On Being Cheap

I’m cheap. Well, of course I am, I come from Yorkshire; it’s in my DNA. And it’s quite true, I never pay more for something that necessary. I shop around. I’m unlikely to ever be a John Lewis customer.

That said, I do prefer to buy from independent shops, or those that pay their full whack of taxes. Things being what they were, though, sometimes a bargain from elsewhere can be too good to refuse.

Right now – and I don’t know how long it will last – a couple of my books are very cheap on Amazon.

The Tin God is a little over £2 on Amazon, both in hardback and for Kindle. It costs less that I can for my coffee at La Botega Milanese when I go into town. And, much as I like their coffee, a book lasts longer. This is one of my favourites, as Annabelle Harper becomes such a central character, and it reflects the local politics of the time – and the way women struggled for the vote. The offer is only in the UK (sorry) and you can find it here.

The Hanging Psalm is also cheap, although, costing more than £4 in both formats, it not quite as much of a bargain. But that price for a hardback? I’m astonished. Here is the page.

I don’t know who’s behind it, whether it’s Amazon or my publisher. But if you’ve been thinking of buying, I doubt there will be a better time. I have no idea how long the prices will last.

The Hanging Psalm is the first Simon Westow book. The second, called The Hocus Girl, comes out at the end of next month. It features undercover government agents (based on a true story from the period – nothing changes), Joshua Tetley about to open his brewery, a real-life female preacher, and the world’s first locomotive able to carry loads. It’s currently available to order for £15.66 right here – definitely the cheapest price around.

Time to go back to being personally cheap…

Hocus Girl final

Frank Kidson And The Music Of The Tin God

This week. This week. Finally, The Tin God will be out. It feels like forever since I sent the manuscript to my publisher, then went through it with the editor. And now it’s happening. Doesn’t matter that I’ve been through it all before, I’m excited. This book means so much to me.

Not just because it’s about women’s rights, although that’s the central focus. But there’s also music in there; the lyrics from folk songs are the clues, one of the threads in the book. I’ve used folk music before in my novels, but only passing references. Things were more overt in my Dan Markham books, with Studio 50 and 1950s jazz, and in the two Seattle books, where grunge – a hated name – and alt-country were central ingredients.

But the traditional folk of The Tin God gives me chance to bring in someone I’ve wanted to involve in my books for a long time – Frank Kidson. He was a real man who had an unusual companion, his niece, Ethel (whose real name was Emma). Kidson was a man fascinated by several things – art, Leeds pottery, and folk songs. He was one of the first real song collectors and became known throughout the country, a pioneer well before those who received far more credit. He wrote several books, including the wonderful Traditional Tunes, which figures largely in my book, and wrote a column on songs for the Leeds Mercury.

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There were song collectors in different parts of the country in Victorian times, and they regularly wrote to each other and compared variations on songs. In the north, though, and certainly in Yorkshire, Kidson was a towering figure, one who developed theories about songs and how old they might be – actually, not as ancient as most people might imagine.

In the book, Frank and Ethel Kidson live at 128, Burley Road, their address at the time. A little later, they moved over to Chapeltown, to 5, Hamilton Avenue, where Frank died in the 1920s. A blue plaque sits on the house, quite deservedly commemorating one of Leeds’ great men.

kidson plaque

In 1923, to recognise his contribution to music, Leeds University awarded him an honorary M.A.

kidson MA

I put together a Spotify playlist of some of the songs from The Tin God. All traditional, and you can listen right here. Or – since Spotify barely pay artists for their work – I’ve also put together a playlist on YouTube.

Songs of all types interested him, including the popular broadside ballads, which were written, printed up, and sold on the streets, sort-of op ed/confessional/humorous take on life and current events. He bought them and saved some in a scrapbook, which is in the Family History Library at Leeds Central Library, and well worth a look.

One that isn’t in that collection, though, is How Five-And-Twenty Shillings Are Expended In A Week, which is a broadside:

It’s of a tradesman and his wife, I heard the other day,
Who did kick up a glorious row; they live across the way;
The husband proved himself a fool, when his money all was spent,
He asked his wife, upon her life, to say which way it went.

Chorus.
So she reckon’d up, and told him, and showed him quite complete,
How five and twenty shillings were expended in a week.

5 and 20

Kidson published a little of the song in Traditional Tunes. At the proper launch for The Tin God, which will be on Saturday May 5, 1pm, as part of The Vote Before The Vote exhibition, it will be performed by Sarah Statham, who was part of the glorious Leeds band, Esper Scout. Details right here.

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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 Kernel of Truth

For a long time I was jealous of my friend Thom Atkinson (read about him here). His short stories and plays, justly award-winning, hit a kernel of truth that I couldn’t seem to reach in my own writing (you really should read his work. He’s honestly that good). What I produced was readable, but it was all surface, it didn’t resonate deeply.

Maybe I hadn’t lived enough. Maybe I just hadn’t reached far enough inside. I don’t know.

I had a stack of unpublished novels, six or seven of them. Fair enough.

Finally, though, I did manage to touch that core and find that elusive truth when I wrote The Broken Token. I like to feel that the Richard Nottingham and Tom Harper books all manage that, to a greater or lesser degree. Some – At the Dying of the Year, for instance, or Gods of Gold and Skin Like Silver – have been very emotionally draining to write. When that happens, I feel fairly sure I’ve achieved work that’s the best I can do.

Some of my other books perhaps don’t delve quite as deep. But I hope that they each have their own truth that shines through.

This is a preface to saying I’ve just completed a book that was quite exhausting to write. Currently titled The Tin God, it’s the next in the Harper series, and Annabelle figures more largely than ever. Soon enough it will be with my agent and then, I hope, my publisher, who will give the thumbs up or down. If it’s success then I’ll let you know, of course. But the issues involved are timely. Women running for office – which they could in late Victorian Leeds, either for the School Board or as a Poor Law Guardian – and the problems they face from men.

My publisher will hopefully receive this new manuscript just after On Copper Street appears in hardback in the US, and everywhere as an ebook (obligatory ad!). I was a little stunned a couple of weeks ago when Booklist, an American publication, named it as one of the best crime novels of the last 12 months before its publication. That is heart-stopping and left me immensely proud.

Over lunch last week, a writer friend told me: ‘You own Leeds.’

I don’t (or if I do, where’s the rent?), but it’s lovely to be so associated with a city I care for so deeply, that’s helped me find the heart in my fiction.

I’ll be talking about that on June 8 with a great historical crime writer, Candace Robb, who feels about York the way I do about Leeds. Details are here – please come if you can.

A finally, I mentioned Richard Nottingham before. After four years away, he’s returning. Here’s a little teaser…

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