I would like to introduce you all to Chris Nickson, an author who has written several novels and a number of non-fiction books. His latest novel, ‘The New Eastgate Swing’ has just been published by The History Press.
Chris Nickson has written a guest post for my blog. If you’re anything like me, once you’ve read this post you’ll be wanting to get hold of all his books.
Since I was 11 years old, I’ve written. The bug hit me and it’s never left. Poems, play, short stories, even (thankfully unpublished) novels. Music journalism and non-fiction. The whole range. But it wasn’t until 2004 that I tried my hand at historical crime.
I still lived in the US then. Born and raised in Leeds, by that time I’d spent almost 30 years in America. Yet I’d become a distant student of Leeds history, picking up whatever books I could on trips home and bidding for others on eBay. When I came across a reference to the post of Cloth Searcher (when the wool trade was making Leeds rich, the voluntary position belonged to one of the merchants. At the twice-weekly market he’d inspect the cloth the weavers offered for sale to make sure it was of high standard, rejecting work that didn’t make the grade) I was intrigued and saw the glimmer of a story in there.
There was no conscious decision to write historical crime. It was simply what fitted the idea. The book that resulted from that was never published, but it did give me Richard Nottingham, the Constable of Leeds and the main character in six novels I wrote set in the 1730s.
But from that experience I discovered that I’m more comfortable refracting the present through the past – today’s problems are really nothing new – and I can indulge my love of history, as well as explore places I’ve lived. So The Crooked Spire and The Saltergate Psalter are set in 14th century Chesterfield, a place I grew to love after moving back to the UK and living in a nearby village. Emerald City and West Seattle Blues both take place in Seattle, my home for 20 years, with a protagonist who’s a music journalist. The only different is that the character is a her.
But it’s Leeds I’ve come back to, time after time, in novels and in person. I moved back to my hometown a little over two years ago, no more than a mile from the street where I was raised. The Tom Harper novels, which are deliberately quite political, although still very much crime novels, gave me a chance to show a much-changed Leeds in the 1890s, heavily industrialised. The most recent, Skin Like Silver, also deals with the early suffragists.
Dark Briggate Blues and the latest book, The New Eastgate Swing, are 1950s English provincial noir. They grew, quite simply, out of me wondering what such a beast would be like. Leeds was (for me) the obvious setting, aided by the fact that the city really did have a jazz club, Studio 20. With that knowledge, it felt like Kismet. Post-war, Leeds has changed again, on its way to being the modern, sprawling giant, and Dan Markham, a young enquiry agent, was the perfect person to work there.
I love crime fiction, I always have. But I find that historical crime actually offers so much more, a chance to explore the psyche of the period, the attitudes and mores. But I’ve also discovered that using the same location in different periods, I have the freedom to explore the sense of place and the growth of a Northern city. A chance to indulge that love of history on a deeper level. It might be fiction, but I try to make the history very sound, and even bring in real people, characters like Tom Maguire and Isabella Ford in my Victorian novels, and Studio 20 owner Bob Barclay in the Markham novels.
I’m proud of Leeds. I feel I belong here in a way I never experienced when I was young. It has enough facets to keep me busy for the rest of my life. The next stop will be the 1920s in Modern Crimes, and the life of one of the city’s first policewomen.
And like my others characters, no matter when or where they live, she’ll be dealing with crimes. That moral framework imposed on history has become irresistible to me.
Website – www.chrisnickson.co.uk
Publisher – www.severnhouse.com
Chris Nickson’s books – http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/search-here/?s=chris+nickson
Publisher’s of Chris Nickson’s two Seattle books – http://www.creativecontentdigital.com/
Twitter – @ChrisNickson2