Happy New Year to all my Readers

Last year, I published three titles, which is pretty good going, considering I work so slowly.

Not as slowly as Oscar Wilde, mind you, although I do acknowledge his problem with commas.  ‘I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning,’ he wrote, ‘and took out a comma – In the afternoon I put it back again.’ Not as slowly as Flaubert either. ‘Bovary is not exactly racing along,’ he complained in a letter, ‘Two pages in a week! Sometimes I’m so discouraged I could jump out of the window.’

The three books couldn’t have been more different. Spirit of the North is the third in The Blackburn Trilogy and is set in my home town in the recent past and in Victorian times. As with the first two volumes, my fascination with forensic science is evident, along with an interest in the occult (though I have to say I am a devout unbeliever). I very much enjoyed finding work for my characters, Tom Catlow and Will Melling, whom we first met in The Northern Elements. I also enjoyed the stylistic challenge of writing the Victorian journal with a greater syntactic wavelength and with a more erudite vocabulary, and employing a pithier lexis, with a smattering of Lancashire dialect, in the banter between Will and Tom. Incidentally, according to The Lancashire Telegraph, a new national study has found that Blackburn is one of the last places left in England with a traditional English accent. A ‘rhotic R’ is the hard pronunciation of the letter at the end of words, and Blackburn is one of the only places left in England where the sound is widespread. If you want to know what that sounds like, a Blackburnian will pronounce ‘car park’ clearly articulating both /r/ sounds.

The Rise and Fall of Tommy Ball was a new venture. I had not attempted biography before, so it was quite a challenge. The project was effectively a commision from Tommy Ball’s daughter, Pat, who had read some of my novels and wanted me to write up a biography of her dad, the shoe magnate. For her it was a cathartic business; for me it was a question of learning to be a sort of journalist. As we expected the book ruffled a few feathers, but it was otherwise well-received and sold extremely well.

The Fiskerton books were only intended as light-hearted jeux d’esprit, mere bagatelles, to amuse friends, and to while away the horrible Covid-19 blues. Odd how those dismal years have faded in memory, leaving a feeling that we were cheated out of part of our allotted span and we must be due a rebate. Anyhow Horribilis nd Mirabilis proved so popular that there was a clamour for a new book, and I thought that Lord Lindum’s response to the coronation of Charles III might provide some merriment. But the Anus Coronationis will definitely be the last.

What next? Well, my most loyal readers tell me that Humphrey & Jack is their favourite, and I have to agrre that it is probably my most complex work, both in terms of its narrative structure and its characterisation. So, look forward to a prequel: Humphrey Abroad. I can guarantee mudslinging by the Evangelists in the Seven Stars; altercations with the puritanical Iolanthe Bellingham about her cat, Aristotle; misunderstandings in Montmartre; and drunken escapades in sundry European cities.

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