Chris Nickson is in my opinion a man of many talents. Every book he has written I have thoroughly enjoyed. From Tom Harper in Victorian Leeds to WPC Lottie Armstrong which depicts the first female police officers in the UK & Dan Markham of the Dark Briggate blues, which has a whole Jazz/noir feel to it!
See http://www.Chrisnickson.co.uk for further details.
I was very happy when he agreed to be part of a Q&A for my blog, as the novels throw up so many questions for me regarding their inspiration & creation. This Q&A is related to the Tm Harper mystery’s series. Hope you enjoy it!
Q) One of my Favourite Characters in the Tom Harper series, is Annabelle. She is very inspirational in her views, morals, opinions and her characterisation is brilliant! Please can you give a brief summary of the inspiration behind the characters in the series & Annabelle herself?
A) Actually, Annabelle was where it all began. I wrote a short story based on an Atkinson Grimshaw painting (Reflections on the Aire: On Strike, Leeds 1879), and the young woman in the picture was Annabelle. After that, she started pestering me to write more about her. When I sat down to research the 1890 Leeds Gas Strike, she told me ‘I was there, luv. Let me tell you all about it.’ From there, she just grew. There’s a family connection, too, as my great-grandfather ran the pub (the Victoria) that she’s supposed to have run. He had it from the 1920s-40s, and before that he had another place in Hunslet, which is mentioned in one of the books. Annabelle gave me Tom – no surprise, as he’s her husband – and everyone else followed.
Q) What made you set the Novels in Victorians Leeds as opposed to Victorian London? I personally feel this is brilliant for northern readers & also adding the northern dialogue adds authenticity. It just all feels as though this actually happened!
A) Most of my books are set in Leeds. I know Leeds, I was born and raised here and I moved back here. I know Leeds, I understand how it works, the sense of it, the streets, and above all, the people. I don’t know London, I could never convince people that I did, and I’d never get the rhythms of speech right.
Q) One of my favourite themes in the series is the ‘heroes of the north’. So many inspirational people that you rarely see in fictional novels or Tv series. It makes for refreshing reading. But what is the story behind its inclusion in the novels?
A) If by heroes you mean ordinary people, that’s the reason right there. The vast majority die without leaving many ripples on the pool, and they contribute as much as everyone else. These books are, I hope, little memorials to those who might not otherwise be remembered. Tom Maguire, for instance, was a towering figure in Leeds politics for a short while, and one of the people behind the Independent Labour Party. His headstone still stands and there’s a red plaque commemorating him (in Leeds bus station, close to where his house was). But very few people could now tell you about him or what he did. That’s a shame. When he was buried, the route was lined with people. He deserves to be remembered, which I try to do.
Q) The afterword provides pointers to the historical research and accuracy. But what is the most fascinating/interesting piece of history you have come across so far? Does the research drive the plot building or the other way around?
A) Probably the only time the research has really driven the plot is with Gods of Gold and the Gas Strike. Other books in that series do use historical incidents, but they become the jumping-off point, like the fire in Skin Like Silver, or the torpedo test in The Iron Water. The books are driven by the characters more than anything.
Q) What are your favourite reads, from childhood to teenage years to adulthood? Did any of them influence your desire to be a writer or your various series?
A) I read widely from the time I could read, a real mix of things. I loved Henry Treece’s books, which might explain the love of historical fiction. But Tolkein, Ian Fleming, all the way to Hesse and Maugham. I read, that was it. My father was a writer, had a couple of TV plays produced in the late ‘60s, so that was a big factor. But from the age of 11, when I wrote a story in three paragraphs for a school assignment, something clicked. And if I couldn’t be a musician (I have, but not a very good one) I wanted to be a writer. It just took time to get there, and a wonderful detour through music journalism.
Leeds is at the core of what I write, and I try to make the place itself a character, so people feel they’ve walked on the streets, smelts the smells, been immersed in it. I started with the Richard Nottingham series, set in the 1730s (six books so far, a seventh coming this autumn), but there’s also the 1950s with Dan Markham and the 1920s with Lottie Armstrong, as well as Leeds, The Biography, which tells the history of the city in short stories. A city changes and evolves, and I try to capture that.
I lived in Seattle for 20 years, and was a music journalist there during the grunge years and after. I’ve tried to capture that in Emerald City and West Seattle Blues, which are set in the music scene. The place is wonderful, everything people claim. My little homage, although those are only available as ebooks and audiobooks, an experiment of sorts.
After moving back to the UK, I spent a bit over four years near Chesterfield, and grew to love the place. The plot for The Crooked Spire came in just a few seconds when I was driving through the town, and now there are two others – The Holywell Dead will be published in the summer, although that will be the end of the series.
*Huge thanks to Chris Nickson for taking part in the Q&A.