Nick Quantrill

I first saw Speedy, I think, in 1996 supporting Hull band Spacemaid at their single launch party. Maybe it was 1995, possibly it was 1997. What I do remember doing after the gig, like I’d always do, was scouring the music press (Wednesday morning, first thing), soaking up more information. A handful of singles came and went with Speedy’s star burning brightly for a brief period before they promptly disappeared without a trace.

Read more: Speedy, Sheffield and the great lost Britpop album

Published by The Yorkshire Post to celebrate Hull being crowned UK 2017 City of Culture.

Was anyone really surprised when Hull was crowned 2017 UK City of Culture? I don’t think we were in the city. As the bid stated, this is a place ready to come out of the shadows. A new skyline has emerged and the Larkin 25 trail showed how culture can reach out to people and be inclusive. No longer are we prepared to be the butt of everyone’s jokes. We’re better than that. Hull is home to a thriving and growing artistic scene, be it theatre, poetry, comedy or the growing pool of crime writers I belong to. But the city’s artistic endeavours didn’t win the title alone. Add in the overwhelming support from residents and the business world and it’s clear just how passionate we are about making this the best ever UK City of Culture. 2017 will be an unforgettable year which promises to transform perceptions of Hull and enrich those who live here. Whether you’re seven, seventeen or seventy, you’re going to find something to inspire and delight. Be sure to join us. We’ll deliver something truly spectacular, but more importantly, something which will reflect who we are in this special place at the end of the M62.

 

This article was published in the “Humber Street Sesh” 2012 festival programme.

Hull has always been blessed with a rich and varied collection of writers living and working within the city. From the poetry of Philip Larkin, to the drama of Alan Plater and the novels of Winifred Holtby, national recognition isn’t something we’ve struggled for. In fact, the work of these three heavyweights clearly resonates and remains relevant to many now, both within and outside the area. But alongside ten years of The Sesh, the city has also seen a new wave of writing emerge and thrive.

As a crime writer proudly working in the city, I have to admit a certain bias, but Hull has its finger on the pulse when producing hard-hitting and socially aware writing. In fact, the city has a fine tradition of it. Ted Lewis, whose crime novel, “Jack’s Return Home” which was eventually filmed as “Get Carter”, studied in the city and remained influenced by it. More recently, Booker-nominated author, Robert Edric, produced a fascinating trilogy of Private Investigator novels, setting the standard for emerging writers like David Mark, Nick Triplow and myself to aim for.

The hard hitting writing isn’t merely confined to crime writing. Russ Litten’s superb debut, “Scream If You Want To Go Faster” is Hull to its very core, and not just because it’s set around Hull Fair. Taking the floods of 2007 as his starting point, Russ convincingly nails the spirit of the city and its many voices. His next novel, “Swear Down”, is bound to be a treat. Spoken Word, covered elsewhere in this publication, also captures the spirit of the city, but uses poetry as its weapon of choice. Joe Hakim’s, “No Light/Might Escape” and Mike Watts’s “Coming To A Street Near To You” prove the point emphatically.

No less hard-hitting is the new writing being produced for the stage, with Hull Truck Theatre nurturing genuine Hull voices alongside its reputation making work from John Godber. Blazing a trail in this respect, Dave Windass has tackled rugby league and the Spurn lifeboat, but don’t be fooled. Dave’s plays travel well and he’s now the driving force behind the city’s Scratch Theatre night at Fruit. Also working hard on the stage and shouting loudly about Hull, as ever, is Gill Adams. ‘Award winning’ is only part of her story. Listing her output would take up another page.

If sport’s more your thing, the recent charge up the Football League has seen a surge in Hull City writing. If you want words from the heart about what it means to the people who’ve travelled to the four corners of the country following the club, Gary Clark’s two accounts, “From Boothferry To Wembley” and “This Is The Best Trip…” more than do the job. If you want a more analytical review of the club’s achievements, Ian Waterson’s “Live Through The Dream” dissects the rollercoaster ride with precision. Ian also remains co-editor of the last remaining Hull City print fanzine, “City Independent”, an essential read to help pass the half-time break during those cold afternoons at The KC Stadium.

Hull writing is also benefitting from a ‘do it yourself attitude’ when it comes to publishing. Some writers don’t want, or even need, that kind of help. Prime amongst the band of self-publishers, Richard Sutherland’s “Unitary Authority of Ersatz” is quite possibly the most eclectic, weird and thoroughly entertaining collection of poems and short-stories you’ll ever read. For others, the past remains important. Andy Wilson’s volume of short stories, “Potter’s Field”, is based around Joe Solo’s songs about a battalion of Hull Pals who enlist during World War One. The second volume, due later this year, picks up the characters trying to rebuild their broken lives and promises to provide a rich social history of the city. And complementing this unflinching realism, Val Wood offers a different perspective on Hull with her ever popular historical sagas, many of which focus on the city’s fishing industry.

Hull doesn’t want for outlets for writers. Like many writers in the city, I cut my teeth writing for www.thisisull.com, a community website which has dedicated almost a decade to giving those who need it a platform to publish their prose and poetry. And long may they thrive. Small presses continue to provide outlets for Hull writing. Tim Roux’s “Night Publishing” continues to fly the flag for writers from the city, publishing a staggering number of books. And pulling no punches, the industrial strength “Wrecking Ball Press”, led by Shane Rhodes, is firmly back on track and open for business.

Why is there such an amazing range of writing coming to the fore in the city? Because we’re Hull. It’s the spirit of the city. If we don’t like what we see, we do it ourselves. Maybe our relative isolation makes us wary, but crucially it never closes us off to new and different ideas. Maybe it’s because we’re a little mysterious, the kind of place you need a reason to visit. We don’t stand still. But where to next for Hull writing? Technological advances, like the ability to publish electronically, means more and more voices are being heard. Darren Sant’s short story collections, “Tales From The Longcroft Estate” are finding favour as this city’s answer to “Shameless”, we can expect a novella later this year from Nick Boldock, another writer from the school of telling it like it is, and Samantha Towle continues to blaze a trail with a prolific output of fantasy and paranormal romances with a twist. From crime to poetry to drama and everything in between, we’ve got it all and we’re loud and proud about it. We are Hull. And it shows on the page.

Published on the Crime Writers' Association blog

When I started to write the first Joe Geraghty novel, I was always going to write about my home city of Hull. I’d read Ian Rankin’s Rebus series and the way Edinburgh is used as a character left a deep impression. I wanted to do the same and bring an unfamiliar and unexplored place to the page. I wanted to explore what makes it tick and where it’s going in the future. “Broken Dreams” sees the small-time Private Investigator searching for a missing woman. As he investigates, he learns she’s from a trawler family and that the death of the industry in the 1970s still reverberates around the city. Geraghty comes to see the consequences of taking work away from people and how that trickles down the generations, effectively playing a role in her disappearance. With regeneration failing and poor leadership, Geraghty surveys a seemingly broken northern city.
If it felt like I’d aimed for the bullseye when talking about the fishing industry, “The Late Greats” draws out a different aspect of the city. What started as a bit of fun for my own amusement - I was sick of seeing bands reforming purely for the money - led to me look at the city slightly differently. Hull is undoubtedly a place that marches to its own beat, no doubt because we sit at the end of the M62 corridor, only visited by people who have a reason to come. If you pass through all that awaits you is desolation and the North Sea. In “The Late Greats”, I found myself with a fictional band who’d toured the world and the families they’d left behind. The largely static nature of the city’s population contrasted with the nomadic lifestyle of being in a band and became an unexpected tool to explore the city through.
My latest Geraghty novel, “The Crooked Beat”, brings the city as a backdrop full circle. “Broken Dreams” looked to the past to explain the present, but this one, centred on Hull’s docks, is very much a novel about the future, both in relation to the city and Geraghty himself. Regeneration was very much at the forefront of my mind as I wrote. Despite the cutbacks imposed on the city by the Government, a sense of optimism around the place is undeniable. Major investment in green technology appears to be coming to fruition and has the potential to create employment for thousands. The city is also one of the four shortlisted places in the running to be crowned for 2017 UK City of Culture. Similarly, Geraghty, disillusioned and cut adrift by his former colleagues, is a man looking for new opportunities and a shot at reinvention. I don’t know how things will play out for Geraghty or Hull, but as a writer, I feel privileged to have such fascinating subjects to examine.

Published by Sabotage Times, 2012.

Over a decade ago, Graham Hurley was made an offer he couldn’t refuse – a three book deal with Orion. The catch? These books had to be crime novels. The problem? Hurley, a documentary maker by trade was no fan of the genre. But shadowing the detectives for a period with no preconceptions triggered an awareness of what could be achieved. Fast forward to 2012 and the publication of “Happy Days” sees Graham Hurley bring his critically acclaimed Portsmouth-set police series to a close.

Opening with “Turnstone”, originally tagged solely as a “DI Faraday” novel, it’s a mark of how Hurley’s multi-narrative viewpoint widened, that by the series’ conclusion, the roles of former DS Paul Winter and the police’s long term target, Bazza Mackenzie, are every bit as integral. Throughout the twelve books, DI Joe Faraday remains a lonely man, doomed to destroy the relationships he craves. Bringing up his deaf son, JJ, as a lone parent following his wife’s death, Faraday is a man who feels the world, even if he doesn’t necessarily understand it. The other side of the coin is DC Paul Winter. Winter is brash and loud, and although he recognised that he has to play by the rules, he also knows that those rules sometimes have to be bent a little. If this makes it sound like an identikit police series, and that’s not the intention as Faraday and Winter are fine creations who develop and change in the most believable of ways, then Hurley’s trump card is the introduction of major league criminal, Bazza Mackenzie.

From “Cut To Black” onwards, Mackenzie is the police’s long term major target and they only have one shot to bring him down before he’s beyond their reach, his money invested in regeneration projects around the city. But Mackenzie remains one step ahead of the police, leaving them empty handed and red faced. With the stakes increasing, “The Price of Darkness”, sees Winter go undercover to bring Mackenzie down, but a dangerous job becomes even more so as Winter, not unsurprisingly discovers he has a taste for the dark arts of the criminal world. At the start of the following novel, “No Lovelier Death”, Winter, disillusioned with the police force and seeing Mackenzie now part of the city’s elite, leaves to work as his right hand man. This reveals the true moral complexities inherent within the series. Although Mackenzie is a man of violence and crime, his true terrifying nature comes from the fact that he understands the power of being legitimate, a paradox Winter is painfully only too aware of. The series stands an overview of the UK over the last decade – feral children running amok, the war in Iraq, the economic meltdown, immigration, even the changing nature of Premier League football – it all features.

The final essential character in the series is Portsmouth itself. A claustrophobic island city on the south coast of England with a proud sea-faring history, Hurley’s pulls no punches in a frank assessment of a city that now has multiple social problems, but remains a place where pockets of hope can be found. What you won’t find is a serial killer who kills in ever increasingly inventive fashion or comic book villains. Hurley’s trump card is allowing the city’s belligerence and unique identity to bleed into the characters, making them products of their environment. The location and characters come together to create an unrelenting sense of grim realism with no gimmicks. The series stands an overview of the UK over the last decade – feral children running amok, the war in Iraq, the economic meltdown, immigration, even the changing nature of Premier League football – it all features. Although the series features extreme violence and death, it’s entirely fitting with the world the characters inhabit. Portsmouth stands as both a unique and typical city.

With “Happy Days”, Hurley ties all the major characters and themes to a satisfying close. Mackenzie, with his business empire crumbling to dust in the recession, seeks real power by running for Parliament in the local elections. As this become all-encompassing and he continues to lose his business grip, Winter sees this as the opportunity he needs to leave his employment. Except you don’t leave the employment of people like Mackenzie by politely handing in your notice. The price to be paid is certain to be high. For Hurley and his characters, there’s only one certainty – there’s no going back. With his next book, “Western Approaches”, set to kick off a new police series in the West Country, Hurley is promising a tighter focus. There’ll be less emphasis on the work of the police and more a look at how these hard times affect us all. This time the lead detective will be a younger man with a family, trying to muddle his way through life. Not bad for a writer who was initially reluctant to commit to a series of crime novels.

Nick Quantrill

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