A Cumbrian writer has expressed gratitude for the Northern Writers’ Awards bursary he won that has led to the publication of his first full-length historical novel this August.
Nicholas Graham, who grew up in Maryport, won a Northern Writers’ Awards New Fiction Bursary in 2016. The awards are supported by Northumbria University and Arts Council England. Nicholas had an Arts Council-funded Free Read with TLC in 2016 with TLC Reader and Mentor Ashley Stokes, and was featured on our Showcase earlier this year.
He said, ‘I sent in an extract of my novel, The Judas Case, to the judging panel. I was absolutely delighted when the judges announced I’d won a bursary which enabled me to work with The Literary Consultancy. Writer and editor, Ashley Stokes, became my reader and mentor. After studying my early draft he gave me specific advice which helped me on the road to publication.’
Nicholas was first inspired to write historical fiction by the Cumbrian landscape and its proximity to Hadrian’s Wall.
In The Judas Case, set in 1st Century Jerusalem, retired spymaster, Solomon Eliades, is called back from his vineyard to investigate the death of his most able undercover agent, Yehuda (Judas Iscariot). After infiltrating the entourage of a Galilean holy man and would-be king of Israel, Yeshua (Jesus) from Nazareth, Yehuda had gone to Jerusalem at Passover and pulled off his greatest coup. Yet two days later Yehuda himself was dead. Solomon must uncover what happened – while secrets of his own past, plus the missing body of Jesus, put him and his family in danger.
‘No set of events in history presents a bigger challenge to the historical novelist than the life of Jesus. I wanted to write fiction about the gospels’ historical background but not from a faith perspective,’ Nicholas explained. ‘The little that’s known is overlaid with after-the-fact assumption and interpretation. By re-casting the story as detective fiction, and focusing the narrative on Judas, I could peel back the layers and tell a story that’s joltingly vivid and experienced without the benefit of hindsight. And a detective cannot rely on supernatural intervention to reveal the truth.’
Nicholas added, ‘Ashley helped me with the depiction of female characters in a society that constrained women’s social and public roles. He showed me how to refocus Solomon’s voice and behaviour to satisfy readers’ expectations and to avoid anachronism. He also provided insights into narrative rhythm and the art of the cliff-hanger.’
Although this is Nicholas’s first novel his writing journey has been a long one. He read English at Cambridge University then later studied Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, becoming a Master of Fine Arts (MFA). The university honoured him with the Michael Schmidt Prize in 2012.
No stranger to the limelight, Nicholas was a member of the Sidney Sussex College Cambridge team that won BBC2’s University Challenge three times, including the international competition and the Champions Reunited series.
After settling in St Bees, where his partner Margaret lives, Nicholas worked as a consultant programme manager for the Scottish Government, working on the EU Exit and Covid response programmes.
He said, ‘The Northern Writers Awards’ New Fiction Bursary played a crucial role in my development as a writer and set me on the road to publication.’
Nicholas is now a full-time writer working on Solomon’s Vineyard, the sequel to The Judas Case.
- The Judas Case by Nicholas Graham is published by The Book Guild on 28 August 2022. Price: £9.99. www.thejudascase.com