In 1989 I gave my then new partner a special present, the newly printed hardback of John Harvey’s Lonely Hearts, his first “Resnick” novel, set in Nottingham. Perhaps the title might have made it an unlikely choice, but we are still together just shy of (a Harvey phrase) thirty years so it must have worked. I found it exciting to read a contemporary novel describing the streets of the city I had come to make my home. If you’d followed the clues in that particular book you could find a gym where drugs were thought to have been dealt. Nobody sued though.
That started a long relationship both with the books, and with the author. I published two collections of his short stories at Five Leaves, a novella and a young adult fiction novel. The first of those – a limited edition – sold out quickly, the latter, not so well… why would bookshops not put the young adult book next to John’s adult crime books? That might have helped, but the book sold well in translation!
A few myopic people got us confused, which might have pleased John, had he known, as I’m 15 years younger than him, but he’s about forty years cooler than I have ever been.
John was always happy to do readings and they were usually packed: Eastwood Arts Cafe of blessed memory, Newark Library, the current Five Leaves bookshop, but above all, Lowdham Book Festival. He packed them in – with his jazz band in the pub, a full house or two in the church, and in front of a glitzy curtain in the Village Hall. The pic of that appears on John’s website. He was wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans, and he’s bald and clean shaven. That night (I introduced him) I was wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans, I’m bald and was clean shaven. A few myopic people got us confused, which might have pleased John, had he known, as I’m 15 years younger than him, but he’s about forty years cooler than I have ever been.
Five Leaves Bookshop doesn’t stock crime fiction, not really, but we do stock John Harvey. He comes in when he’s up seeing Notts County, our local football underdogs, with his season ticket. But that’s not why. We can hand sell his books to anyone wanting to read Nottingham novels. The last few years it’s been Darkness, Darkness, one of the best Resnick books. But it was the last.
Others are better able to describe the value of John’s books, and or his poetry. But his poem Apples, which starts “My father is dying”, well, let’s say I found it useful. As for his fiction – at time you can almost see the film camera, as you can with Elmore Leonard (whose work was a big influence on him). There’s a piece, can’t find it now, where there’s a conversation, interrupted by tea being made, the walk to the fridge, the panning around the room. A difficult conversation, desultory maybe, but punctuated by the minutiae of making tea, as are all the best conversations.
In an essay in one of our books John wrote about his character Resnick, of Polish and, distantly, Jewish background (to explain the name) “I liked the idea that he was of the city of and not of the city – a bit like myself, in fact – that he belonged, yet didn’t belong, an insider with an outsider’s eye.”