I am delighted to be the second stop on The Year Of The Gun by Chris Nickson’s blog tour today. I have a great guest post to share with you all, of which I had a particular interest in living in Leeds myself which is where the book is set. The Year Of The Gun was published yesterday and is available to purchase from Amazon.
1944: Twenty years after WPC Lottie Armstrong was dismissed from the Leeds police force, she’s back, now a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps.
Detective Chief Superintendent McMillan is now head of CID, trying to keep order with a depleted force as many of the male officers have enlisted. This hasn’t stopped the criminals, however, and as the Second World War rages around them, can they stop a blackout killer with a taste for murder?
I’ve tried to make Leeds in different eras into a character in my novels. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever intended it to be quite that way, but I certainly wanted to make it alive, whether it’s in the 1730s, the 1890s, or with The Year of the Gun, the Second World War.
This is my hometown, my ancestors arrived here 200 years ago. I love the place, and the mix of change and continuity here fascinates me. The short period of the war gave an abrupt shift, even if most of it was temporary. On the pedestrian islands in the middle of the Headrow, for instance, huge metal water tanks were erected (and painted black and white outside to be seen in the blackout) in case of fires. The band-new Marks & Spencer store on Briggate was requisitioned for the duration by the Ministry of Works. Learning the details has been an education. But the research is always a massive part of the joy.
Leeds was lucky; didn’t suffer much from bombing. There was only one raid of real substance, and that did little damage compared to other cities, especially industrial ones. There were very few deaths, and much of the damage was fairly quickly patched up.
Leeds had big parades and fun-raising drives, the same as everywhere else. The city endured. Perhaps it was a little easier up north; we’re used to gritting our teeth and simply getting on with the job. But there was also innovation: out in Yeadon, Avro built a camouflaged factory to build Lancaster bombers. The sides of the building sloped like a hill and were covered with grass to fool aircraft. There were even fakes cows on the roof which were moved around by workers every day. It worked – the place was never targeted.
In the ‘40s Leeds was still the dirty, industrial city it had been since early Victorian times. Some of the worst slums had been knocked down in the 1930s, and new council housing estates built out in the suburbs. But the arrival of war put paid to more development.
War halted all the changes. In everything. Just as the city was starting to recover from the Depression, it was plunged back into gloom. Women had worked in the mills for decades. Now, as in WWI, they did every kind of job as men headed off to fight.
Men who should have retired, like Detective Chief Superintendent McMillan in the book, stayed in the jobs until peace arrived. Women aged between 20 and 45 were conscripted for war work. Lottie might have been just over the age limit, but she still ended up in the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps. Apart from the factories, there were so many different branches of the service for women that it became impossible for many people to distinguish the different uniforms.
Leeds became a city of uniforms, like everywhere else in Britain. Men home on leave, young men heading off to camps to be trained. And always some who ducked and dived and lived off the flourishing black market that rationing caused.
Over time, all cities change their faces. Some things remain here, like the Town Hall, the Corn Exchange, the back-to-back housing, the layout of the old streets in the city centre – while others vanish, to be replaced by newer things that disappear in turn. In those terms, no era is more than a blip. But the character of Leeds, and the people who live here, remains a constant. Often Bolshie and argumentative, compassionate, and always strong in the face of constant adversity.
1939-45 (with post-war austerity, the period really lasted into the 1950s) was an extreme blip in Leeds’ history. Children were evacuated, then returned. Life went on. People ate the National Loaf, tried to digest snoek (Google it). Much of the landscape kept changing. But in its heart and soul, Leeds remained the same.
And it always will.
Chris Nickson has written since he was a boy growing up in Leeds, starting with a three-paragraph school essay telling a tale of bomb disposal when he was 11. That brought the revelation that he enjoyed telling stories, and then more stories, teenage poetry, and music, as both a bassist and then a singer-songwriter-guitarist.
Chris spent 30 years living in the US, playing in bands and writing. He’s made a living as a writer since 1994. Much of his work has been music journalism, combining the twin passions of music and writing, specialising in world and roots music. His reviews and features are published in print and online, notably with fRoots, Sing Out!, emusic.com, and allmusic.com. He’s also the author of The NPR Casual Listener’s Guide to World Music.
Chris has also published 28 other non-fiction books, most of them quickie biographies, and has had a pair of one act plays staged in Seattle. His short fiction has appeared in several small magazines, and in the anthology Criminal Tendencies. A collection of his short Leeds fiction appeared under the title, Leeds, The Biography.
He moved back to the UK in 2005. The Broken Token was published by Creme de la Crime in 2010. The second of the Leeds novels featuring Richard Nottingham appeared in hardback in May 2011 with the third and fourth (The Constant Lovers and Come the Fear) appearing in 2012. The fifth and six in the series (At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies) arrived in 2013. The seventh novel, Free From All Danger, will appear in October 2017, Cold Cruel Winter was named one of the Best Mysteries of the Year in 2011 by Library Journal, and the audio book of The Broken Token was one of the Independent on Sunday’s Audiobooks of 2012.
Emerald City and West City Blues, two books featuring Seattle music journalist Laura Benton, are available on ebook and audiobook.
The Crooked Spire is set in Chesterfield in 1361 and can be found in paperback and ebook, as can the sequel, The Saltergate Psalter. The final volume in the trilogy, The Holywell Dead, will appear in 2017.
A series set in Leeds in the 1890s features Detective Inspector Tom Harper. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies, Skin Like Silver, The Iron Water, and On Copper Street. The Tin God is scheduled for publication in May 2017.
Dark Briggate Blues is a 1950s noir, with enquiry agent Dan Markham and also taking place in Leeds, as does The New Eastgate Swing, the second volume to feature Markham.
Lottie Armstrong, one of the first policewomen in Leeds, was the heroine of Modern Crimes, set in 1924. She reappears 20 years later in The Year of the Gun.
Chris is also the author of Solid Air – The Life of John Martyn. This appeared as an ebook and print on demand in June 2011, along with John’s posthumous album and a tribute CD that features many major names.
Web site: https://chrisnickson.co.uk/