Northern Flames - Ian Thomson

Northern Flames

Rated 5 out of 5
5 out of 5 stars (based on 14 reviews)

How can the fortunes of two boys, whose start in life is near identical, diverge so dramatically? Will their bond survive?

Northern Flames - Ian Thomson

Northern Flames

Rated 5 out of 5
5 out of 5 stars (based on 14 reviews)

BEN AND I HAD BEEN FRIENDS for as long as I could remember.

‘They’re like twins, them two,’ my mother would say to her friends in the Co-op.
‘Siamese twins more like,’ Mrs Haydock from the top end would say.
‘Joined at the hip,’ Mum would say. ‘Inseparable like. Mind you, they’re allus up to mischief.’
‘But they’re not bad kids, though, are they?’ Mrs Kenyon would chime in. ‘See them together and you really would think they were twin brothers.’
‘Like two peas in a pod,’ Mrs Haydock would say.

How can the fortunes of two boys, whose start in life is near identical, diverge so dramatically? Will their bond survive?

Thomson explores their complex relationship with deft plotting and nimble prose. Even at the darkest moments, there is a rich comic vein.

Northern Flames is a companion volume to The Northern Elements, winner of a Chill with a Book Premier Award, 2019.

Cover Illustration with permission from The Lancashire Telegraph.

‘The evocation of time and place is compelling. This is accomplished writing. Thomson’s craftsmanship surprises the reader at every turn.’

An extract from Northern Flames

I can’t remember if there was a fight. I doubt it. We bantered and bickered all the time and there had been clumsy wrestling play fights when we were younger but I don’t remember a proper scrap – not one where blows were landed. He was still my best mate and no doubt we took the rap together.

But the drifting apart continued and Ben was going cheerfully off the rails. This was not something I remember thinking about consciously. Just as our childhood intimacy was an unreflective thing so our estrangement was imperceptible until it was complete.
‘Like two peas in a pod,’ Mrs Haydock had said in the Co-op.
That was hardly true any more. Ben wore his bright blond hair in a Beatles’ mop, while mine had darkened several shades and I wore it rather shorter in conformity with school rules. I was taller than him by now, by an inch or so, I reckon.
His voice broke before mine and he decided to leave the choir at St John’s. Mr Butterfield had wanted him to join the men in due course but Ben said it was no good: one minute he would be talking in a bass voice and then there would be a squeak or a croak. Ben said he’d forgotten how to sing and Mr B said his voice would soon settle. Ben shook his head glumly and said it was no good. In private he told me that he’d enjoyed being out of the ordinary as a treble but saw no future in being a mediocre bass.
He left the scouts soon after that.
‘Why?’ I asked him.
‘It’s for kids,’ he said.
‘You don’t believe that,’ I said.
‘Yeah I do,’ he said, ‘all that tying knots and saluting flags and playing at soldiers. And all that ‘lads together’ crap. It’s unnatural.’
‘Don’t give me that. You love it,’ I said. ‘You like the competition. You thrive on it. You crave it.’
‘Not with you around, I don’t.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake, you’re not talking about the chicken shed business, are you?’
‘If the woggle fits,’ he said.

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Reviews for Northern Flames

Once Upon a Time in the North

Rated 5 out of 5
Wednesday, 6 October, 2021

This is gripping stuff and, though the setting is a northern town at a specific time in the past, the coming of age themes are universal. As Stuart and Ben grow up and grow apart, I began to wonder if Ben is living his life more vividly than his friend. Stuart claims nothing more than an ‘ordinary life’, though he seems to me to have done more than that, even to have done some good in the world. Though Ben’s life is on a tragic incline, he experiences moments of ecstasy beyond Stuart’s understanding, though the cost is high.

That said, this novel reads easily. As the blurb says, the prose is ‘nimble’. The boys’ adventures in Blackpool (on the prom, in the wax museum and on the Pleasure Beach); their exploits in the choir and in the scouts, and their drinking excursions as older teens are very funny, as is their thoroughly convincing banter.

The plotting is clever and you gradually realise the significance of the book’s title. Things fall effortlessly into place and you begin to see where things are going before Stuart does. What seemed incidental to the story gradually becomes crucial.

On the strength of this reading, I have already ordered The Northern Elements.

Jack T

Nostalgia at its best

Rated 5 out of 5
Sunday, 3 October, 2021

Could not put this book down; read it in one sitting. Evoked so many memories of my early life in Blackburn and Summer holidays spent in Blackpool. Beautifully descriptive and well researched, with a great story…very intriguing. Ian Thomson never fails to amuse and I loved the banter between Stewpot and BendyToy. Will be reading this again very soon, much more slowly this time to fully enjoy it.



Rated 5 out of 5
Saturday, 2 October, 2021

If you want to be taken back to your childhood Blackburn days I really recommend two books by author Ian Thomson who is originally from Blackburn. The two books are ” The Northern Elements” and “Northern Flames”. They are superbly written and will bring back many memories of growing up in the 60s Blackburn as well as make you laugh out loud. Both books are available on Amazon.

The Northern Elements is largely set around the district of Little Harwood where I grew up.

Gordon Walker

Five Star Plus

Rated 5 out of 5
Saturday, 2 October, 2021

Finished! I couldn’t put it down.

Oh my goodness Ian. I enjoyed your book so very much. I found I could relate to many of your boyhood adventures (even though I’m female) Even your feelings of loss when you moved out of Blackburn brought back similar memories and the loss of friendship of a long time friend brought me to tears, although my friend wasn’t off the rails like Ben. Another brilliant book. I’m honoured for the undeserving mention. Thank you. Well I’d best get on with the ironing lad because as mi mum would say, “Them clothes ull nod iron themsels.”


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