The cover of Ben Cheetham’s debut novel, Blood Guilt, has a picture of an eerie Sheffield skyline and notes “every city has its darkness”.
In the first few chapters we’re introduced to a South Yorkshire Police detective who kills a man, a Northern General Hospital porter suspected of child abduction and an Attercliffe church with a dark secret.
Safe to say, the book probably won’t be top of Visit Yorkshire’s to-read list. But then this Steel City thriller hardly needs help.
Amateur novelist Ben wrote it, put it online to see if anyone would buy it, and then sat back and watched gobsmacked as it sold more than 120,000 Kindle copies.
At its height it was the second best-selling electronic book on Amazon UK. Readers from New Zealand to Canada were buying. It earned him more than £40,000 and an international publishing deal.
“I couldn’t believe it,” the 37-year-old tells The Diary today. “My work had been rejected by publishers for years, and then all of a sudden they were approaching me. It was very gratifying.”
Today, Blood Guilt has been released for the first time in paperback by London company Head Of Zeus. A sequel Angel Of Death arrives in May. And if they go well, there will be a deal for two more books in the Sheffield series.
“I couldn’t tell you why it suddenly started to get so much attention online,” says Ben, at home in Laverdene Avenue, Totley. “Obviously, I promoted it on social media but there was no big campaign. It didn’t sell at all for the first couple of months, and then a couple of hundred went and it just snowballed. At one point between Christmas and New Year 2011 I was logged onto my Amazon account, just watching the number go up every few seconds.”
He wrote the story – about Sheffield cop-gone-bad-gone-good-again Harlan Miller – in a deliberate bid to produce a commercially popular book.
Before Blood Guilt he’d spent years being supported by partner Clare Richardson while writing short stories for literary journals. His occasional critical awards however, hadn’t transformed into sales.
So, when son Alex was born four years ago, he decided to have a crack at a crime thriller.
“Crime is the most popular genre and I thought it might be possible to write something people liked,” says Ben who originally comes from Stafford but moved here in 1997 to study archeology. “I was aiming for a page-turner.”
He set it here to make it more real: “Sheffield is suited to a crime thriller. It’s a gritty city plus I think people like reading about real places.”
And, though, the tourist board might not thank him, he’s already looking forward to that sequel coming out in May.
“It’s exciting,” he says. “It feels good to be a proper author at last.”
Blood Guilt in shops now.