The Bold Escape Of The Suffragette

As you’ll almost certainly be aware by now, my new book called Brass Lives is published next week.

While one of the main characters is based on the real-life Leeds-born gangster Owen Madden, one small strand features another real person – suffragette Lilian Lenton. She was in Armley Gaol on Leeds, accused of arson in Doncaster. On hunger strike, she was released under the Cat and Mouse Act. The idea was she’d eat and gain weight, then be hauled back to prison.

However.., in the book, Special Branch is watching her. Let’s say it’s not a success. What I’ve described seemed to be what really happened.

Lilian Lenton

Friday morning, half-past eleven. Harper sat in the chief constable’s office, listening to Inspector Cartwright of Special Branch. Beside him, Sergeant Gough’s face was so red with anger that he looked as if he might explode.

            ‘None of my men had seen any sign of Miss Lenton, so I knocked on the door first thing this morning and asked to see her. I wanted to know if she was well enough to be returned to Armley Gaol.’ Cartwright spoke as if he was reciting from his notebook in court.

            ‘Go on,’ Parker said. He clamped down on the cigar in his mouth to hide his amusement.

            ‘The maid told me that she wasn’t there. My men searched the house from top to bottom and the information was correct. She was not there.’

            Parker studied the rising smoke. ‘Have you discovered what happened?’

            ‘She escaped, that’s what happened.’ Gough was close to shouting.

            Harper raised an eyebrow. ‘How?’

            ‘As best as we can ascertain, sir, she was in disguise,’ Cartwright continued, avoiding their eyes as he stared at the wall. ‘She arrived on the Tuesday. Late that afternoon a delivery van appeared on Westfield Terrace. It was driven by a young man. He had a boy with him. We observed the boy eating an apple and reading a copy of Comic Cuts. The driver called out “Groceries.” A servant opened the door and said, “All right, it’s here.” The boy took a basket into the house through the back door.’ He went silent for a moment, glaring at the sergeant. ‘Shortly after that, the delivery boy reappeared with an empty basket, returned to the van and it drove away.’

            ‘The delivery boy who came out was Lilian Lenton in disguise?’ Harper asked.

            ‘Yes,’ Cartwright said through clenched teeth. ‘That’s what we’ve managed to discover. I talked to the grocer. He told me everything as soon as I threatened him with prosecution. Miss Lenton was taken a mile away to—’ he consulted his notebook ‘—Moortown, where her friends had a taxi waiting to drive her to Harrogate. We’re pursuing our enquiries from there. At this point we have every reason to believe she’s fled the country.’

            ‘That’s very unfortunate,’ Parker said. ‘And it makes the Special Branch look pretty poor.’

            ‘Yes, sir, it does.’ Cartwright was staring daggers, but he had to sit and take it. His men had messed up. They’d allowed the woman to escape as they sat and watched. ‘You can help us, if you’d be so good.’ He looked as though they were the hardest words he’d ever had to speak.

            ‘What do you need?’ Harper asked.

            ‘If you could ask the force in Harrogate to talk to people they know and discover where she’s gone, that would be a great help. The sooner we can find out the better, of course.’

            ‘We will.’

            ‘Thank you, sir.’ The men stood.

            Before they could leave, the chief said: ‘A word to the wise, Inspector. I’d advise you not to prosecute the grocer. If this comes out in court, you’ll look an utter fool.’

Brass Lives is published June 24.

The Molten City Is Free – For Now

I know it’s very difficult for people to get hold of The Molten City at the moment. The big online retailers show it as temporarily out of stock – they have no new books, because their distributors have closed for the moment. Many smaller book shops are closed, one still doing mail order are dependent upon their distributors remaining open. It’s difficult. I’d recomment Fox Lane Books (foxlanebooks), which has the book, or Big Green Books (@biggreenbooks) or West End Lane Books (@welbooks) in London.

However, you can read it as an book now, for free, no matter where in the world you live. It’s due to come out that way on May 1, but get a jump and pay nothing. All perfectly legal, too. Simply sign up for their newsletter and you’ll be able to download it. A great deal, because they publish plenty of excellent authors.

All you have to do is go here. It’s only for a limited time, so I hope you’ll take advantage.

The only favour I’d ask is that you please leave a review somewhere. They honestly do help.

Thank you, and please, I hope you all stay well.

Molten City

A New Book Trailer And More

Well, it’s been quite a week. Tonight I’m doing an In Conversation event as part of the wonder Leeds LitFest, which is roaring along in its second yeay, ambitious and energised.

I’ve also been digging into the history of Sheepscar. In part, of course, because where Tom and Annabelle Harper live, but also because my family has some roots there, at the Victoria public house (my great-grandfather ran it from the 1920s to the 1940s) and beyond (more to come on that).

Surprisingly, no one has studied the history of the area, which means a lot of digging and piecing things together from censuses, old plans, maps, anything I can find. It’s strictly for my own pleasure, really, although, since i’m a writer, I’m putting it all together – 7000 words so far, along with photos and so much more, almost 50 pages’ worth.

But I haven’t forgotten that The Molten City arrives in three weeks. It’s available to bloggers and reviewers on NetGalley, so if you’re approved, get over there…if not, I’m afraid you’ll need to wait. But in the meantime, here’s a second trailer for the book.

The Molten City – An Extract

Five week now until The Molten City is published. To whet you’re appetite and get you ordering it (hopefully), here’s a very short extract from the book. It’s 1908, and Harper’s daughter, Mary, is 16 now, a Suffragette supporter; her mother, Annabelle, is a Suffragist, opposed to the violence Mrs Pankhurst’s women espouse. Herbert Asquith, the Prime Minster, is about to arrive to give a speech in Leeds. The Suffragettes, led by a woman named Jennie Baines, are demonstarting at his opposition to women’s suffrage, and the unemployed men are holding their own rally in opposition to the government inaction on jobs.  If they come together outside the Coliseum, where the PM is giving his speech, there’s going to be a riot.

 

Harper looked around the railways station. It all seemed ordinary. No sign of anyone lurking. Just the everyday travellers and people waiting for arrivals. He let out a breath, then he was aware of someone running.

A constable in uniform, his face red as he gasped for breath, boots skidding over the tiles. A hasty salute.

‘I was looking for you up by the Coliseum, sir. Message for you from Millgarth. Sergeant Mason says to tell you it’s important.’

‘What does he want?’ He felt fear creeping up from his belly.

‘Don’t know, sir. He just told me to give you this and get back sharpish.’ He thrust a piece of paper in Harper’s hand and ran off.

Your wife telephoned. Vital you ring her as soon as possible.

He opened his watch. Twenty past four. God Almighty. The Prime Minister’s train was due in ten minutes.

‘You keep watch,’ he told Emerson. ‘If anything happens, come and get me immediately.’

In the station master’s office, he lifted the receiver, waiting impatiently for the connection.

‘What is it?’ he asked as soon as Annabelle was on the line. ‘The prime minister’s arriving any minute.’

‘It’s Mary,’ she said, and he stopped, unable to say a word. ‘She told me she was going to do some shopping after work this afternoon.’ Annabelle caught her breath. ‘She telephoned half an hour ago. She’s going to the demonstration, Tom. I’ll swing for the little madam, behaving like this.’

Christ, he thought. Bloody girl.

‘I can’t do anything now. Nothing.’ He tried to think. ‘I’ll tell Ash.’

‘I’m coming down there.’

‘Don’t—’ he began, but she’d already gone.

Damn the girl. They’d told her, but she had to go and bloody defy them. Now she was going to be trapped in the middle of a war and there was nothing he could do to help her. If she was hurt, injured . . . not just her. Annabelle, too.

He dared not let himself think about it. Not now. Not—

‘Sir,’ Emerson said, ‘the Chief Constable is looking for you.’

 

 

Harper hurried up the hill, crossing Great George Street, passing the Mechanics’ Institute. Ash stood in the middle of the road, tall, bulky in his overcoat and new bowler hat.

He nodded towards the Coliseum. ‘Almost full in there, sir. They’re just waiting for the guests of honour. Everything in order?’

‘No.’ He pointed at the suffragettes, close to a hundred of them now, penned in on Vernon Street. ‘My daughter’s in with them and Mrs Harper is on her way down here.’ He could hear how frantic he sounded. It didn’t matter. He didn’t care.

There was too much to juggle. The prime minister would arrive at any moment. The last of the audience was filing into the hall. Businessmen in expensive suits, tickets checked at the door before they could gain entry.

Mrs Baines was addressing the women, her voice loud and strident. And somewhere among them . . .

‘It’s probably just a matter of time before the unemployed men break out from that rally they’re holding,’ Harper said.

‘We have the reinforcements, sir.’

He shook his head. ‘I’m holding them back for when we really need them. We’d just better be prepared for the worst. It’s not far away.’

‘We’ll manage, sir. You leave things up here with me. I’ll have that lass of yours out of there.’ He marched away, shoulders back, shouting orders at the constables.

Harper stood. For a moment he felt utterly lost, out of his depth. Too much was happening, his head was on fire. This was like trying to keep a dozen balls in the air, knowing that if one fell, chaos would follow.

Suddenly, off in the distance, he made out a faint swell of cheering. He cocked his head, leaning his good ear towards the sound. It was definitely there. Asquith’s procession was drawing closer, all those people by the side of the road happy to have a sight of their prime minister. A tiny glimmer of sanity among the madness.

He ran his palms down his cheeks.

Everyone was relying on him to make sure the politicians were safe. Let the demonstrators bray all they liked, that wasn’t going to do any damage. Words might fill the air, but they couldn’t wound. Nobody would die from them. But if it went beyond that – when it did – he’d stop them.

A final breath and he was ready.

The first of the motor cars came in sight. A chorus of boos, a clamour of shouting from the women. He searched their faces for Mary. Couldn’t see her. A swift prayer to keep her safe. Her and Annabelle.

 

You can order from your favourite bookshop (or ask your library to get it in). This place has the cheapest price (currently £15.66, with free UK postage).

Molten City