Factory explosion inspires new book

THE Low Moor Explosion in 1916 features in a new novel which has just hit the high street's bookshelves.

Written by Frances McNeil, under her pen-name Frances Brody, Dying in the Wool is a crime novel set in a mill village on the outskirts of Bradford in 1922.

It is Frances's first crime novel and Spen bookworms got a sneak preview of it during the summer when she came to Cleckheaton Library to talk about her work.

Frances revealed then that the book included a reference to the Cleckheaton and Spenborough Guardian, and happily posed with a modern edition of the paper when she was in town.

The novel follows Kate Shackleton, a First World War widow, drawn into sleuthing while trying to find out the circumstances surrounding her husband going missing in action.

Her first professional case is searching for missing millionaire mill owner Joshua Braithwaite, who disappeared in 1916 and whose daughter is a friend of Kate's.

Was Joshua murdered for his brass, his profiteering, or his womanising?

And is it a coincidence that he disappeared on the day of the explosion at Low Moor munitions works?

Kate learns that the Cleckheaton and Spenborough Guardian wrote about the explosion in 1919, so she visits the editor, who attended the inquests into the deaths to find out more.

Frances lived in Wibsey, Bradford, for 20 years, next door to a retired weaver, when she first heard stories of the explosion, which was caused by picric acid.

A fire started in one of the drums at the Low Moor Works, causing a series of explosions and fires that went on for days. Two gasometers on Cleckheaton Road were destroyed and Low Moor Iron Works and cottages on Railway Terrace were damaged. Many houses were wrecked and 38 people were killed, with countless more injured.

"I wanted to honour them by recording the experience in the novel," said Frances.

"But the book is not a grim read. I wanted to write the kind of book I like to read – a good page-turning story, with great characters and a strong sense of place."

The book has already received critical acclaim.

The Independent said of it: "Brody's winning tale of textile industry shenanigans is shot through with local colour."

For those who didn't get the chance to meet Frances in Cleckheaton, she will be talking about the book and signing copies at Waterstone's, the Wool Exchange, Hustlergate, Bradford, on Thursday October 29 at 6.30pm and at Birstall Library, Market Street, on Tuesday November 24 at 10.30am.