The Genesis of Richard Nottingham

As most of you must know by now, the Richard Nottingham series is taking a break. However, Richard certainly isn’t dead and there will be a time when he’ll be ready to whisper some stories in my ear again.

I’ve been thinking about him a little over the last few days, and the way he first came into my life.

Well, perhaps the best way to begin is to say that Richard Nottingham was a real person. At least, a Richard Nottingham was. He was Constable of Leeds from 1717-1737, taking over the post from William Nottingham, who might well have been his father. It was, really, purely ceremonial, and there seem to be very few mentions of him in the records. Quite certainly, he wouldn’t have actively investigated crimes. That would have been left for the night watch, most of whom also served as the Town Waits, or musicians, performing for dances and big occasions. Probably the closest he ever came to a real crime was watching a hanging on Chapeltown Moor.

So yes, I took a few liberties with the truth. No apologies for that. After all, the truth can’t compare with a good tale.

But the first time I wrote about Richard, he wasn’t even the main character in the story. 10 years ago, when I was still living in Seattle, I wrote a novel called The Cloth Searcher. That was an honorary title given to a Leeds merchant – a new one each year – who was responsible for ensuring that the cloth sold and exported in Leeds was of a sufficiently high standard. Given that the place traded on its reputation, quality was important.

In the book, Tom Williamson, a merchant (whom you may recognise from the series) was the Cloth Searcher, and the central character. His wife, Hannah, was an important character, while Richard was relegated to secondary status. And before anyone asks, no, I don’t still have a copy of it.

At that time I was winding down on writing quickie unauthorised biographies (the most embarrassing ones aren’t under my own name), and asked my agent, who only represented non-fiction, if she knew any agent who might be interested. She passed on the name of a British agent who works with several big-name crime writers. To cut a long story short, she read it, and we met when I visited the UK.

She liked my writing, but not the story. Go away and do me something different was the message.

It made sense to have a lawman at the centre of it. Richard Nottingham was fleshed-out, with a wife and two daughters. He also had a past that saw him start off grand, the son of a merchant, then among the poor once his father threw him and his mother art. He’d seen life from both sides, a man who understood and had experience and compassion. He also acquired a deputy, John Sedgwick.

As most detectives in fiction are loners, I wanted Richard to have a family he dearly loved (an idea inspired by Candace Robb’s Owen Archer novels). Not only was it truer to life, it opened up another side to him, and I wanted the people to be as important as the mysteries.

And there was one other rule: just like life, anyone can die. It didn’t matter if they were a central or a minor character, they were all mortal.

I was about ready to let Richard tell his tale.

I did just that, after I moved back to England in 2005, and presented her with an early version of The Broken Token. Two days after receiving it, she signed me to the agency roster and set me to work with their in-house editor.

For a few months we worked together, then presented the head of the agency with the book. Two days later she emailed and said they were cutting ties with me. I assume she didn’t like the book. I don’t really know as she never said.

I did approach other agents, but received no encouragement, and the book lay fallow for quite a while until I was in the library and chanced across a novel published by Crème de la Crime. It was historical crime, set in the 18th century, and the publisher was close to me.

It was worth a shot. I sent off the first 10,000 words and a synopsis. And waited. Then there was an email. The publisher wanted to see the rest. Wait again (cue plenty of nail-biting) until there was another email saying they wanted to publish the book.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history. But now you know the genesis of Richard Nottingham.

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.

What Is Success?

So what is success?

For the month of March, my publisher arranged with Amazon for The Constant Lovers, the third of my Leeds novels, to be part of the Kindle 100 deal in the US. So what, you think? Well, it’s a pretty big deal, as Amazon promotes the books with Tweets, emails, and quite probably several other things.

Does it work? Yes, it certainly does. It’s at a low price ($3.99, so still not a complete giveaway) and with the push behind it, the book’s currently 2,606 in overall Kindle sales and in the Top 20 for historical mysteries. To me, that last figure’s the really important one. It’s like…it’s like having a bestseller. I know, it’s still not going to give me Ian Rankin sales status. But each success is relative.

Merely having a book published was a success. Having a second, even more so, and when that book was named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year, I truly couldn’t believe it. Then, last year, after the audio book of The Broken Token was issued, to have it listed as one of the Independent on Sunday’s audiobooks of the year…that was me floored once more. I was up there with writers like Ian Fleming, J. K. Rowling and Mave Binchy. Big names, household names. I’m still not exactly sure how it all happened, although huge thanks to Stephen Pacey, who did such a wonderful job on the narration.

In fact, it’s perhaps time to give thanks to people who’ve believed, to Lynne Patrick, who took the first chance on me, to Kate Lyall Grant and everyone at Crème de la Crime, to Ali and Lorelei at Creative Content, to the reviewers who’ve liked the books. And to the people who’ve bought them – and seem to still be buying them.

I imagine I’m like most writers- the tales I put down are the ones I’d like to read, the movies that play in my head. When I’m sitting there, getting the words on the computer, I’m doing it because it’s a need, and ultimately for myself. I dig into myself, sometimes down into the parts that might be better left unknown.

But that people are putting their money down to read these words. That’s still the most staggering thing on earth to me. And it’s real success. Thank you all. Truly. And to those of you who’ve written to me to say you’ve enjoyed them, each of you makes my day with an email.

Oh, and I guess I should say this…all the Richard Nottingham ebooks are on sale on both sides of the Atlantic for the rest of March.