Arts & Culture

“Life-changing” experience covering Strangeways riots inspires local author’s ‘Manc-noir’ novel

By David Prior at

Local author David Nolan has released his first novel, inspired by the “life-changing” experience he had while covering the Strangeways riot as a young radio reporter in 1990.

Nolan, who began his career as an apprentice journalist on the Sale and Altrincham Messenger, has worked in television, radio, newspapers and magazines and is probably best known for writing a string of successful music biographies on the likes of Tony Wilson, the Sex Pistols and Ed Sheeran.

But Black Moss, which is out now on Kindle and released in paperback on Thursday, is his first novel and recalls the time back in April 1990 when the world’s attention was focused on Strangeways prison in Manchester, where prisoners were undertaking a 25-day riot and rooftop protest.

Nolan, then a cub reporter for Piccadilly Radio, barely left the scene for the duration of the disturbances, sleeping on the streets through bitterly cold nights so as not to miss any developments in the story.

And it’s that all-encompassing focus which has provided the backdrop for the plot of the book.

“Everybody’s eyes were on the jail, it was the biggest show in town ever,” he said.

“The plot, in a nutshell, is that someone takes this opportunity to kill a child and dump their body on the edge of Black Moss reservoir, on the outskirts of Oldham.

“All the good police officers and the good journalists are dealing with the riot… the not very good policemen and journalists make it their job to find out what happened to the little boy. They then come back 25 years later to try and tie up the loose ends. It’s a very, very unpleasant book.”

He added: “It’s that notion of the distraction. There was one unsolved murder during 9/11. Someone took the opportunity whilst everyone was looking one way to do something terrible. That’s the idea of Black Moss – bad things tend to happen when people are looking the other way.”

The cover of Nolan’s first novel, Black Moss

Nolan, whose last book dealt with his experiences of covering the trial of his former teacher and convicted abuser Alan Morris, had been commissioned to write a more all-encompassing book about abuse before his publishers suddenly pulled the plug on the project.

He immediately began writing Black Moss, initially in secret, and believes the hills above Greater Manchester presented a setting that was every bit as “foreboding and grim” as the likes of Scandi-noir BBC Four dramas such as The Killing and The Bridge.

“This is Manc-noir,” he said. “I am a walker and when I go up to the hills above Oldham, Delph and Diggle, I think that if something happens to me here, there’s nothing I can do about it. Even though I’m in Greater Manchester and I can see the Arndale, I couldn’t do anything about it.

“That landscape, the horseshoe-shaped hills, is fantastic. It’s just as atmospheric as anything the Scandinavians can come up with.”

Black Moss by David Nolan (published by Fahrenheit Press) is available on Kindle now and out as a paperback this Thursday