Leeds, 1820. Simon Westow, a Leeds thief-taker, knows all about lost property. But when he is asked to find the kidnapped daughter of a successful Leeds businessman, Simon and his assistant, Jane, face a challenge like no other. Could the answers lie within the streets of Leeds and a figure from Simon’s own past?
The book launch for THE HANGING PSALM by Chris Nickson took place in Leeds last week, and it went rather well! From shocking truths and a noose (eek!), to the sheer bliss of signing your own book, Chris looks back on a memorable evening at Waterstones Leeds.
A book launch is one of those events that authors tend to love and dread in equal measure. Finally the book is out there after so long writing it, revising, going through edits and proofs. You have your copies. It’s real, it’s tangible, and finally you have the chance to tell people about it. That’s the good side. Then there’s the fear that no one will show up, or that they’ll have it, or that no one will buy a copy . . . the stuff that fills nightmares.
I enjoy launches; all public appearances, in fact. It gives me a chance to be storyteller, actor, even a bit of a stand-up, to interact with people. The launch for THE HANGING PSALM was no different. I’d made notes, thought through my material in advance. Simon Westow, the book’s main character, is a thief-taker in 1820 Leeds. Talk a little about what a thief-taker did, about the policing then, or lack of it. About Simon’s background – the opening of the book summed that up, horrifying testimony to a commission about child labour. Enough to silence an audience, to shock them. Even more so when I explained I’m simply paraphrased real testimony for slightly after the period. Tell them about Jane, his teenage assistant, the circumstances that led her to become a street child at the age of eight.
I had them, I could feel it. And that in spite of the refurbishment of Waterstones Leeds going on all around us (trust me, creating an atmosphere with a circular saw buzzing on and off in the background isn’t easy). I had them and I held them, talking about the dangers of the night, the thieves and the whores, the pitch black streets and the constant stink of industry.
Get me started on Leeds, on injustice, on our history, and I can speak with the fervour of a preacher. It’s my passion, my subject. More than anything, it’s a case of knowing when to stop . . .
And to finish, because you always need a big finish, I read the proper hanging psalm (Psalm 51) while tying a noose. They were surprised. They may even have been impressed. I was simply relieved that I didn’t make a mess of it, as I hadn’t tied one in weeks. No, best not to ask more about that. So far the police haven’t come knocking at the door.
Some questions, maybe even a few answers. And prepare them before going out to Light Night in Leeds, a warning of what can lurk in the darkness, the quiet screams, the knife at the throat . . . in 1820.
Then they wanted to buy books. My new book. It’s a feeling like no other, signing your name with a Sharpie on the title page and thanking some because, dammit, they want to buy your book. It’s pure, blissful magic.
The deflation comes later, once the adrenaline wears off and you fade from the high. But while it lasts . . . yeah. Oh yeah.
THE HANGING PSALM is available now in the UK and from 1 January in the US. Find out more here.