MR Congratulations on a great fictional debut. Can you tell us about your book and Manc Noir?
DN It’s set in the present day and during the Strangeways’ riot in Manchester in 1990. An inexperienced reporter gets sent out to cover the discovery of a child’s body at Black Moss reservoir while all the good reporters are at the riot. Years later he comes back and… a great deal of unpleasantness ensues. One of my favourite films is Hell is a City, the Stanley Baker picture made by Hammer. It was shot in Manchester and Oldham – so gritty and real. Bookies, robbers, gamblers, boozers, cops that take no shit. Great stuff. When I pitched the book to Fahrenheit I described it as Hell is a City meets Factory Records. I also got a bit fed up with people banging in about Nordic Noir and Scandi Noir. Ooh the landscape is so bleak… let me take you across the Pennines above Manchester. I’ll show you a REALLY bleak landscape. So Manc Noir was a reaction to that and it’s a nod to Hell is a City too.
MR Reading Black Moss was a troubling reminder of how little protection there is for orphans, care home children, children in general. You wrote a book about the trial of one of your teachers for child abuse.
DN I wrote a factual book called Tell The Truth and Shame the Devil about that case and was overwhelmed by the response I got – I’m still getting messages and emails to this day from ex-pupils telling me their stories. I did a Radio 4 documentary too.
‘Hearing from the victims, the police, prosecutors and police interviews with the perpetrator himself, this programme tells the inside story of that investigation and the process of trying to achieve justice for victims.’
DN I was very, very fired up about it and got a deal to write a book about the whole subject of historic abuse. Several months in and the publishers cancelled the book and paid me off. I was in a fury and the first chapter of Black Moss just sort of spewed out of me. I’d never written a word of fiction in my life before, yet this thing was coming out of me. Bizarre. I still don’t quite understand how it happened. I did it in secret in between writing my factual books.
MR I recognised some of the alcoholism recovery material – the whole book feels accurate. Some great characters and locations, not to mention a hell of a story. No longeurs. It zips along.
You’re not a fan of the witty alcoholic in fiction? I once saw Hunter S Thompson in a bar in Hong Kong. He just kept slowly droning the words ‘Amyl Nitrate’. Hardly Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin Hotel. There are a few high functioning alcoholics but most of us wreck our own lives and hurt our family, friends and colleagues.
DN ‘Character with addictions’ is a lazy shorthand in a lot of cases. I hope it isn’t in Black Moss. The main character isn’t a lovable old soak, he’s a dick. A full-on tool. The treatment he goes through is accurate, like everything else in the book. If I don’t know something I ask an expert and I was helped a great deal by a former child protection detective. I know a lot about drinking, so… not a problem. I don’t claim to be a crime fiction expert but I know what I don’t like: too much description, people saying things normal people wouldn’t say and things happening that wouldn’t happen in real life. The characters are all based in real people – my old radio friends are currently playing a game of ‘spot who the character is based on’. Eighty per cent of Black Moss is drawn from real life. If something comes across as far-fetched in the book, you can guarantee it really happened.
MR ‘Writing a novel by accident’. Sounds intriguing. Are you saving that for live appearances or can you hint as to how that might happen? I could certainly do with accidentally finding one already written.
DN I never set out to be a novelist. I’m a journalist and a factual writer. I still don’t feel comfortable with the ‘n word…’ But it’s happened and I’d like to thank the publisher who binned my factual book, because otherwise Black Moss wouldn’t exist and we wouldn’t be having this conversation now. It’s all been an accident. I feel a bit of a fraud.
MR When might we see your next book?
DN I’m well into Black Moss 2. It’s another ‘difficult’ subject, written from an angry viewpoint once again. I don’t do nods and winks and knowing references, I do fury. I’m in a rage most of the time, it’s very tiring.
MR I can just about remember the great days of Granada, reporters like Bob Greaves and Brian Truman. Has anyone ever combined being a mainstream news anchor and counter cultural figure like Tony Wilson?
DN Absolutely not. And never will. When Tony died I said to my wife, someone is going to write a book about him, might as well be me. I worked with Tony at Granada, but didn’t like him! Then I wrote his biography and found out so much more about him. I liked him a lot afterwards.
MR Thanks for a great interview!
a piece from David’s website
Crime Addiction – David Nolan
When I started reading crime fiction, two things would annoy me. Really annoy me. One was the way authors would portray journalists. I’ve been a journalist all my life and we are regularly shown saying, doing and writing things that real journalists would never say, do or write.
The other is the portrayal of addiction – particularly alcohol. It often appears in crime fiction as an easy shorthand for a kind of sleazy, feckless glamour.
The lead character in my first novel Black Moss is alcoholic journalist Danny Johnston. The bookworks on two timelines – 1990 and 2016. When we meet present-day Danny – or Daniel as he now presents himself – he’s just crashed his car into a tree, pissed out of his mind. He’s no hero. There’s no sleazy glamour here. He’s an idiot.
After the crash, Danny loses his job and goes into rehab therapy. Here he is arriving for his first
‘There were two layers of glass between him and the receptionist. A large sign warned that the
physical or verbal abuse of staff would not be tolerated. The receptionist – a woman in her thirtieswith tattoo-covered arms – glanced at him over the top of her large, black-rimmed glasses. ‘Are you here for the needle exchange?’ she said.
Daniel returned her look. Then he realised that she was talking to him. Needle exchange? ‘No,’ he said. After a pause, he added: ‘I’m with the alkies.’ He smiled at the receptionist, quite pleased with his attempt at keeping the situation light. It didn’t seem to have worked – her face was unchanged.
‘Alcohol support,’ said Daniel. ‘I’m with the
alcohol support programme.’
‘Alcohol is to the left. Go through, take a seat.’ A second door buzzed, and Danny went through into the waiting area. Things are bad, he thought, but they could be worse. I could be turning right.
Daniel sat down. The furniture was dark beige and blocky. The floor was a chessboard of dull, dark brown and light brown plastic tiles. There were framed pictures on the wall that were abstract and bland. One wall was completely covered in leaflets and flyers: self-help, support groups, psychotherapy, yoga, Pilates, massage – all the kind of things that he would normally have given a very wide berth to. He sat very still. Very still indeed. Don’t look right, he thought.’
I know this is accurate. I’ve visited a centre just like this. The drugs Danny is prescribed to help him are the correct ones for his problems.
I’ve had some great reactions to the book since it was published. Amazing, really. But the one that pleases me most is when people say: he’s done his research.
I think that whatever we are writing about, it’s got to be accurate. If we are going to depict people with addiction issues it’s got to be real, not a lazy cliché. There is no one-size-fits-all ADDICT character. Every addict is different. Speak to counsellors, speak to addicts themselves. Learn from their experiences. They often have astounding stories– sometimes they can offer real hope.
Hell is a City original trailer
One of the many 5star reviews on Amazon
12 February 2019