What Leeds Means To Me by June Taylor and Ali Harper

Two Leeds authors, June Taylor and Ali Harper, reveal why they’ve chosen our city as a setting for their novels.

June Taylor – Author of Keep Your Friends Close  published by Harper Collins (Jan 2019).

“I was born here, grew up in Bramley. Even though I left Leeds to go to university, and worked away for a while, I’ve always had Leeds as my base and for many years now it’s been my permanent home.

So I’ve seen it evolve through a few decades.

I’m very proud of my roots and feel very connected to the North. That said, I did grow up with the Yorkshire Ripper and football hooligans – not Leeds’ finest era! And it feels like a fairly recent thing that we’re able to stand up and shout about how great our city is, having shaken off the bad times. There’s so much going on here now, we are bursting with culture.

In my latest psychological thriller I use Leeds as a backdrop. Headingley and the city centre mainly. I wanted to paint a good image in my novel, but you have to keep it real. In Keep Your Friends Close there’s a strand of the story which touches on the homeless problem on our streets. Leeds isn’t perfect, far from it. The areas where I grew up – Bramley, Armley, Wortley – are still neglected parts of our city and I find that both frustrating and sad.

There was a time when setting your novel anywhere outside London was a sure way of being rejected by publishers. Nowadays it’s acceptable, although many would still say there’s a London bias. But there are more Northern writers now for sure. And in Leeds we have a thriving writing scene, there’s lots of talent here past and present. It’s a great city and I love my hometown.”

Ali Harper – Author of The Disappeared,  published by Harper Collins (July 2018).

I grew up in Burnley and came to Leeds as an eighteen-year old student. I didn’t know anyone in the city. I lived in freezing-cold digs in Street Lane, miles from anywhere. In my first week, a man followed me home from the bus stop and masturbated at me. I managed to lock myself in the porch. I don’t like to think what might have happened if I hadn’t.

I moved from there to a shared house in Armley, right in the middle of the Asbestos Triangle. There was a boycott on the local pub because the landlord had refused to serve a black person. I got involved in the Armley Against the Poll Tax campaign and got interested in politics for the first time.

In my second year I moved to Hyde Park, to Chestnut Avenue – the most burgled street in Britain as it was described then. I lived in a shared house and all my neighbours were students. I made myself a pair of curtains that I still miss and had an attic bedroom. I fell in love for the first time. We didn’t get burgled.

I made great friends and established my own routes around the city. In Burnley there was a stall on the market where you went if you needed a pair of jeans. You bought your music from WHSmiths and your shoes from Timpsons. It took me ages to get my head around how much choice there was in Leeds.

After college, I moved to a flat in Victoria Avenue and got cats and, eventually, a job. When my relationship ended, my mum said I’d have to go home and it took me a moment to realise she meant Burnley. She now lives in Leeds.

The Disappeared is centred around No Stone Unturned, a Missing Persons’ Bureau, located a couple of streets up from the Royal Park pub. Although I’ve since moved to another part of the city, there’s something about the Hyde Park area that’s ingrained in me, because really, that’s where I grew up.

June Taylor will be launching her new book Keep Your Friends Close along with fellow Harper Collins Killer Reads writer, Ali Harper, on 18th January at the Leeds Library. This event is now fully booked.

Photo of June Taylor and June and Ali together by Jo Lee. Photo of Ali Harper by Richard Wilcocks.

 

Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend. Fiona is its Coordinator and Marketing Director of the Northern Short Story Festival.

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