TO THE DARK: An Interview with Chris Nickson

On the streets of Leeds, payback can be brutal. (Photo courtesy Canva)

We love a chilling mystery populated with carefully crafted characters who leap off the page and settings that are so tangibly described it feels as if I have walked the city streets along with the novel’s protagonist. That is exactly what Chris Nickson’s latest thriller, To the Dark, is like. Atmospheric and dangerous, malice seems to emanate from every page of this new Simon Westow tale as the beloved thief-taker and his protégé, Jane, strive to solve a perplexing mystery before they are implicated in the crime. We hope you enjoy our exclusive interview with the author! —J&H


J&H: Chris, thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to stop by Jathan & Heather. We are delighted to have you here. To start, I just want to tell you that To the Dark is my first introduction to your work and I thoroughly enjoyed it! You write with the assured, concise voice of a reporter, a fact which makes your work really shine because it lends a sense of immediacy to the plot and works to propel the action throughout the story. So, upon reading your bio, I was not surprised to learn that you used to cover the music scene in Seattle. Was the transition from journalist to novelist a difficult one? And which of these hats have you enjoyed wearing the most?

CN: I’ve always written fiction, I was doing it long before the journalism. Those early novels remain thankfully unpublished, but I did have a few short stories in print, and a couple of one-act plays staged. I made my living from journalism for quite a few years before I moved back to Leeds from Seattle. It’s really only gradually that the music journalism has tailed away to nothing, and that’s largely because the outlets no longer exist for the music I was covering. And as I age, the fiction, telling these stories, has become more important. I love both, and music remains a vital part of my life, as it has always been. But the dream from a young age was to make a living from fiction, so who’d turn down a dream becoming reality?

J&H: In writing about 1820s Leeds, the vicinity you depict is industrialized, but also appears to be a city in decay where theft, violence, and hunger are never far away. What is the most challenging part of bringing this period of history to life for your readers, and during your writing process have you noticed any similarities between Leeds today and that of 200 years ago?

CN: I suspect that I make things not as bad as they really were for many people. If I tried to be absolutely realistic, people might not believe it. The poor were very poor, they lived in abject conditions – you only need to read Dickens to get a good idea. In all my work I’ve tried to make people feel they’ve walked these streets, heard the sounds, smelled all the smells, to make it an immersive experience. I find far more similarities between past and present that I like. The poor keep felling down and down, the safety net that’s supposed to be there often doesn’t exist. It makes me angry – and anger is a fuel burning under the Simon Westow books.

J&H: Your protagonist in this story is Simon Westow, a thief-taker who collects stolen objects. Have readers told you what they like best about this character? And do their attitudes toward him reflect your own?

CN: People like that he’s a family man, but virtually all my protagonists are. Most people marry and have kids; that’s simply a fact. But I don’t feel it’s a revelation. He’s overcome a workhouse upbringing and make something of a success of his life on his terms. I admire that. Maybe in some small way it’s a reflection of me; honestly, I’ve no idea!

J&H: One of the things I notice most about Simon is that he is a man who has forged his own path in life. He is neither wealthy, nor is he as poor as many of those around him. His enemies also run the gamut, ranging from people like the constable to the crooks he pursues. As self-assured as he appears to be however, I wonder, do you think he craves respect from both aspects of his community on some level? If so, does his wife Rosie have something to do with this?

CN: He’s able to move easily through all levels of society. The rich hire him when they’ve been robbed. He grew up poor, he knows the criminals, rich and poor. I think he’s perfectly happy in his own skin. Rosie, perhaps, likes her frocks and hats. But she’s still a fighter, as deadly as he is.

J&H:  Simon’s sidekick is Jane, a teen girl with wicked knife skills. You have written her in a way that makes her feel almost like a 19th century Lisbeth Salander (from Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” series). Both are smart, resourceful, and prone to violence when they witness injustice. Was this similarity done intentionally? And while crafting this series, what fascinated you most about the relationship between Simon and Jane? How has this helped propel the arc of the books?

CN: I’d never considered the comparison, but now I can see it. It wasn’t deliberate. She’s just…Jane. More a force of nature than anything. To me, she’s the center of the books, a character who’s growing and evolving. One who faces plenty of trials, physical and mental. But she’s stronger, determined to be stronger than anyobne around. Utterly self-contained, yet still capable of curious generosity. She intrigues me and terrifies me in equal measure.

J&H: What do feel readers can look forward to most in To the Dark and what was your favorite part of writing this story in particular?

CN: I think my favorite part was Martha, the strange girl who attaches herself to Jane. Who is she? What does she want? Is she trustworthy? She just appeared and demanded to be a part of it. I couldn’t deny her. Hopefully, readers will enjoy the people here. To me, they’re flesh and blood. I hope they will be to everyone who read the book, too.

J&H: Chris, thanks again for joining us and sharing your insights into your work and characters. We wish you the best of success and look forward to chatting again soon!

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ABOUT TO THE DARK

Chris Nickson's TO THE DARK
Severn House

Winter is about to take a chilling twist…

Thief-taker Simon Westow is drawn into a deadly puzzle when the melting snow reveals a dark secret in this gripping historical mystery, perfect for fans of Anne Perry and Charles Finch.

Leeds, 1822. The city is in the grip of winter, but the chill deepens for thief-taker Simon Westow and his young assistant, Jane, when the body of Laurence Poole, a petty local thief, emerges from the melting snow by the river at Flay Cross Mill.

A coded notebook found in Laurence’s room mentions Charlie Harker, the most notorious fence in Leeds who’s now running for his life, and the mysterious words: To the dark. What was Laurence hiding that caused his death? Simon’s hunt for the truth pits him against some dangerous, powerful enemies who’ll happily kill him in a heartbeat – if they can.

Chris Nickson
Chris Nickson

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Nickson is a novelist and music journalist, the author of many books set between the 1730s and 1950s in Leeds, as well as others in medieval Chesterfield and 1980s Seattle.

Above all, though, it’s Leeds he loves, the people, the sense of the place changing with time. Yes, he writes mysteries, but ultimately they’re books about people and their relationships, and the crime becomes a moral framework for the story.

To learn more about Chris, visit his home on the Web at ChrisNickson.co.uk, like him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.

TO THE DARK
By Chris Nickson
224 pp. Severn House Publishers. $28.99

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Purchase To the Dark direct from Jathan & Heather Books or from one of these fine online retailers: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Half Price Books, Hudson Booksellers, IndieBound, Powell’s, or Walmart.

To the Dark is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

To the Dark Blog Tour

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

One Response to TO THE DARK: An Interview with Chris Nickson

  1. Great interview! Thanks so much for hosting Chris Nickson today!

    Amy
    HF Virtual Book Tours

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