When my publisher asked me if I fancied writing a gangland series set in Manchester that would appeal to established fans of the sub-genre, I immediately said yes. I’m from Manchester, after all, and returned to live here after some fourteen years spent in the South East. It has a way of pulling you back, does the north. Plus, my mother lived here until her death in 2016. She refused to move away. A home-coming was always inevitable.
Manchester – the location for Born Bad and The Cover-Up – is officially the UK’s most violent city. I’m fairly certain it’s still also Europe’s car-crime capital. When you consider that it’s a gritty, rain-soaked place that was left in the shadows for a long time after its post-industrial revolution decline, you can appreciate that I never run short of inspiration for crime stories. Beneath the gleaming new architecture and glorious Victorian built-heritage, people live hard, work hard and play hard, forging whatever existence they can for themselves – legal or illegal – in an economy that is still somewhat on its knees after the recession. With a world-class music scene – too often fuelled by drugs and always reliant on “security” – small wonder that Manchester has become a battleground where gangs fight it out for ownership of lucrative criminal empires. Like many other European cities, there is nothing you can’t buy here – sex, drugs, stolen goods, protection, muscle, slave labour. If it can be trafficked and sold illicitly for profit, there will be someone willing to source and supply it. And the funny thing about Manchester, similar to London, is that the ethnic makeup of the city changes with the postcode. So, those criminals that supply you with your hearts’ desire will vary from area to area, whether it be drugs in Moss Side, vulnerable trafficked brides that can secure you EU citizenship in the mill-towns of the north or perhaps, cheap smuggled cigs in Salford, from Black, Brown or White gangsters respectively. As an author with a head full of plot twists and big characters, I like that diversity. Story grows from it. Stories like Born Bad and The Cover-Up.
So where lies the rub? Well, the problem for me as a local author is simply that, in writing about Mancunian gun-toting criminals, I’m slightly sh*tting on my own proverbial doorstep. I have to say, I frequently lose sleep over this. Literally. My novels are all works of fiction; my characters all come straight from my imagination. There’s no doubting that I’m inspired by the true life crime that I see around me or have witnessed over the decades. Recently, I appeared on the CBS Reality show, “Written in Blood” (presented by Sunday Times Bestselling author, Simon Toyne) talking about that very phenomenon. But when true life crime translates to fiction on the page, and when an author lives within rifle-firing distance of the men and women who give Manchester its status as the UK’s most violent city, suddenly, inadvertently insulting someone becomes a real possibility.
It remains to be seen if I’m to be confronted in the street or down some dark alley by some disgruntled hard-man or woman who thinks I’ve been sneakily drawing an unflattering portrait of them in my books. I certainly hope that won’t happen in a laid-back, friendly place like Manchester. But in the meantime, I will continue to walk the line for my art, making it very, very clear that any similarities to colourful characters, past or present, is entirely coincidental! And I’ll be walking that line in my best running shoes!
The Cover Up is published by Avon