Finding The Leaden Heart – Skin Like Silver

It’s interesting to revisit the Tom Harper series of books leading up to the publication of the seventh, The Leaden Heart, on March 29 (obligatory self-promotion inserted). I’ve found myself think deeply about them and understanding things that hadn’t always made sense to me before.

Writing Skin Like Silver, I knew the books were taking a turn, and that Annabelle Harper was fighting her way forward to become a more important character, someone more than Tom’s assertive, gobby wife. And she succeeded. She became involved with one of the growing issues of the 1890s – suffragism. This was before woman had any representation at all, even on the local level (that would start in 1894), and a full decade before the Suffragettes formed.

The idea of women standing up was at the heart of the novel, but somehow or other, Annabelle’s involvement with the Suffragist movement, becoming a speaker, grew into a central idea. I thought of it as her book, and perhaps it was, although that would change (if anything really is Annabelle’s book, it’s The Tin God. But more of that next week).

Skin Like Silver did make me understand how important she could be in the series, and that the idea of family needed a greater and greater role. Well, I had no choice. Annabelle demanded it. And with this much of the complexion of the series changed. While it didn’t become about her – although she’s figured strongly in the books since, the series has turned more into the chronicle of a family in late Victorian/Edwardian times as much a series of crime novels.

It was a sign that Annabelle was carrying everything before her that she was there for the book launch at the Leeds Library, giving one of the Suffragist speeches she makes in the book. A surprise for the audience, too, when she appeared out of the darkness. Actor Carolyn Eden did a remarkable job (as she has several times with Annabelle), inhabiting the character.

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Very likely all crime writers believe the same, but I realised that the Tom Harper novels were more than just murder mysteries. It sounds pretentious, and God knows I want them to entertain, but I wanted them to be more. Windows into how people lived and struggled. What Leeds was like back then.

I’m still trying. And here’s me rabbiting on about the book just before the launch.

I still love this book. It feels bigger than its pages, somehow. With the writing of it, the entire series pivoted. I’m still a little astonished by that. It proves writers are conduits. The words flow through us, rather than being formed by us. And that’s a piece of magic I don’t want to investigate too closely in case I jinx it.

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Free From All Danger – The Launch

On Thursday I officially launched Free From All Danger. You know that, of course; I’ve been talking about it for a long time.

It was a great evening, about 50 people turned up (some joined the Leeds Library on the spot; others plan to do so very soon, which makes me happy).

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The audience arrives

And it all finished up with the splendid Hill Bandits performing an aching, grieving version of Our Captain Cried – the song that gives the book its title.

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The Hill Bandits

And people enjoyed the performance. Some said they’d never come across anything quite like it before, the mix of words and music. And the music (composed and recorded by an old friend, Chris Emmerson, with the fiddle piece behind Con the Blind Fiddler composed and performed by Hal Parfitt-Murray of the Danish band Basco) was excellent, atmospheric, and moving at times.

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The author and composer share a moment

I know many of you couldn’t be there. And I didn’t want the moment to simply vanish. After all, I’d put in a month’s rehearsal to try and make sure the timings worked. It was more intense than I’d expected, a huge step outside my usual comfort zone.

Over the weekend I recorded a version of the soundtrack. Nothing fancy on the voice, just dry, using the mic on my computer, then a quick mixdown with the music. I hope you’ll fancy giving it a listen:

One small warning. It will eat up 25 minutes of your time.

Meanwhile, I’ve included a few pictures from the event. Thanks to all who came, to the Leeds Library and Leeds Big Bookend, and Waterstones for coming and selling copies of the book.

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Just remember, that time of year is coming soon, and books make great gifts. Especially, I’m told, crime novels set in Leeds in the 1730s. Would I steer you wrong?

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Free From All Danger – Once More

Two weeks from today, Free From All Danger will be published. It feels as if I’ve waited a long time for this. I have, really. It’s four and a half years since the last Richard Nottingham novel. Back then, Richard and I knew we still had some unfinished business.

So it deserves a big launch. November 9 it will have one, with a specially-composed soundtrack and some live music, to be held at the glorious Leeds Library, the oldest subscription library in England. The event is free; all you need to do is reserve a seat. Waterstones will bring copies of the book for you to buy, of course.

Two weeks,,,fourteen days. In the meantime, I’ve made another trailer for the book, to give a feel of it…

 

And here’s the first one that I did a few months ago…

(Two days later I’ll be taking parting in a second performance of It Happened At Leeds, about the Leeds Convention of 1917, at Chapel FM in Seacroft. Pay as you feel.)

 

May You Live In Interesting Times

There appear to be some mighty things afoot. Autumn is going to be very busy. Three – yes, three! – books coming out, although the real highlight is going to be Free From All Danger, the first Richard Nottingham novel in over four years. The proofs have been completed and it’s with the printer, due out in October.

Richard and his family have always had a place deep in my heart, so it’s only right that the book launch should be a celebration. It’s going to be at the Leeds Library on Commercial Street on Thursday, November 9, at 7 pm (free, of course, but please contact them and book a place). It’s going to be an event, with a script and a specially-composed soundtrack by Chris Emmerson. There may also be some live music.

To start the ball rolling, here’s the first trailer for the book

May 2018 will see the publication of The Tin God, the sixth Tom Harper novel. My publisher said this about it: “…this latest entry continues the ongoing series themes of social change and progress, tradition vs modernisation, female emancipation, the grinding poverty and social injustice of the times, to superb effect, highlighting all too vividly the tensions caused by such rapid social change: what is highly welcome for some being anathema to others.  (Such tensions being all too evident in politics today).

 

Once again, devoted family man Tom Harper and his spirited wife Annabelle, battling passionately for the causes she believes in as an early pioneer on the long march towards women’s equality, make for thoroughly likeable lead protagonists, and the plot skips along at an impressive pace, conjuring up a compelling sense of rising tension as the election approaches.”

 

The launch event for this one will be a little different; it will be folded into an exhibition called The Vote Before The Vote at Leeds Central Library (2018, of course, marks the centenary of some women receiving the vote, although the exhibition highlights that many could vote in local elections before that. It will be curated by independent academic Vine Pemberton Joss, whose suggestion sparked the book.

 

Lastly, it looks as if Dan Markham from Dark Briggate Blues will star in a play. And a play with live jazz, at that. Nothing’s set in stone, but it seems likely to happen at Leeds Jazz Fest next July, and will mostly be a celebration of Studio 20, Leeds’ pioneering jazz club ibn the 1950s. No title yet, but the next 12 months promise to be very exciting.

The Advertisement – 1768

Maybe it happened this way. Maybe it didn’t….

‘Mr Parsons,’ Ogle said. When the assistant didn’t respond, he turned his head and repeated the name, his voice ringing through the shop. He was normally a softly-spoken man, always polite but today his nerves were on edge.

‘Yes sir?’ Parsons seemed to appear from nowhere. But that was his way. Much of the day he’d be impossible to find, tucked away behind this shelf or that, lost to the world as he read. Usually Ogle didn’t mind, but not today, not today.

‘I need to know how many have said they’ll attend, please.’

‘Of course.’ At the desk he looked through some of the sheets of paper before raising his head in a smile. ‘Eighty-seven. And there’s a promise of more. It’s an excellent response, sir.’

‘It is,’ Ogle agreed, but he was distracted by the enormity of it all. He was a man who preferred the company of a page to most people. Now he’d put himself forward and proposed all this and he hoped he’d done the right thing.

A slight man, given to wracking coughs in the winter and the suffering of heat in the summer, he wiped his face with a handkerchief. It was a little after ten in the morning and already he felt wearied by this August weather. Tonight would be worse, with all those bodies crammed together in the New King’s Arms. More than he’d dare hope, he had to admit. What he’d have to do was put the proposal and hope that all those who came would be willing to put their hands in their pockets.

The idea for a subscription library hadn’t been his, of course. He was perfectly content running his bookshop at the sign of the dial on Kirkgate End. It was his daughter Mary who planted the seeded and forced it to germination. She’d be there tonight with Parsons.

‘Have you made all the preparations?’ he asked suddenly. It terrified him that something would go wrong and people would leave in disgust. Then there’d quiet words around town and his custom would drain away to his competitors.

‘Everything’s in hand, sir.’

He nodded. Parsons was good at his job, the most efficient assistant he’d ever employed. Still young, but with his letters and numbers and always eager to learn more. The lad wasn’t exactly handsome, more presentable than anything, not one to attract the ladies who came looking for the latest novels. His clothes weren’t new, but his mother had tailored them into a fair fit for him, the breeches tight over his thighs, the hose always clean and white. Yes, presentable. And knowledgeable. If only he didn’t spend every spare minute hidden in a book. That wasn’t what h was paid to do…

Ogle sighed.

He picked up a copy of the advertisement that had been printed in the Intelligencer and the Mercury. A call to a meeting, it announced, for all who might be interested in founding a library. Leeds certainly needed something like that, a place to collect volumes that would educate and entertain, that people could read in comfort or borrow. There were things he’d love to have close by – Sir Edward’s collection of tracts from the Reformation, for instance. He knew they were for sale. Or Mr. Garside’s collection of pamphlets from the Civil War. And there were those volumes of Wilson’s pedigree volumes. All beautiful items but not right for a bookshop; they needed somewhere more permanent.

Mary had seen that and sparked the idea of a library. Each founding member would pay to own a share, she said, and then an annual subscription, so everything would fund itself. It had so many possibilities that sometimes he felt it might overwhelm him. There would be the added pleasure of Ogle’s bookshop supplying all the volumes, although the profit on each one would be negligible, of course. He wouldn’t want to be too forward. But the sign of the dial would be famous in Leeds.

When he’d mentioned the idea toReverend Priestley from Mill Hill Chapel, the man had beamed.

‘Excellent, Ogle, excellent.’ The man had shaken his hand, then turned and done the same with Parsons. ‘I’d be happy to subscribe to it.’

Others said the same.

It was Parsons who arrived at the idea of the meeting.

‘I’ve been thinking, sir,’ he’d said tentatively at the beginning of July.

‘What?’ Ogle asked. He’d been in the middle of taking town a volume of Tacitus, ready to wrap and send to Mr. Armistead in Chapel Allerton.

‘Surely it would be to everyone’s advantage to have as many subscribers to the library as possible.’

‘Of course,’ he agreed. ‘But we’ve passed the word and so far only fifty have said they’d do it.’

‘Have you considered placing an advertisement in the newspapers?’

He hadn’t. His first reaction was that it was simply too gauche, too…commercial.

‘You could call a meeting of everyone who might be interested,’ Parsons continued quickly. ‘If you announce it in both newspapers then everyone will see it.’

‘That’s a very good idea,’ he had to allow.

‘I was talking to Miss Mary when she was in here yesterday. She told me I should suggest it.’

That girl, Ogle thought. She’d rather spend her time in here than with a dressmaker or a dancing master. Two and three times every week she appeared, spending hours in the place. How was a father supposed to marry off someone who’d rather see a book than a young man?

Parsons would have been the ideal match for her. A pity he’d never have two pennies to rub together. He had no capital, nothing but his own desire to learn. At the very best he might become the manager of a bookshop one day. Without money, though, he could never an owner. However much he came to know the educated folk of Leeds who came in and spent their money, he’d never have pounds, shillings and pence to cross the gulf and become one of them.

‘Mr. Parsons,’ Ogle said, and this time there was no hesitation in the reply.

‘Sir?’

‘Is everything prepared for this evening? The ledger? Ink? Quills?’

‘Yes sir.’ The young man smiled. ‘I’ll bring them myself. When you finish I’ll be ready to take down the names of everyone who wants to join. I’ve checked with the inn. They’ll have plenty of seats and ale for everyone. Wine for those who want it.’

‘Very good.’ But he felt a growing sense of alarm. What if he couldn’t persuade many more that a library would be such an excellent addition to Leeds, to give the town its own Alexandria? All he’d end up with would be a pitiful thing. Half a room at the back of the shop, nothing more. That was what his wife had feared. Not so much the failure, but the embarrassment that went with it. Caroline was a creature who loved society. His sons were the same, rarely in the house with all their engagements. They’d feel they daren’t show their faces and all because of him. ‘Go for your dinner, Mr. Parsons.’

‘I’m too nervous to eat, sir,’ the young man said with a gentle smile.

‘So am I,’ Ogle admitted.

At six o’clock he closed the door and turned the key in the lock. The weather outside was hot enough to cause the skin around his neck to prickle, itchy and uncomfortable. He kept scratching at it but nothing helped. Mary had arrived a few minutes before, fussing about him in the way women did. She adjusted his stock and combed his hair with her fingers before placing a quick kiss on his cheek.

‘It’s going to be a big success, Papa,’ she said. ‘I know it will.’

‘She’s right, sir,’ Parsons added. ‘It’s bound to be. Just imagine…a library, here.’

Historical note: The advertisement for that first meeting on August 9, 1768 ran in both Leeds papers, and read in part that “a Library of this Nature will be an Honour to the Town, and a capital Advantage to the Inhabitants, especially in future Time.” One hundred and four people agreed to subscribe and the library opened on November 1 that year in a room above Ogle’s shop. Whether Ogle (or his daughter) was the instigator doesn’t matter in the cause of a good tale. But Mary Ogle became the librarian after her father died in 1774.

The library also occupied other premises before finding its home on Commercial Street, where it’s been since 1808. These days the Leeds Library is the oldest subscription library in Britain, still a wonderful place for meeting, learning, and reading. And very much an honour to the town. Read more about it here.

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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