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Crime writer Howard Linskey talks about his growing success

The Newcastle United fan jokes about a new book about the murder of a billionaire football club owner

Crime writer Howard Linskey
Crime writer Howard Linskey

As apologies go, the one received by author Howard Linskey as he prepared for a book signing event in Newcastle was one he could live with.

“When I arrived they apologised because they’d sold my books, all 98 of them. I was amazed,” he says.

Fortunately they managed to rustle up a few more of his latest crime thriller, No Name Lane, for the event in Waterstones.

And it seems it’s selling out in a lot of book stores.

Since the title was released last March he has been doing the book signing rounds across the country.

“I’ve signed so many I’ve got a groove in my finger from my pen, like you used to get as a kid in school,” he says.

The delight in his voice is evident as he is still coming to terms with a level of success most authors dream about.

His star is in the ascendant as No Name Lane is the first in a three book deal with the iconic publishing firm Penguin.

“It’s like being a footballer and signing for Barcelona,” he quips, a man who knows his football.

He split from his first publisher, No Exit, a small independent company, to join Penguin, but it seems it was a smooth transition.

“They were delighted for me and have been great about it. They came to my launch party,” he said.

Howard with author Mari Hannah who is also appearing at the Newcastle Noir event
Howard with author Mari Hannah who is also appearing at the Newcastle Noir event

Howard, who was born in Ferryhill, County Durham, had his first writing experience penning football reviews for the Newcastle United fanzine The Mag.

He left the region to find work and in his spare time wrote before hitting pay dirt.

Howard first made his name with a trilogy of books about Geordie gangster David Blake, starting with The Drop.

He wrote The Drop at nights and weekends but such was his success he was able to quit his job as a car salesman.

Published in April 2011, it was voted one of the top five thrillers of 2011 by The Times and reached the top five in the Amazon Kindle charts.

The book about the hunt for missing money in a drug-ravaged Newcastle was optioned for the screen by producer David Barron who worked on the Harry Potter films.

It will be adapted by JJ Connelly who wrote the crime novel Layer Cake which was made into a Hollywood movie starring Daniel Craig.

“It was surreal meeting David, a real nice guy, then afterwards having to remind myself he was involved in six of the Harry Potter movies.”

The remaining two books, The Damage and The Dead, cemented his reputation as one of the country’s best new crime writers.

He says: “I could have carried on with the David Blake books forever but after writing about the 17th time Blake nearly got shot I thought people might get a bit bored so I decided to put him aside, for now at least.”

He changed tack with a completely new set of characters.

“It was a risk but I didn’t really think about it until I’d got into it,” he recalls.

Set in 1993, the book follows journalist Tom Carney who returns home to the North East after being suspended by the London tabloid he works for.

Working with new local reporter Helen Norton, they investigate a string of disappearances of young girls in the area.

Another character is troubled detective Ian Bradshaw who is trying to rebuild his damaged reputation in the Durham police force.

Left to right authors Simon Kernick, Howard and Mark Billingham
Left to right authors Simon Kernick, Howard and Mark Billingham

It turns into a kind of two strand murder mystery as during the search for the missing girls, a skeleton, dating back to 1936 and with a knife in its back, is found buried near the local school.

“I thought it was an interesting contrast between 1936 and 1993, the different sense of morality in play in the different eras.

“In the 1930s, if you were seen walking around hand-in-hand with someone, you had to marry them. It was all, of course, totally different by the 1990s.”

The story is set in the fictitious village of Great Middleton, loosely based on Bishop Middleham where Howard lived until he was 10.

“People there will recognise the bus shelter mentioned in the book and places like the old vicarage,” he says.

“However, part of the plot revolves around a raging river which runs through it. In Bishop Middleham it’s more of a babbling brook and not as dramatic.”

He used elements of his experience as a journalist many years ago but, as for the case itself, he says it wasn’t based on a real life one and was created “out of my own twisted imagination”.

Although he concedes one point. He says the plot line of Carney being suspended after writing a story about the immoral antics of an Establishment figure was inspired by the Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer cases.

Both Aitken and Archer denied any wrong doing and sued the papers who exposed them, to their eventual cost.

“They were cases which stuck in my mind, Establishment figures who were in the wrong but sued anyway,” he says.

Howard is back up North again for the Newcastle Noir event at the Lit & Phil.

The popular Newcastle crime writing festival takes place over the weekend of May 2 and 3 and includes a number of events involving top local writers.

Howard will be part of a discussion panel titled Northern Landscapes on the Saturday from 12.30pm to 1.30pm with fellow writers Nick Quantrill, David Mark and Craig Robertson.

Also taking part in separate events there will be crime writers Martyn Waites, from Newcastle, and Birmingham-born Mark Billingham, two old pals of Howard’s.

“There’ll be lots of drinking in pubs afterwards - all in the spirit of researching my new books, of course,” says Howard.

“I don’t think it’s tax deductible.”

Now 48 and living in Hertfordshire, Howard is still a keen Newcastle United fan, the miles between him and the club and his success not easing the level of depression caused by its current failings.

And like all fans, he’s not averse to a bit of dark humour, as happened at a book signing event held at the Strawberry pub located in the shadow of St James’ Park.

“There are loads of pictures of former players on the wall and I commented it was nice to be reminded of when Newcastle had a proper team.

“I said they might be interested in my next book - about the murder of a billionaire football club owner. It was a joke that went down well. If I ever wrote it there’d be about 50,000 suspects.”

And he’d probably double that number in sales, I suggest.

“Maybe I should start writing it now,” he laughs.

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