2015 Round Up And Thanks

So here were are, staggering to the end of the year, with thoughts is holidays cheering/wearying (delete as desired). It’s been a big year for me, and believe me, I have no plans to try and top it in quantity next year. But quality…well, I’ll try.

I’m grateful to many people – both individuals and institutions – who’ve helped out. But ultimately, thanks to you, the readers. If you don’t ready the books I’m just yelling into the void. Whether you buy them or borrow them from the library, I’m grateful to all of you for taking the time to read what I write.

I popped into Waterstone’s in Leeds yesterday and found this:

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It certainly made my heart beat faster to see my new book up there with the heavy hitters. Even more when I was told they’d sold out of the copies they had me sign after last Thursday’s launch. So, of course, I signed a few more for them. They also said – and I find it hard to believe – that I’m the biggest-selling crime author in the Leeds branch. Truth or lie, it’s lovely to hear.

I now have a clip of the interview Made in Leeds TV did before the Skin Like Silver launch. An interview with me, one with Carolyn Eden, who played Annabelle Harper, and a little of her performance. Enjoy.

Finally, I wish all of you a wonderful end to 2015, and a happy, peaceful, healthy New Year.

 

 

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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.

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 3 – Miss Worthy

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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 and the second with Robert Carr here.

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

This time it’s Miss Martha Worthy, milliner.

‘I’m very sorry, Miss Bell, but that won’t be possible.’ She said it with a smile, trying to ease the harsh pill.

‘Well!’ The woman puffed out her cheeks and pushed her lips together to make a thin line. It made her look even less attractive, Miss Worthy thought. But the woman had to be told: no more credit. She’d paid nothing on her account in six months, then flounced in expecting gratitude for her custom. Maybe they’d do that elsewhere, but she couldn’t afford to. ‘I shall take my business elsewhere.’

‘You’re more than welcome to do that, of course.’ Another smile, just enough to show her teeth, and a slight nod of the head. ‘But before you leave, perhaps you’d care to settle your bill.’

‘Why should I?’ Miss Bell sniffed. ‘I came to buy a hat, not to be insulted.’

‘I’m sorry you feel that way,’ Miss Worthy told her. ‘I truly am. But perhaps you haven’t received the statements I’ve sent out every month? Have you perhaps changed your address?’

She meant it to sting and it worked. The woman’s face reddened and she drew herself up to her full height.

‘I don’t believe a tradesman should talk to me that way.’

‘Tradeswoman.’ She took pleasure in the correction. ‘This is my business. There is no Mr. Worthy, and hasn’t been since my father passed away. The success or failure of this milliner’s shop depends on me, no one else.’ She left the words to hang for a moment, then added. ‘And for my customers to pay their bills, of course.’

Miss Bell glowered for a moment, then abruptly turned on her heel, letting the door slam shut behind her. She’d never pay now, of course, but then the woman probably never had any intention of settling the account. Still, there was some satisfaction. Miss Worthy had talked to quite a few others in the business; dear Miss Bell might discover it a great deal harder to obtain any credit now.

It wasn’t easy to be a woman in business. But she’d made a small success of the milliner’s after learning the trade. Miss Worthy had a flair for design, a little family money to give her the cushion to start, and plenty of determination.

‘Miss Bell must have been spitting feathers.’ Effie Johnson laughed when she heard.

‘Especially when no one else will extend her credit. It’ll teach her a lesson,’ Miss Worthy said, sipping at the sherry. They were in her rooms above the shop, all the bustle of Briggate in the evening outside her window. ‘She’ll be back within a week and pay in full, you marks my words.’

‘You can be a hard women, Martha.’

‘I can be a businesswoman,’ Miss Worthy corrected her carefully.