We have a busy couple of days ahead for the final weekend of #Fahrenbruary. This is the first of five posts planned. And what a great way to kick off the weekend. David Nolan, author of Black Moss, has given so generously of his time for #Fahrenbruary in writing the post we have here taking you around the real life locations and people of Black Moss. He has also taken the time to answer a Q&A for us, which will also be appearing this weekend, so keep a look out for that, not one you’ll want to miss. Especially if you have already read Black Moss. If you haven’t, you can order direct from Fahrenheit on the links below:
So, that just leaves me to say a huge THANK YOU to David and leave you all in his capable hands…
Black Moss by David Nolan
In April 1990, as rioters took over Strangeways prison in Manchester, someone killed a little boy at Black Moss.
And no one cared.
No one except Danny Johnston, an inexperienced radio reporter trying to make a name for himself.
More than a quarter of a century later, Danny returns to his home city to revisit the murder that’s always haunted him.
If Danny can find out what really happened to the boy, maybe he can cure the emptiness he’s felt inside since he too was a child.
But finding out the truth might just be the worst idea Danny Johnston has ever had.
‘Is it based, in any way, on real life?’
That’s what people keep asking me.
No, I say. It’s not based on real life.
It is real life.
The moors, the reservoir, the cops, the journalists, the riot, the drinking and the redemption featured in my first novel Black Moss are all rooted in reality. It would take up all 28 days of Fahrenbruay to go though them all. But here’s a few. With pictures.
- Black Moss. It’s a real place on the outskirts of Oldham. As described in the book, the Pennine Way path that runs alongside the reservoir forms the border between Yorkshire and Manchester. I was walking there a few years ago and thought, ‘My God, if something happened to you out here, you’d be screwed. No one could save you.’ Then I looked at the map and saw the name of it: Black Moss… Creepy.
It’s so bleak up there around the reservoir. Just sky and moors. Nothing else. Not even trees to break up the landscape.
- Tell a lie. There is one tree. This one. Still suitably decorated from Christmas. Even that’s a bit spooky.
- Oldham Police Station. A lot of the procedural stuff takes place here. It’s not very nice, is it?
A symphony of pebble-dashed brutalism.
It’s a police station. It’s not supposed to be nice.
I used to come here all the time when I was a radio reporter, just like the book’s lead character, Danny Johnston. Murder press conferences, missing children, emotional appeals for help from grieving families. You name it, I covered it.
- Journalists drink in whichever pub is nearest to their newsroom, regardless of whether it’s a good pub or not. It cuts down on walking time and maximises drinking time. The same goes for police officers. This is the pub that’s just yards from Oldham police station. A proper, town centre/precinct pub. I changed the name of it to the Three Tunnes, to be on the safe side. It’s closed down now, so I needn’t have bothered.
- When asked about whether the characters in their book are based on real people, authors are supposed to lie and say: ‘No, they’re all from my imagination.’
Not me. I’m as honest as the day is long. Everyone in Black Moss is based on a real person.
Every. Single. One.
I used their real names in the first draft – to get the flow and rhythm of their speech just right – then replaced the names with made-up ones later. The nearest thing Black Moss has to a hero is actually a heroine: reporter turned businesswoman Kate Smithdown. She is based on my friend Cerys Griffiths, a former local newspaper journalist who’s now kind of a big deal at the BBC. Cerys was appalled when I told her that I’d based a character in my child murder book on her. I had this photo taken with her a few moments later.
Inevitably, people also ask me if Danny Johnston – the alcoholic, friendless, incompetent journalist who is the main character in Black Moss – is based on me.
Of course not.
He’s nothing like me.
Danny has straight hair – mine, as you can see from the photo, is quite curly.
About the author
David Nolan is a multi award-winning author, television producer and crime reporter. He has written a dozen books including Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil, the true story of the largest historic abuse case ever mounted by Greater Manchester Police. He presented a BBC Radio 4 documentary based on the book called The Abuse Trial. It won both the Rose D’Or and the New York International radio awards in 2016. Officers involved in the case helped David with the police procedures featured in Black Moss, particularly the way the system deals with missing children.