Meet Candace Robb, Historical Crime Fiction Writer Extraordinaire, by Chris Nickson

This month Chris Nickson tells us about a particular historical crime fiction writer who has greatly influenced his work – Candace Robb who also writes as Emma Campion. Chris will be in conversation with Candace at the Leeds Library on Thursday 8 June.

Every writer has influences. In some cases it can be style, in others, on the way a writer approaches their work. I have several, but one of the most lingering is the historical crime novelist Candace Robb. She writes about York, I write about Leeds. Our characters are separated by several centuries. But in some way, they stretch out their hands across time, because her approach had an profound effect on how my books work.

I first came across Candace’s novels about 20 years ago. I was still living in Seattle then, and discovered a couple of her books at my local library. They were set in one of my favourite cities, and in the 1300s, a very interesting, turbulent time. I borrowed them, devoured them, and after that I read my way through the rest of her Owen Archer series, followed by her three Margaret Kerr books. In terms of language they were so spot-on that I assumed they were written by someone local, someone who understood the place and its people in her bones.

Fast forward quite a few years. My partner came across a book about Alice Perrers called The King’s Mistress and raved about it. I read it, and was curious because Perrers had been a minor character in one of the Owen Archer novels. It was as good as my partner said. A little digging online showed that the author, Emma Campion, was…Candace Robb. And she didn’t live in York at all. She lived in Seattle. More than that, she’d grown up in Cincinnati, where I spent a decade before moving out to the West Coast. That was kinda weird.

By then I had a few historical crime novels of my own out on the shelves, the first volumes in my Richard Nottingham series. And the way Candace made family relationships such an important part of her novels had affected the way I put together my books. I owed her a debt.

I dropped her an email. She replied. And out of that, we’ve become good friends. We’ve never met, although we’ve been in the same cities at the same time before. I’ve continued writing, and so has she: first another big historical novel, A Triple Knot, about Joan of Kent, and last year, The Service of the Dead, the first in a new series set in York, featuring Kate Clifford, a young widow (that will see UK publication this year, while the second will be published soon in the US). I’ve read it; it’s every bit as good as her Owen Archer novels.

She’s an academic, a journalist, a scholar with a very deep knowledge of the Middle Ages and especially of York, a city that seems to run in her blood. Every detail is impeccably researched, but the scholarship is always in the service of the story. It’s finely woven in – another influence she’s had on my work (well, I hope I’ve succeeded). And, most importantly for anyone writing about another time and place, she takes you there. When you read, you’re moving through York (or other places) in the 14th century. You can smell it, you can taste it. That’s a rare, precious quality.

We might start from different places, but we try to achieve the same things: to immerse readers in the time and place (one of the first lessons I learned from her books), and to make the characters fully-rounded, with lives and family relationships. When I began writing historical crime fiction I made myself a set of rules (which might be discussed when we do our event together). Many of those came from considering her fiction (and a few other writers).

I’m very pleased that this June, Candace will be in England. We’re going to do an ‘In Conversation With…’ in Leeds, on June 8 at the wonderful Leeds Library, a pop-up event hosted by Leeds Big Bookend. I feel especially lucky, because I’m the one who’ll be asking her the questions, although I’m sure it will become a dialogue and we’ll leave plenty of time for yours too!

It promises to be fun, and I’m sure we’ll range far and wide in topics and ideas. We’ll take the stage with nothing up our sleeves.

For those who enjoy what I write, come along if you can, and you’ll have the treat of discovering Candace Robb, one of the best historical crime writers around. Or, if you’re a fan of hers, then pop along and get an introduction to my work. I don’t bite. Of course, you’ll also be able to buy some of our books. Just because you might feel guilty if you don’t! See you on the 8th June.


Historical crime fiction author, Chris Nickson will be in conversation with historian and historical crime fiction author, Candace Robb on Thurs 8 June, 7pm at the Leeds Library.

Come along and hear these two historical crime fiction best sellers talking about their lives, work and inspirations. A treat not to be missed. More information here.

Tickets are £3.00 + VAT and can be booked here.

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