Friday 30 July 2010

Why Leeds?

One question I’ve often been asked is why do I set my books in Leeds? After all, I haven’t lived there since 1975 and marginally spent more time in Seattle than in Leeds itself.
There might not be a simple answer, but as close as I can come is that Leeds is in my heart and my genes. My family has been there since around 1800. I feel it in my blood. Every time I’m there my blood moves faster, there’s a sense of home in the place.
Today, sadly, much of Leeds is a generic city. Those that governed the place during the 20th century gave little thought to history. No one thought to conserve the Red House (although I’m told that some of the layout of it was preserved in Schofield’s), for instance, or hold on to the heritage of the few ancient houses that remained off Lower Briggate. That’s shameful, but it’s happened, it can’t be changed. Leeds wanted to be the city of the future, and did it by largely turning its back on the past.
Small fragments of the history do remain, but they’re few and fair between. The most obvious examples are Holy Trinity and St. John’s churches (the Parish Church was rebuilt in the 1800s).
But this is by the bye. Leeds is in me in a way no other city could be. I’ve written about other places in (thankfully) unpublished novels. But once I began writing about Leeds, it all clicked, it felt right. In The Broken Token, Leeds is as much a character as any person. The same is true in the new one, currently being revised, called Drive the Cruel Winter Away.
I’m toying with the subtitle “A Leeds Novel,” even if it sounds pretentious. The main characters will come and go, but Leeds will be the constant. There are other books I have in my head, set in different time periods, but all in Leeds. In other words, Leeds is essentially the main character.
None of which answers the question, why Leeds? The answer, maybe, is that deep down inside it can’t be anywhere else than the place that shaped and formed me.

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