Here at Manchester Libraries we’re working as hard as ever (but from our kitchen tables!) to keep our wonderful book loving borrowers happy and fulfilled. We know how popular author sessions are so we’ve racked our brains about how we can maintain these virtually.

Welcome to the next edition of ‘Library Locals’. An occasional chat with our favourite Manchester based authors about their writing process, which books they have turned to during lockdown and what they love about Manchester!

Today we welcome the brilliant Manchester based crime writer and massive supporter of libraries, Chris Simms.

Chris Simms has worked in airports, nightclubs, post offices and telesales centres. Along with nominations for Crime Writers’ Association Daggers and the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year award for his novels and short stories, Chris was selected by Waterstones as one of their ’25 Authors for the Future’.

His series of DI Spicer novels – psychological thrillers set very firmly in Manchester – follow the police detective’s fortunes as he pursues mad, bad and deadly individuals through the city’s ever-evolving landscape.

Most recently, Chris has written two supernatural thrillers, Sing Me To Sleep and Rats’ Nest. Both are receiving Amazon reader reviews that focus on the novels’ frightening qualities.

Chris says he is drawn to books that give insights into unusual minds. The twisted desires of Frederick in John Fowles’, The Collector; the tormented thoughts of Scobie in Graham Greene’s, Heart of the Matter; the violent urges of Francie in Patrick McCabe’s, Butcher Boy are all books Chris states had a major influence in shaping him as a writer.

Hi Chris, thanks so much for taking the time to be interviewed. How are you coping with lockdown? Has it presented any challenges as a writer?

My daily routine hasn’t been much affected: I live a hermit-like existence anyway. But now I share it with the four kids and my wife. My quiet, contemplative lunches are well and truly gone. In fact, my lunch itself has usually gone because the kids have stripped the fridge bare!

On a more serious note, I have – for the first time – had days when I’ve felt listless and apathetic and not able to write much at all. At times, the pandemic has been like a malignant cloud, casting its shadow over everything.

How has Greater Manchester influenced your writing?

Absolutely. When I signed with Orion, my editor made it very clear they wanted Manchester to be a character within the novels (like Edinburgh is in the Rebus series). Being from down South (a very rural spot in Sussex), the scale and character of Manchester is very tangible to me. Things like the grand civic buildings; the mills, warehouses and other industrial sites; the canals and railways running right through the city: I wander about thinking, ‘great location for a scene’ all the time. The character of the city also seeps into the plots; I feel there is an energy to Manchester that makes it feel different to other cities I’ve spent time in.  

What are you reading during lockdown….any recommendations?

I went all post-apocalyptic at first and read ‘I Am Legend’ by Richard Matheson. That feels so long ago! Once I sensed we were in this for the long run, I ordered the third in Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, ‘The Mirror and the Light’. Normally, this would be an exceptional book – but the earlier two were off-the-scale good. I’m halfway through, so can’t say if it is equal to them quite yet.

What can our readers look forward to from you?

Well, funny you should ask. I’ve just written the blurb for the 9th Jon Spicer, the grizzled Manchester detective with anger-management issues. How’s this for the blurb?

Something deadly is moving through the Manchester night. Corpses are being found in abandoned buildings and forgotten corners. On the street, rumours circulate of a raven-winged presence that appears and vanishes at will.

DC Jon Spicer isn’t sure whether to take the whispers seriously, until he finds a single black feather at the scene of the latest death.

His seniors refuse to listen – but then the troubled daughter of the city’s mayor runs away. Tasked with finding her, Jon is sent to live among the city’s homeless community. Once there, he realises that, after sunset, anyone without shelter should fear the Dark Angel.

Dark Angel should be available on Kindle by the autumn.

What do libraries mean to you?

I always jump at the chance of talking at libraries – and have built up quite an impressive list of ones in the north-west I’ve appeared at over the years. They’re special places, aren’t they? I still remember the big padded stools in the kids’ section of the one in Horsham I used to spend time in when little. Having led a day-time reading group in Marple library, I’ve seen how older folk also relish what they offer.

Any pearls of lockdown wisdom to share with our borrowers?

The supermarkets are quietest on Saturday nights!

What’s your preference – eBook or paperback?

Having moved into Indie publishing a few years back, a lot of my recent books are only available through Amazon as eBooks. So, from a business perspective, eBooks are brilliant! However, if I’m going to read something, my preference is for a paperback. The only exception is holiday times, when being able to fit dozens of titles in your pocket is such a treat.

Most importantly! Lockdown hair! Are you growing, colouring or cropping?

We have a very straggly-haired Lurcher, so invested in some proper dog clippers to keep her coat under control. (It’s much like shearing a sheep when she needs a trim.) Turns out my wife is pretty handy using them on humans, too – so I have quite a neat cut at the moment. 

Thanks so much again Chris for taking the time to talk to us and supporting Manchester Libraries.

If you’ve yet to delve into Spicer’s often frantic world, 2nd in the series – Shifting Skin – is currently free to download on Amazon and has, at the time of writing, almost three-hundred 5 star reviews.

You can also borrow Chris’s books from Manchester Libraries.