Dickens, Chandler and Me

Heading swiftly towards the end of the year and I find myself reflecting on some of the things from the past twelve months. In writing, at least, two stand out – doing things I’d never imagined. In one case something I swore I’d never do.

A Victorian mystery? Why would I want to do that? After all, everyone and his brother (and sister) has written one. I’ve never been a fan of the Victorians. And yet…I have one coming out in April called Gods of Gold.

I blame Leeds history. I started reading about the Leeds Gas Strike of 1980, when the workers took on the council and won, and realised that people should know about this. And then I thought about a family story, one my father told me, about the landlady of the Victoria in Sheepscar (now no longer there). I’d featured her in a story before, after a fashion (and she’s in this Christmas story I wrote for Leeds Book Club this year). From there I started to dig deeper into 1980 Leeds and realised how fascinating it was. The start of organised working-class politics in this country. I wanted to write about that, too.

So all the old vows were washed away. I wanted to take people to that time, to feel the excitement, the poverty, the power and grandeur of a city hitting the peak of its power – and also into the underclass.

And then there’s the 1950s. I was born in that decade, close to the middle of it. But the more I read about it, the more I understood that I didn’t know. I’d assumed a great deal that was wrong. It began to intrigue me more and more.

I’ve always been a fan of good private detective stores – Chandler, Hammett, Ross MacDonald, etc. – and I’d enjoyed a TV show back in the ‘60s called Public Eye, about a rather down-at-heel British private detective. But there’d been little set in the 1950s about an enquiry agent, as they were known. Not in an English provincial town. That was a thought. One that blossomed.

I’m now revising that book, and I’ve discovered that I’ve ended up with ‘50s English provincial noir. Where will it go? That’s yet to be seen. But I guess I’ll find out. No title yet…

So it’s been a year of Dickens (okay, not really, he was long gone by 1890), Chandler and me. Funny how those things happen, isn’t it?