, and even though John had sworn he wouldn’t work for a coroner again, the circumstances lead to him investigating the death of an anchoress just outside Calow.

No more details for now. I don’t know when it’ll be published, other than to say it’ll be someone in 2020 or (gulp) early 2021.

So now you know.

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2017, And My Year Ahead

So here we are, tiptoeing into 2017, casting a cautious eye at its possibilities, a little hopeful, a little wary that it might be more brutal than 2016. But the only thing my prognostications and the tea leaves are telling me is about the books I have coming up this year. Sorry I can’t help on lottery numbers or Grand National winners. I’m just not that good.

I write every day. I do it because it’s what I love and I have things to say. I’ve been lucky, so far at least, that publishers have wanted to put them in print and some people enjoy them. You have no idea how grateful I am for that.

I still have things to say, tales to tell. But there’s a strange alchemy that turns life into fiction, an odd transmutation. Late in February the fifth of my Tom Harper novels, On Copper Street,  comes out in the UK. Except that underneath everything, it’s not a Tom Harper book at all; that’s just the cloak it wears. Early last year, in the space of two weeks, I received news that three different friends had all been diagnosed with cancer. By then, 2016 was already whittling away at some of the icons of my generation. My friends, I’m pleased to say, are still here and seem to be doing well. But this book became my way to cope with it all, my way of understanding. Maybe even of accepting, I don’t know. It’s a way to reach down to the truth of it as it hits me, of that balance between life and death.

That, I know, probably doesn’t explain much. But for now, it’ll have to do. Oh, and if you’re especially eager, the best price for it seems to be here.

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This summer there’s the third, and last, Chesterfield book with John the Carpenter, The Holywell Dead. For a man who came to me in an instant on the A61, driving through Chesterfield, he feels to have been around a while. We still had a little unfinished business, I was aware of that. Not just him, but Walter, Katherine, Martha, even Coroner de Harville. Their stories had further to run. Not that much…maybe just enough. The limits of a small town and a man who’d rather work with wood than find murderers were closing in. And it ends, I hope, in a fairly apocalyptic fashion, bowing out on a high note. I’ve enjoyed my time in the 14th century with him, but we’ve walked as far as the fork in the road and he’s taken one path and I’ve trodden along the other.

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Then there’s my second – and again, last – visit with Lottie Armstrong in The Year of the Gun. I didn’t have a choice about it. She insisted. Her presence haunted me after I’d completed Modern Crimes, so that she had to come back. But the woman I visited again was older, in her forties, and experiencing World War II in Leeds. There was a vibrancy about her, so extraordinary by being ordinary. She had this other adventure to tell me about; all I had to do was listen and note it all down. But she wasn’t going to let me be until she’d finished the tale. As I said, the choice was taken out of my hands.

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And finally, in late November there will be Free from All Danger, the seventh Richard Nottingham book. It’s still unfolding, not quite all written yet. But I’ve known for a long time that Richard had more to say, and I’m glad he has the chance. By the time it appears, it will be four years since the last volume in the series.

I’m not a fan of endless series with the same character. It’s rare to be able to pull that off, although one or two writers do manage it with some depth. But as characters age, some edges get rounded, while others splinter a little and grow jagged and sharp. Some surfaces harden and other become softer. Those are the hallmarks, far more than the lines on the face or the lack of hair.

Richard has been away, but as he comes back it’s a chance to see how Leeds and the world has changed, and what his place in this might be. The old rubbing up against the new and how they can work together.

In many ways, Richard struck me early on as being like the straight-arrow sheriff in a Western, with his strong sense of good and evil. That changed somewhat over the course of the books, and the grey areas lapped so strongly into the black and the white. But coming out of retirement, how will he find everything now? Is he still sharp enough? More than that, where does he fit? And part of that is me, and my own sense of mortality, heavily tempered by the last 12 months, and the knowledge that new generations are shaping the world, while those of us who are older become more and more like bystanders, slightly out of time.

If the series had continued without a break, this wouldn’t have been the book I’d have written. So I hope that gap, that distance, has served us well.

Tom (and Annabelle, naturally), John, Lottie, Richard – they’re all as alive to me as anyone I talk to in a shop or over coffee. They’re friends, confidantes. And sometimes their books refract bits of the present into the past. Sometimes reflections of history, sometimes my own present, my thoughts and emotions. That transmutation that fiction can give.

And that offers a little background to the work of mine that’s appearing in the next 12 months. Of course, I hope they entertain, which is what they should do, and if they don’t manage that, then I’ve failed as a fiction writer. But there’s a backstory to each one, too, and maybe knowing it will offer a little more richness to the books.

The Real Crooked Spire

It’s that time of year again. The leaves tumbling down off the tress to form piles you just have to kick and jump in. The first frost. The silent thanks for a working boiler in the morning. And a time to go from my old – and also very new – stamping grounds for a visit to a place I explored a few years ago.

This Saturday (that’s November 23rd, 2013 for those who discover this blog in a time capsule) and on December 9 I’ll be in Chesterfield. It’s all to do with the launch of my new book, The Crooked Spire – which also happens to be the name everyone uses for the Church of St. Mary and All Saints in the town.

 

It’s a beautiful building, which dates from 1360, and part of one of the loveliest market towns I know. Climb up the tower to the base of the spire and Chesterfield is spread out beneath you. But watch because, because the spire, more than 100 feet of it, is only held on to the tower by its own weight. And yes, it’s definitely crooked. There are several theories about that…

The first is that the builders used unseasoned wood for the spire. Given that the Black Death had wiped out many craftsmen, it’s possible that the builders didn’t know that the oak needed to be left for three years before use. After it was covered, the word dried and began to warp, which resulted in the twist so visible today.

That’s one fairly reasonable explanation. The others are much better. One tale goes that the spire, hearing a wedding in the church, was so amazed that there was a virgin in Chesterfield, craned around to look at the woman and couldn’t fully straighten itself. Should another virgin ever marry in the church, the spire will straighten itself. And in the third story, a blacksmith in Bolsover, a few miles away, was putting a new iron shoe on the Devil. He mishit a nail, which drove deep in the Devil’s hoof, causing him to leap in pain. Hanging on to the spire, he twisted it.

These days, though, there’s belief is that the twisting is related to the lead on the spire, which came a few centuries after it was built; the original covering was oak tiles over the beams. The heating and contraction of the lead caused the warping. There are, however, many who discount that.

Whatever the reason, there’s an odd phenomenon. The first reports of the spire being crooked didn’t come until the 17th century, long, long after it was built. But since then it’s become Chesterfield’s main feature and symbol. And the church, both inside and out, is a place of real wonder.

The Crooked Spire

A few weeks ago, some of you might have noticed me announce on Facebook and Twitter that I’ve signed a contract for a new book, The Crooked Spire. Technically, I’m awaiting the contract from the publisher, but my agent has ironed out the details and it’s a done deal.

People outside North Derbyshire or South Yorkshire might not be aware of exactly what the Crooked Spire is. It’s St. Mary’s Church in Chesterfield and yes, the spire is crooked. Built right around 1360, with the spire added just after – around 1361 – it’s reputed to be the largest church in Derbyshire, and quite beautiful. Yes, the spire is crooked (Google it), and the supposed reason is that unseasoned, green timber was used in its construction. However, there’s no mention of it twisting for a few centuries after so, in many ways, it’s anyone’s guess, and these days it’s all covered in lead so it’s impossible to see. You can go up to the base of the spire and look out over the town – a great view – and see just how the spire leans. What’s possibly worrying is that the only thing holding the spire in place on the tower is its own weight.

There are other folk tales as to how the spire ended up so twisted, one involving the devil landing on it, although my favourite is that a virgin was marrying in the church and the spire was so astonished that a virgin could be found in Chesterfield that it twisted to look and couldn’t twist back.

For four-and-a-half years after moving back to England I lived in Dronfield, a small town just six miles from Chesterfield. It’s the place where I did my shopping, where I’d wander the market – the market square is the same one laid out in 1265 – and through the cramped streets that make up the Shambles, where the butchers had their shops. It’s a place that’s held on to much of its history.

The Black Death tore Europe apart from 1348-50. Estimates are that around one-third of the population died, although it’s impossible to be certain. What we do know is that it upset the social order and sparked the end of feudal society, creating more freedom. It makes for an interesting back from John the Carpenter – this is an era just before established surnames – a young worker in wood, originally from Leeds, orphaned when young, his only heirlooms a bag of tools and a rare ability to sense the wood, to be able to make things from it. He arrives in Chesterfield, having fled York and work on the Minster there. It’s a time when a skilled man can find a job anywhere, with nothing to tie him down and reasonable wages.

It’s a murder mystery. The master carpenter is found dead at the top of the church tower and, as a stranger, John is immediately suspect. He has to prove his innocence and find out exactly who’s responsible. At the same time, against his plans, he begins to find he’s growing attached to some people in the town and wanting to stay…

And that’s pretty much all I’m going to say. There’s no set date for publication, although autumn looks likely for The Crooked Spire. When I know more I’ll pass it on…