I travel back in time with Leeds Author Chris Nickson for Day Five of the 24 Blogs of Christmas
After the last two days of sex, opera, booze, dance and near-riots, we take a well-earned break and put our feet up with a book and a cuppa.
Although this might not be as peaceful as we first think because we are sent back in time to 1820 and ‘the dark underbelly of Leeds where poverty, industry and death live cheek by jowl’.
Introducing to you Leeds author Chris Nickson whose opening line on his website is ‘I write Leeds’.
And I think - ooh so do I!
An early confession – I have never met Chris.
We are ‘friends’ on social media through which we communicate regularly, and – as these things are wont to be – have mutual friends. It’s a joy of my job that I get to ‘meet’ people randomly and Chris is one. I like his approach and his ethics, but I don’t know him.
I do know he is a lover of music (used to be a music journo, fan of the Leeds band The Mekons), not so keen on Christmas tunes (*might* have a penchant for Slade, but then again it could have been said with just a whiff of sarcasm), he likes to shop second hand (a recent email exchange uncovers that he is proud of his recent purchase of a leather belt for £1.49 – maybe we should use him instead of the internet? A personal shopper?) and that he writes books.
25 of them to be exact.
And almost all set in Leeds.
Which excites me.
I bloody love it when I read or watch something that’s set in Leeds; I always feel a real connection, a bond. I lived in Birmingham for 10 years and every mention of Leeds gave me great joy.
It was while living there that I first discovered Keith Lemon and I cried with laughter at his accent and dialect, though figured it was a bit of an exaggeration. I’d been away a while but knew that nobody really spoke like that in Leeds.
Then I met my now-Husband*.
How wrong I was.
I’m not sure about Chris’s thoughts on Keith Lemon or my little six degrees of separation but I don’t think he’d be impressed. I tried to impress him with the fact I use to hang out with one of The Mekons’ sons back in the 80s, but he knew the whole band so what’s the point?
What we are both passionate about is our home city.
“I love this city, from its grandeur to its shit,” Chris tells me.
“One reviewer said that if I was cut open Leeds would run through me like a stick of rock. Please don’t try it. At least not until I’m dead.”
It’s perhaps no surprise that Chris makes the leap from a throwaway saying, that makes one think of the sweet and salty Northern seaside to the more macabre vision of being cut open and death; the majority of Chris’s novels are, after all, historical crime fiction.
Ranging in time from the 1730s to the 1950s, Chris brings the history of Leeds to life (and death again) with a host of novels that might make Jack Reacher wretch.
He puts women firmly alongside his male characters too; The Tin God looks at women in politics in Victorian Leeds, and Modern Crimes tells the fictional tale of Leeds first policewoman who discovers that initiative often doesn’t sit well with her male colleagues.
Who doesn’t like a good woman copper? I was brought up on Cagney & Lacey.
I always wanted to roll over a car bonnet in a fur coat…
Dark Briggate Blues and its sequel The New Eastgate Swing sound a bit Tom Waits-esque to me so I’m already hooked. They bring us to a more recent 1950’s Leeds and we see it through the eyes of enquiry agent Dan Markham.
The Dead On Leave starts off with the Battle of Holbeck Moor in 1936, and takes a policeman deep into the heart of British fascism.
(Me to self: ‘Oooh! I used to live in Holbeck! I had no idea about this battle where 30,000 people gathered. I wonder if it’s in the same spot as Babs the Tattooist?)
Talking with Chris and reading about his books just makes my Things I Must Read List longer. I have now added to my Christmas list and am buying a couple for family members.
I promise Chris I will buy from Waterstone’s because, whilst they charge full price, he sees the full royalty in return, unlike certain online establishments. And that’s what the intention of these blogs always was.
He’s also keen to point out that Waterstone’s pay UK tax. Unlike certain online establishments. I knew I liked him.
A last note, Chris can often be found at events in libraries and other venues around Leeds chatting history and literature. His next one is on January 18th at Kirkstall Abbey 1152 Club – a free local history group for the over 55s where he talks about The Battle of Holbeck Moor. I should really go given my only memories aside from Babs are ex jukebox, sleeveless records from the local shop and The Bulls Head.
I had to Google the Kirkstall Abbey 1152 Club – it is so called because the Abbey was first founded by Cistercian monks in 1152.
I want to tell Chris about my links to Cistercian monks; how I used to dress as a Nun and tell their story at a place I used to work.
I think I’ll save that for another time.
Find out more about Chris Nickson here https://chrisnickson.co.uk/
The Tin God, The Hanging Psalm and The Dead on Leave were all published this year.
*Keith Lemon is the alter-ego of Leigh Francis who was brought up in the same area as my husband (where we now live) and went to the same school – albeit a few years below.
One of my husband’s school friends was Steve Lemon, his younger brother was Keith who hung out with a certain Leigh Francis.