The Book Launch

Thank you so much to everyone who came to the launch for Gods of Gold last night, and those who couldn’t make it but were there in spirit. It was held at the Leeds Library, the oldest subscription library in Britain, founded in 1768 and in the same location since 1808. I was in the ‘new room,’ which only dates from 1880…

I’m grateful to the staff there for their work, and for having me as a guest. They also had the Yorkshire Weekly News from July 1890 on display, with a very long (and wonderfully biased) story about the Gas Strike that forms the backdrop to Gods of Gold (hint: they weren’t happy that the workers won).

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There was wine (of course) and two people brought homemade cake, which was delicious. The only downside was that those sitting there had to listen to me wittering on.

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On the upside, there was time to mingle. I got to meet old friends and new, including my MP, Fabian Hamilton, and a wonderful woman of 93, very spry and alert, who was able to tell me about Kirkgate and Bell’s Pharmacy in the 1920s and 1930s. I feel incredibly privileged to have had everyone come out for me and this book.

Thanks, too, to Radish Books for taking care of the book sales. I was astonished when the pile was devoured by customers in seconds (even my own copy vanished, but thankfully someone returned it). It’s a pretty magical feeling when someone ask you to sign a book for them. Events like last night make all the hard work of writing worthwhile. And even more grateful to everyone at Severn House for their belief in my work.

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Thank you all.

Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw

Annabelle Atkinson is deep at the heart of Gods of Gold. The whole idea began with her, really. But she made her first appearance in this story I gave to Leeds Book Club a couple of years ago. And after that, she would leave me alone; she still hasn’t.

But, as the book launch for Gods of Gold is tomorrow night, here’s the first time Annabelle showed herself. A little different, a little younger, but still recognisable…

Inspired by the painting Reflections on the Aire: On Strike, Leeds 1879, by Atkinson Grimshaw

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On both sides of the river rows of factory chimneys stood straight and tall and silent, bricks blackened to the colour of night. Smoke was only rising from a few today, but the smell of soot was everywhere, on the breath and on the clothes. It was the shank of an October afternoon and the gas lamps were already lit, dusk gathering in the shadows.
He stood and looked at the water. Where barges should be crowded against the warehouses like puppies around a teat there was nothing. Just a single boat moored in the middle of the Aire, no sails set, its masts spindly and bare as a prison hulk.
He coughed a little, took the handkerchief from his pocket and spat delicately into it. This was the time of year when it always began, when men and women found their lungs tender, when the foul air caught and clemmed in the chest and the odour from the gasworks cut through everything so that even the bitter winter snow tasted of it.
What sun there was hung low in the west, half-hidden by clouds. A few more minutes and he’d be finished then walk home to Knostrop, leave the stink and stench of Leeds for trees and grass and the sweet smell of fresher air. First, though, he needed to complete the sketch, to capture these moments.
Tomorrow he’d start in the studio, to try and find the mood that overwhelmed him now, Leeds in the still of the warehousemen’s strike, no lading, no voices shouting, no press of people and trade along the river.
“What tha’ doing?”
He turned. He hadn’t heard her come along the towpath. But there she was, peering over his shoulder at the lines on the pad, the shadings and simple strokes that were his shorthand.
“Tha’ drawing?”
“Sketching,” he answered with a smile and slipping the charcoal into his jacket pocket.
“Aye, it’s not bad,” she told him with approval, reaching out a finger with the nail bitten short and rimmed with dirt. “I like that,” she said, pointing at the way he’d highlight the buildings as they vanished towards the bridge, hinting at the cuts and alleys and what lay beyond.
“Thank you.”
He studied her properly, a girl who was almost a woman, in an old dress whose pattern had faded, the hem damp and discoloured where she’d walked across the wet grass. She wore her small, tattered hat pinned into her hair.
At most she was twenty, he judged. As she opened her mouth to speak he could see that one of her teeth was missing, the others yellowed, and her face held the start of lines that belonged to a woman twice her age. Her cheeks were sunk from hunger, the bones of her wrists like twigs. But her eyes were clear and full of mischief. She carried a bundle in her left hand. At first he thought she was a ragpicker, done for the day; then he noticed how she cradled it close and understood it was what little she owned in the world.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Anabelle Atkinson, sir,” she replied with the faintest of smiles. “Me mam said she wanted summat nice around her.”
He nodded, watching the water and the sky again. In a minute the sky would part, leaving the sun pale as lemon reflecting on the river. Perhaps the last sun of the year, except for a few days when the sun would sparkle on the snow around his home. He held his breath for a moment, ready to work quickly.
“My name’s Atkinson, too,” he said distracted by the light, committing it to memory.
“Happen as we’re related, then.” He could feel her eyes on him. “But mebbe not.”
“It’s my middle name,” he explained quietly, “but I prefer it to my Christian name.”
“Why’s that, then?”
Very quickly he fumbled in his pocket, drawing out coloured pencils and adding to the sketch, the reflections on the river, the gold of a fading sun mingling with the browns and greens of the dirty water, smudging with the edge of his hand, thinking, putting it all away in his memory for tomorrow when he’d sit in the studio with his paints.
“It suits me better,” he answered her finally, squinting at his work, then at the scene before adding some more touches.
“That’s right,” she said slowly, as he was about to add more umber to the water. “That’s it.” There was awe in her voice, as if she couldn’t believe nature could be captured that way. “It looks alive.”
“It’s just preparation,” he explained. “I’ll paint it soon.”
“That what you are, then? An artist?”
“I am.”
He was a successful one, too. Whatever he put on canvas sold, almost before it had dried. For the last nineteen years it had been his living, since he broke away from the tedium of being a railway clerk, the job he thought might crush his heart. With no training and only the support of his wife, he’d known that painting could make his soul sing. These days he was a wealthy man, one who’d made art pay him well. Now they knew him all around the country; in London any man would deign to receive him.
“You must make a bob or two.”
Grimshaw smiled.
“I get by.”
“You’ve got good clothes and you talk posh.”
He chuckled.
“Don’t be fooled. I’m not as posh as you’d think. I grew up in Wortley and my father worked on the railways. What about you, Annabelle Atkinson? Where do you live?”
“Me mam’s in one of them houses up on the Bank.”
He knew them, squalid back-to-backs with no grass or green, some of the worst housing in Leeds. No good air and the children ragged as tinkers’ brats. It was where the Irish lived, crammed together in dwellings that everyone said should be pulled down.
“How many of you?”
“Only four now. I’m not there no more, though. Had a job as a maid in one of them big houses out past Headingley.”
“Had?” He eyed her sharply.
“They didn’t like me having gentleman callers. Said it wasn’t proper for someone in my station.” She put on a voice as she spoke and her eyes flashed with anger. “Me mam won’t have me back. No room, not if I’m not bringing in a wage.”
“What are you going to do?”
She shrugged.
“I’ll find summat. There’s always work for them as is willing to graft.”
He thought of the life in her and his own children, six alive and the ten who’d died. Of his wife, twenty-two years married, with her stern face and the eternal look of weariness.
“Where are you going to sleep?”
“There’s rooms. At least when they turned me out they paid what they owed. I’ll not go short for a while.”
He looked down at the sketch. It caught everything well, and it would be a good painting, another one to bring in a good ten pounds or more. But it was a landscape unpeopled.
“Annabelle Atkinson, can you do something for me?”
“What?” she asked warily, too familiar with the ways of men.
“Just stand about ten yards down the path, that’s all.”
“Why?”
He tapped the drawing with a fingernail.
“I want to put you in this, that’s all?”
“Me?” She laughed. “Go on, you don’t want me in that.”
“I do. Please.”
She shook her head, smiling all the while.
“You’re daft, you are.” But she still moved along the path, looking back over her shoulder. “Here?”
“Yes. Look out over the river. That’s it. Stay there.”
He was deft, seeing how she held the bundle, her bare arms, the hem of the dress high enough to show bare ankles, and a sense of longing in the way she held herself.
“I’m done,” he told her after a minute and she came back to him.
“That’s me?” she asked.
“It is.”
“Do I really look like that?”
“That’s how I see you,” he said with a smile. She kept staring at the paper.
“You’ll put that in your painting?”
“With more detail, yes.”
“What?”
“The pattern of the dress, things like that.”
Self-consciously she smoothed down the old material, her face suddenly proud, looking younger and less careworn. He dug into his trouser pocket, pulling out two guineas.
“This is for you.”
“What? All this?”
“I’m an artist. I pay my models.”
“But I didn’t do owt. I just stood over there,” she protested.
“I sketched you, and you’ll be in the painting. That makes you my model. Here, take it.”
Almost guiltily she plucked the money from his hand, tucking it away in the pocket of her dress.
“Thank you, sir,” she said quietly. “You’ve made my day, you have.”
“As you’ve made mine, Annabelle Atkinson.” He closed the sketch pad and put away the pencils and charcoal, then tipped his hat to her before walking away.
“So what is your name, then?” she asked.
“Atkinson Grimshaw.” He handed her his card. “I wish you and your baby well.”
“Me in a painting. There’s no one as’ll believe that.” She began to laugh, letting it rise into a full-throated roar, and he laughed with her.

Tomorrow: Gods of Gold

It’s been a long time coming, but tomorrow is the publication day for Gods of Gold (buy it, please!). Today, as the final teaser, how Tom Harper met Annabelle Atkinson:

She’d been collecting glasses in the Victoria down in Sheepscar, an old apron covering her dress and her sleeves rolled up, talking and laughing with the customers. He thought she must be a serving girl with a brass mouth. Then, as he sat and watched her over another pint, he noticed the rest of the staff defer to the woman. He was still there when she poured herself a glass of gin and sat down next to him.
‘I’m surprised those eyes of yours haven’t popped out on stalks yet,’ she told him. ‘You’ve been looking that hard you must have seen through to me garters.’ She leaned close enough for him to smell her perfume and whispered, ‘They’re blue, by the way.’
For the first time in years, Tom Harper blushed. She laughed.
‘Aye, I thought that’d shut you up. I’m Annabelle. Mrs Atkinson.’ She extended a hand and he shook it, feeling the calluses of hard work on her palms. But there was no ring on her finger. ‘He’s dead, love,’ she explained as she caught his glance. ‘Three year back. Left me this place.’
She’d started as a servant in the pub when she was fifteen, she said, after a spell in the mills. The landlord had taken a shine to her, and she’d liked him. One thing had led to another and they’d married. She was eighteen, he was fifty, already a widower once. After eight years together, he died.
‘Woke up and he were cold,’ she said, toying with the empty glass. ‘Heart gave out in the night, they said. And before you ask, I were happy with him. Everyone thought I’d sell up once he was gone but I couldn’t see the sense. We were making money. So I took it over. Not bad for a lass who grew up on the Bank, is it?’ She gave him a quick smile.
‘I’m impressed,’ he said.
‘So what brings a bobby in here?’ Annabelle asked bluntly. ‘Something I should worry about?’
‘How did you know?’
She gave him a withering look. ‘If I can’t spot a copper by now I might as well give up the keys to this place. You’re not in uniform. Off duty, are you?’
‘I’m a detective. Inspector.’
She pushed her lips together. ‘Right posh, eh? Got a name, Inspector?’
‘Tom. Tom Harper.’
He’d returned the next night, and the next, and soon they started walking out together. Shows at Thornton’s Music Hall and the Grand, walks up to Roundhay Park on a Sunday for the band concerts. Slowly, as the romance began to bloom, he learned more about her. She didn’t just own the pub, she also had a pair of bakeries, one just up Meanwood Road close to the chemical works and the foundry, the other on Skinner Lane for the trade from the building yards. She employed people to do the baking but in the early days she’d been up at four each morning to take care of everything herself.
Annabelle constantly surprised him. She loved an evening out at the halls, laughing at the comedians and singing along with the popular songs. But just a month before she’d dragged him out to the annual exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery.
By the time they’d arrived, catching the omnibus and walking along the Headrow, it was almost dusk.
‘Are you sure they’ll still be open?’ he asked.
‘Positive,’ she said and squeezed his hand. ‘Come on.’
It seemed a strange thing to him. How would they light the pictures? Candles? Lanterns? At the entrance she turned to him.
‘Just close your eyes,’ she said, a smile flickering across her lips. ‘That’s better.’ She guided him into the room at the top of the building. ‘You can open them again now.’
It was bright as day inside, although deep evening showed through the skylights.
‘What?’ he asked, startled and unsure what he was seeing.
‘Electric light,’ she explained. She gazed around, eyes wide. ‘Wonderful, eh?’ She’d taken her time, examining every painting, every piece of sculpture, stopping to glance up at the glowing bulbs. Like everything else there, she was transfixed by the light as much as the art. To him it seemed to beggar belief that anyone can do this. When they finally came out it was full night, the gas lamps soft along the street. ‘You see that, Tom? That’s the future, that is.’

Two Days to Gods of Gold…

and here’s how Tom Harper became a copper.

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He’d wanted to be a policeman as long as he could remember. When he was a nipper, no more than a toddler, he’d often follow Constable Hardwick, the beat bobby, down their street in the Leylands, just north of the city centre, imitating the man’s waddling walk and nods at the women gathered on their doorsteps. To him, the decision to join the force was made there and then. He didn’t need to think about it again. But that certainty shattered when he was nine. Suddenly his schooldays had ended, like every other boy and girl he knew. His father found him work at Brunswick’s brewery, rolling barrels, full and empty, twelve hours a day and Saturday mornings, his pay going straight to his mam. Each evening he’d trudge home, so tired he could barely stay awake for supper. It took two years for his ambition to rekindle. He’d been sent on an errand that took him past Millgarth police station, and saw two bobbies escorting a prisoner in handcuffs. The desire all came back then, stronger than ever, the thought that he could do something more than use his muscles for the rest of his life. He joined the public library, wary at first in case they wouldn’t let someone like him borrow books. From there he spent his free hours reading; novels, politics, history, he’d roared through them all. Books took him away and showed him the world beyond the end of the road. The only pity was that he didn’t have time for books any longer. He’d laboured at his penmanship, practising over and over until he could manage a fair, legible hand. Then, the day he turned nineteen, he’d applied to join the force, certain they wouldn’t turn him down.
They’d accepted him. The proudest day of his life had been putting on the blue uniform and adjusting the cap. His mother had lived to see it, surprised and happy that he’d managed it. His father had taken him to the public house, put a drink in his hand and shouted a toast – ‘My son, the rozzer.’
He’d been proud then; he’d loved walking the beat, each part of the job. He learned every day. But he was happier still when he was finally able to move into plain clothes. That was real policing, he’d concluded. He’d done well, too, climbing from detective constable to sergeant and then to inspector before he was thirty.

To Whet Your Appetite

My new book, Gods of Gold, is published in the UK on August 28th. Yes, I’d like you to buy it, of course I would, don’t silly. To give you a little inducement, here’s a taster, a teaser, the opening. It’s set in 1890, against the backdrop of the Leeds Gas Strike, and features Detective Inspector Tom Harper of Leeds Police.

Tom Harper pounded down Briggate, the hobnails from his boots scattering sparks behind him. He pushed between people, not even hearing their complaints as he ran on, eyes fixed on the man he was pursuing, leaping over a small dog that tried to snap at his ankles.

‘Police!’ he yelled. ‘Stop him!’

They didn’t, of course they didn’t, but at least they parted to let him through. At Duncan Street, under the Yorkshire Relish sign, he slid between a cart and a tram that was turning the corner. His foot slipped on a pile of horse dung and he drew in his breath sharply, the moment hanging. Then the sole gripped and he was running again.

Harper ducked in front of a hackney carriage, steadying himself with a hand on the horse’s neck. He felt its breath hot against his cheek for a second, then plunged on. He was fast but the man in front was even faster, stretching the distance between them.

His lungs were burning. Without even thinking, he glanced across at the clock on the Ball-Dyson building. Half past eleven. He forced his feet down harder, arms pumping like a harrier.

As they reached Leeds Bridge the man leapt into the road, weaving between the traffic. Harper followed him, squeezing sideways between a pair of omnibuses, seeing the passengers stare down at him in astonishment through the window. Then he was free again, rushing past the row of small shops and watching the man disappear round the corner on to Dock Street.

By the time he arrived the street was empty. He stood, panting heavily, holding on to the gas lamp on the corner, unable to believe his eyes. The man had simply vanished. There was nothing, not even the sound of footsteps. Off to his left, a cluster of warehouses ran down to the river. Across the road the chimneys of the paper mill belched their stink into the air. Where had the bugger gone?

 

Harper had been up at Hope Brothers on Briggate, barely listening as the manager described a shoplifter. The man’s mouth frowned prissily as he talked and rearranged a display of bonnets on a table. Outside, the shop boy was lowering the canvas awning against the June sun.

Harper scribbled a word or two in his notebook. It should be the beat bobby doing this, he thought. He was a detective inspector; his time was more valuable than this. But one of the Hopes lived next door to the new chief constable. A word or two and the superintendent had sent him down here with an apologetic shrug of his shoulders.

Then Harper heard the shout. He dashed out eagerly, the bell tinkling gently as he threw the door wide. Further up the street a man gestured and yelled, ‘He stole my wallet!’

That was all he needed. Inspector Harper began to run.

 

He tipped the hat back and wiped the sweat off his forehead. The air was sultry, hot with the start of summer. Where was the sod? He could be hiding just a few yards away or already off beyond a wall and clear away in Hunslet. One thing was certain: Harper wasn’t going to find him. He straightened his jacket and turned around. What a bloody waste of a morning.

He’d wanted to be a policeman as long as he could remember. When he was a nipper, no more than a toddler, he’d often follow Constable Hardwick, the beat bobby, down their street in the Leylands, just north of the city centre, imitating the man’s waddling walk and nods at the women gathered on their doorsteps. To him, the decision to join the force was made there and then. He didn’t need to think about it again. But that certainty shattered when he was nine. Suddenly his schooldays had ended, like every other boy and girl he knew. His father found him work at Brunswick’s brewery, rolling barrels, full and empty, twelve hours a day and Saturday mornings, his pay going straight to his mam. Each evening he’d trudge home, so tired he could barely stay awake for supper. It took two years for his ambition to rekindle. He’d been sent on an errand that took him past Millgarth police station, and saw two bobbies escorting a prisoner in handcuffs. The desire all came back then, stronger than ever, the thought that he could do something more than use his muscles for the rest of his life. He joined the public library, wary at first in case they wouldn’t let someone like him borrow books. From there he spent his free hours reading; novels, politics, history, he’d roared through them all. Books took him away and showed him the world beyond the end of the road. The only pity was that he didn’t have time for books any longer. He’d laboured at his penmanship, practising over and over until he could manage a fair, legible hand. Then, the day he turned nineteen, he’d applied to join the force, certain they wouldn’t turn him down.

They’d accepted him. The proudest day of his life had been putting on the blue uniform and adjusting the cap. His mother had lived to see it, surprised and happy that he’d managed it. His father had taken him to the public house, put a drink in his hand and shouted a toast – ‘My son, the rozzer.’

He’d been proud then; he’d loved walking the beat, each part of the job. He learned every day. But he was happier still when he was finally able to move into plain clothes. That was real policing, he’d concluded. He’d done well, too, climbing from detective constable to sergeant and then to inspector before he was thirty.

And now he was chasing bloody pickpockets down Briggate. He might as well be back in uniform.

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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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The BIG News

I don’t often have a post full of news, mostly because there’s not often much to tell. But I have five – yes, FIVE – big pieces of news for once.

West Seattle Blues comes out June 30th on ebook and audiobook, and it can now be pre-ordered. I like Laura Benton, and I still love Seattle. But then, I lived there for 20 years…Find it here in the UK and here in the US, and listen to the trailer here.

Gods of Gold, the first in my new Tom Harper series set in Leeds during the 1890 Gas Strike, comes out late August in the UK. You can pre-order it here.

The second book in the series has just been accepted by my publisher. It will come out in 2014.

There’s going to be a big launch in Leeds for Gods of Gold, on September 11, 6.45 pm at The Leeds Library on Commercial St. They’ll have a display of newspaper and magazine articles relating to the Gas Strike, artefacts, and more. And there will be wine and probably cake. Admission is free, but you’ll need to book a place. It’s a fabulous place, occupying the same premises since 1808, and well worth seeing. I’ve been here once before and the place was packed, so please book early. Call them on (0113) 245 3071, or by email.

And last but not least, I’m teaching a weekend workshop on  historical fiction in September in the Lake district. I do hope you’ll book (so they’ll hold it, so I can visit). Details here