Author Chris Nickson's ten years of stories inspired by rich history of Leeds

This year Leeds author Chris Nickson is celebrating a decade of writing novels set in the city. He talks to Yvette Huddleston about his latest book.

Leeds author Chris Nickson whose latest novel The Molten City is out now. Picture: Nick Darcey

It’s fair to say that over the past ten years, Leeds author Chris Nickson has been pretty busy.

In that time, he has written nearly 30 books – he’s averaged around two historical crime thrillers a year – and while he says that he feels he should maybe start thinking about slowing down a little, there is no shortage of ideas.

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“I’m actually quite taken aback by how much I have done in a relatively short space of time,” he says. “I started getting published and I found I had so many stories I wanted to tell that it all kind of cascaded out of me.”

He takes much of his inspiration from the rich history of Leeds, where most of his novels have been set, and it is a subject he finds endlessly fascinating. This certainly comes through in his writing.

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“Leeds is very much a character in my books,” he says. “I want people to feel that they have walked the city’s streets and heard the sounds and smelt the smells. That is part of the fascination for me.”

His new novel The Molten City (his 22nd set in Leeds, there are five others set elsewhere) is the latest in a series of books featuring the character of detective inspector Tom Harper and his wife Annabelle.

The stories began in the late 19th century and for The Molten City Nickson has moved the action on to the early 20th century and Harper is now a detective superintendent.

It is 1908 and the recently elected prime minister Herbert Asquith is due to visit Leeds. He is an outspoken opponent of Votes for Women, so the city’s suffragettes are preparing to take to the streets in protest, along with a group of unemployed men.

The city is on the verge of unrest and it is Harper’s responsibility to keep order. At the same time he has received information about the mysterious disappearance of a child 14 years previously.

“Asquith was due to speak at the Coliseum Theatre, which is now the O2 Academy music venue, and there was a riot,” says Nickson. “The official accounts say that there was a window broken and a policeman’s hat was knocked off and there were some arrests.

"I have a friend Vine Pemberton Joss who is a suffrage historian and she was able to give me a lot of great material. I also did some research on the unemployed men who were quite a force in Leeds at the time, a lot of that was new for me.”

Nickson was recently appointed as the first writer-in-residence at the Abbey House Museum in Kirkstall. “It is a huge honour,” he says. “Like everything else, it is on hold at the moment but we have lots of plans. It’s going to be fun.”

In the meantime, he is not sitting on his laurels. “I am working on a short story, plus I’m already planning to take Tom and Annabelle through to 1918 and I would also like to write about Leeds in the 1960s,” he says. “The only thing I don’t see myself doing is anything contemporary. I think I am happier in a world that used to exist.”

The Molten City, published by Severn House, is out now.

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