Hypnotic Leeds: A Bit of THE IRON WATER by Chris Nickson

Hypnotic Leeds. It’s not a term many would use to describe the city. I wouldn’t, and I love the place. But when researching The Iron Water, it was something I came across in a history of the early Independent Labour Party (ILP). It referred to a book, and I thought I could prove an interesting part of a sub-plot involving Annabelle Harper, the wife of Detective Inspector Tom Harper of Leeds City Police, my main character. Annabelle – outspoken, the owner of a public house, and a speaker for the early Leeds suffragists, could be involved in this book. But “hypnotic”? What did that mean?

It took a while to track down Hypnotic Leeds. There seem to be only two copies in existence: one is at Yale University, the other…in the Brotherton Library of the University at Leeds. I went down and found it stashed away with old magazines, stuck inside a brown envelope.

It’s not a book at all, but a thick pamphlet, published in 1894 by the ILP through the Co-op. A little over 40 pages long, it’s a series of essays about the problems that assaulted the life of the working class. Alcohol, gambling, prostitution, low pay, the lack of education. Not the work of do-gooders, but an honest assessment by Leeds people who knew and researched their subjects, including Tom Maguire, one of the largely unsung geniuses behind the Labour movement.

But no introduction or afterword. Nothing to explain that hypnotic.

The book is now in Special Collections at the library, where it can be safely kept. It’s a rare document. And Annabelle – at least in The Iron Water – is the author of its piece of alcohol. I’d sent the book off, it was even edited, when I finally chanced on something that sent me down another rabbit hole, and I emerged with what I needed: the meaning, or at least a meaning, of “hypnotic.”

Blind-sided, as in out of sight, is not the way we use the phrase nowadays. But to most, the lives of the working classes were lived out of sight, among their own, away from polite society. It was an attempt to educate Leeds as to what the city was really like. More than that, to change things.

That didn’t happen, of course, on any level. But there was optimism in the ILP that they could be the voice of the workers.

It has nothing to do with any crime, of course. But all books need context and grounding, a frame. And perhaps Hypnotic Leeds offers a little of that.

THE IRON WATER by Chris Nickson is published in hardback (£20.99/$28.99) and eBook (£18.99/$25.99) by Severn House. Hardback ISBN: 9780727886439.

Mary Miley on her new mystery, RENTING SILENCE

Why did I choose a Roaring Twenties backdrop for my mystery series? Quite simply, no decade offers more chaos and crime than the 1920s. This was the era when prohibition laws turned ordinary Americans into criminals and brought about organized crime, skyrocketing violence, and the corruption of police departments, courts, and government throughout the land. A perfect setting for a crime writer!

The star of my mystery series is Jessie, a savvy young vaudeville performer who occasionally finds herself on the wrong side of the law. Introduced in THE IMPERSONATOR, she agrees to take part in an inheritance scam, impersonating a long-lost heiress for a cut of the fortune. The scheme unravels when, unable to resist trying to find the real missing heiress, she uncovers a bootleg operation that leads to murder. In SILENT MURDERS, Jessie trades the gypsy lifestyle of vaudeville for the stability of a regular job at a silent movie studio in Hollywood where she becomes caught up in the deaths of a prominent film director, an aging actor, and a beautiful starlet. In the latest book, RENTING SILENCE, Jessie returns to the Small Time vaudeville circuit to investigate a blackmail scheme and clear an innocent actress of a murder conviction before she is hanged.

I can’t help packing my stories with details that bring the Twenties to life and highlight the progress society has made in the hundred years since. And no one is more surprised than I to find my own views about certain current controversies have changed because of my immersion in this era. For example, a deeper understanding the disastrous failure of liquor prohibition has flipped me from anti- to pro-legalization of marijuana, and my greater awareness of criminal behaviour has sent me to jail – literally – where I teach a writing class to inmates.

(RENTING SILENCE by Mary Miley is published in the UK by Severn House in hardback, (£20.99). The book will be published in hardback in the US ($28.99) and in eBook (£18.99/$25.99) on 1 December 2016. Hardback ISBN: 9780727886538.)

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