Manc Noir: The real evil behind Manchester’s gripping new crime thriller ‘The Mermaid’s Pool’

The Mermaid’s Pool

Anger turned David Nolan into a crime fiction author

Everything was too much, and storming around the house in a huff wasn’t helping. He needed to get it out. 

One day, he sat down at his laptop and let his white-hot rage spray over the screen like a scalding shower.

Fury guided his fingertips as they crashed across keyboard; every word its own powerful release of emotion.

But when he finally stopped typing, David realised something. He had a story in front of him.

Of course, there was a very real reason why he was so angry in the first instance. 

David had been spending every waking hour researching a fact-based book about the scale and breadth of abuse in Britain – as well the connection to media, politics and power. 

It was a topic that had cast a long shadow over his life. 

David was one of many abused at St Ambrose school in Altrincham during the seventies – with teacher Alan Morris found guilty of 19 sex assaults carried out against 10 boys.

After initially going to the police, David decided to withdraw his evidence to report on the case in his capacity as a journalist. 

As an investigation peeled back the layers, it became clear that the abuse involved numerous individuals and spanned decades – becoming the biggest of its kind Greater Manchester Police had ever seen. 

David braved a journey into his troubling past to interview fellow victims, families, detectives involved in the case; building a huge amount of material that included a book (Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil) and a documentary for Radio 4 (The Abuse Trial). 

And it isn’t over, either. Almost 40 years on, victims are still coming forward. 

“Ex-pupils still talk to me about it now,” says David. 

“I’m still getting calls and emails from them even today – because they want someone to talk to about what happened to them.”

David’s work on the St Ambrose case led to him being commissioned for a huge project – all-encompassing book titled Abuse of Power that would reach further and delve deeper into abuse cases and their connections to the wider world. 

But suddenly he was ordered to stop. 

“‘Actually, here’s some money to piss off and not write it,’” David paraphrases his would-be publishers, who’d apparently had an abrupt change of heart. 

With that, Abuse of Power was shelved.

Embittered and incensed at the injustice of it all, David decided to channel the anger into his writing.

What came out was Black Moss – David’s debut novel.

The dark, frightening pages were marketed as fiction. But in reality, much of it was fact. 

“With Black Moss, I realised I could say all the things I wanted to say, but just pretend it’s a rip-roaring crime thriller,” David explains. 

“It was a way for me to let out my anger and tell a story based on truth.”

This was a big change for David – who’d previously regarded fiction writing to be “cheating.”

He’d spent his entire working life as a reporter, after all – where he’d been taught to focus on facts and tell things as they were. 

His career had been a thrilling one, too; with David’s rise up the ladder coinciding with the moment that Manchester was fast becoming centre of the world.

Everything was happening here between the eighties and nineties: The Strangeways Riots; Madchester; The IRA Bomb; Mosside gang fights. 

In David’s words, it was a “ridiculous” time to be a journalist, and his colourful experiences on the beat – and chapters of his dark past – have found their way into works of fiction he never could have imagined himself writing when he was a fledgling reporter in Altrincham. 

But today, he is flying the flag for a brand new genre of local crime that’s gotten the whole city talking: Manc Noir. 

Black Moss was perhaps the first ever book to be given the Manc Noir label; telling the story of a young boy killed by the eponymous reservoir in Saddleworth whilst everyone else was distracted by the inmates on the roof of Strangeways Prison. 

The novel received rave reviews – and it convinced David to write another story in the same universe. 

It already had a concept; titled The Mermaid’s Pool after the peculiar moor-top body of water hidden in the shadow of Kinder Scout.

But to get The Mermaid’s Pool out onto the page, David had to remember what had turned him into an author in the first instance. 

The Mermaid’s Pool, David’s new novel

“With Black Moss, I didn’t set out to write a novel – it was an accident,” David explains. 

“This time, with The Mermaid’s Pool, it was intentional. But I had to think: ‘How did I do it last time?’

“I remembered it was because I was angry. So, I thought: ‘What am I angry about, right now?’”

“I was angry at the rise of the far-right; the murder of Jo Cox, and the guy who planned machete attack on another MP. 

“I was angry about my wife having breast cancer – sat in the Christie (hospital) feeling like a spare part and wanting to say to the doctors ‘take it from her and give it to me’. 

“I was angry about the Moors being on fire because of some divvy with a portable BBQ.”

It all served as inspiration. Machete-wielding neo-nazis, heartbreaking tragedy, ferocious blazes. Everything that stirred rage in David made it into the book.  

“Some people like to have a few drinks before they write, others like to go for a run. 

“For me, it’s getting angry.”

Kinder Scout / Wikimedia Commons

Emotion got the text flowing, but again, much of The Mermaid’s Pool is rooted in reality. 

The novel’s ‘thank you’ list reads like a who’s-who of anyone and everyone in Greater Manchester – from ex-detectives and the fire brigade to ecstasy-takers and councillors. 

David even contacted Kinder Mountain Rescue Team to discuss the logistics of manoeuvring a dead body from the moorland. 

They helped him out, too – realising he was a meticulous author rather than a murderer.  

But as real as the book feels, there’s also some myth in there.

“The Mermaid’s Pool itself has a legend around it – which says there’s a mermaid that lives within it,” David explains.

“Apparently, if you climb up on Easter eve, you can call out to her. 

“If she likes you, she’ll give you eternal life. If she doesn’t, she’ll drag you down and drown you.”

David said he’s never had to look too far from home for this kind of inspiration.

Manchester might have been depicted in predictable ways on television in the recent past, but David says there’s far more in its makeup than many might have recognised. 

A closer look reveals that Manchester has the ideal balance of pure beauty and unsettling strangeness to function as an optimum canvas for crime fiction.

“Manchester is so much more than Cold Feet or Shameless,” David declares. 

“It’s a city, it’s canals, it’s posh, it’s poor, it’s multicultural, it’s Catholic, it’s Irish, it’s Jewish.

“Then you’ve got the hills all around; bleak and windy and horrible. It’s a landscape that’s amazing, foreboding and frightening all at the same time.

David pauses for a second and lets out an incredulous gasp.  

“Honestly… why would you want to write about anywhere else?!”

The Mermaid’s Pool will be released on November 13. The book is available to pre-order here.

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