Author Charles Harris, who will be talking about crime and humour at the Newcastle Noir Festival, was scoffed at when he first suggested a satirical novel about fake news

I KNOW Newcastle’s best kept secret. Every time I've come here, the weather has been gloriously hot and sunny - so I've sussed what you don’t tell anyone - you really have a Mediterranean micro-climate. And so I expect hot weather when I return on May 5 to talk about my new satirical thriller, The Breaking of Liam Glass, at the Lit & Phil.

Eight years ago I had lunch with my agent and pitched him an idea for a new novel. It was set in a local newspaper and - topically for the time - featured fake news, knife crime and a hung parliament. “Don’t write a topical novel,” he said over the chow mein. “In eight years’ time, nobody will care about fake news, knife crime and a hung parliament…”

Plus ça doesn’t change! I now have a successful novel - and have left that agent.

The Breaking of Liam Glass is a blackly humorous love-letter to local and national newspapers. It features a desperate local newspaper journalist who falls in with a sleazy PR agent to create a fake news story that will get them both onto the front page of a tabloid. What could possibly go wrong?

I was - and still am - a martial artist - a black belt in Aikido. In my time, I have helped Calais refugees and African presidents, fallen down a mountain in the Caribbean and taught police, journalists and criminals. But I was always in love with telling stories, so I began making amateur movies and then worked as an editor on TV documentaries and dramas. My big break was to be given a chance to direct the Liverpool-based soap Brookside. And there I saw for myself how important ideas could be presented in entertaining, dramatic form.

It was while I was working on a film script in Portugal that I first had the idea of writing a novel about what wasn’t then called fake news. The film was set in the early decades of the last century, around the time of the short-lived Portuguese democracy. At that time, nobody in Portugal could trust the newspapers to tell the truth. Each newspaper-owner was only interested in putting out propaganda to further his own interests. Faith in democracy failed and Portugal was plunged into the longest lived Fascist dictatorship in the whole of Europe, only ending in 1974.

I realised that without news you can trust, democracy dies. In fact, real people die. It has been argued, very credibly, that a stronger local press in West London would have helped prevent the deaths of 71 people in last year’s Grenfell Tower fire. And of course, today the papers are full of the debate about Facebook and how much it influenced recent elections here and in the US.

As I developed my ideas, I discovered the character of Jason Crowthorne. Jason is not a bad man and he is shocked at the number of knife victims he’s had to report for his local newspaper. So, when he comes across a new victim, he decides to sex up the story to ensure that it gets the publicity he feels it deserves. Unfortunately, the way he decides to go about it only makes things worse.

Using satire in a crime thriller can be dangerous in itself. Some things that seemed ridiculously fictional when I wrote them have been long since overtaken by events. Journalists hacking phones? Russians hacking elections? Who would have dared invent those a few years ago.

But black humour has a long-standing history in many traditions, going back over the centuries. Both Irish and Jewish culture are full of examples of people facing awful events by making jokes.

Does humour change anything? Perhaps the most famous quote on the subject comes from comedian Peter Cook who, when founding the Establishment Club in 1961, said it was to be a satirical venue in the vein of “those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War.” On the other hand, Peter Cook’s own satire doubtless contributed to the fall of the Tories only a few years later.

I’m looking forward to being back in Newcastle to talk about all this on May 5 - my birthday as it happens. I have long had connections with Newcastle. I married into a large northern family, have in-laws here and have taught actors at the old North East Actors Centre.

But I shall be bringing the factor 30.

* For tickets to the Newcastle Noir festival and Charles Harris's talk on May 5, visit

* The Breaking of Liam Glass by Charles Harris (Marble City Publishing). W: