Top crime author John books in for Stevenage library session that means a return to the town where he once taught

Author John Harvey will be talking about his work in Stevenage on Saturday, April 23. Picture by Mol

Author John Harvey will be talking about his work in Stevenage on Saturday, April 23. Picture by Molly Ernestine Boiling. - Credit: Archant

The creator of one of the most enduring coppers in British crime fiction is coming to Stevenage to talk about his work – but many in the town won’t know John Harvey for the books which have secured his reputation.

The conflicts during the 1984 miners strike provided a backdrop for the final Charlie Resnick story

The conflicts during the 1984 miners strike provided a backdrop for the final Charlie Resnick story - Credit: Archant

They might, however, remember an English and drama teacher who worked at the old Stevenage Girls School in the early 1970s and the ambitious productions he helped to stage.

As he prepares for his afternoon tea appearance at the town’s central library on Saturday John has looked back at his new town years at the Valley Road school – originally the girls’ grammar school, which merged with Alleynes School in the late 1980s to eventually become the Thomas Alleyne Academy.

And his fond memories of a production of Alice in Wonderland that included music ranging from Bach and Vivaldi to the likes of Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane – whose psychedelic smash White Rabbit remains their best known hit – lead him to summon up the names of Tina Jarrett who took the central role, and former Stevenage mayor Sherma Batson who was the head of the make-up team.

His spell in Stevenage was John’s fourth and last teaching post – at the same time he was studying part-time for an English degree at Hatfield Polytechnic, now the University of Hertfordshire, and developing his writing.

Tom Wilkinson starred in adaptations featuring John Harvey's creation Charlie Resnick

Tom Wilkinson starred in adaptations featuring John Harvey's creation Charlie Resnick - Credit: Archant

He said: “I wrote some of my first published book – a Hell’s Angels pulp novel, Avenging Angel, published under the name of Thom Ryder – on the kitchen table at my flat in Webb Rise, in between marking and writing essays for my degree course.”

But Stevenage wasn’t really a big enough canvas for the sort of books he wanted to write – “basically a social realist novel with a crime plot at its core” – so it was Nottingham, where he later lived for 15 years, that provided the backdrop for the much-praised Charlie Resnick series.

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The dogged detective, a jazz fan, cat lover and consumer of complicated sandwiches, made his first appearance in 1989 and hung up his hat only two years ago in Darkness, Darkness, in which Charlie – now a civilian helping solve cold cases much more convincingly than the team from TV’s New Tricks – probes a murder with its roots in the 1980s miners’ strike. Although he’s adamant that there will be no more Resnick stories, John is in the process of working on a drama based on the final book, to be staged in Nottingham.

With such an impressive body of work to look back on and a string of awards to his name, John is relaxed that his creation is perhaps not as well-known as other crime-solvers who made the transition to TV – Inspector Morse and Dalziel & Pascoe spring to mind – or that today’s kings of crime fiction seem to all hail from Scandinavia.

He says: “I’ve been in the business long enough to know that it’s the marketing that sells books rather than anything else.

“Mine have always sold well enough, while rarely troubling the best-seller lists, and generally been well-reviewed.

“I’ve made a comfortable living from writing for more than 40 years, so there’s not much more that I could ask for.”

He’s looking forward to his Stevenage date, and keen to stress the importance of public libraries – particularly in a town which no longer has a bookshop of any kind.

He used the Southgate book base during his time in the town and has continued to use and support libraries wherever he has lived.

He said: “I think they can be an imporant part of the lifeblood of a town and a community – for younger and older people especially.

“Although I no longer live in Nottingham, I regularly read and speak in libraries, large and small, in the city and the counrty – including a series of poetry and jazz events with a four-piece band in some of the larger libraries. Now there’s an idea!”

You can book tickets for John’s appearance at the library by searching for Litfest 2016 links on Herts County Council’s www.hertsdirect.org. website.

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