Edinburgh crime writer takes inspiration for new book from 1960's images of the redevelopment of Leith

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Memories came flooding back for Leith-born crime writer Harry Fisher as browsed old photos of the area he grew up that were taken during the slum clearances of the 60's, a period in which many believe the heart was ripped out of Edinburgh's port.

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Along with those memories came the kernel of an idea for another book, one that will be the fourth in his Leith-set DS Mel Cooper series, which launched in 2019 with the self-published Way Beyond A Lie, a tale of identity theft and cyber-crime, which was later picked up by his current publisher.

The 66-year-old explains, “That was the first one I wrote, it’s about a woman who disappears in a supermarket and I self-published it simply because I couldn't get an agent at the time.”

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Trinity House, Kirkgate, Leith, with the wasteland of the slum clearances in the distanceTrinity House, Kirkgate, Leith, with the wasteland of the slum clearances in the distance
Trinity House, Kirkgate, Leith, with the wasteland of the slum clearances in the distance

Fisher didn't give up, however, and started the process of finding a publisher all over again when his second book, Be Sure Your Sins, which charts six events, suffered by six people, leaving six lives destroyed, was completed.

“After 42 submissions and 40 rejections, can you believe I got two offers of publication on the same weekend,” he says.

“When I said that I had another one, the publisher I chose said they wanted to publish that too, as a prequel.”

Consequently, Be Sure Your Sins arrived on bookshelves in October 2021 followed by a reissued Way Beyond A Lie.

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Yes, I Killed HerYes, I Killed Her
Yes, I Killed Her

Today, while Fisher is mulling over the pictures that have inspired the yet distant fourth instalment, it's the third book in the series, Yes I Killed Her, due out on May 17, that is his focus.

It’s the story of the perfect murder... but with omnipresent CCTV, digital and biological forensics, and electronic footprints, is that even possible? The killer thinks it is. DS Cooper disagrees - game on.

The writer, who now lives in Aberdeen, reveals, “The third book is set in and around the Water of Leith, Warriston Crematorium and Trinity. I was down in October and took a walk around those areas and, actually, the ending of the book is set in what was Leith Academy Primary School, where I went as a kid.

“While I was back, I was given a tour by one of the teachers and I found my old classroom, the dining hall, and all sorts of amazing stuff that I remembered from 60 years ago, although the desks are all plastic now - in my day, we had the old wooden seats that were bolted onto a desk.”

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Harry Fisher, Leith Academy class photo taken in 1966Harry Fisher, Leith Academy class photo taken in 1966
Harry Fisher, Leith Academy class photo taken in 1966
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The visit brought back even more childhood memories for Fisher, who moved from Dalmeny Street with his family to Meadowbank at the age of eight.

“I started primary in 1960 and left secondary in 1971,” he recalls, reflecting, “I certainly wasn't studious. I didn't stick in at school. I was far too easily distracted. It wasn't for me at that age, I was too young for school, if that makes sense.

“When I was about 15, they’d just finished building Meadowbank Stadium and my friends and I spent a lot of time there helping the guys who worked there, setting up the sports halls for events. In return they allowed us to play any sport we wanted.

Leith born crime writer Harry FisherLeith born crime writer Harry Fisher
Leith born crime writer Harry Fisher

“As kids, I suppose we spent a lot of time outdoors playing on our bikes, they were off road bikes, bikes to be skidded about on. We also spent a lot of time running up and down Arthur's Seat.”

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Having returned home last year to reacquaint himself with the area, Fisher concedes the Leith he recalls from his early years was very different.

“Being from Leith, I think of it as my spiritual home. My mum's family were all Leithers, Italian Catholics who came over at the end of the tail end of the 19th Century and set up chip shops and snooker halls and all sorts of things in the Port.

“My nana was one of 21 kids, there were so many - the Masarro family. I’m told they were the only Italian family who were treated like locals during WWII and whose businesses were not persecuted like many others.”

As well as the chippies and a snooker hall on Easter Road, “just down from the Drambuie factory”, the family also had many other business interests in the port.

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He continues, “I remember the reconstruction that was going on when I was a boy. Leith was a bit of a wreck of a place back then, but it's exciting to be running about streets that are falling to bits when you’re a wee kid.

Harry Fisher at workHarry Fisher at work
Harry Fisher at work

“Recently, I got in contact with Leith historian Andy Arthur, who sent me the pictures of the area from just before they pulled it all down, some of the sights are just incredible. There's one of The Shore that shows the building The King's Wark pub is in and, my goodness, it looks like one push would have shoved it over.

“Those are the images that have inspired the story for my fourth book, which will have a split-timeline between modern day and late-60’s/early 70's Leith. The story is all floating about in my head just now but while I have the concept for it, it's probably still about 18 months away.”

Yes I Killed Her is published on May 17

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