Clare McKintosh, I Let You Go

I-LET-YOU-GO-400x618px1mayBristol-born Clare Mackinstosh’s debut novel I Let You Go has been a runaway success and even beat  fellow Bristol-(Yate)-novelist, JK Rowling. n the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award in 2016.

What I Let You Go is about (from the website)

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world is shattered. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape her past, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of the cruel November night that changed her life for ever.

DI Ray Stevens from Bristol Police is tasked with seeking justice for a mother who is living every parent’s worst nightmare. Determined to get to the bottom of the case, it begins to consume him as he puts both his professional and personal life on the line.

As Ray and his team seek to uncover the truth, Jenna, slowly, begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .

About Clare and Bristol

“My police career was spent in Thames Valley Police, and the hit and run that inspired I LET YOU GO took place in Oxford. I didn’t want to write about my home force – it felt a little too close – but I wanted a city of similar size, and the right sort of distance from where Jenna – my protagonist – runs to. I was born in Bristol and both my sisters went to university there, so it felt familiar enough to write about.”

Clare’s second book, I See You is set in London. She has yet to pin-point the location for book three yet, so maybe we’ll see a return to Bristol.
Mackintosh herself only lived in Henbury, Bristol until she was three, but her grandfather was a doctor at Clifton Hospital.
Screen rights to I Let You Go have been sold.

Week 6: Eye Contact vs Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion

Airship300 Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion is published by Wizard’s Tower Press who also produced the tribute Colinthology. They are a curious publisher who specialise in science fiction and fantasy but don’t want submissions and won’t read them if you send any. This isn’t the only reason they have become a firm favourite, they are also very friendly and are big fans of the south west.

The short stories in the current Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall edited work are Bristolian from title to end. The title is a play on the phrase ‘shipshape and Bristol fashion’, a term dating from 1840 when talking about the treachorous port of Bristol. Its very high tidal range of 13m meant that if things weren’t tied down they would end up overboard.

Not only is the time period fitting to these stories but their genre seems surprisingly apt. “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century.” It all makes for a very respectful tribute to this city. The following quotation from the introduction says it quite nicely:

Take a walk around Bristol, and history seeps from the walls. The city can claim more than its fair share of firsts, including the first iron-hulled steamship, the first female doctor, the first chocolate bar and the first use of nitrous oxide as an anaesthetic, the invention of the Plimsoll line, the first undersea telegraph cable, the world’s first test tube baby and the first transplant organ grown from stem cells, and a large share of the world’s first supersonic airliner. Now, from this fertile ground comes an anthology charting other realities and alternate histories, in a collection as rich and varied as the true history of this great British city.

— Gareth L. Powell

“Not bad for a little city” said Bristol Culture editor, Martin Booth,  when I read the above to him and he would add that Bristol is where Ribena was invented too.

Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion doesn’t shy away from the less glamorous aspects of the city such as its slavery connections and the tobacco industry but all is included in a rich Bristol setting.

Two excellent stories from its collection are Joanne Hall’s Brass and Bone which is based in Clifton and touches on the use of the Suspension Bridge in both folklore and local awareness.

The Girl with Red Hair, by Myfanwy Rodman is written so beautifully and hauntingly while making sure to use Bristol to its most picturesque best, never losing sight of its story. Not all the stories are as strong but all are true to their setting.

eyecontact Eye Contact by Fergus McNeill on the other hand is a debut novel published by the same company that has published Stephen King. They are big and they have money to spare. McNeill’s work is about a serial killer whose method of choosing victims is in the title.

It starts on Severn Beach with a body and then begins from the serial killer’s perspective in Clifton. There is a subtitle in parentheses – DI Harland Book I and it has a sequel, published in 2013, with its follow-up title DI Harland Book II.

As all slickly published and promoted books, these days, there is a trailer.

Eye Contact is set in Bristol but it has no love of the city. At least none more than a passing acquaintance because of the fact that it is set here. Clifton Down, Whiteladies and Starbucks feature prominently in the beginning and even after a walk up to the Clifton Observatory, and the obligatory mention of the Suspension Bridge there is no sense that these characters are part of their setting.

Clifton is an obvious choice of a setting for tourists and casual Bristolians but when a character in Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion visits a pawnbroker on Hobbs Lane then you know you’re reading someone who knows their city.

Eye Contact could be set anywhere without the story changing. The depth of the characters doesn’t go far enough to touch anything more than a curiosity about the plot. The writing is smooth, it’s slick and it’s glib. If you like Peter James then you’ll like Fergus McNeill, and if you love Jeffrey Archer then you’re in for a treat.

For the purposes of this tournament however, there is only one choice for the work that is shipshape and Bristol fashion and it’s the collection of short stories which references many airships. Not bad for a little publisher, who certainly outshone Hodder & Stoughton on this occasion.

Week 2: The Shock of the Fall vs The Choice

Pitting Susan Lewis against Nathan Filer is like making Tweetie bird fight Muhammad Ali and I just don’t have it in me. Well, I do but I’ll do my best to keep as bloodless as possible.

filer_nathan_shock_of_the_Fall_140225a vs susan lewis_the choice

The Shock of the Fall describes the life of a boy from Bristol dealing with his grief at the death of his brother and experience of mental health care services for schizophrenia. The Choice is about a young girl (21, not 19 as the blurb says) who falls pregnant, falls out with her parents and then is confronted by a choice no parent should have to make.

Whereas Filer’s first book is sparse and clear, Lewis’s writing is filled with adjectives, adverbs and every possible type of description she could find.

There are mischievous eyes, eyes full of mischief and eyes of grey lead. Hearts surge, worried faces light up, voices soften with tenderness, or are husky with pride. Cliches fill the pages, serving no purpose other than to provide fodder for those who don’t have the time to turn on their television at midday and catch another made-for-TV-melodrama.

We don’t even find out what The Choice is until about 300 pages in to a 500 page novel and then every possible plot combination gets thrown in for good measure.

In direct contrast, Filer shows and never tells. As the writer he doesn’t presume anything about our understanding. Every word in the Shock of the Fall is direct and helps the story. He is a storyteller because he has a story to tell and nothing more. Lewis’s 26th* novel is an example of pulp publication where words are put in one after the other and spat out to people who just want to stay distracted for a few hours and aren’t too fussed about engaging and growing with their characters.

One thing Lewis does do well, however, is write about Bristol. It doesn’t matter whether the story requires it, and it seldom does, but if you read the Choice, you’ll find yourself finding out all about Brunel, Corn Street, Broadmead, the Banana bridge, the ss Great Britain, Southville, the Tobacco Factory and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. All are mentioned quite familiarly by the Bristol writer and are well written. They add nothing to the story, however. Lewis could just as easily have set her story somewhere else and it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The Shock of the Fall is not inherently Bristolian but unlike Lewis, Filer touches on location only where he has to. The occasional mention of Kingsdown in passing doesn’t have to mean much but when his protagonist talks to a homeless man on the corner of Jamaica Street and Stokes Croft (not Cheltenham Road as he writes) we Bristolians, know exactly what he’s talking about and why it’s easy to make that mistake. The area adds to the story, to the characters, it needs no further explanation.

One of the most poignant scenes takes a Bristolian landmark and misses it. The protagonist Matthew Homes’ mother, tells him of how she had tried to find the Clifton Suspension Bridge when she was younger and in despair about what to do wanted to jump off it but ended up circling around Clifton instead. Bristol is integrated into the story, not an aside, not a random description. Filer does it beautifully. The Shock of the Fall won Best First Novel and Book of the Year at the 2013 Costa Book Awards.

The winner this week, Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall, was never in doubt but it’s interesting to see that even though Lewis wrote pages and pages about Bristol, the snippets which Filer uses add more to a Bristolian sense of his work than constant references used as filler.

Week 1: Heartman vs Colinthology

Round 1, between Heartman and Colinthology, may be the most Bristolian of all because it is full of the paradoxes that make this city what it is. From spring to nearly winter there is a festival every weekend and one of the biggest celebrations took place yesterday at the very heart of St Paul’s and the setting of Wright’s Heartman.

Heartman by M.P. Wright published July 1, 2014 Colinthology300

Neither M.P. Wright nor Colin Harvey were born in Bristol and it is fitting that immigration and bringing home to a strange place fits in well with both our works.

Joseph Ellington, the main character in Heartman is from Barbados and it is the African Caribbean culture that all of the city was celebrating yesterday at St. Paul’s carnival whose theme was ’Home – Inna We Yard.’

‘Home’ means different things to different people but a true sense of home will encompass a feeling of one being at peace. African Proverb ‘When you are at home, your troubles can never defeat you’ Cape Coast, Ghana.

Heartman’s Ellington is an ex-cop forced to flee Barbados in tragedy. He finds himself in Bristol, 1965, unemployed in his family’s community in Bristol’s St. Paul and forced to take on a private investigation by a Jamaican councillor.

In pursuit of the truth he, and we, come across murder, drugs, racism and the community spirit and rich culture of the African Caribbean families that live in St Paul’s. What starts off as Ellington trying to make some money ends up with a race to possibly save the life of a vulnerable young woman.

Heartman is a story steeped in Bristolian settings, mannerisms and cultural outlets. There is a sense that it couldn’t have taken place anywhere else. From pubs in Montpelier, the city centre and St Paul’s, to lunch at the very white cafe at John Lewis in Broadmead, this is a work so well written and researched that it could be a major piece of evidence in the case for time travel.

Colinthology, on the other hand, is a collection of short stories published by Wizard’s Tower Press as a tribute to science fiction writer and avid Bristolian, Colin Harvey. Each story is preceded by a personal tribute to Harvey who passed away in 2011.

This moving publication is a symbol of one of the most Bristolian attributes of which I know, that sense of a community created as a second family in a bigger city. From Clifton to Stokes Croft, Bristol’s suburbs are so well-established that they seem little cities all of their own.

In the same sense, the stories in Colinthology range from a classic tale such as Nick Walters’ The Man Down The Road, so well structured and written that it could be found adapted as an episode from The Twilight Zone to Graham Raven’s Biz Be Biz, the opening story that has a bit too much detail of the new world it creates and loses sight of the actual plot.

Regardless of the quality of the stories, and some such as K.J. Jewell’s Newfangled are exceptional, Colinthology is worth reading because I don’t think you can understand the space fictional Bristol inhabits without the science fiction and fantasy component so aptly edited by Joanne Hall and Roz Clarke. It is this very community that convinced me I couldn’t run a book tournament without including short stories and so this is more a Bristol Book tournament than a novel one.

Some works in Colinthology are quite Bristolian in place settings and dialogue but here and there other parts fail – the length is too much for the sparse plot or the action could have taken place anywhere. One component that is common between both Heartman and Colinthology is the emphasis on pubs, ale and making the strange familiar.

Wright and Ellington are both fans of Dragon Stout chased by rum whereas Harvey was well known for his love of ales and many of the stories and tributes take place in pubs or the writers include a mention of the prized liquid where they can. So from the King William off King Street to the Garter and Star in St Paul’s, this round was lovingly Bristolian but in the end there was only one choice.

Heartman by M.P. Wright, published with great timing on July 1st by Black & White Publishing, is the winner of Round 1.

Many thanks to Wright’s publishers and to Wizard’s Tower Press who helped kick off our first week. Now here is a treat to help you decide whether you want to read our winner. [see the video trailer below]

All proceeds from the sale of Colinthology go to the charity Above and Beyond which helps improve patient care in Bristol’s hospitals.

The best Bristol novel – the longlist

This is the second stage of finding the best Bristol novel ever written and some themes are coming through quite clearly: Drugs, violence, the seedier side of life, slavery, and sailing. This post provides a summary of each novel I discovered. I have selected 40 books for this longlist and have left reasons for disqualifications.

Thank you Goodreads and various publishers for the summaries.


ames_laurel_castaway Ames, Laurel – Castaway (1993)

This is a Harlequin* historical novel – “The sea in all its mystery had long been home to Nathan Gaites. Until he found himself charting the turbulent waters of family life — and facing Margaret Weston, a woman of rare beauty and unfathomable depths! Margaret was determined that no man would be her master. Yet Nathan promised her freedom — and boundless joy — if she would only submit to the growing passion that flared between them …

*Formulaic romance with a pre-defined type of ending. Nothing wrong with that but this is more likely to conform to a ‘Romance Novel’ genre rather than a Bristol Novel.

archer_jeffrey_only_time_will_tell  1. Archer, Jeffrey – Only Time Will Tell

— The first in a trilogy  Only Time Will Tell, the first in a story of one family across generations, across oceans, from heartbreak to triumph.The epic tale of Harry Clifton’s life begins in 1920, with the words “I was told that my father was killed in the war.”

A dock worker in Bristol, Harry never knew his father, but he learns about life on the docks from his uncle, who expects Harry to join him at the shipyard once he’s left school. But then an unexpected gift wins him a scholarship to an exclusive boys’ school, and his life will never be the same again.


Austen, Jane – Northanger Abbey (1818) (Blaize Castle is destination for an abortive expedition in Northanger Abbey). This isn’t a Bristol novel as the reference to Bristol is too slight.


Barnes Julian The Sense of an Ending 2. Barnes, Julian – The Sense of An Ending

Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit.

Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.


Benatar S - Wish her safe at home 3. Benatar, Stephen – Wish Her Safe at Home

Rachel Waring is deliriously happy. Out of nowhere, a great-aunt leaves her a Georgian mansion in another city—and she sheds her old life without delay. Gone is her dull administrative job, her mousy wardrobe, her downer of a roommate.

She will live as a woman of leisure, devoted to beauty, creativity, expression, and love. Once installed in her new quarters, Rachel plants a garden, takes up writing, and impresses everyone she meets with her extraordinary optimism. But as Rachel sings and jokes the days away, her new neighbors begin to wonder if she might be taking her transformation just a bit too far.In Wish Her Safe at Home, Stephen Benatar finds humor and horror in the shifting region between elation and mania. His heroine could be the next-door neighbor of the Beales of Grey Gardens or a sister to Jane Gardam’s oddball protagonists, but she has an ebullient charm all her own

Bouzane Lillian - In the hands of the living God4. Bouzane, Lillian – In the Hands of the Living God (1999)

John Cabot discovers Newfoundland in his wife Mathye’s words (in letters to Giovanni, her sons, her friend Isabetta, her cousin’s wife Paola, etc. and in diary entries) with alternate perspectives offered by her sons, when they grow and leave home and correspond with each other and with their parents.


Brown Chris - Guilty Tiger 5. Brown, Chris – Guilty Tiger

Merck cocaine, Keith Richards’ drug of choice is back. But there’s one big difference to the uber coca that fuelled the Rolling Stones tour in 1975 – it’s been modified so it’s undetectable in the human blood system. It’s already found its way into the Premiership and the Olympics might just as well be cancelled.

Steve Allen’s a regular sort of guy. He pays his taxes and obeys the rules – mostly.He’s disillusioned with modern football and the state of the country, not buying into anyone’s ‘Big Society’, but it wasn’t always that way. Back in his youth when he and his friends, ‘The Big Five’, battled on the football terraces they were respected, revered… and feared.

A surprise friend request on Facebook reunites Steve with Kirsty, his girlfriend from those halcyon skinhead days. Unexpectedly she offers him and his mates not only the opportunity to hit back at the scum on Britain’s streets, but also at the person responsible for importing the insidious Merck into the country – someone he knows all too well from his dark, troubled past. He now has the chance for not only revenge, but also redemption, and to deliver football back to its rightful owners – the fans. Can Steve Allen not only save his own soul, but football’s as well?

Brown Chris - Bovver6. Brown, Chris – Bovver

It’s the 1970s. The hair is shaved, the music is funky, and the soccer is violent. Every Saturday, legions of soccer fans take to the terraces to do battle with each other. Chris Brown was in the thick of it. The regulation haircut, clip-on braces, shrunk Levis, and bovver boots—he had the look that every self-respecting bovver boy tried for, and he launched himself into the culture of the decade with a passion.

This is a story of those times. It is a story of the adrenaline-packed Saturday outings, a story of Tonik suits, terraces and The Maytals, of race riots, safety pins, and The Clash by way of P.Funk, platform shoes, and discos. This is a true story of the most maligned decade in British history.

(Recommended as one of the best Bristol novels by Richard Jones from Tangent Publishing.)

burgess melvyn - Junk7. Burgess, Melvyn – Smack (or Junk)

In this award-winning but controversial novel Burgess tells the moving story of two runaway teens who turn to a life of squatting and anarchism, ultimately falling into the dark embrace of heroin addiction.


burney frances - evelina8. Burney, Fanny – Evelina (1778)

Frances Burney’s first and most enduringly popular novel is a vivid, satirical, and seductive account of the pleasures and dangers of fashionable life in late eighteenth-century London. As she describes her heroine’s entry into society, womanhood and, inevitably, love, Burney exposes the vulnerability of female innocence in an image-conscious and often cruel world where social snobbery and sexual aggression are played out in the public arenas of pleasure-gardens, theatre visits, and balls.

But Evelina’s innocence also makes her a shrewd commentator on the excesses and absurdities of manners and social ambitions–as well as attracting the attention of the eminently eligible Lord Orville.

Evelina, comic and shrewd, is at once a guide to fashionable London, a satirical attack on the new consumerism, an investigation of women’s position in the late eighteenth century, and a love story. The new introduction and full notes to this edition help make this richness all the more readily available to a modern reader.

Layout 19. Butler Hallett , Michelle – Deluded Your Sailors

In Deluded Your Sailors, the culture industry is a weapon, a victim, and an opportunity, depending on the perspective of two main figures: the unsteady but perceptive Nichole Wright, whose discovery of crucial documents threatens a government-funded tourism project, and the politely menacing, shape-shifting Reverend Elias Winslow.

And in parallel storytelling: an early eighteenth-century girl, daughter of a nameless prostitute, winds up first as object of depraved pleasure, espionage agent and courier, and finally captain of a Salem trading vessel. Her desperately threaded disguise holds until her unacknowledged past crashes into her frail present. Trapped, and finally forced to reveal many things kept hidden, she refuses to be exploited any further. But her defiance exacts a terrible cost.

butler paul - cupids 10. Butler, Paul – Cupids

In the fall of 1611, John Guy prepares to return from his colony in Cupers Cove, Newfoundland, to Bristol, England, where he plans to woo Eliza Egret, the daughter of one of the principal stockholders of the colonization venture. Guy must return, however, with a prisoner, a mysterious young man named Bartholomew, who is responsible for burning the colony’s stored grain. As the presence of a convict might cause the backers to question his leadership, Guy chooses a radical course — to use the silken-tongued Bartholomew as an ally. So Guy and his companion enter a tale of intrigue and danger reminiscent of the revenge tragedies of the Jacobean period.

byrne eugene Things Unborn 11. Byrne, Eugene – Things Unborn (2001).

Partly set in Bristol and South West, though mostly London. Main character is Scipio Africanus, African buried at Henbury.

Bristolian author Eugene Byrne has postulated a world in which an atomic war in 1962 has caused the decline in population and civilization in much of the Western World. Rather than a post-apocalyptic tale, however, Things Unborn tells the story of an England which is rebuilding its position in the world, aided by a strange phenomenon which Byrne never attempts to explain. In his post-nuclear world, those who have been killed before their time (and before the war) are being re-born in seemingly random circumstances. (from

carter angela love 12. Carter, Angela – ‘The Bristol Trilogy’ (link):Shadow Dance (1966), Several Perceptions (1968)
and Love (1971).
“The Bristol Trilogy”, Angela Carter — In Shadow Dance (1966), Several Perceptions (1968) and Love (1971)

Angela Carter offers a stylish look at the
sinister underside of Bristol in the Swinging Sixties.

Love documents Annabel, her husband Lee and his unpredictable brother Buzz through a myriad of relationships, and unlabelled connections. It is a book about love between the three protagonists, which despite their introspection, is rarely named or categorised. (see link)


Carver CJ Gone Without Trace Carver, Caroline – Gone Without Trace (2007)

CJ Carver lives near Bath but it doesn’t look like any of her books are based in Bristol.



Cusk Rachel Arlington Park

13. Cusk, Rachel – Arlington Park (2010)

Rachel Cusk doesn’t seem too well liked but her books are meant to be based in Bristol.

Arlington Park follows five women as they travel through a typical day. As they prepare breakfast, do the school run, buy groceries, clean the house, these wives and mothers are captured in reflective states, wondering what happened to the version of themselves they’d imagined in their earlier life. Juliet, a frustrated part-time teacher; Amanda, desperate to connect with the other mums at the school gate, Solly, pregnant with her fourth child and envious of the string of single women who rent the room at the top of the house, Maisie, recently arrived from London, her politics at odds with her new neighbours and Christine, more pragmatic than the others, managing to steer a steadier course through frustration. Cusk’s unflinching examination of women’s lives raises the question: have they been liberated at all?

Dickens, Charles – Pickwick Papers (1836)

I initially added Pickwick Papers because of the mention of a Clifton doctor but this isn’t enough.


douglas louise - In her shadow 14. Douglas, Louise – In Her Shadow (2012)

The extract sets the book in Bristol at the start but I’m not sure it continues with the same setting.

It’s set twenty years ago against a backdrop of dreamy Cornish summers, a place where childhood friendship becomes young love, where love becomes obsession, and where obsession ultimately ends in betrayal and a tragic death.

This magical novel traces a web of memories back through the years from the present day, ultimately showing that no matter how much you might try to forget the past, the past never forgets you…


English Lucy - Selfish People 15. English, Lucy – Selfish People (1998).

Against the backdrop of inner-city Bristol, Lucy English paints a harsh picture of broken dreams, lost l oves and the alienation of selfish people. Leah, mother of t hree and in an unhappy marriage, falls in love with child-abuse survivor Bailey.


Ferguson Patricia - Peripheral Vision 16. Ferguson, Patricia – Peripheral Vision

Set mostly in Bristol between the 1950s and today.

A novel connecting disperate women at different times in their lives, and in history. Sylvia, a brilliant and successful eye surgeon is nevertheless amazed to find herself pregnant, despite taking no precautions. Iris, a timid young woman in love with a man from a different social stratum. And Ruby, a 1950’s housewife who receives poison pen letters, which she believes she thoroughly deserves. Linking these women is a fascinating thread that weaves their lives together.

Filer Nathan - The Shock of the Fall 17. Filer, Nathan – The Shock of the Fall

‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.

Flood, C.J. – Infinite Sky (2013)

CJ Flood lives in Bristol but, as she writes, “The whole story unfolds in a small village on the outskirts of the Peak District in Derbyshire” (link).

Godwin John - Children of the Wave 18. Godwin, John – Children of the Wave: A Historical Novel Set in 18th Century Bristol (2010)

Set in the late 18th century, this powerful historical novel focuses on the city of Bristol and its connections with the slave trade at a time when the abolitionist movement is gathering momentum in England.

A well-respected Bristol councillor is found murdered and when looking into the case young trainee attorney Richard Stourton discovers that the victim had secret links with the anti-slave trade movement in London. Was this the reason for his untimely death?

Gregory Philippa - A Respectable Trade 19. Gregory, Philippa – A Respectable Trade (1995).

The devastating consequences of the slave trade are explored through the powerful but impossible attraction of well-born Frances and her slave, Mehuru.

* Whenever this work was recommended as a Bristol novel there was usually an aside about how the story wasn’t exactly accurate. (See similar)

Hall MR - The Coroner 20. Hall, M.R. – The Coroner (Jenny Cooper 1) (2009)

Jenny Cooper, newly appointed as Coroner for the Severn Vale, is plunged headfirst into a trail of murder, corruption and dark secrets. One of the first pages includes a quote from a fictional Bristol Evening Post.

When lawyer, Jenny Cooper, is appointed Severn Vale District Coroner, she’s hoping for a quiet life and space to recover from a traumatic divorce, but the office she inherits from the recently deceased Harry Marshall contains neglected files hiding dark secrets and a trail of buried evidence.

Could the tragic death in custody of a young boy be linked to the apparent suicide of a teenage prostitute and the fate of Marshall himself? Jenny’s curiosity is aroused. Why was Marshall behaving so strangely before he died? What injustice was he planning to uncover? And what caused his abrupt change of heart?

Harvey Colin - Future Bristol 21. Harvey, Colin – Future Bristol (Ed.) (2009)

This Is Future Bristol, where A young engineer must try to avert a nightmare future Activists and hackers take nanotech and recycling slightly too far The city fights back against a tidal wave of crime A new drug and riots spark an unexpected renewal Present meets future as urban explorers encounter unforeseen hazards Pirates and ruthless executives battle for supremacy above the sunken streets Humanity’s heirs cling onto survival in a world of toxic waste The last living human must make an agonizing choice A broken child may change the world. Nine short stories by leading (local) British authors including BSFA and Philip K. Dick Award-nominee Liz Williams, Interzone Poll-winner Gareth L Powell, Stephanie Burgis, Jim Mortimore, Joanne Hall, Nick Walters and Christina Lake

Hayder Mo - Ritual 22. Hayder, Mo – Ritual

Just after lunch on a Tuesday in April, nine feet underwater, police diver Flea Marley closes her gloved fingers around a human hand.

The fact that there’s no body attached is disturbing enough. Yet more disturbing is the discovery, a day later, of the matching hand. Both have been recently amputated, and the indications are that the victim was still alive when they were removed.

DI Jack Caffery has been newly seconded to the Major Crime Investigation Unit in Bristol. He and Flea soon establish that the hands belong to a boy who has recently disappeared.

Their search for him – and for his abductor – leads them into the darkest recesses of Bristol’s underworld, where drug addiction is rife, where street-kids sell themselves for a hit, and where an ancient evil lurks; an evil that feeds off the blood – and flesh – of others.

Johnson Jeannie - The Rest of Our Lives 23. Johnson, Jeannie (pseudonym of Lizzie Lane) – The Rest of Our Lives (2002)

The Second World War is now over and people must count the cost. Three women from very different backgrounds meet when they find themselves on Bristol Temple Meads station waiting for the return of their loved ones. Edna’s fiance Colin comes home crippled. Charlotte’s doctor husband, who was a loving and gentle father, returns a violent, disturbed man with no love for her and even less for their children. Polly, who is waiting for her GI boyfriend Aaron, is once again disappointed when he doesn’t arrive. Adjusting to men who are very changed and, in Polly’s case, to no man at all, is the core of this story. However, during the war years, the women have had to cope. They too have changed, and they harbor secrets that would be best kept.

A Penny for Tomorrow (2003)

This follows on from The Rest of Our Lives with the lives of its three heroines. It’s Coronation Year, 1953, a new beginning. Like many cities, Bristol is patching itself up after the war, while refugees who fought for the allies are seeking sanctuary in Britain. Charlotte tries to forget her wartime love and accept the shortcomings of her marriage. Edna has three beautiful children and will do anything to protect her brood but hasn’t allowed for the effect of a deadly, twentieth-century disease. Polly still hopes for an easier, more glamorous life, but with her irrepressible young daughter and her charming tricky husband, will things improve?

Lizzie Lane - Wartime Brides 24. Lane, Lizzie – Wartime Brides(2012)
The war is over…but for three very different Bristol women anxiously awaiting their loved ones return, the story is only just beginning. “Wartime Brides” offers a fascinating insight into post-war family life.

** This sounds very similar to her other novels.

Lee Jonathan - Who is Mister Satoshi Lee, Jonathan – Who is Mr Satoshi (2010)

Partly set in Bristol. I don’t think it’s set enough to count.

Reclusive photographer Rob Fossick has come adrift both from society and his creative urge. But when his mother dies, Rob is suddenly presented with an unwanted yet intriguing problem to solve – minutes before her death, he discovers that she was hoping to deliver a package to an enigmatic character called Mr Satoshi, but the name and the contents of the parcel are shrouded in mystery.

So begins a quest that takes Rob out of his isolation and plunges him, anxious and unprepared, into the urban maelstrom of Tokyo. With the help of a colourful group of new acquaintances – an octogenarian amateur detective; a beautiful ‘love hotel’ receptionist; an ex-sumo wrestler obsessed with Dolly Parton – Rob edges closer to uncovering the mystery surrounding Mr Satoshi, and in the process comes face to face with some demons of his own.

Lewis Robert - The Last Llanelli Train 25. Lewis,Robert – The Last Llanelli Train (2005)

Robin Llewellyn is a private eye. More or less. Part time really, while he gets on with the full-time job of drinking himself to death on the mean streets of Bristol. He’s one step away from the gutter when he gets one last case.

Lewis Susan - The Choice 26. Lewis, Susan – The Choice

Nikki Grant has her whole life ahead of her when she discovers she is pregnant. But she welcomes the news with joy—the baby will be a wonderful addition to the happy household she shares with the love of her life, Spencer James, and three close friends. Nikki’s parents have a very different view of what the baby is going to mean to their daughter’s future. Deeply disapproving of Spencer and the friends Nikki has chosen, their frustrations reach breaking point when Nikki refuses to be controlled by them any more. A rift opens up between them that breaks their hearts, but they are all too proud to back down. Baby Zac arrives, and with Spencer’s career taking off they are ready to make a big move to London.

But sudden events rush them down a very different road, and nothing could have prepared them for where they find themselves—a frightening and alien place with Zac at the center and Nikki desperately trying to hold onto her baby, her life, and her dreams. As they become more embroiled in a world they cannot escape, the love between Nikki and her son is put to the kind of test no parent should ever have to face.

Manson Mike - Wheres my money 27. Manson, Mike – Where’s My Money

Mike Manson’s brilliant first novel is set against the background of slacker culture in Bristol in the long, hot summer of 1976.

Max doesn’t work. Now he’s been offered a job – at the dole office. The hot summer of ’76. Mega-flares. The dole office. Cider. And a riot.

The 1970s. If you were there, you’ve probably tried to forget it. If you weren’t, find out what you’ve missed.
Mason Sarah - Playing James 28. Mason, Sarah – Playing James

Plucky beat reporter Holly Colshannon has a flair for the dramatic, a nose for trouble, and the remarkable ability to smile through any indignity—though her latest assignment is about to test her mettle. Newly “promoted” to crime reporter for the Bristol Gazette, she must shadow the unsmiling (though undeniably delicious) Detective James Sabine through his action-packed days, and then capture all the danger and thrills of a cop’s life in a daily column for the rag.


Maughan Tim - Paintwork 29. Maughan, Tim – Paintwork (2011)

Augmented reality street artist 3Cube wants to break into the mainstream, and as one of the best in the graffiti mecca of Bristol he stands a real chance. Except that someone, some unseen rival, seems set on using even the most old-fashioned of methods to stop him from succeeding

danmayhew_frontcover 30. Mayhew, Daniel – Life and How to Live it (2004)

Serpico are the best and most unproductive band in Bristol. All that changes when a week-long sickie brings the greatest album ever made into the world.

Reilly, all home-made T-shirts, red wine addiction and occasional musical genius, is the sort of person you end up hating: but there’s something to him, some kind of honesty, that saves him. He breathes life into Serpico, his astounding voice elevating them to potential rock gods. Jacob, his flat-mate and band partner, wants this status in his own life, but with Reilly’s unpredictability and charismatic lunacy, the transformation from layabout to rock god isn’t easy, or maybe even possible.

McNeill Fergus - Eye Contact 31. McNeill, Fergus – Eye Contact (2012)

The body of a young woman is found at Severn Beach in this gripping debut novel – but how can you trace a killer who strikes with no motive?


Mitchell Diane - Tainted Legacy2 32. Mitchell, Diane – Tainted Legacy and the sequel The Legacy Continues

Spanning two world wars the story follows the lives of three generations of the Stone family, opening with the birth of Mary’s baby, Victoria. Condemned to grinding poverty which destroys her health, Mary vows her daughter will not suffer the same fate, beginning to instill in Victoria an ambition to succeed whatever the cost, only to die tragically a few years later.

Adopted by wealthy relatives, the young Victoria captivates her uncle – but the legacy he bequeaths her will condemn future generations to unimagined pain and suffering as, with single minded determination, Victoria follows her mother’s dream for her.

But will it turn into a nightmare from which there is no escape?

Moggach, Deborah – These Foolish Things
Moggach attended the University of Bristol but this book does not mention Bristol. False Hope.

Myles Josephine - Pole StarMyles, Josephine – Pole Star

It’s hard to flirt when sequins are chafing your bits…

Injured pole dancer Matt Lovell meets attractive radiographer Sal when he’s in casualty for an x-ray. Trouble is, Matt’s firefighter outfit is pretty convincing, and the longer he keeps up the pretence the harder it will be to reveal the naked truth: that there’s nothing underneath his costume but a sequin-covered thong!

Genre: gay erotica, with a smidgen of romance.

Maybe not. (It’s available for free on Amazon Kindle)

Nicholls David - Starter for Ten 33. Nichols, David – Starter for Ten (2004)

The story, told in first-person narrative, is set in 1985 and chronicles the misadventures of student Brian Jackson in his first year at an unnamed university. The film was set at the University of Bristol so it just might be set in Bristol.


Obrien Maureen Dead Innocent 34. O’Brien, Maureen – Dead Innocent

‘Police are searching today for a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who disappeared a week ago from her home in the totterdown area of Bristol.’ Actress Kate Creech hears the new with alarm – her niece, Maisie, is fifteen and lives in Totterdown …When another girl’s corpse is found in a local part the Bristol police suspect Maisie’s dad, an odd character who gathers young people to him like a magnet.

Even though Bristol is out of his jurisdiction, Detective Inspector John Bright can’t stay away – Kate is there, rehearsing As You Like It, and he adores Maisie as though she were his own. Bright, off his own patach, resorts to his own unofficial methods of investigation, methods which unearth some uncomfortable facts and lead him to a sinister young man who is keeping a diary …

Prowse, Philip – Bristol Murder

This is a reader for students of English as a foreign language so it doesn’t really fit in with the whole ‘Bristol novel’ thing.

A truck driver picks up a hitchhiker whose uncle was found murdered. The murder occurred in Bristol.


Robotham Michael - Shatter Rowbotham, Michael – Shatter (2008)

There is a moment when all hope disappears, all pride is gone, all expectation, all faith, all desire. I own that moment. It belongs to me. That’s when I hear the sound.

The sound of a mind breaking.

It’s not a loud crack like when bones shatter or a spine fractures of a skull collapses. And it’s not something soft and wet like a heart breaking. It’s a sound that makes you wonder how much pain a person can endure; a sound that shatters memories and lets the past leak into the present; a sound so high that only the hounds of hell can hear it.
Can you hear it? Someone is curled up in a tiny ball crying softly into an endless night.

Smollett_Humphry_Clinker_Cover 36. Smollett, Tobias – The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)

it is an epistolary novel, presented in the form of letters written by six different characters: Matthew Bramble, a Welsh Squire; his sister Tabitha; their niece and nephew, Jery and Lydia Melford; Tabitha’s maid Winifred Jenkins; and Lydia’s suitor, Wilson.

Much of the comedy arises from differences in the descriptions of the same events by different participants. Attributions of motives and descriptions of behaviour show wild variation and reveal much about the character of the teller. The setting, amidst the high-society spa towns and seaside resorts of the 18th century provides his characters with many opportunities for satirical observations on English life and manners.

The sun is my undoing Steen,Marguerite – The Sun Is My Undoing (1941)

A story of the slave trade. It was hard to find out much else about this work but many do point out its length.

This may mention Bristol but it’s so hard to find that it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll be able to read it.

Stevenson - Treasure Island 37. Stevenson, Robert Louis – Treasure Island

The most well-known pirate adventure whose writer is famed to have drunk in the current Hole in the Wall pub just off Queen Square.

Its unforgettable characters include: young Jim Hawkins, who finds himself owner of a map to Treasure Island, where the fabled pirate booty is buried; honest Captain Smollett, heroic Dr. Livesey, and the good-hearted but obtuse Squire Trelawney, who help Jim on his quest for the treasure; the frightening Blind Pew, double-dealing Israel Hands, and seemingly mad Ben Gunn, buccaneers of varying shades of menace; and, of course, garrulous, affable, ambiguous Long John Silver, who is one moment a friendly, laughing, one-legged sea-cook . . .and the next a dangerous pirate leader!

Trewavas Ed - Shawnie 38. Trewavas, Ed – Shawnie (2006).

Set in Knowle West and based on his experiences as a social worker, Trewavas’s highly controversial novel is grim, unrelenting and deeply unsettling.

This hard-hitting fiction, told with a distinctive Bristolian voice, tells the story of the Brewer family—mom Lisa, brother Jason, and daughter Shawnie—plus Lisa’s so-called lover, Steve. Over the course of one intense summer, they each tell their own off-kilter version of the events in their lives. Shawnie, just 13, dreams of a normal life: a lock on the bathroom door, clean clothes for school, and no wild parties with her mom as the centerfold. A “diamond of a girl,” she tries to keep the family in order—but prostitution, drink, and violence are eating away at them all, leading towards a horror that’s almost too much to bear.

In dialect voices that create a claustrophobic domestic world, the four residents of Lurgan Walk tell a visceral, darkly humorous tale. This is an unsettling yet compassionate novel about family life gone very wrong—a hell just down the road

Wakling Chris - The Devils Mask 39. Wakling, Chris – The Devil’s Mask

It’s 1835, and Bristol has put the dark days of the slave trade behind it. Or has it? A routine investigation leads young lawyer Inigo Bright into a web of murder, corruption and intrigue.

*This was one of the most well-known Bristol novels and recommended the most.

White Tony - Missorts 40. White, Tony – Missorts Volume II

First there is the novella by Tony White and then the soundwords project which is a permanent public artwork for Bristol.

An urban soundwork delivered directly to your smartphone as a mobile app, Missorts combines ten location-triggered stories by ten writers set to a newly composed soundtrack. Missorts promises to immerse you in a surprising, new experience of the city.

I’m including the novella but had to mention the soundwork piece too. (With thanks to Tony White for correcting me).

41. Young, E.H. – The Misses Mallett (1922)
– William – A Novel ().

Two of a series of novels set in “Radstowe”, based on the Clifton area of Bristol, “William” is a sharply observed period novel about English family life set in post-WW I England.

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With thanks to Andrew Cox from the Bristol Library and Richard Jones from Tangent Publishing for their input.

Bristol book tournament

In Progress: last updated 09 August, 2013 07.58am
And the best ever Bristol novel is … (the list so far)

LA Weekly have been running a 32-book tournament to discover the best LA novel ever written and it got me thinking about the best Bristol book and how to find it.

Bristol has a long and fascinating association with literature but it seems to be one of the less celebrated cultural aspects of the city. Treasure Island was purported to have been written just around the corner from where the Bristol Old Vic set its production two years ago. Allen Lane (1902-1970), the found of Penguin Books was Bristol-born and educated and there are many more well-known and lots not-so-known works that bring life to characters and places.

There’s a list on Goodreads about books based in Bristol but there are only 10 on it including Jeffrey Archer and something about a pole dancer. To be fair there’s also Julian Barnes’ peculiarly-reviewed A sense of an ending and Smack by Malvin Burgess.

Not much fodder for a tournament however.

Bristol Reads offer their own slightly more literary selection which includes Philippa Gregory and Eugene Byrne

The Last Llanelli Train by Robert Lewis sounds fascinating (2005). It features an alcoholic private detective specialising in the seedier side
of his trade, this noir crime-fiction novel is set amid the squalor and splendour of Bristol.

I had assumed the criteria for a Bristol novel would have to include a Bristol setting but there are other links to Bristol : Julie Burchill is a Journalist and novelist born in Bristol and I don’t know whether any of her books are set here. There’s also Jules Hardy, winner of the WHSmith Fresh Talent Award in 2002.

A list of Bristol novels from Bristol Reads

Eugene Byrne Things Unborn (2001).
E H Young The Misses Mallett (1922).
Marguerite Steen The Sun Is My Undoing (1941)
Philippa Gregory A Respectable Trade (1995).
Lucy English Selfish People (1998).
Lillian Bouzane In the Hands of the Living God (1999)
Jeannie Johnson A Penny for Tomorrow (2003).
Daniel Mayhew Life and How to Live it (2004).
Robert Lewis The Last Llanelli Train (2005)
Ed Trewavas Shawnie (2006).
Caroline Carver Gone Without Trace (2007)

A list of Bristol books from Twitter and blogs

Austen, Jane – Northanger Abbey (1818) (Blaize Castle is destination for an abortive expedition in Northanger Abbey)
Brown, Chris – Guilty Tiger
Cusk, Rachel – Arlington Park (2010)
Dickens, Charles – Pickwick Papers (1836)
Flood, C.J. – Infinite Sky (2013)
Godwin, John – Children of the Wave
Hall, M.R. – The Coroner (Jenny Cooper 1) (2009)
Lee, Jonathan – Who is Mr Satoshi (2010)
Maughan, Tim – Paintwork (2011)
Nichols, David – Starter for Ten (2004)
Smollett, Tobias – The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

Some additions from blogger Nose in a Book.

Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar
Dead Innocent by Maureen O’Brien
Future Bristol edited by Colin Harvey
Manson, Mike – Where’s My Money
The Sun is my Undoing by Marguerite Steen

Nathan Filer :

Missorts – a location-based work by app and writing;

A list of Bristol books from Bristol publishers

Redcliffe Press

I’ve contacted the following:

Akeman Press – publishers of books about Bath but they may know of some Bristol novels as they are regional specialists;

Bristol Short Story Prize – they read many Bristol stories.

A list of Bristol books from Bristol libraries

Local history books for sale at the library – scroll down – link

A list of Bristol books from Bristol Bookshops


A list of Bristol from Bristol higher education institutions

University of Bristol
City of Bristol College

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Books from authors living in Bristol

Burchill, Julie
Dunmore, Helen – author of 11 novels
Hardy, Jules
Harvey, Deborah
James, Amanda – A Stitch in Time
Powell, Gareth L.
Wakling, Chris

The Bristol Fiction Writers’ Group – blog

There are all the authors from the Bristol Short Story Anthologies –
Volume 4

  • Brandt, Ruth
  • Bullock, Emily
  • Bunting, Timothy
  • Burton, Ian
  • Fairweather, John
  • Govinden, Niven
  • Gramich, Eluned
  • Lever, Naomi
  • Lewis, Laura
  • Mazzini, Miha

Volume 5

  • Arnold, John
  • Bardsley, Lewis
  • Bokkers, Catherine
  • Boyle, Lizzie
  • Conran, Alys
  • Durrant, Neil
  • Hood, Kerry
  • Richards, Ian

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