Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Q&A with Chris Nickson




Chris Nickson is the author of the new novel Rusted Souls, the 11th in his Tom Harper mystery series. Nickson also has written the Simon Westow series. He is based in Leeds, UK.



Q: Rusted Souls is the 11th book in your Tom Harper mystery series--how do you think your character has changed over the course of the series?


A: He’s grown and aged 30 years in the books. Married, become a father, lost colleagues to the Great War, another to a heart attack – the things that happened to so many back then.


He’s risen in rank. When we first met him, in Gods of Gold, he was a Detective Inspector. By Rusted Souls, he is the Chief Constable, and just a few weeks from retirement. He’s become more aware of the grey areas between right and wrong, and isn’t afraid to use them to his advantage, while still being a good copper.


Q: What inspired the plot of Rusted Souls?


A: I’m not sure any single thing inspired it. There are three plots, really, and two of them are almost mirror images of each other – a young generation damaged in different, but also curiously similar ways, by the war. One group poor, the other wealthy. The other, a gang of shoplifters going from town to town, came from something that did happen, but not until the 1950s.

Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: With this being set in 1920, I needed to research Leeds just after the war, the effects of Spanish flu – quite a few dead – and the changes that happened, how men returned and took back their jobs from the women who’d been doing them.


Probably the thing that astonished me most was that the RAF staged a major exhibition here that lasted for two months, with hangars and planes, a chance to go up in a balloon, and also shoot an aircraft’s gun in a pit (yes, real bullets, and it only cost a shilling – 5p in today’s money). It happened just a few hundred yards from where I live.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, “It all culminates in a knockout conclusion that showcases Nickson’s unique blend of intricate plotting and well-rounded character development.” What do you think of that assessment, and do you usually know how your novels will end before you start writing them?


A: The book’s climax is exciting, it needed to be. But as to the conclusion, that’s lower key, I think. Given that Harper was retiring, that part of the end was a given, but not the rest. Generally, I don’t know the ending when I begin, or even when I’m writing – not until I get there. Don’t know the plot, either, until it’s happening in my head.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a new book in my Simon Westow series. The sixth comes out next spring and I writing what I hope will be the seventh. I’m still missing Tom and Annabelle, too. They were very much family to me, and I’ll always miss them. Endings can be hard to writers as well as readers.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Tom and the series will be the basis of an exhibition in Leeds at the end of September, called A Copper’s Eye: Tom Harper’s Leeds, 1890-1920. It will feature some of the real people and events that were in the books, quite a few not well known.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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