Book Launch Day – A Gangster’s Grip

The day of the launch has finally arrived and ‘A Gangster’s Grip’, book two in The Riverhill Trilogy, is now available in both a Kindle and print format from Amazon. Here is the link: http://viewbook.at/GangstersGrip.

Gangster's Grip V4

I have plenty of events lined up to celebrate the launch of my second novel, including:

A Radio Interview – It will take place on 17th October at North Manchester Radio station in Harpurhey, Manchester. They have a Saturday afternoon slot specifically dedicated to books, creative writing and publishing so I am pleased to have been invited as a guest on the show.

Book Shop Signing – On 24th October I will be signing copies of ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ at Thackeray’s Book Shop in Denton, Manchester. Thackeray’s will also be stocking copies of both ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ and ‘Slur’.

Goodreads Giveaway – I’ll be giving away signed copies of ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ to two lucky winners in a Goodreads Giveaway so look out for details on my Goodreads author page by following the link here.

A Free Promotion of ‘Slur’ – From today ‘Slur’ will be available to download to the Kindle FREE of charge for five days. ‘Slur’ is the first book in The Riverhill Trilogy so if you haven’t already read it, this is a great opportunity to start at the beginning. Here is the link: http://viewbook.at/Slur.

Online Interviews and Features – I will be taking part in a few online interviews and features. The first of these is a chat ‘Around the Cauldron’ with Wiz Green aka popular author Mark Barry, which has earned me the amusing nickname of Hardcore Heather. (I must point out that this refers to the grit lit sub-genre that my novels fit into rather than my lifestyle :).) You can catch the full interview: here.

I will keep you updated about the above activities by publishing further details on the blog as the events take place.

And there was I telling myself that I would be less busy after the launch; I guess I will have to postpone my winter break.

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The Legacy of Gunchester

In a recent blog post I described the Gunchester Era of 90s Manchester when violent crime soared in the city. This is the backdrop to my forthcoming novel and if you haven’t already read my previous post, you can view it here. I would like to follow on from my previous post by looking at how the Gunchester Era has affected Manchester.

After the 1990s Manchester continued to experience gang related violence, and in the last decade the number of shootings across Greater Manchester peaked at 146 in 2007. However, an October 2013 newspaper article reported a reduction in the number of incidents to just 11 shootings in a period of six months. To put this into perspective, this is one of the lowest rates recorded in Greater Manchester, which is a county of two and a half million inhabitants. This level is also lower than the neighbouring county of West Yorkshire.

Graph

So how did Manchester manage to turn things around?

It is the result of a multi-faceted approach involving the community, the police, local councils and a number of other agencies all working together to tackle violent crime. The needless loss of young lives left family members devastated and led to various initiatives by relatives of deceased youngsters. Amongst these were Peace Week, Mothers against Violence and Fathers against Violence. The stand taken by communities meant that witnesses were given the courage to contact the police, leading to key arrests. This was a brave move as people had previously been too frightened to report gang-related crime.

The police also set up a specialist task force called Xcalibre whose function was specifically to tackle gun-crime and other gang-related crime. Xcalibre has been so successful in reducing the level of violent crime in Manchester that it is now held in high regard worldwide and hosts conferences for other forces so that they can follow its lead.

Community

However, it is the cohesive approach between the community, the police and other agencies such as youth offending services, probation and local councils that is responsible for the ongoing reduction in violent crime. This was acknowledged by the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, who stated in a newspaper article in October 2013 that one of the aims was to provide alternatives for young people who might otherwise have joined gangs.

As the Gunchester period progressed it was recognized that gang members were becoming younger and younger and that children in schools regarded gang culture as their best option in life. At one time children as young as 13 were joining gangs but now that the police are working with schools and other agencies to raise awareness of alternatives, the typical age of gang members has become older.

People Working Together

The work of some of these groups has been so successful that it is now being taken up by other cities in the UK. Here is some further information on some of the groups that are still working to tackle violent crime and gang-related crime in Manchester:

Mothers against Violence (http://mavuk.org/) – This organisation was founded in 1999 by two women who had lost sons as a result of gang-related violence. It started out as a peer to peer support group for victims of violent crime or for those who had lost family members because of violent crime. It now runs a Community Counselling and Emotional Support Service Programme (ACCESS Programme) and offers a range of other services.

Fathers against Violence (http://fav-uk.org/) – This group is sponsored by a number of bodies and provides guidance to youngsters, giving them the confidence and awareness to seek out alternative opportunities to crime. Fathers against Crime works in partnership with schools, parents, local authorities and community groups and encourages positive male role models.

Manchester City Council – Integrated Gang Management Unit (http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/200030/crime_antisocial_behaviour_and_nuisance/6134/integrated_gang_management_unit) – This is a multi-agency team, which includes the Xcalibre task force. Its aims are to safeguard people affected by violent gang-related activity, and to support gang members that want to leave the gang lifestyle. It also encourages young people to follow alternative pathways to gang crime, and enforces the law related to gang crime.

In a news report on 14th February 2015 the latest figures showed a slight increase in gun crime from the previous year in the Greater Manchester region, but this was nowhere near the number of incidents when Gunchester was at its peak. This is an indication though that for Manchester, like many cities, the fight against violent crime is an ongoing battle.

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Surviving Manchester’s Tough Council Estates

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”.

 Estate

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 timeDog 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 Gossipcase 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.

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I would like to thank author Peter Walsh for his permission to use quotations from his book Gang War: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004RUZQUI or www.amazon.com/dp/B004RUZQUI.

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The Gunchester Era

I am due to release my second novel, “A Gangster’s Grip”, in the next few months, and it is currently with my beta readers. It will be the second part in “The Gunchester Trilogy”; Slur is the first part. All three books are set during the Gunchester era, an infamous period in Manchester’s recent history when gang-related gun crime escalated. This was, in fact, the reason why the press dubbed Manchester, “Gunchester” during the 1990s.

Slur features many of the same characters as the following two books and takes place at the beginning of the Gunchester era, in the 1980s. However, the 80s was the prelude to what was to become Gunone of the most dangerous periods in Manchester’s recent history. It was during the 90s when things really got out of control. My second book, “A Gangster’s Grip”, is set at the height of the Gunchester period and I will be giving more details about the novel in a future blog post. Firstly, though, I would like to tell you about the Gunchester era, which provides the backdrop for “A Gangster’s Grip”.

Manchester, like any major city, has always had its share of crime and organized violence. Even in the 19th century there were gangs such as the Scuttlers and the Bengal Tigers who would be involved in fatal knife battles.

Since the 1970s, Moss Side, an inner city area of Manchester, has been known as a place to purchase illegal drugs such as cannabis. The drug scene changed during the 80s though when heroin started to arrive on the streets of Manchester. At the beginning of the same decade, the police received reports of a gang war between rival gangs from Moss Side and Cheetham Hill. Up until that point the gangs had maintained good relations but something had caused a major rift.

At the start of the hostilities the weapon of choice had been the machete. Gang members also used knives to settle disputes. However, as time went on guns were increasingly being used in gang violence. The incidents of gun related crime soon escalated, reaching a peak in the 1990s. During a five year period when gun violence was at its worst there were 27 gang-related deaths and 250 injuries.

MacheteApart from the rivalry between Moss Side and Cheetham Hill, there was also rivalry between two Moss Side gangs whose members lived in close proximity to each other. Youths as young as 15 became victims of the violence and, as well as the nickname of “Gunchester”, Moss Side was also dubbed “The Bronx of Britain”.

In an attempt to rid the area of gangs, the authorities redeveloped the estate in Moss Side where the two local gangs were based. However, as a result, some of the gang members moved to other areas where they formed new gangs in places such as Longsight and Rusholme.

At the same time the city was experiencing problems with gangs from other parts of the city, mainly Salford, which controlled nightclub security in the city centre, and demanded a percentage of the income from nightclubs. At one point no nightclub was safe, and gangs loaded up with weapons would move in as soon as they heard about a new nightclub opening.

Eventually the police managed to bring the problems under control by carrying out ‘stop and search’ operations on cars entering the city centre on Friday and Saturday nights, and confiscating weapons. Manchester also set up a multi-agency task force to tackle gang-related problems. Nowadays, there is still gang related violence but the number of casualties has been vastly reduced since the figures reached their peak at the height of the Gunchester period.

“A Gangster’s Grip” features three rival gangs. Although I have set the book during the Gunchester era, and based the gangs in Moss Side, Cheetham Hill and Longsight, the gangs featured in the novel are fictitious, as are the pubs that are mentioned. The book is scheduled for launch around September/October and I will be including further details on this blog in the lead-up to the launch.

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