The Ten Year Project

 

It’s hard to believe, but next Spring it’ll be 10 years since my first book set in Leeds was published – The Broken Token, in case you’re curious. There will be a new Tom Harper novel appearing then, the eighth in the series, which will mean I’ve published a total of  22 novels and a collection of short stories set in Leeds in the last decade.

That’s not counting a couple of plays and involvement in the exhibition The Vote Before The Vote, where Annabelle Harper stepped into Leeds history.

annabellecard 200_2

Phew.

I’m going to celebrate it. 10 years is worth celebrating. It took a while to figure out how, though…

It has to be stories. After all, I’m a writer. So from November to next March I will have a short story with one of my Leeds characters each month. I’ll be starting with Dan Markham, taking him into the very beginning of the 1960s, then working my way back through time – Urban Raven, Lottie Armstrong, Tom Harper, Simon Westow, and finishing, quite rightly, with Richard Nottingham.

It’s going to be a challenge. I need to try and capture the essence of each of them, and in some cases it’s been a few years since we met. But I never like to make it easy for myself. I’ve even come up with a logo for everything 10th, just to warn you.

10 years

The Dan Markham story will appear in early November. I hope you’ll like in. In the meantime, you could read the new Simon Westow book, The Hocus Girl. It’s out in the UK in hardback now, and it’ll be available everywhere as an ebook from November 1.

Hocus Girl final

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Book Bargain

I don’t often put up on here that one of my books is on sale very cheaply (mostly because they aren’t, I suppose). But for once…The Dead On Leave, set in 1936 during the Depression in Leeds, when Oswald Mosley brought his Fascist Blackshirts to town and was forced to leave with his tail between his legs, with a body in his wake, is on sale as an ebook for next to nothing – 99p in the UK, $1.32 in the US.

I was surprised – the publisher hadn’t told me, and it’s evidently just for a limited time – because the paperback isn’t out until June 18.

Your regular outlets will have it, if you fancy a dip into historical crime, but the Amazon UK link is here. Make up your own mind about the cover, but don’t judge the book by it, please.

The Dead on Leave (1)

Some News…And Something New

For one week, I’m taking a break from going on about The Tin God. But I do have some news that’s related…

I’m over the moon to tell you that just yesterday I heard that my publisher loves the next book in the Tom Harper series. It’s called The Leaden Heart, and it’s very different – at least, I hope it is. It’ll be published next March in the UK.

Before that, though, there will be other things. One of them is The Dead On Leave, which will be out next month. It’s set in Leeds – of course – in the autumn of 1936 during the brief rise of British fascism under Oswald Mosley.

A week before the Battle of Cable Street in London, Mosley brought his Blackshirts to Leeds. They wanted permission to march through the Leylands, the Jewish area of the city. It was refused. Instead, they had to settle for a march out from the city centre to a rally on Holbeck Moor.

There were about a thousand of them. They were met by a crowd of about 30,000 – a beautiful mix of Communists, Jews, and people who objected to the threat fascism offered.

No guesses as to who came out victorious. But for Detective Sergeant Urban Raven (in case you’re curious about the name, I had a great uncle called Urban Bowling, and this is a faint nod to him, although he died before I was born) the duty there was just the start of things…

mosley

He was one of fifty plain clothes officers in the crowd, there to try and break up any trouble before it could become serious. They didn’t have a chance, not out here, and all of them knew it. It was like being on the terraces for a match at Elland Road. Thousands upon thousands, so close together that it was hard to move. Even more than the communists had predicted, he was certain of that. And there’d been hundreds lining the route as he walked here from town, all of them ready, all of them with anger on their faces. Mosley and his fascists were going to have a rough ride. He pitied the bobbies who had to march alongside them. He turned to Noble.

‘Well, Danny, made your will yet?’ He could see the worry in the young man’s eyes. That was good; a little fear kept you alert and alive. All around, people were stirring, shouting, singing. They had stones at their feet, an arsenal of weapons. The crowd was primed. And the Blackshirts weren’t even in sight yet.

They came soon enough, though. He could hear them long before they were in view. The clatter of marching boots on the cobbles. Even louder, the catcalls and yelling from the crowd. He glanced at Noble. The lad swallowed hard, his face pale.

‘Don’t you worry,’ Raven assured him. ‘We’ll be fine.’

He looked around, feeling the people stir. Somewhere out there the police had three sharpshooters. He just prayed they wouldn’t be needed.

*

Give Mosley some credit, he thought. The man didn’t cower behind his supporters. He strode, unafraid, at the head of the parade, back straight, looking like the aristocrat he was. Sir Oswald Mosley. A carefully tailored black uniform to match his looks, just like a film star with that little moustache.

The others were right behind him. At the front, the bugle and drum corps, their music drowned out by voices. After them, the shock troops, the I Squad, all of them smirking like thugs who’d done their share of prison time. Then the believers, most of them terrified. A spectacle of ugliness.

Time, Raven thought. It was time.

*

It started almost as soon as Mosley began to speak. He’d just announced that ‘the war on want is the war we want’ when the first stone arced through the air.

A moment’s silence as people followed it with their eyes. It landed short of the stage, catching a Blackshirt on the head. That was the signal. Suddenly the air was full of branches, cobbles prised up from the roads. Bricks. Potatoes with razor blades protruding from the skins.

Raven knew his duty. He was here to arrest those who were disturbing the peace. Sod that; he wasn’t even about to try. This lot would tear him apart if he produced his handcuffs.

Bloodlust, that was what it was. Frenzy. Missiles flew both ways. Mosley kept speaking until a stone caught him in the face and he crumpled, his guards quickly gathering around to protect him.

One of the Blackshirt musicians waded into the crowd, swinging his bugle like a weapon and cracking some heads. Too far away to reach, though. Everyone had surged forward, packed so tight that breathing was hard and movement impossible.

Noble was a good six feet away now, shoved around like flotsam by all the bodies surrounding him and looking scared. Never mind, Raven thought, he was trained, he could look after himself. The best thing they could do was try to identify the worst troublemakers. Later, once things had calmed and everyone had gone home, they could go and arrest them.

He glanced up again and the fascists were forming ranks to march away. They hadn’t lasted long. Mosley was still there, blood flowing from the cut on his face. The men and women with him looked more ragged now. Stunned, bruised, battered as they left. And the worst was yet to come.

People would be waiting on the route with stones and more. More would be up on the roofs. It was going to be brutal. Here on the moor though, he couldn’t do a damned thing about that, and he was glad to be away from it all.

Men were helping the wounded as the crowd began to disperse. Bloody handkerchiefs held to heads, a few carted off unconscious. Weapons lay strewn across the grass. It was like the aftermath of a battle. An air of silence and desolation hung over the Holbeck Moor. All those walking proudly away or just limping – women along with the men – had that curious glint of battle in their eyes. A few sat on the grass, smoking cigarettes and looking as if they weren’t sure what had happened.

His part was done. He knelt, picking twigs and small pieces of glass from the turn-ups of his trousers. Noble was talking to a man who stood cradling his wrist, nodding blankly as he spoke. Raven started to walk towards them. Then he heard the sound and stopped.

In the distance, the piercing shriek of a police whistle.

Urban Raven began to run.

Noble was younger and fitter, he had longer legs. He sprinted, following the sound. All Raven could do was trail behind, panting. On the road, the protestors had already faded away like smoke. He could hear angry shouts in the distance, but they might almost be in another county. He breathed hard, keeping Noble in sight as he pounded along before turning onto a street with a Bile Beans advertisement fading on the end of the gable. No motor cars around here, he thought. Tram or shank’s mare, that was the choice. A bicycle for the fortunate ones.

People had gathered around a squat brick building. The privies. All the houses here would share outdoor toilets. Breathless, he shouldered his way through the crowd, watching the anger and insults vanish as soon as they saw his face.

A harried constable was trying to keep everyone back. There was dust on his uniform and a small cut on his cheek above a thin moustache. The tall helmet had a dent in the high crown. Caught up in the march, Raven thought.

‘What is it?’

‘At the back, sir.’ He straightened to attention and started to raise his arm for a salute. The sergeant waved it away and marched past, Noble right on his heels.

The body lay in the tight, stinking space between the back of the privy and a brick wall. It must have been dragged there. A man, just beginning to run to fat, he could see that much. One arm was raised, covering his face.

He could pick out the Burton’s label in the suit. Decent leather soles on his shoes, not worn through to holes. Not rich then, but not poor either; someone in work. And murdered. Absolutely no doubt about that.

‘Get that uniformed copper,’ Raven ordered. ‘If this is his beat, he might know who this is.’ Noble seemed rooted to the spot, staring at the corpse. Of course, his first murder. Death might be common, but killing was rare. There’d been three in Raven’s fifteen years on the force. Four now, he corrected himself. He gave Noble a nudge. ‘Copper,’ he said. ‘After that, find a police box and call it in. Tell them we need the crew out here.’

‘Sorry, Sarge.’

Alone, he squatted, trying for a better look at the body. They couldn’t move him until the evidence boys had been out to take their photographs and measurements and he couldn’t reach the pockets to find a wallet. Damn.

Raven breathed through his mouth, small gulps of air, trying to ignore the stench. There had been places like this every day when he walked the beat, but he’d forgotten how bad they stank.

‘You wanted me, sir?’ the bobby asked.

‘Yes.’ He stood. ‘Is this your manor?’

‘No, Sarge. I’m PC 7862, Jones, over in Beeston. They just had me here for the Blackshirts.’ A tiny glimmer of envy in his voice as he said the name.

‘Have you ever seen this man before?’

The constable squinted and swallowed, Adam’s apple bobbing hard before he shook his head.

‘I don’t think so, sir. Can’t see his face properly but he doesn’t look familiar.’

‘Good. You stay here and keep them all at bay.’ Raven glanced at the wall. ‘Better watch that, too, or there’ll be boys over it before you can say Jack Robinson.’

The Dead On Leave

I discovered that I had a maternal great-uncle called Urban Bowling. Great name, isn’t it? Too good to leave, definitely. I never knew him, or anything about him. But with a little imagination…

I’ve been tossing around the idea of a book set in Leeds in the 1930s. Not a Downton ’30s, but one where people struggled, where the Depression scraped at hearts and lives. And that’s the basis of The Dead On Leave. This is the beginning. There’s more, but we’ll see if it pans out into a full book. I try many ideas, but only some of them reach completion…

 

Leeds, September 1936

He saw the signs on the shop windows as they strode past. All so familiar. Bisto. Mazawattee Tea. Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls. The names rattled through his mind as hobnails on his boots stuck up tiny sparks from the pavement, a fast rhythm on the flagstones.

He’d set off from City Square, right at the heart of Leeds, a few minutes before. He was dressed in an old suit, shiny at the elbows and seat, a cap on his head, shirt without a collar, and a glum expression on his face. He looked like hundreds of other men out searching for work. God knew there were still plenty of them in 1936. Things might be improving down south; up here the Depression still had its hands round the north’s throat.

But Urban Raven had a job, a very steady one. Detective sergeant with Leeds City Police, fourteen years on the force, working his way up the ranks. Now he was surveying the route Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts would take for their march and rally on Holbeck Moor. Two more days until it happened. This coming Sunday. Already shopkeepers were starting to nail boards over windows and people were ready for the worst. It would happen. It would definitely happen. The pressure was building all over the city. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

“It’s going to be a bloody disaster.”

“Sarge?’ The young man beside him jerked his head around. Detective Constable Daniel Noble. Clever, when he put his mind to it. All too often, though, the lad was a dreamer. Never mind, Raven thought; he’d grow out of that sharpish.

“Too many places to attack the bloody fascists.’ He gestured with an arm. ‘All they need to do is wait at the end of every street. It’s going to be a massacre. You might as well hang signs round their necks saying “Please attack me.”’

‘I thought you didn’t like them,’ Noble said.

‘Can’t stand them,’ Raven said sharply. He’d no time for anyone who liked Hitler and thought they had all the answers. Not that the Communists were any better. ‘But it’s the coppers who’ll have to clean up the mess.’

They were close enough to the moor to hear the carpenters building a stage. The sound of hammers, shouting, laughter. Paid work. No one would turn that down. Didn’t matter if you liked Mosley or loathed him.

‘Do you really think it’ll be that bad on Sunday, Sarge?’

He looked at the lad, still so naïve. He hadn’t been on the force during the General Strike, nine years before. There’d been plenty of violence back then, wading in with the truncheons and the boots to get the job done. And Noble had been too young for the Great War. Just as well, maybe; he wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. With Hitler growing more powerful in Germany, the young man might have his chance of service in a few years.

‘Bad?’ He shook his head. ‘They’ve been out painting swastikas on the Jewish businesses along North Street. Then the Watch committee dithered about whether they’ll allow the march. Meanwhile we’ve got the Communists chalking notices on every street corner about where to meet and what weapons to bring.’ Raven was close to shouting; he stopped himself before heads started turning. ‘That’s worse than bad. I tell you what, Danny boy; you’d better get ready for a pitched battle.’

‘My missus says they won’t be that stupid.’

His missus was going to be surprised, then. By Sunday night they’d be mopping the blood off the cobbles. A pair of motor cars went by, a Morris and a Jowett, a lorry close behind them. All bloody speed these days, he thought. They crossed the road and stood at the bottom of Holbeck Moor. A broad, empty space of hard earth and scrubby grass. Nowhere to hide when things turned ugly. The force was going to need plenty of coppers along the route and many more here. A fair few in plain clothes among the crowd. And even then they didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of stopping the violence.

‘They’ll all be spoiling for a fight,’ Raven said with a sigh. ‘Come on, we might as well go back. Before you know it we’ll be seeing more of this than we want.’

It was a grey day, late September on the slow glide into autumn. But there were precious few trees in Holbeck to shed their leaves. Just street after street of back-to-back houses, brick dulled black from generations of smoke in the air. Here and there, small groups of unemployed men, the future leached from their faces, stood and talked on the corners. The only colour came from the posters; they filled every empty space. Advertising sales at the shops, shows at theatres, the latest and the best. Coming attractions at the City Varieties and the Empire. Everything and anything that was here today and old news tomorrow.

Back in town they walked along Duncan Street, face all around them, moving quickly, waiting in the tram shelters. The light bulbs in the Bovril sign across from the Corn Exchange constantly flickered on and off. Once it had been a distraction; these days, nobody noticed it.

A motorcycle roared past, the rider’s head hidden by goggles and a leather crash helmet. Sometimes Raven wished he could cover himself the same way; it might make life easier He noticed how men and women glanced away quickly as they passed. Raven didn’t pay them any mind these days; after the better part of two decades, he was used to it. The people who looked didn’t even see the worst of it.

Born with the century, he’d joined the Leeds Pals on his eighteenth birthday. Training, then a posting to the trenches of the Western Front at the start of October 1918. He’d scarcely been there for two weeks, not even fired a shot, when a Hun shell exploded in a fuel dump as he was walking by.

He was lucky to be alive; that was what they told him later. There were plenty of times he doubted that, when the pain felt like a punishment for something. Months of surgery and skin grafts. Days and weeks when he disappeared into the agony.

The burns covered half his body: his chest, his arm, neck, his left cheek. He knew the surgeons had performed a miracle. He knew it. But whenever he stared in the mirror all he saw the ugly, charmless reality and it was hard to feel grateful. To feel anything at all.

Urban Raven had a face people remembered. It was a face that scared people; maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing when you were a policeman.

 

Raven sat in the office at Millgarth police station with Inspector Mortimer and Superintendent Kennedy. The sergeant was pointing out the most dangerous spots on a large map of the city centre and Holbeck spread out on the desk.

‘If you want my opinion, sir, the best thing would be to cancel the march,’ he said. ‘We can’t keep anyone safe. There’s a good chance plenty of our own men will be injured.’ They’d wanted his assessment of the route. Now they looked grim as he gave his report.

‘Doesn’t matter,’ Kennedy told him. ‘The Watch Committee’s said it can all go ahead. Be grateful they’re not allowing the Blackshirts near the Leylands.’ To let fascists in uniform parade through the city’s Jewish area? That would have been a recipe for disaster.

‘We’d better prepare for the worst, then,’ Raven said.

‘We already have,’ Inspector Mortimer replied. ‘We’ve drafted in special constables to cover the beats. Every other man on the force will be looking after the march.’

‘And the Chief Constable’s authorized three marksmen,’ the superintendent said. His voice was low, sober. ‘But not a word of that goes beyond this office.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Men with guns? In Leeds? That terrified him more than anything.

‘According to our intelligence, Mosely’s bringing his I squad with him. They’re the hard men and they love a scrap. Most of those who’ll be marching won’t be from around here. They’re estimating a thousand, all told.’

‘A thousand? Is that all?’ Raven asked in disbelief. ‘They’ll be eaten alive. I was talking to someone I know from the Communist party, sir. They reckon there’ll be twenty thousand or more out there.’

‘Then we’re going to have our hands full,’ Superintendent Kennedy said. He was in his late forties, an officer during the war, a major, used to command, battle and sacrifice. He had an easy style, the kind of manner people obeyed without thinking. ‘Go home, gentlemen. Be ready for Sunday.’