I love Manchester! I’ll always be the first person to tell you that, and I’m proud of the many positive things that the city has going for it – sports, music, theatre, art galleries, eating out, magnificent architecture etc. etc. The city centre also looks stunning since it has been regenerated. However, like many major cities, it has less salubrious areas.
As part of the research for my forthcoming novel, “A Gangster’s Grip”, I read the book “Gang War” by Peter Walsh because it is about the drugs gangs in Manchester during the period in the 1980s and 1990s known as Gunchester. I was interested to find that there is a chapter on “The Longsight War” in the book, as Longsight is one of the locations I have chosen for my novel.
In the book, “Gang War”, the author describes a particular estate in Longsight as, “a cheerless patch of low-rise dwellings isolated between the major A6 Stockport Road on one side and a railway mainline and stockyard on the other”, and, “yet another planning mistake”.
I was shocked to read these quotations because the estate that the author refers to is, in fact, where I spent my teenage years. Seeing it described like that in black and white made me question whether it was really that bad and, on reflection, I came to the conclusion that, well yes, it was. I apologise to anyone from Longsight who may be offended by this article but my views are based on my own personal experiences. The experiences of others may have been different.
I lived there during the 1970s. I already knew that there were a lot of problems in the area, including shootings, during the 1990s because of gang related violence, but I wasn’t aware until I read the book that the estate actually became the gang’s headquarters.
Although I lived there over a decade before the gang wars took a hold in the area, I don’t have fond memories of my time there. Many of the other kids used to persecute me. The reason? I preferred to study rather than hang about on the streets getting into trouble. I used to feel intimidated every time I went out of the house. The kids would line up and shout insults at me. One of them even threw a banger (firework) at me one day, which missed me by inches. I used to spend time planning the best routes to the bus stop, trying to keep away from the abusive kids while at the same time avoiding the wild dogs that used to prowl around the estate. Sometimes I would walk for miles out of my way just to evade them.
I can remember the police chasing cars around the avenue near to my home, and hearing their brakes screeching in the middle of the night. Sometimes they would bypass the road out of the estate and cut across a grass verge and walkway that led to the main road. (The walkway was actually known on CB radio as “Mugger’s Alley”.) We would see the heavy, muddy tyre marks leading to the main road the following day. This, in fact, gave me the inspiration for a particular car scene in my forthcoming novel, “A Gangster’s Grip”.
Fortunately I and my two oldest brothers were already in secondary school by the time we moved to the estate. That meant that our school was a bus journey away and we had our own set of friends there. My two youngest brothers weren’t so lucky and had the misfortune of attending the local junior school, but that’s another story.
So why would I want to revisit one of the unhappiest times of my life through my writing?
There are a number of reasons. One is that it was an eventful time. It’s difficult to write about anything cosy when you have strong memories of a murderer living at the end of the row and a prostitute next door. Although I’ve had a lot of good times in my life as well, the bad memories will always emerge sharper and more dominant.
There’s also an element of morbid fascination, which I think a lot of us have. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be such a demand for books and films in genres such as crime, thrillers, horror etc. Despite my unhappiness during the time that I lived in Longsight, I remember that there would be an excited buzz if we heard somebody fighting or arguing outside after the pubs shut. This probably wasn’t the case for the adults but we were only teenagers at the time. We would peep from behind our bedroom curtains to see what was happening. Then the following day my mother’s friend would call round to bring her up-to-date with the local gossip. I would excitedly listen in on this adult chat while pretending to be busy doing something else.
Writing is also cathartic. In a similar way to counselling, it gives you the opportunity to revisit the bad times and work them out of your system. Once you’ve revisited them, then, metaphorically speaking, you can shut the drawer and put it to one side.
Another reason why I write what I do is because I’ll never forget where I’ve come from. People are sometimes too quick to judge those from council estates. It’s important to note, though, that we aren’t all bad. There are a lot of good people that come from council estates; people like Rita who is the main character in my second novel, and also plays a strong role in my debut novel Slur.
Rita swears like a trouper, she’s brash and she’s feisty, but she’s basically a good person. That’s why I leave all the bad language in my books, because I want to keep it real. I want to show that people like Rita exist. They take all that life throws at them, then come out fighting and emerge stronger. A friend like Rita will always have your back. She’s fiercely loyal, caring and stands up for what she believes in. So, in a way, my second novel is dedicated to all the Ritas in the world.