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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Harrogate Crime Festival - A Criminal Weekend

I’ve been a regular at the Harrogate Crime Festival since 2007, and have enjoyed every one. I treat it a bit like a summer break and it’s the ideal holiday for bookaholics like me, and writers addicted to their craft, again like me. This year we were in Harrogate’s Old Swan Hotel, famous for being the place Agatha Christie was found after she went missing.


 
The place hotches with writers, agents, editors and publishers. We are told it is now the largest crime festival in Europe, and I believe it. I meet up with old chums and new acquaintances, some famous, some not. It makes no difference, everyone is friendly. It all goes to make a fabulous three days, four if you also attend the Creative Writers day where the workshops are always instructive and entertaining. This year’s workshops were run by Allan Guthrie and Stuart MacBride, an entertaining double act doing ‘Show Don’t Tell’. Dreda Say Mitchell, assisted by Tony Mason did a wonderful workshop on ‘Characterisation’, and Natasha Cooper and Selina Walker (Publisher at Random House) ably presented ‘Submission Letters & Synopses’. Then on to the ‘Dragon’s Pen’ session where some brave souls pitched their crime novels to a panel of agents, editors, and publishers, before we all relaxed with wine and nibbles at the Alibi reception.
 
The Crime Festival proper, starts on Thursday at 8pm with the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award and festival opening party. The winner of the award was Lee Child for ‘61 Hours’. But there was also another award this year, a special one, and that was given to PD James for her outstanding contribution to Crime Writing. When she went up to the platform to collect it she received a standing ovation and I thought the clapping was never going to stop. Thursday night ended with the party where wine and canapés were served.
 
Friday morning dawned, and somewhat bleary-eyed we turned out to hear Martina Cole being cross-examined by Dreda Say Mitchell. There followed a succession of panels featuring well known crime authors talking about a variety of crime writing topics. I couldn’t start to name them all, the list would be too extensive, but among them were some of my favourites, namely Mandasue Heller, Denise Mina, Allan Guthrie, and Cathi Unsworth. The day finished off with a lively exchange between Linwood Barclay and Lisa Gardner, following which we all trooped off to bed wondering how on earth anyone could manage to sew a rattler into someone’s mouth without suffering a snake bite themselves. Guess I’ll have to read the book if I want to find out.
 
Saturday, up bright and early to hear Tess Gerritsen being interviewed by Radio 4’s Jenni Murray. The interview was brilliant and one of the high spots of the weekend. This was followed by ‘The Outer Limits’ an interesting look at the paranormal in crime fiction, and then the ‘New Blood’ panel which featured Julia Crouch, Gordon Ferris, SJ Watson, and Melanie McGrath, who were introduced by Val McDermid. Val, as always, was her usual effervescent self and led the discussion with lots of humour. This panel was of particular interest to me because I was in the middle of reading Gordon Ferris’s ‘The Hanging Shed’, currently top of the Amazon e-books chart.
 
Several panels and a clutch of well-known authors later came the next high spot of the weekend - the conversation between David Baldacci and Joseph Finder. Both authors were vibrant, entertaining and interesting. They easily held the attention of an audience, wilting under the onslaught of so many stimulating panels. As if one Saturday high spot wasn’t enough, we then had Lee Child telling us about his personal hates, which were fairly minor. On the list of his pet hates were bad reviews, characters’ descriptions given through mirror reflections, authors who embellished their CVs with information that had no basis in fact, for example, saying they had worked for the FBI or the CIA. And lastly, novels which had a character saying ‘There has been a murder’.
 
Saturday wound up with the late night quiz which is a riotous and noisy affair, often with a fair amount of cheating going on. Val McDermid and Mark Billingham were the quizmasters and they tried valiantly to keep order. I’m proud to say that our team, the Sexy Ladies, came in at fifth place. We were fourth from the bottom last year, but this year there were thirteen teams with lower marks than ours. So, all in all, a great but exhausting Saturday.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and it was time to pack the suitcase which was now considerably heavier with all the books I had acquired. But there were still two panels to go. The first one on place and settings, and then the well-anticipated final event with Dennis Lehane, well-known American author of ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Mystic River’ as well as a host of other successful novels. Both these events were great and Dennis Lehane was a fitting end to one of the greatest crime festivals in Europe.
 
Roll on next year.


10 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

I keep meaning to go, Chris, and this makes me wonder why I never have yet. Sounds like a packed, informative schedule.

Chris Longmuir said...

You'd love it, Bill. I've already paid my deposit for next year.

Melanie said...

I see I've landed in at your blog from Saint-Lambert, Quebec. I know my Internet provider is based there but in the last few weeks, I've been bounced about la belle province like mad.

I'm done digressing now. It sounds like Harrogate was wonderful. I visited the website the other day and bemoaned the fact that it was too far away and way too late for me to make the arrangements to go.

I can see you still glowing from your trip there this year and you'll bask in the experience for awhile.

BTW, did you have the chance to pitch to editors or agents?

Linn B Halton said...

Well - riotous and noisy quiz nights, exposing CV's that were more like a fairy tale, rubbing shoulders with the famous and infamous.... sounds like a rare old time! You crime writers certainly know how to have a good time (laugh). What a wonderful event and clearly you can't wait until next year. Wish it was my genre......

Bikerhen said...

That sounds like a grand time indeed. I don't think we have near so much fun at our festivals. You folks know how to do it up!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

This sounds like so much fun, Chris.

Patricia said...

Sounds absolutely wonderful. Lucky you!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Sounds a fabulous weekend, Chris - I'd love to have stayed in that hotel!

The Tangled Writer said...

It was a wonderful but far too short time. Next year I think I might stay a little longer. Mary :-)

myraduffy said...

Sounds a great event,Chris...but one obviously needs a lot of stamina. I think I'll start getting into training now,just in case I manage to attend!