Where Do The Characters Come From?

Just to start, I have to tell you the Kirkus Reviews, one of the major trade journals in the US, has given The Hocus Girl a starred revew (they also gave one to my last book, The Leaden Heart). you can read the full review here, but this is the final line: “This historical tour de force reminds readers who come for the mystery that life hasn’t changed for the disenfranchised.

I’ll take that.

Meanwhile..

10 years

 

They say that an author draws on people he knows for his characters.

I beg to differ.

I feel that in many cases I simply channel the people who populate my books. But if they have any traits, they’re not from people I know; they’re all small facets of me.

Richard Nottingham, for instance, is a very straight arrow, an utterly honest and upright man. Someone to be admired. He’s who I’d like to be, in an ideal world. The Leeds equivalent of the sheriff from a Western (albeit an old one). Amos Worthy is that creeping darkness in my soul. It’s there, I just need to let it out.

Dan Markham is cooler than I’ll ever be, a man at home in a jazz club or standing up to a criminal. He has style, something I’ve always aspired to but never achieved. Carla, his girlfriend, is the creative spirit I always wished I could be. But I never have quite managed to throw off the shackles of society.

Lottie Armstrong. She’s strength in adversity, someone who doesn’t give up. I suppose in some ways I have that, since I kept on fight to be published and eventually got there. But she’s a woman and that automatically makes her stronger than any man. And revisiting her 20 years later, she’s still got the resilience under all the sorrow. Urban Raven, from The Dead on Leave, has some of the same qualities. But with a crude plastic surgery face, his obstacles are more visible and obvious.

Simon Westow is resourceful, brave, intelligent, a man who’s overcome his past. That’s not me, of course; I’ve been far luckier than that. But I’d like to believe I had to spirit to be able to work my way up. Maybe I would, too. But probably not. Jane…Jane is my real darkness, the side we keep in because that’s what society teaches us. There are times I feel as isolated from the world as her. As an only child I’m good at keeping things inside, at being able to compartmentalise everything in my head. She’s the extreme, with everything coloured by a very deadly nature.

Tom Harper? He’s perhaps as close as I’ve come to a younger me, and his hearing problem certainly mirrors my own

Annabelle? No, Annabelle is channelled. She truly did come out of the ether. But thank God she’s here.

The 1930s Return, Leeds Style – The Dead On Leave

I was shocked and very pleasantly surprised by how many of you read an extract from my upcoming book last week. Right, I thought, maybe they fancy a bit more…

It’s’ 1936, and the Depression has hit Leeds hard. Oswald Mosley has brought his Blackshirts to town, and they’ve been chased off from Holbeck Moor with their tails between their legs by 30,000 Lioners. But there’s a body left behind, and Detective Sergeant Urban Raven has to find his way through the fog of politics and sorrow to discover who the killer might be.

The Dead On Leave is out in paperback on June 18, £7.99

The first man stood on his step and listened as Raven told him about the murder. He was in his sixties, with a shock of pure white hair and a thick moustache the colour of nicotine stains, with deep lines etched into his face. He spat out onto the cobbles, said, ‘About bloody time,’ and closed the door.

The next name was three houses further along Kepler Grove. A young fellow this time, with bulging frog eyes and a bouncing Adam’s apple. He looked downcast at the news, but nothing more. The same at the next few addresses. No grief. No one here was going to miss Frank Benson.

Round the corner on Gledhow Place, a man named Galloway cradled his infant daughter, heard what the sergeant had to say, then snorted.

‘You know what he was like?’ the man asked and Raven shook his head. ‘A real sod, that’s what. He’d dock you for owt. Reckoned he was God an’ all.’

‘What do you mean?’

Galloway tucked the girl’s head against his shoulder, tenderly stroking her hair.

‘About a month back, I were expecting him round. He didn’t even knock, just opened the front door and barged right in like he owned the place, looking around, checking in the cupboards and asking if there was any change in my circumstances. No how do you do, no by your leave, no respect. I told him to get hisself right out again. “My wife could have been washing at the sink, you bugger,” I said. I picked up the poker and waved it at him. That got him back outside right quick and tapping politely. “Any change in things?” he asked when I let him in. “Aye,” I said. “For the worse.” He took a glance in the pantry, and when he was leaving, he told me, “I won’t forget this.” He didn’t, neither. Someone told him I’d been making a little repairing boots and they stopped my relief. Five weeks. Still got three to go. Benson relished telling me, too.’

‘You realise you’ve just made yourself a suspect,’ Raven said, and Galloway shrugged.

‘Arrest me, then. At least you’d have to feed me in jail.’

‘Where were you yesterday?’

‘Right here. Where the hell else would I be?’

‘You’re in the clear, then.’ Not that he suspected the man; Galloway was far too open, his heart showing loud and bright on his sleeve.

He heard similar tales at other houses. Family members who’d been forced to move into lodgings because they were working and their income would cut assistance to the others.

‘The truth is that half of them haven’t moved at all, of course.’ He sat in the scullery of a house on Anderson Mount, a wooden rack in front of the range with clothes drying slowly. Ernie Haynes was a member of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. Thoughtful, soft spoken, in his fifties, he seemed to have given up on the idea of ever having a job again. There were plenty more in the same boat. The unemployable. ‘They stay out all the hours they can then sneak home to eat and sleep. Benson liked to try and catch them. As if it was a game.’

‘No one seems to have a good word for him.’

‘How can you, for someone like that?’ Haynes wondered.

*

boar lane 30s

‘None of them even said “poor man”,’ Noble told him as they drove back into town, along Mabgate and past the mills and factories that stood empty and forlorn. Rubbish lined the roads; no one cared. ‘Not an ounce of sympathy.’

‘He didn’t seem to have much of that himself.’

‘He’s dead, though.’

‘We all will be some day,’ Raven said. ‘That doesn’t guarantee respect.’

‘It seems wrong, that’s all.’

It was the way of the world. Nothing more. People spoke ill of the living, the dead, of everyone. They enjoyed it. Some revelled in it.

In the office, he passed Mortimer the list, telling him what they’d learned and watching him grimace.

‘We’ll need to get the bobbies onto the rest,’ Raven said. ‘There are far too many for us.’

The inspector nodded and took a piece of paper from the top of a pile.

‘The post-mortem report. Benson was strangled. Whoever it was stood behind him to do it.’

Raven thought of the thin red line on the man’s throat.

‘What did they use?’ he asked. ‘Could the doctor tell?’

‘An electrical flex, he says. He found some of that fabric they put around the wire in the wound. There was some under Benson’s fingernails, too. He must have been trying to pull the cord away from his throat.’ He shuddered. ‘Bloody awful way to go.’

It was. Slow, knowing you were going to die. It didn’t matter how many shades of a bastard Benson had been in his job, that was a terrible death.

*

Leeds 30s_2

The inspector drove as if it made him uncomfortable. He was wary, slow, too cautious by half. Going through Sheepscar, they passed a group of men in old clothes standing around a fire in a metal barrel on a corner, nowhere better to go.

‘The dead on leave,’ Mortimer said, so softly he could have been talking to himself.

‘What, sir?’

‘Something my wife heard on the wireless.’ He gave a quick smile and a shake of his head. ‘Someone was talking about all the unemployed. Said they were like the dead on leave. It struck me, that’s all.’

It was good, Raven had to agree. But it wasn’t just those without jobs. What about the fools and the cuckolds? They lived in that same sad, shifting world, too.

He glanced up the hill to Little London. That was what they called the area, but none of the streets were paved with gold. Instead, plenty of the cobbles were missing and fully half the houses were slums. Dilapidated, in need of knocking down, like so much of Leeds. Happen somebody would drag the whole city into the twentieth century before it was halfway over.