With the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival now in its fourth year, the excitement had been mounting about attending what has become the UK’s premier event for Crime, Mystery and Thrillers. The organisers have worked hard to get a truly international line-up. The hotel selected was suitable apt, The Old Swan Hotel. This location is where Agatha Christie resurfaced after her vanishing act.
We checked in on Thursday afternoon, and after depositing our luggage headed off to the to bar. Here we met up with Steve Mosby who was one of the Orion new blood writers [http://www.theleftroom.co.uk/]. Another highlight was seeing Mark Timlin, author of the hard-as-nails series featuring Nick Sharman and of the London gangster opus Answers from the Grave, arrive in style in his American Limousine. I am constantly amazed that Timlin’s work is not as well known as it should be – check out [www.nicksharman.co.uk].
The opening ceremony saw Jenni Murray presenting the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award. The shortlist consisted of Strange Blood by Lindsay Ashford, One Last Breath by Stephen Booth, The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards, The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill, Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin with The Torment of Others by Val McDermid winning.
Then it is was back to the bar to catch up with our colleagues. We had a long chat with Australian crime-writer Shane Maloney who is one seriously funny dude and the author of the Murray Whelan series of comic mystery novels well worth exploring [www.shanemaloney.com].
Friday 21st July
Up early and off to ‘The Great Gender Debate’ panel with Val McDermid, Denis Mina against Mark Billingham and Ian Rankin and moderated by great ease and wit by Natasha Cooper. This was a light hearted debate and proved extremely funny as both teams challenged preconceptions we all have about gender in crime writing. Then it was a round of meetings and lounging around the bar.
We then attended the ‘Unique Voices’ panel with John Connolly, Stella Duffy, Shane Maloney and Charlie Williams moderated by the crime-fiction critic of The Times and broadcaster, Marcel Berlins. This panel went off at a tangent when John Connolly objected to the title ‘Unique Voices’ and a very lively debate ensued as to originality and taking chances in the genre. It was a thought provoking panel with enough hint of controversy to make it engrossing.
Sauntering back towards the bar – which, by now, you must realise is the social hub of any British convention, we met Martina Cole and spent some time catching up. Martina is one Britian’s biggest selling crime-writers and winner of a Richard and Judy award. Her work has a very hard edge as she explores the hidden world that lurks in the shadows – but be warned, she pulls no punches. Then Martina, Mike and I went over to see ‘Foul Play’ staring Shane Maloney, Mark Billingham, Stella Duffy and Laura Wilson, which, as usual, was written and directed by Simon Brett. This was a spoof play set in the golden age of crime-fiction with no illusions as to political correctness and a very funny performance looking at class and colonial values of that era.
After that we sat outside with Martina and talked and drank until the early hours. She is very knowledgeable about the genre, but also very, very funny. The humour is, of course, dark which also peppers her work but she also has a very strong social conscience and spends time working with women prisoners and charities for the under privileged. Let just say that it was a very long night.
Saturday 22nd July
An exciting start to Saturday. We were up early to secure additional copies of The Saturday Telegraph as there was a special report from Thrillerfest Arizona, which Ali had attended with author of The Devil's Playground, Stav Sherez and Damien Thompson of The Telegraph. The report was an excellent double page spread that ended with a link to SHOTS’ website. The fact that the Saturday Telegraph is read by over two million readers produce just under 900 hits overnight!
We ran to support Martina Cole in her interview with Natasha Cooper. This was standing room only and Martina and Natasha were on great form and we were all treated to a very witty and informative discussion on Martina’s writing life.
Then we listened into the ‘Research Panel’ with Simon Kernick, Kate Mosse, Martyn Waites, Laura Wilson and moderated by Simon Brett. This was a light hearted look at the level of work each took in researching their works.
Afterwards we attended Frances Fyfield’s interview with P.D. James – an event that had sold out days after it was announced. This was a delight, as Phyllis told us about her life and work, and Frances was an excellent interviewer. The chemistry was perfect.
One the good aspects of Harrogate is that the panels run on one track – so you never have that dilemma of wondering which panel should you sacrifice to see another one, and it gives the writers larger attendances.
Then it was off to dinner with Adrian Muller and Colin Campbell at a local Cantonese Restaurant and rush back to listen to George Pelecanos being interviewed by Radio 4’s Mark Lawson. While we were all sweltering in the heat, George looked so cool in his tweed sports jacket and matching shoes. This was a major highlight as he talked openly about his work on TV’s ‘The Wire as well as his own work, and if you’ve not read The Night Gardener, we’d strongly recommend you do so soon, as this is his most personal and gripping work.
We then met up with Orion’s Thalia Proctor, Peter Guttridge, Adrian Muller and Lizzie Hayes from Mystery Women to form our quiz team, Vodka Shots, for the Late Night Harrogate Crime Fiction Quiz. This was great fun, with Mark Billingham and Val McDermid quizmasters, and a very vociferous Ian Rankin. After our win last year, we were piped to the post by the www.crimesquad.com team. A narrow margin win and congratulations to them – you buggers!
Just as the quiz was finishing, Jeff Deaver came over to our table to shoot the breeze, as his is a favourite with SHOTS’ readers. And Ali will bang the drum that his opus the award-winning Garden of Beasts is a masterclass in thriller writing.
Then it was a late, late night in the bar. Now there’s a surprise.
Sunday 23rd July
The only chance for a lie-in as the Harrogate event was now taking its toll and we were on the downhill run. So after a late breakfast we listened to Jeff Deaver in conversation with John Connolly which was again another highlight. The chemistry between the boys was great and most informative, their wit made us laugh out loud.
As we all said our goodbyes and thanked the Harrogate team for organising one of the best events in the UK Crime Fiction calendar - I’d advise planning early to come to Harrogate in 2007 because confirmed guests are thriller masters, Lee Child and Fredrick Forsyth.
And a special thank you to Master of Ceremonies Mark Billingham and Val McDermid for the organisational work.
More information from: http://www.harrogate-festival.org.uk/crime/
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