Brit Grit Alley features interviews, news and updates on what's happening down British crime fiction's booze and blood soaked alleyways.
A Brit Grit Alley guest column:
Life and the City by David Siddall
Liverpool: one of the world’s great cities, second city of the empire, and gateway to America. What is it about Liverpool that gets under the skin and into the blood?
I am not a native. My home town lies twenty miles to the south. A quiet town and a semi-rural existence. So when I moved over two decades ago, it was akin to moving across the world. The humour, the banter, the pace of life was different. Took me a while to find my place. Did I adopt Liverpool or did it adopt me? I don’t know. But I do remember the moment when the Landlady of the local pub called an adopted Scouser. It was a proud moment. That night I stood just that little bit taller at the bar
And that’s it. If they like you you’re in; if they don’t, they’re not afraid to tell you.
To most first time visitors Liverpool is about two things: football and the Beatles. But there is so much more; the docks and buildings lining the waterfront were granted, World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 2004. World capital of pop is perhaps, more open to debate. But certainly since becoming European capital of culture in 2008, there has been a steady increase in tourism seeing the city through new eyes.
But it’s the people who make Liverpool what it is. Independent, enterprising, anti-authoritarian, and standing up to be counted is hardwired into a Scousers DNA. A Scouser doesn’t like being ripped off. A Scouser won’t stand idly by and let those in authority pat them on the head. A Scouser knows what’s right and wrong.
And once the call is made, a Scouser is like a dog with a bone. They won’t let go. Ever.
What other city would campaign so long and hard for justice at Hillsborough? And after so much talk by fans throughout England complaining at the increase in football ticket prices, it was the mass walkout at Liverpool FC that resulted in a rethink by the owners.
Liverpool - first again.
Maybe it was this same spirit that saw Liverpool at the epicentre of drug dealing in the 80s. These were desperate days of mass unemployment and poverty, of the Toxteth riots and Yozza Hughes’, “Gizza’ job.” For many the only way out was sport or criminality. With links to South America and the continent, these gangs developed into cartels with huge distribution networks. Men at the top end became extremely rich. Curtis ‘Cocky’ Warren, even managed to make the Sunday Times Rich List!
Independent, enterprising, anti-authoritarian, and waving two fingers at the establishment. That’s Liverpool.
It’s this attitude and mind-set I’ve tried to encapsulate in my collection, Breaking Even.
Breaking Even consists of a novella and six short tales, most of which revolve in and around the city. The novella and title story, Breaking Even, features, ‘Chance’ a typical, happy-go-lucky Liverpudlian, who being, to quote a Scouse phrase, ‘down on the bones of his arse’, agrees to smuggle drugs from the Caribbean. Needless to say things don’t go according to plan.
‘Chance’, through circumstance beyond his control, finds himself in a situation that can end in only one of two ways. Shit or bust. As the story develops he is drawn deeper and deeper into the mire with only his wits and a gun for salvation.
Mixing it with the protagonist are a disparate bunch of characters that fill the criteria of a noir piece: a femme fatale, a psychopathic villain, a bagman who maybe, isn’t quite the villain he seems, and a partner who for good or evil, pushes ‘Chance’ on.
The genesis of this tale was the arrest of a local man, a disabled pensioner, caught with a good deal of cocaine strapped to his body boarding a plane from Antigua. This guy is not your typical villain, not someone to take on criminal enterprise or the role of drug mule lightly. Yet here he was, caught red-handed and looking at a ten stretch in a roach infested West Indian nick.
What made him do it?
Maybe the prospect of an ‘easy’ ten grand appealed? Maybe at seventy plus he liked the idea of excitement? Maybe, (to quote Bob Dylan), he had nothing left to lose?
Shit or bust.
But the idea sowed a kernel. How does an ordinary man reconcile himself to committing such a reckless act and live with the consequences if it all goes wrong? The story that developed followed from the, ‘What if’, principle.
Of the other tales, four are Liverpool related. Gangsters at the end of nefarious careers, good ideas gone bad; characters at the beginning or end of a cycle of events are the essence. And to these men, maybe the only way out is…
You get the picture?
At this point you may get the impression Liverpool is a crime ridden, dangerous city. It’s not. But like any big city, not everything is rosy in the garden. Drugs and crime go hand in hand. Poverty still exists and the policy of austerity by Westminster forces the Council to cut and cut again
In fact Liverpool is a vibrant cosmopolitan city very different to those dark days of the 80s. To experience a Friday or Saturday night is one of life’s great experiences. Don’t believe me? just see Rough Guide’s top 50 ‘Things to do before you die’, bucket list. Liverpool’s nightlife is sandwiched between Petra and The Great Wall of China at number 3. (Still think they should have mentioned a Mad Monday though).
Liverpool will survive. Always has, always will. She’ll be there till the end of time , sniffing out what’s good and bad in society. And if she doesn’t like what she sees, have no hesitation saying, ‘Thanks but no thanks’. Then she’ll turn away, and stick two fingers up at the rest of the world.