My grateful thanks to fellow blogger and tour organiser Abby for inviting me to be part of the launch celebrations for The Tin God by Chris Nickson. Chris has written a fabulous guest post for Linda’s Book Bag today.
The Tin God is published by Severn House Publications and is available for purchase here.
The Tin God
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 …
What right does a man have to write about women’s issues?
A Guest Post by Chris Nickson
Quite probably, none at all. I certainly wouldn’t attempt a contemporary novel going into that area.
But let me plead some mitigating circumstances.
Firstly, this is a novel, an historical crime novel, and many of the facts are true. After the law changed in 1894, all ratepayers, both men and women of every class, could vote on some local elections. They could stand to be elected as Poor Law Guardians and on the School Board (the first women on the Leeds School Board was Mrs. Catherine Buckton, actually in 1873). The first female Guardians were elected in Leeds in 1894. Many politicians, of all parties, didn’t approve of the idea, and quite a few newspapers were critical.
And secondly, the idea for the book was suggested by a woman, an historian who specialises in feminism in 19th century Leeds. She’s a fan of the series, and loves Annabelle.
While the idea of a working-class woman standing as a Guardian is at the heart of the book (and one of the first women elected to the post was a miner’s wife), there’s no debate about it. It’s an accepted fact. She’s standing, and that’s that. Annabelle has been a speaker for the Suffragists for several years. This is a natural development for her. Yes, there’s a man who’s violently opposed to women in politics, and Annabelle’s husband, Det. Supt. Tom Harper, has to catch him. But six other women are standing and threatened.
There are resonances of today in there. You only need to look at the terrible murder of the MP Jo Cox, or the way female politicians of all parties are abused on social media – women who stand up for themselves in any way, in fact.
The issue is there, but this is about the people. In the book, some men approve of women running for office; others don’t. It’s reflection of life at that time – and that time is just 120 years ago, not even two lifetimes, and 20 years before any women received the Parliamentary franchise.
The Sufragettes, the movement that began at the beginning of the 20th century, are very well known, and rightly so. But long before that, the Suffragists were working to gain the vote and quality for women for much of the 19th century, and plenty of that took place in Leeds. The first petition to Parliament on the issue, in 1832, came from Mary Smith, a Leeds woman.
Yet the Suffragists have largely been ignored. And that’s a terrible shame. All I’m trying to do, through Annabelle, is to show some of the work they’d done, and the advances they managed to make. There’s no discussion of the national issue; it’s irrelevant here.
This is essentially the story about a copper and his wife, like the rest of the series. In this book, what’s happening to each of them is interwoven. It’s very personal, about justice – in many ways – and her battle to be elected is very much at the centre. But it’s a story about people. About the working-class coming forward, and about Leeds, too, which is at the heart of most of my books.
The real Leeds Suffragists deserve to be celebrated, especially in 2018. And they’re going to be: the historian who gave me the spark for The Tin God is curating an exhibition which will run for the month of May at Leeds Libraries, called The Vote Before The Vote. The ‘official’ launch of my book will be part of that. But only because she said yes.
Whether that justifies my dealing with this topic, I don’t know. I hope so. Only you can be the judge, really…
About Chris Nickson
Chris Nickson, author of the Richard Nottingham series, was born and raised in Leeds, England. A well-known music journalist and author, he’s written many celebrity biographies as well as being a frequent contributor to numerous music magazines.