My Life In Words by Heather Burnside

Hello everyone. I’m thrilled that Aria are republishing my Riverhill trilogy this month, and that they have asked me to write this blog post to give a little more background about my novels.

I am often asked what my writing influences are and am generally expected to name well-known authors. But people are usually surprised to learn that my biggest writing influence by far is life itself, especially considering the gritty and graphic nature of my novels.

Born in the 60s, I spent the first thirteen years of my life in a two-up, two-down in a working class area of Manchester. From there I moved to a sprawling council estate in the shadows of the infamous Fort Ardwick, a failed high rise development completed in 1972. It took only until the late 1980s before Fort Ardwick was demolished because of faulty design and numerous structural defaults leading to infestation, corrosion and mould.  

I can still remember with a sense of irony how excited I was to hear we were moving to a brand new four-bedroomed house with a bathroom, central heating and hot running water. Little did I know that it was part of a development quickly flung together to house residents following the slum clearance of the 70s. Because of shoddy workmanship and cheap building materials, within just a few years, a lot of the new homes became more run down than those that had been demolished.  

I never took to the area. Existing residents were hostile to anyone moving in from outside and, as someone who preferred studying to hanging about on street corners; I was immediately singled out by the estate kids. Hurling abuse at the local swat became almost a sporting event.

In the late evenings we often overheard families arguing and fighting in the street when they spilt out of the local pubs. Sometimes we would hear the throbbing of engines and screeching of brakes as the drivers of stolen cars sped through the estate while the police pursued them. One of the few green areas was a mass of chewed up grass, mud and heavy tire treads where cars had cut across to the quickest route out of the estate, known locally as ‘Muggers’ Alley’.

I moved away from the estate at the earliest opportunity and wasn’t surprised to learn in the 90s that the avenue where I lived became the headquarters for one of Manchester’s prominent gangs. There were regular reports in the press of shootings and drug related offences. I used to read the news reports with a shudder, glad that I had managed to ‘escape’ from the area.

I believe that we are all shaped by our life experiences and in my work I draw heavily on my upbringing as the background to many of my novels. For me writing is cathartic. I have lived an eventful life, with many ups and downs from the very good to the very bad, and I use these experiences in my writing.  

Nowadays I take the bad stuff and spin it around by putting it to good use in my novels. I think that’s why I’m such an emotional writer. Readers have commented that my novels have made them cry, made them recoil and even made them have nightmares. I’m glad to hear that because if one of my books stays with you long after you have read it then it means I have achieved what I set out to, which is for my books to have made an impact. For me it’s not just about entertaining readers, it’s also about highlighting the harsh realities of life. Unfortunately for some people, they never ‘escape’ from the existence that has been handed to them.

Having said all that, a lot of the events in my novels are the product of my overactive imagination and some are based on true events which have been vastly exaggerated. There have been times when something upsetting has happened to me, which stays in my mind. Often it can give me the seed of an idea for a novel, which I then build on until the original event is barely recognisable but, nevertheless, it is still there, festering between the pages of one of my books.

Both The Riverhill Trilogy, which is being relaunched by Aria on 14th July, and my latest Manchester trilogy are based on real events in Manchester. The Riverhill Trilogy mainly centres around the gang rivalry of the 80s and 90s whereas my latest trilogy focuses on the nightclub wars of the 90s. The last book in my Manchester trilogy will be available in October this year.