A La Recherche Du Leeds Record Shops Perdu

Proust had the taste of his madeleines to conjure up the past. For me, the moment that evoked years gone by came when I handled the thick cardboard cover of an early 1970s American LP, a tiny rectangle missing from the top – one of the cheap-price cut out albums that were once available.

And that took me back to the record shops that once meant so much to me.

Back in the days when I was discovering music, a passion that began when I was 13, Leeds was very much a backwater. These days so many artists were born here, or made the city their home. Back then bands coming here was an event. Gigs at the Town Hall or the University Union, one or two at the Poly (now Leeds Beckett). Some big names – John Mayall, the Who, of course, the Stones, even Pink Floyd showing off their Azimuth Coordinator.

A couple of clubs came and went – the New Marquee, with acts like Taste and the Nice, and a place near the Merrion Centre, which played host to Hawkwind, just finding fame as “Silver Machine” went up the charts. Band and a beefburger for eight shillings and sixpence.

What it meant was that we absorbed music from the radio and from record shops. Radio meant John Peel, for the most part, and that’s a tale told by so many people already. Record shops, though, were rare beats in Leeds back then. Downstairs at Vallances in Headrow House (facing on to what is today Dortmund Square), downstairs at Woolworth’s on Briggate.

And then there was Project. It wasn’t in the city centre, it was in Harehills on the parade of shops just by Harehills Lane. It didn’t sell new records, but used ones – a novel concept at the time. The stock wasn’t huge, but the prices were right, both on singles and LPs, although it required much inspection of the vinyl before buying.

Music, at least outside the realm of pop, didn’t seem as disposable back then. There was a sense of art, of seriousness and worthiness about what was being called ‘progressive music.’ This wasn’t the same as what would become prog rock. It was a much broader church, with plenty of guitars, more rock than progression, although most of the bands in it seemed to be on the Island label or Deram, with a few more, mostly American on CBS, and one or two to come later on EMI’s Harvest.

I don’t remember what records I bought at Project. Quite a few. A record was a big investment then, a serious chunk of the change from washing cars at the weekend. I read Melody Maker every week. I listened to Peel. I knew what was what, who was good and who was not. Every decision was very carefully weighed.

Things eased up a little in the early 1970s. The first Virgin Records in Leeds opened, two storeys next to Boodle-am (the place to buy loon pants) on Queen Victoria Street. Two floors, places to sit and just listen to what was being played. Staff who knew and liked the music. And upstairs the cheap-price American cut-out LPs. Thick cardboard sleeves, and the ones on RCA often had thin, wibbly-wobbly vinyl. But I had a bit more money in the [pocket of my Afghan coat, so I was willing to spent a pound or so on artists who were obscure. I discovered Michael Nesmith’s solo work after the Monkees and the album of Emmitt Rhodes, both of which I still love.

Then there was Jumbo Records, upstairs at the Queens Arcade then in the Merrion Centre. Scene and Heard (Vicar Lane? New Market Street?). We had a cornucopia of record shops all of a sudden. And, as ever, there was Project out on its own in Harehills, where it would remain long after I’d left Leeds.

I moved back here two years ago. We seem to have come curiously full circle. Buy chart CDs at supermarkets, a range of styles at HMV. But beyond that, it’s down to Jumbo and Crash. Yes, there are places selling used albums – Relics on New Briggate, along with every charity shop you pass. But no Project. It didn’t surive.

Tales Within A Tale 7 – A Teaser

Now it’s just four weeks until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s still plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here, the second with Robert Carr here, the third with Miss Worthy here, the fourth with Barbabas Tooms here, the fifth with John Laycock here, and the six with Samuel Sugden here.

This time it’s a little different, a short teaser that tells you how the books gets its name.

And, of course, you can read more about Skin Like Silver here.

Like what you see? Order your copy here (this is currently the cheapest price by far!).

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Harper stood in the superintendent’s office the next morning. His palms were bandaged and tender but they’d mend in a few days. Annabelle has fussed around him, putting on a lotion that burned before it soothed. He ached all over.

‘I need you down to have a look at that fire,’ Kendall told him. ‘Take Ash with you.’

‘I thought they’d put it out.’

‘They have. I want to make sure it wasn’t anarchists who caused it.’

The man was as immaculately turned-out as ever, suit pressed, moustache and side whiskers trimmed, the crease in his trousers as sharp as a blade. But his face was lined with worry.

‘I thought they were all talk,’ Harper said.

‘They are,’ the superintendent replied. ‘But you know how it happens. All it needs is one hothead taking that “assault on the system” line of theirs to heart.’ He shook his head. ‘Stupid. Work with Dick Hill until he’s established a cause. Just in case.’

‘Yes, sir. I have that dead baby, too.’

‘I know. What have you found?’

‘Nothing.’ He paused, thinking of the tiny corpse on the table. ‘Honestly, I’m not sure if we ever will.’

‘Keep trying, anyway. Your hands, Tom…’

‘From the pumps yesterday.’ He held them up. ‘Blisters. They’ll heal soon enough.’

‘You’d think the criminals would have been running free, what with every officer down there,’ Kendall said. He took his pipe from his waistcoat pocket and lit it with a match. ‘But there was nothing reported.’ He arched his eyebrows. ‘Think about that. Not a single crime anywhere in Leeds.’

There was just enough of a breeze to bring a sense of freshness, the hint that autumn might arrive soon. Harper walked side by side with Ash, the constable quiet as they passed the Corn Exchange. Carts clattered quickly along Duncan Street. Piles of horse dung were flattened on the road. Men ran, pushing barrows piled with goods to deliver. A tram rolled by with the grinding sound of wheels in the iron tracks. The air smelt burnt and dead as they neared the station.

‘How did you like the inspection?’ Harper asked.

‘It was right enough, sir.’ He gave a small grin. ‘My missus thought I looked that smart all dressed up.’

‘Mine made me have a photograph taken wearing it.’

‘They must love the top hats, those women.’ He shook his head and tapped his old bowler. ‘Me, I’m more comfortable in this.’ He paused. ‘I heard one of the firemen died yesterday.’

The inspector nodded. ‘When the platforms collapsed. Nothing anyone could do. They couldn’t even get in to bring the body out.’

‘Sad business, sir.’

They’d become used to working as a team since Reed had left. They functioned well together, although there’d been little to tax them too hard. All the crimes they’d investigated in the last few months had been straightforward. Profit or passion, and a simple matter to find the culprit.

Harper doubted there’d be much for them here, either. He didn’t believe any anarchists were involved. The only problem would come if Hill said the fire was arson.

New Station was filled with rubble and wreckage. Thick dust clung to piles of bricks, and charred wood still smoked lightly. But passengers were already crowding the three undamaged platforms, craning their necks to see all the ruin, and most of the trains were still running. Harper shook his head in amazement; after all the destruction, he wouldn’t have believed it possible. Or safe.

They found Hill down among the arches that had once supported everything. All the surfaces were black with soot, the smell of fire and destruction heavy and cloying, and he started to cough. A yard or two below them, the River Aire rushed by.

‘Hello, Dick,’ Harper said. ‘We’ve been sent down to help.’

Inspector Hill looked haunted. He was still wearing the uniform he’d had on when the blaze began. There were rents along the seams, the blue so covered with dirt that it seemed to have no colour at all. Dark rings lined his eyes.

‘Tom,’ he answered and let out a sigh. ‘We just brought out that man who died. Schofield.’

‘One of yours?’

Hill shook his head. ‘He worked on the one the insurance company engines. The floor just gave way underneath him.’ He stared up at the sky. ‘Ten years and I’ve never seen anything like it. As best as we can guess, he must have crawled forty feet after he fell. Almost made it out, too, poor bugger. It’s a miracle there was only one, really.’

‘Any idea where it started yet, sir?’ Ash broke the silence that grew around them.

‘Oh, we know that.’ Hill pointed to an empty space, nothing left at all. ‘You see that? It used to be Soapy Joe’s warehouse. Packed full of tallow and resin. Tons of the bloody stuff. That’s where it began. And that’s why it burned so hard and long. Once that went up there wasn’t a chance.’

‘What caused it?’ Harper asked.

Hill shrugged. ‘A spark? An accident? Deliberate? There’s not enough left to tell. I wouldn’t even like to guess. The best I’m ever going to be able to say is that it happened. It’s nothing to worry CID, anyway.’

‘The superintendent wondered about anarchists.’

‘I don’t see it.’ He shook his head wearily. ‘Honestly, Tom, I don’t. I’m going to dig around but I don’t think I’ll find any evidence of anything.’

‘You should get some sleep, Dick.’

‘Later.’ Hill brushed the idea away. ‘I need to take care of a few things first. We’ve never had anything as bad as this before in Leeds.’ He waved at hand at the damage. ‘Look at it. It’s going to cost a fortune to rebuild. But the railway’s already had engineers out this morning. Can you believe that?’

‘They want to be making money again,’ Harper said.

‘Sir! Sir!’ The shout echoed off the stone, making them all turn. A fireman was picking his way through the mounds of stone and brick. ‘There’s another body down here. It looks like a woman.’

They ran, scraping their way over the debris. Dust rose around them as they scrambled.

‘Over here,’ the man called. He was standing by a pile of rubble. ‘You can just see her foot over there.’

They gazed. Half a button boot, the leather torn clean away to show bloody flesh. The rest of her was buried under chunks of concrete.

‘Must have collapsed right on top of her,’ Hill said grimly, taking off his uniform jacket. ‘Let’s get this shifted.’

Ash glanced at Harper’s bandaged hands.

‘Will you be all right, sir?’

‘I’ll manage,’ the inspector told him as he stared at the foot.

It took them a quarter of an hour to move everything, sweating and grunting. Blood seeped through Harper’s bandages. He grimaced and worked on.

‘Christ,’ Hill said quietly.

Most of her clothes had burned away. Her hair was gone. She was part-flesh, burned and black. But it was the rest of her that made them draw in their breath. Patches of metal across her body that glinted in the light. Skin like silver: the thought came into his head.

‘What..?’ At first he didn’t even realize he’d spoken.

‘Must have been the girders,’ Hill said. He couldn’t take his eyes off the body. ‘They melted in the heat and the metal dripped down on her.’ He wiped a hand across his mouth. ‘I just hope to God she was already dead.’

Harper took a deep breath and squatted, moving this way and that around the corpse. Only the shape and size of the body and the torn button boot showed she’d once been female. Now… he could scarcely believe what he saw. It was grotesque. A statue of death. He shuddered as he stood again.

‘What the hell was she doing down here?’ he wondered.

Tales Within A Tale 6 – Samuel Sugden

Now it’s just six weeks until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s still plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here, the second with Robert Carr here, the third with Miss Worthy here, the fourth with Barbabas Tooms here, and the fifth with John Laycock here.

And, of course, you can read all about Skin Like Silver here.

Like what you see? Order your copy here (this is currently the cheapest price by far!).

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They keep telling me I need to be out here, like it’s for me own good.

They give me things and my life goes numb and empty. I get locked in me head. There are words there but they won’t come out. I want to open my mouth but I know if I do I’ll wish I hadn’t.

I was violent. That’s the word they used. I don’t remember.

I used to get angry. I could feel it build up inside me. Like water on the hob, growing hotter until it’s rolling and boiling. I was like water. I scalded people.

They’ve told me about the things I did. Fights. Hurting people. I committed crimes, they said. Happen I did. I don’t remember. It was the anger, I told them.

If I stay quiet then I can think. I can shut myself off from the world and I don’t get angry. I read. I lose myself in the words, it’s like floating in a sea. I don’t have to worry about what’s going on anywhere else.

In this place people scream and shout. Some talk to themselves all the time. I can ignore them, they don’t matter to me, they don’t bother me.

I was in prison once. I didn’t like it there. The warders were cruel, vicious men. They’d tell me what to do. Push me, yell at me. I didn’t like that so I hit them.

But here it’s better. There’s one nurse who talks to me. She uses a soft voice, though. She doesn’t surprise me, she makes sure I can see her first.

And they give me things in my drinks. It’s for my own good, they tell me that and maybe they’re right, I don’t know. But I like it here. When I look out of the window things seem calm. I like to stare at the trees and the grass. We didn’t have that where I grew up. It was all brick and stone and dirt. Even the sky was always dirty, not blue like it is here

Tales Within A Tale 5 – John Laycock

Now it’s just two months until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s still plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here, the second with Robert Carr here, the third with Miss Worthy here, and the fourth with Barbabas Tooms here.

And, of course, you can read about Skin Like Silver here.

Like what you see? Order your copy here (this is currently the cheapest price by far!).

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This time is the landlord of the Royal Inn on South Accommodation Road in Hunslet. In the book he’s not named. In my head he is – John Laycock. He was the landlord at the time, just arrived in Leeds. How do I know? He was my maternal great-grandfather. Around 1920 he moved to take over the Victoria on Roundhay Road, Annabelle’s put in the books, and stayed there until sometime in World War II. That’s a good five decades as a pub landlord..

He stacked one crate of bottles on top of another in the cellar, followed by the third and a fourth. Never too much call for the stuff, and why would there be when there were barrels of beer around?

John Laycock stood and stretched. From somewhere up above here heard the squall of a baby. At least Elizabeth had a healthy pair of lungs on here. God alone knew she’d need it to survive in Hunslet with all the factories and mills around.

He thought he’d landed on his feet, arrived from Barnsley and offer a job as the landlord of the Royal Inn. Just twenty-three, young for a job like that. More than a job, really. A home. Rooms upstairs and soon part of the area. After a year he knew all the locals, he and the family had become part of the fabric of the area.

The people were all reet. Same as folk anywhere. The wife had made some friends. Course, there were always a few…especially when they had a bit of drink in them. But he was a big lad, he could handle them if they got stroppy. It was one of the reasons they’ve given him the position. That and the fact he had a quick mind, able to do sums in his head. Coming up to Leeds when his wife had the babby inside her had been a gamble but it had paid off nicely.

Upstairs, he inspected the brasses and checked the woodwork was polished. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered. An hour after the men started coming in and everything would be grimy again. All the dust and dirt of the steel works in every bloody nook and cranny.

But you kept up appearances. You make it all look neat and cared-for. Even if no one ever noticed. His man had drummed that into him. So, each morning, the servants took care of that right after their breakfast.

‘John.’ Jane’s voice carried down the stairs. If she had a mood on her it could carry halfway across Yorkshire.

‘What?’

‘I think there’s a blockage in the chimney. The fire’s not drawing properly.’

‘I’ll come and take a look in a minute.’ He sighed. If it wasn’t one thing it was another.

Something New, Something Different

Somehow the idea of 1920s Leeds has got under my skin lately, and the first policewomen we had here. so I began writing. Here’s a little bit of it, wherever it ends up going.

Who know, it might have been this way….

Leeds, 1924

Walking into Millgarth Police Station, Charlotte nodded to the desk sergeant and strode back along the corridor to the matron’s office. The day shift of bobbies had already gone on patrol and the building was quiet. She rested her hand on the doorknob, took a deep breath and straightened her back.

‘Good morning, ma’am. WPC Armstrong reporting.’

Mrs. Maitland looked up, giving a quick inspection. She was a pinch-faced woman in her late forties, her dark hair going grey and pulled back into a tight bun. She’d never mentioned Mr. Maitland, but in two years the woman had never revealed anything personal about herself; the job seemed to be her life. She was here first thing in the morning and long into the evening, as if she had no better place to be.

‘There’s a hair on your jacket, Armstrong.’

Lottie looked down. One hair, blonde, one of hers. She plucked it away, annoyed at herself and at the matron.

‘Sorry, ma’am.’ She stayed at attention.

Maitland returned to the letters on her desk. This was her way. Keeping someone waiting was the way to enforce discipline.

The door opened and Cathy Taylor marched in. She was late and she knew it. Lottie could see it in her eyes. But she just winked, stood to attention and said,

‘WPC Taylor reporting, ma’am.’

‘You were supposed to be here at eight, Taylor,’ Mrs. Maitland said.

‘Sorry, ma’am, my watch must be running slow.’

The matron sniffed. Only two women constables in Leeds and she had to keep them in order.

‘Well, since you’re finally here, I have a job for the pair of you.’ She scribbled and address on a piece of paper. ‘Go and see her. She runs a boarding house for unmarried mothers. One of her guests has been acting strangely.’ She stared at the pair of them. ‘Well? Off you go.’

‘It’s in Woodhouse, we might as well walk,’ Cathy said as they set out up the Headrow. She folded the note and put it in her uniform pocket. Early September but it was already feeling like autumn, enough a nip in the morning air for their breath to steam. ‘Bet you the girl’s just gone off to find some fun. It’s always old cows who run those places.’

‘At least it makes a change from talking to prossies or chasing lads playing truant.’ Lottie sighed. She loved the job but wished the force would let them do more, rather than treating them like delicate flowers with tender sensibilities.

Still, it was better than working in an office or being a housewife. She’d developed a taste for freedom when she worked during the war, like so many others. Getting the vote was something. Earning her own money was much more.

Lottie had worked as a clerk at the Barnbow munitions factory in Cross Gates. 1916 and she was twenty, fresh in the job with everything to learn, just promoted from the factory. But she’d managed, even finding time to flirt with the procurement officers who came to check things.

Geoff had been one of them. Shy, diffident, still with a bad limp from a wound he’d suffered the year before in the Dardanelles. He had a modest charm about him, and in his uniform he looked quite dashing.

Charlotte was the one who’d made the running, someone had to and he wasn’t one to put himself forward. On his third visit she’d suggested an outing to the pictures, watching him blush as she spoke. From there it had taken two years until they reached the altar. By then he’d returned to his job in the area Dunlop office

With the war over and the men coming home, factories began sacking the women. A wedding ring on her finger, Charlotte had tried to become a housewife. But life chafed around her. Other women were having babies but she never would, with Geoff’s injuries. She needed something, but there was nothing. Until the Leeds Police advertised for policewomen. And suddenly life excited her again.

“You’ll be getting yourself shot if you keep coming in late,’ Lottie said.

Cathy pouted.

‘It was only a couple of minutes. Anyway, Mrs. Prissy wouldn’t know what to do if she didn’t have something to complain about.’ She stifled a yawn with the back of her hand.

‘Late night?’

‘I went to the pictures with my friends, then they wanted to go on dancing so I couldn’t say no.’

Cathy was twenty-four, with a husband gone most of the year in the merchant marine. No kids. No wonder she liked to be out a few nights a week, dancing and flirting and enjoying herself. Married but single, she called it with a small laugh.

Lottie had gone out with her a couple of times after work, changing into civvies at the station then going on to a see a film at the Majestic. It had been fun, but not something she’d want to do often. Cathy had wanted to go on somewhere, to have a cocktail. God only knew where she found the energy. By the end of a shift all Lottie wanted was to be at home and off her feet. When the working week was over, she was exhausted. She was lucky to stay up until ten, never mind the wee hours.

But Cathy was still young, always getting looks from men. Pretty enough for a portrait, hair in a modern bob, with a pair of shapely legs and that bony, modern figure that always made Charlotte feel huge in comparison.

‘What are you going to do when your John comes home?’ Lottie had asked her. ‘You can’t go gadding about then.’

‘We’ll enjoy our time together. After a month he’ll ship out again. Don’t get more wrong: I love him and I’d never, you know…but I can’t sit at home every evening, can I? He wouldn’t want me to, anyway.’

They matched each other step for step along Woodhouse Lane and out past the university, going towards the Moor, with its library and police sub-station on the corner.

‘Down here,’ Cathy said, turning briskly along Raglan Road, followed by a right and a left. She scratched at her calf through the skirt. ‘God, I wish they’d do something about this uniform. It’s not bad enough that it itches, it’s so heavy, too. Like wearing a battleship. This is it. Thirty-six.’

The house seemed out of place. On a street of large terraced houses, it loomed on the corner, detached, standing apart at the back of a long, neat garden, look out over the Meanwood valley, with all its factories and chimneys. Hard an inspiring view, she thought.

Lottie knocked and waited. Some lovely stained glass in the window; she wouldn’t mind that at home. She was miles away when the knob turned and a small woman in an apron stared up at her.

‘I was wondering how long it would take the police to get here.’ There was no welcome in the voice. The woman raised an eyebrow and stood aside. ‘Well, are you coming in or do we do it all on the street?’

Charlotte led the way, following an open door into a neat parlour. A Sunday room, still smelling of wax, the wood on the furniture gleaming.

‘Go on, sit yourselves down.’ The woman bustled around, flicking off some non-existent dust.

‘You run a home for unwed mothers here, Mrs…’ Charlotte said.

‘Allen,’ she answered briskly. ‘Yes, I do. It’s a Christian thing to do, and I try to put on them on the right path.’ She sat very primly, back straight, her stare direct.

‘One of your girls has gone missing, is that right?’ She took the notebook and pencil from her pocket, read.

‘Yes. Didn’t come back last night and no word this morning.’

‘Could you tell us a little bit about her, Mrs. Allen? Her name, what she looks like, where she’s from.’ Lottie smiled. This was what she enjoyed, talking to people, teasing out the information.

‘She’s called Jocelyn Hill. Seventeen, but she could pass for younger. You know the type, like butter wouldn’t melt, but she’s a sly little thing. Always looking for a chance. A bit extra food, this and that.’ She shook her head in disgust. ‘Half of me wishes I’d never taken her in.’

‘What does she look like?’ Cathy asked. She liked facts, something solid.

‘Only about five feet tall, I suppose. Dark hair in one of those bobs they all seem to wear. Like yours,’ she added. ‘Thin as you like, no figure on her at all. Apart from the baby, of course.’

‘How far along is she?’ Charlotte wondered.

‘Eight months,’ Mrs. Allen replied. ‘so it’s not like she can hide it.’

‘Has she gone missing before?’

‘Of course not.’ She snorted. ‘They all know the rules when they arrive. No going out, only family to visit, in bed by ten. Break a rule once and they’re gone. I won’t stand for it otherwise. I give them a warm, clean place to have their children and I help find good homes for the little ones. I’m not about to let them take advantage of me.’

‘Have you had others disappear, Mrs. Allen?’ Cathy asked quietly.

‘Only the one,’ the woman said after a while. ‘Three years ago. But she was a wild one, wouldn’t ever settle down here. Jocelyn liked to push things, but she was nothing like that.’

‘Where did she come from?’ Lottie had her pencil poised, ready to take down the address. Mrs. Allen took a ledger from one of the empty bookshelves, found a pair of glasses in her pocket, and began to search.

‘Here we are.’ She read out an address in Cross Green. Lottie glanced towards Cathy and saw a tiny shake of the head.

‘Thank you,’ she said, standing. ‘Is it possible to take a look in her room? Perhaps we could talk to some of the other girls who knew her?’

‘Nothing to see in the room,’ the woman told them. ‘I’ve already packed her case. If she shows up at the door she’s out on her ear. And she never really got along with the others. Kept herself to herself.’

‘Maybe a look in her case, then…’ Charlotte suggested.

‘Two dresses and some underwear that’s as flimsy as nothing. Not hard to see how she ended up this way, is it?’

The door closed quickly behind them. As they walked back along the street Cathy looked over her shoulder.

‘She’s watching us from the front window.’ She shivered a little. ‘Blimey, I think I’d run off from that place, too. She’s…’

‘Strange?’ Lottie suggested.

‘Worse than that. Did you smell it in the hall?’

‘You mean the mothballs?’ She crinkled her nose. ‘She must have them everywhere.’

‘I could feel the joy being sucked out of me as soon as I walked through the door.’

Tales Within A Tale 4 – Barnabas Tooms

Now it’s just a bit more than two months until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s still plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here, the second with Robert Carr here, and the third with Miss worthy here.

And, of course, you can read about Skin Like Silver here.

Like what you see? Order your copy here (this is currently the cheapest price by far!)

1870s Victorians 05

This time, it’s Barnabas Tooms

Barnabas Tooms sat at his usual table in the bar of the Griffin Hotel. He was holding a cigar between his fingers, a glass of whisky in front of him as he listened intently to what the other man was saying.

‘What you mean is there’s been a slight…misunderstanding?’ he asked when the man’s voice trailed away to nothing.

‘Yes. Exactly.’ He saw the relief spread across the man’s face. A ward man for the Liberals, a nobody, really. But they all came to him with their problems, hoping he’d be able to fix them, to give them an easy way out.

And usually Benjamin Tooms could do it.

They might have to spend a little money to make it happen, but that was the price to pay for an indiscretion. The greater it was, the more it cost. He made problems disappear and he was very good at it. And in return he stored up the favours, made a ledger of them, ready to demand when he needed.

All the politicians in Leeds, and those who wanted to be, knew him.

‘I think we can do something about it,’ Tooms said after a little thought. ‘Do you have ten guineas to spare?’

The man sitting across the table looked very serious now.

‘That much?’ he asked in surprise.

‘When you sat down, a solution seemed to be worth a fortune to you,’ Tooms pointed out. ‘On that scale I’d call ten guineas a bargain, wouldn’t you?’

‘I suppose so, the man admitted reluctantly. ‘But-’

‘No buts. It’s yes or no.’ He tapped ash from the cigar then took a sip of the whisky. Bloody fools. Coming here because they needed him then trying to bargain him down. This one had been caught with a prostitute. All it would cost was two pounds to the coppers for all mention to go away. Nothing for the girl; she’d be grateful not to end up in court.

Easy to fix. Like most things in life if you knew the right people and applied the right grease.

Life had been good to him. A room upstairs at the hotel, plenty to eat and drink. Rarely had to put his hand in his pocket for anything. But he was a self-made man. He’d done all this on his own. Started out with nothing in Armley and always been quick to spot opportunities. Quicker still to take them, before some other bugger did.

He’d worked hard, a bit of everything. Hadn’t minded getting his hands dirty when he was younger. A hard warning, a beating, he done it when he was younger. These days he paid to have it done; no shortage of willing men after a bob or two.

He’d grown into someone successful. Portly. Good suits made by a little kike tailor in the Leylands. Shirts, collars, and ties from the Pygmalion. Shoes of the best leather from the maker on Basinghall Street. He’d come a long way from the raggedy-arsed nipper scuffling around.

‘Well?’ he asked. He’d given the man enough time to make up his mind. They got worse each year with their dithering.

‘I’ll do it.’

Barnabas Tooms smiled. He’d never doubted the decision.

Enjoying the tale? Take a look at the book trailer and see if that whets your appetite more…

Skin Like Silver – The Video

Well, not quite the video, but at least the video trailer.

The book isn’t out until November, but this is part of the head start. If you want a review copy, register with NetGalley and my publisher, Severn House. They should be available in October. And buy the book when it’s published, of course!

I believe in this book. I feel it’s the most compete book I’ve ever written.

In the meantime, maybe this will whet your appetite.

Tales Within A Tale 2

Four months until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here.

This time it’s Robert Carr

And you can read more about Skin Like Silver, of course.

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Three places were laid at the table, cutlery gleaming, glasses shining in the gaslight from the sconces. But only two men were sitting and eating.

‘Why?’ The younger man tilted his knife towards the empty plate across from him. ‘For God’s sake, father, she’s been gone two months now. It seems desperate.’

Robert Carr look down his nose. He was balding, the long mutton chop whiskers thicker than the hair that remained on the top of his head. The two sticks on the floor by his chair helped him walk. But his mind was still sharp.

‘You think what you like, Neville.’ There was a whip edge to his voice. ‘But it’s my house, I’ll do things as I choose.’

He began to chew some of the beef. It tasted stringy, cheap. Far too dry. Throwing down the knife and fork, he pushed the meal away and took a sip of whisky.

‘Not hungry?’

‘Bloody tasteless.’

The cook would never have served the meat like that when Catherine was here, he thought. She kept an eye on things. She knew. But then, she should; she knew just what the servants were like, she’d been one. He could still feel her in the house.

‘Mine’s fine,’ his son said.

Carr snorted. His son might be good at running the factory, but beyond that he was useless. Couldn’t keep his own boy in line. He’d heard the tales about the lad, the gambling and whoring. Carr might not get out much these days, but words reached him.

‘How’s the business this week?’ he asked.

‘A new order from the Army.’ Neville spoke with his mouth full. ‘Boots for India. It’s good money.’

‘A little extra gone to the right people.’

‘Of course, Father,’ he replied. ‘No need to worry about it. Everyone’s been taken care of. The next order’s in the bag, too.’

Robert had built up the business his father started on Meanwood Road. A few years before, he’d handed it to Neville. He’d trained his son well. Polite to the buyers, generous to those who placed the orders, firm with the men in the factory. It worked well. They made good money.

He had his house in Chapel Allerton, Neville his own close by. His son also had the mistress he kept in Headingley. An actress, of all things. No imagination. Not even a good actress, by all accounts. He hoped she played well in bed.

The Empire kept Carr & Sons in business. Boots for troops in all the colonies, and God knew there were plenty of them. Long may it continue.

Neville had cleared his plate, sitting back and drinking his wine.

‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said. ‘We ought to start making boots for working men.’

The old man shook his head.

‘Don’t be so daft. The market’s sewn up. You’d be trying to break in. We do what we do. Don’t rock the bloody boat.’

‘I was just trying-’

‘Don’t,’ Carr warned.

‘You’ve had an edge on you since she left.’

‘She’ll be back. I told you.’

Of course she would. She’d come to her senses soon enough. He’d make her pay for it, and he’d keep reminding her, but he’d have her back. Stupid, he knew that. Weak. She’d made her decision to leave all this. Money, everything she could want. He’d tried to stop her. Beaten her. But she’d gone.

He glanced over at his son. A weak man. A drunken one now, to judge from the dull glint in his eyes.

‘I told you not to marry a servant. It’s like a novelette. But reality was less successful, wasn’t it?’

‘Shut up, Neville,’ he warned.

‘Sometimes I wonder which was stronger, her love of this ridiculous suffragism or her hatred of you?’

‘You’d better stop now,’ Carr told him as he reached down for a stick. ‘Right now.’

Tales Within A Tale 1

Four months until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

And you can read more about Skin Like Silver, of course.

youngjohnson

I try. But as God sees, at times it feel like an uphill battle to fight against sin.

Patrick Martin sat back and looked at his words in his diary. An admission of weakness, he thought. But the week had been long and seemed fruitless. He’d given out Bibles, stopped to pray and talking with some of the families around Quarry Hill. He’d done some good, held a woman’s hand into the night as the Lord took her, given a little to a couple to buy food for their daughter. Prayed with some, read verses from the Testament to others. But so many more paid no mind to religion, to their souls, to right or wrong.

A tap on the door roused him from his thoughts.

‘Your supper’s on the table, Mr. Martin.’

‘I’ll be there in a minute, Mrs. Townes.’ He stood and studied himself in the mirror. Hair thinning, a thin mouth, not the face of a man who took life lightly.

He’d been a serious child, drawn to religion but never a man for the cloth. Working for the Leeds Town Mission suited him to the ground. Not to proselytize but to evangelize. That was the motto; that was his creed. To be the agent, to visit again and again, to hope for that open door in the heart.

One all too often slammed as he approached.

He knew he was a prim man, not one to bend with the wind or changing tastes. But what kind of example would he be without steel in his spine? How could he tolerate the girls who made their livings as prostitutes instead of honest labour, or the ones who had their children out of wedlock? The Scriptures made their points on these, and he quoted them, although he tried to be gentle.

He’d looked at girls when he was young, even lusted, although he couldn’t have given it a name then. Always the free thinkers, the ones with gaiety in their eyes. Now, though, he had his calling. Maybe a wife sometime, if he ever found someone Godly.

But Leeds was becoming overrun with socialists and suffragists. Women who thought themselves the equal of men, when the truth was that they needed a man to guide them, to lead them to responsibility.

His notebook lay on the desk. He opened it and leafed through the first few pages to the report he’d made for his superintendent after the first half year he’d worked in Quarry Hill.

The prevailing vices are these – adultery, fornication, drunkenness, swearing and gossiping. Since I came to the district, eleven children have died of burning; and to me it is no wonder, when I find so many houses left with the children, and the mothers ‘throng’ gossiping with their neighbours, The Lord’s Day is awfully profaned – washing, baking, and sleeping in the afternoon, and in the evening, drinking…

And so little had changed. Each day he attempted to make some difference, to affect a life, to bring someone closer to God, to help someone see the Lord, to put a little light in them. Just that afternoon he’d called at one house to see a woman who lived with her daughter.

‘I’ve called to see your mother. How is the old woman?’

‘My mother is in hell,’ she answered, giving the sharp edge of her tongue, ‘where you will be shortly; begone, you bloody Methodist, or I’ll let my dog at you.’

What could he do but walk away, finding consolation in the Scriptures: I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee. Speak my word and be not afraid.

Patrick Martin closed the book. In the mirror he straightened his tie and the wings on his collar before smoothing down his hair. Saturday evening. Mrs. Townes would have a pork pie for his supper.

Deadline: Leeds, 1891

‘I started out in the mills when I was nine. It’s a hard life, I can tell you that right now. Moved into service a few years later because it paid better and it wasn’t as dangerous. I’m still not above scrubbing a floor if it needs it, or giving something a cleaning. Most of the girls I played with ended up doing the same. Maids or mills. If I ever see them now, the ones who are married have five or six children and husbands who bring in next to nothing every week. They survive, and that’s all they do. It’s down to the pawnbroker with the good clothes of a Tuesday morning so they can last until their men are paid. Redeem everything Friday evening. Do you know what they wish for when they’re walking down the street holding everything of value that they own? That their little ones will have something better. But they won’t. Do you know why not? Because there’s no one to speak up for them. They live, they die. Probably half of the girls I played hopscotch with when I was in pinafores are in the ground now. I’m not saying having the vote would put everything right. I’m not a fool. Men will still run things, same as they always have. There’ll still be more poor people than you can shake a stick at. But at least we’ll have a say. All of us. That’s the women on Leather Street, where I grew up, as much as anyone here. Maybe they need it even more than us. I’ll tell you something else. Every day, every single day, I see women with all the hope gone from their faces. It’s been battered away long before they’re old enough to work. And we need hope. That’s why every woman needs the vote. Every man, too. The only way those men standing for Parliament will ever do anything is if they need our votes to win. Half their promises will still vanish into thin air. Of course they will, they always do. And they still won’t do anything more than they absolutely have to. But for the first time they’ll have to listen to us.’

Annabelle Harper, featured speaker at a meeting of the Leeds Suffrage Society, Albert Hall, Mechanics’ Institute, Leeds, 1891.

Find out more. Read all about Skin Like Silver, coming in November.

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Find out more, Read all about Skin Like Silver, coming in November