Today I am very pleased to welcome Chris Nickson to Liz Loves Books talking about Annabelle Harper, from his new novel The Tin God. Thanks to Chris and details of the book follow…
Annabelle Harper…where do I even begin? Chris Nickson
She’s a working-class woman, born the daughter of Irish immigrants in Leeds, who ended up as the landlady of the Victoria public house in the Sheepscar area. She’s founded, and sold, three bakeries. She’s well-off, but very much part of the community, no side on her, although she’s quite a wealthy woman.
Annabelle first came to me in a short story about a painting by Atkinson Grimshaw, several years ago. Then when I started Gods of Gold, the first book in the Tom Harper series, she came back and said to me, ‘Move over, luv. I was there, I’ll tell you all about it.’
And she did.
Since then, she’s simply been here. She real, more real to me than some people I see. This is the sixth novel to feature her as a character. But she’s also been the subject of several short stories, and a play that told about her life, which was staged a few times in 2016. (filmed footage from the play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msOF2Dsoh_s&t=9s)
Annabelle has hard to fight hard all her life. She’s had some luck, but she’s a woman who takes no guff from anyone. She’s a Northern woman, strong to her core, part of a long tradition. And yet she has a big heart, full of compassion for those who deserve it. She’s as much at home with councillors and factory owners as she is with the women in the back-to-backs behind the pub. She’s the women who raised me, the ones I know and admire.
I don’t believe I created her as a character. Channelled, perhaps. She’s a force of nature. But she was also inspired by an unpublished novel my father wrote many years ago, which featured a faintly similar person and place (the Victoria was real, it closed about 20 years ago. His grandfather was the landlord, and as a boy, he’d go there every day in the summer, upstairs where he could practice the piano for hours on end). So she has her roots in my own family, my own history.
She’s changed over the series, of course. She’s become a Suffragist, a speaker for the Leeds Women’s Suffragist Society. She’s a mother now. But she still has the pub, and won’t ever leave it. And with The Tin God, she’s a candidate to be elected as Poor Law Guardian, only possible because of the change in the laws in 1894. She rolls her sleeves up and gets things done. Yet sometimes I wonder how she’d feel if she was around today. I think she’d look around, shake her head, and say, ‘Nothing’s changed, really, has it?’ Sadly, in many ways, she’d be right.
I’m in awe of her, maybe even a little bit in love with her, although I doubt I’d measure up to her standards. She expects a lot from people, but even more of herself.
Maybe it’s not so much where do I begin, but where do I stop? One thing I do know is that I still have a lot of her story to tell.
About the Book:
When Superintendent Tom Harper’s wife is threatened during an election campaign, the hunt for the attacker turns personal.
Leeds, England. October, 1897. Superintendent Harper is proud of his wife Annabelle. She’s one of seven women selected to stand for election as a Poor Law Guardian. But even as the campaign begins, Annabelle and the other female candidates start to receive anonymous letters from someone who believes a woman’s place lies firmly in the home.
The threats escalate into outright violence when an explosion rips through the church hall where Annabelle is due to hold a meeting – with fatal consequences. The only piece of evidence Harper has is a scrap of paper left at the scene containing a fragment from an old folk song. But what is its significance?
As polling day approaches and the attacks increase in menace and intensity, Harper knows he’s in a race against time to uncover the culprit before more deaths follow. With the lives of his wife and daughter at risk, the political becomes cruelly personal …
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