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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Harrogate Crime Festival 2012 – Part 2

Friday at Harrogate started out with John Connolly who was interviewed by Mark Billingham, and I’m not sure which of the two was most under the weather. John Connolly, of course is known for his Charlie Parker novels which are set in America rather than his native Ireland.
John Connolly in full flow at Harrogate
His first book, Every Dead Thing, took him 5 years to write and he was rejected by everybody. He said that in every book he’s written he reaches the stage where he thinks it’s awful but he still has to finish it, and his first book was no different, if he hadn’t finished it he would never have written another book. He thinks that doubt is the thing that makes a book, and that every writer is doubt ridden, they live in fear of rejection. He still lives in perpetual fear it will all fall apart and being dumped is just round the corner. This was an honest and entertaining interview and I noticed the fear of rejection was a constant theme that was echoed by many writers during the weekend.
It would be far too lengthy to describe all the panels that took place on Friday because the day was so packed, so I’ll only include the highlights as I saw them.

Crime in Another Dimension Panel at Harrogate
The second panel of the day which was based on novels with a science fiction or urban fantasy setting was hilarious. It frequently went off track, and I’m not sure we learned anything, but there was loads of humour and the audience laughed a lot.
Wanted for Murder: The E-Book panel at Harrogate
A mid morning panel was also lively but in a different way because this is a subject that is quite contentious. It had the title Wanted for Murder the E-book. The panel included a well known writer of e-books, Stephen Leather; bookseller Patrick Neale; author, Steve Mosby; agent, Philip Patterson; and VP of the Publisher’s Association Ursula McKenzie; which I thought was weighted more to the traditional publishing model than the e-publishing one. To me Stephen Leather seemed to be the only one really defending the e-book corner, and he took some whacks from the others as well as from the audience. I kind of felt a bit sorry for him, although he did put his foot in it several times. Still, it couldn’t have been a comfortable experience and probably knocked him off course.
Some interesting points that came out of the panel were:-

  • Three years ago Little Brown, Publisher, were only selling 3% e-books, they are now selling 20% overall, and 30% fiction.
  • Stephen Leather sold 5% the first year he published e-books, and last year he sold half a million. He is now selling three times more e-books than his traditionally published print books. He sees the future as being 90% in favour of e-books.
  • There is no e-book market in Germany or France (maybe that’s why I haven’t sold any there!)
  • The cheaper than chips argument – the notion that an e-book does not exist physically, does not mean they should sell for 49 pence, although when physical costs disappear they should be cheaper. There was a view that cheap e-books undermine all books, with the assumption that it is independent authors who are pushing cheap books. Interestingly it came out several times over the course of the weekend that MacMillan (traditional publisher) was offering 20 pence books on Amazon. (If you’re interested look up Peter James books)
  • Publishers will not vanish with the advent of e-books because a lot of authors won’t want the hassle of doing the business side of things, therefore they will need a publisher and/or agent to do this for them.
  • Book sales – the bookseller indicated hardbacks were selling better than ever and thinks it will only be paperbacks in jeopardy from the rise of e-books.
  • Stephen Leather thought a fair price for e-books was 70 pence for short stories; £1.99 for novellas; and £3.99 for novels. However he does give away some free books as a promotion for his paid books.
Interestingly there was quite a bit of aggro from the audience at question time, with many of the questions aimed at Stephen Leather, and I understand that since the conference there have been a lot of quite vicious comments floating around on Twitter. Phew, who would think a panel could produce that kind of reaction.
Here are 2 links to follow up to get a flavour of that aggro:- (there are now 2 posts in this one, read the bottom one first)
Writing for Your Life panel at Harrogate
Writing for Your Life was a panel of former intelligence agents and investigative journalists who went into detail about the risks involved with acquiring information for their books. I was quite interested in Tony Thompson’s book Gangs which I thought would come in useful in relation to my own writing. He was a really nice guy and I had my photo taken with him.
Tony Robinson and me
The day had passed quickly with loads of panels, and all of a sudden it was 8.30pm and time to listen to Kate Moss, the author of Labyrinth, and the evening’s special guest. She was interviewed by Dame Jenni Murray from BBC Radio 4, and Jenni can always get the best out of her interviewees. It was an interesting session and hearing Kate talk about Labyrinth which she wrote as an adventure story was enough to make me download it to my Kindle. I think one of the things that attracted me to it was her interest in myth, magic, folklore, and nonsense, the gap between logic and the dark part. Now how could I resist that.
Special Guest: Kate Mosse at Harrogate
I bet you’re thinking the day was finished when we left the session at 9.30pm, but you’d be wrong. There was still the Special Guests Late Night Conversation between Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson. This started at 10pm and was, quite frankly unusual and interesting. The stage was laid out like a pub, complete with beer pump, table and chairs. Ian and Peter sat at the table, beer glasses in hand, and just chatted. Every now and then they would get up and refill their glasses from the pump. It was as if the audience wasn’t there, and I reckon they must have been quite merry by the end. I liked Ian’s description of what they were doing – ‘Two old farts sitting at a table’. They covered a variety of topics such as:-

  • Whether or not to watch their TV series. Ian prefers not to.
  • The return of Rebus.
  • Trends and changes in crime fiction and the rise of lots of new writers. They both thought it was a different world now with changes in technology, although there was still a place for traditional crime fiction.
  • Screw ups.
  • Music.
  • Being in a band or group.
  • e-books.
  • The Killing.
  • Scandinavian fiction.

They thought it was a bit scary how quickly the world has moved on, and that their earlier books seem historical now. There was lots more but I think I’ve given the gist of it. So, at the end it was time to stagger to our rooms, although many of the audience went there via the bar.
Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin in a late night conversation at Harrogate
It was the end of another exhausting but exhilarating day. I’ll bring you Saturday’s events the next time, so watch this space.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Harrogate Crime Festival 2012 – Part 1

It’s that time of year again – the time all crime writers look forward to – the Harrogate Crime Festival, where crime writers and readers gather to celebrate crime fiction in all its varieties.

Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, where the crime conference is held

I’m not entirely sure what you would call a gathering of crime writers – would it be a murder of crime writers? Maybe not, because we don’t want to be associated with crows. After all it’s a murder of crows, isn’t it? What about a massacre of crime writers? Do you think that would suit any better? If you have any ideas I’d love to hear them.

Anyway, whatever you call them, you won’t find a bigger gathering anywhere this summer, than Harrogate. They all gather at the Old Swan Hotel, that’s the one where Agatha Christie was found after her vanishing act more years ago than I care to remember.

This is the tenth Harrogate Crime Festival, although to give it its proper title I should be saying the Theakstons Old Peculier (yes the spelling is correct) Crime Writing Festival. The first one took place in 2003, and it was meant to be a small weekend of literature events that would be part of the larger Harrogate International Festival. However, probably because of the early involvement of Val McDermid, it was like Topsy, it grew and grew, until it is now the largest and most prestigious crime fiction event in Europe.

Over the years many of the biggies of the crime writing world have appeared at Harrogate, including PD James, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, and many more. Not forgetting our international counterparts such as Jeffrey Deaver (a favourite of mine), Michael Connolly, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Jo Nesbo, I could go on and on. But you don’t want a list of names of the world’s most prestigious crime writers, do you? You want me to get on and tell you about this year’s festival. The only thing is, there is so much going on, there is no way I’ll be able to get it all into one blog post, so I’ll talk about each day in a separate post, so you’ll just have to watch this space

Well, I arrived on Thursday afternoon. There were people there before me because the festival runs a creative writing day prior to the opening events on Thursday evening. I have taken part in the creative writing day in past years and it is something well worth attending. But because I didn’t do it this year I won’t comment on it.

Mark Lawson, from BBC Radio 4 Front Row

The festival started on Thursday night with the presentation of the awards. Mark Lawson introduced this with a hilarious speech, and I’m sure the laughter could have been heard in Harrogate town centre. The locals must have wondered what was going on.

Some of the bits I remember was where he referred to Cambridge being like downtown Detroit, and Oxford as the most lethal town in England, while going for a walk in Suffolk was quite risky because you’d be lucky to return from it. He also reckoned that with the recent reported drop in UK crime figures we’d all soon be out of a job.

Colin Dexter, author of the Morse series

Mark Billingham then came on stage to announce the recipient of the lifetime award for an outstanding contribution to crime fiction. This was presented to Colin Dexter, by Simon Theakston, the festival’s sponsor. Colin entertained us with a short speech, laced with his usual dry humour, and he got a standing ovation from the audience. He was a very popular choice for the lifetime award. But I wasn’t surprised by this, because Colin is a lovely man whom I’ve had the honour to meet on several occasions, and I still treasure the photograph he gave me earlier this year, of his portrait which hangs in the Randolph Hotel.

After this came the presentation of the Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award which was won by Denise Mina, for End of the Wasp Season. I’ve read Denise’s Garnethill trilogy and she’s a great crime writer, so I made a note to myself – get End of the Wasp season as soon as possible.

Denise Mina with the Theakston Old Peculier award for crime novel of the year

We finished up with the Festival opening party, which was mobbed and quite quickly became uncomfortably hot. However, no one seemed to mind and there was lots of networking, chatting and meeting up with old and new friends. I spent a fair bit of the time with Sonia, Lucy, Justine and Isobel, and we had a lovely time.

The top tier of the cup cake mountain at the festival party

Oh, and by the way, Justine is now my BFF because she told me she’d read my book, Dead Wood, and loved it. She also said she was reading another author (quite a famous one, who shall be nameless), and thought my book was the better of the two. Yay, The perfect end to a perfect day.

From left - Isabel, Lucy, Sonia, and Justine

Well, that’s Thursday taken care of, I’ll write about the Friday events in the next post, so watch this space, and I’ll try not to be too long.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

All Talked Out

My recent blogs have been focused on something the majority of us learn to do at an early age – talking.
Chris giving talk on Tartan Noir at Crimefest 2012
I’ve been doing a lot of talking lately starting with Crimefest, where I talked about Scottish Crime Writing and how it came by the name of Tartan Noir. You can see my report on Crimefest here Following that I wrote an article for the blog Do Authors Dream of Electric Books where I considered how personal appearances and talks could be used as a promotional tool. You can check that out here
Chris Longmuir delivering her speech at A Summer Audience in Tetbury
Hot on the heels of Crimefest was the Love a Happy Ending event – A Summer Audience – at Tetbury. That was really good because I met up with loads of writers and readers associated with, an online literary community of writers, readers and editors, and of course I had to blog about that. You’ll see my blog looking at when virtual friends become real flesh and blood friends, here But I also gave a cut down version of my talk to Love a Happy Ending and they published it on their site. It’s here if you want to have a look at it
Chris still rabbiting on about psychopaths and mystery writers at Tetbury

After those two big events you would think I would have relaxed back to recuperate, but no, there were two more to go. A library talk on the last day of June, where I must admit I used some of the material I’d prepared for Tetbury, interspersed with some readings of my published books, but I also gave them a preview of the work in progress by reading the first chapter. The only problem with that is I am now being hassled by my readers to get the book finished. Yikes, there’s been so much going on this year that my writing time seems to have gone down the drain. Can’t disappoint my readers though, so it looks as if I’m going to have to chain myself to my computer and get on with it.
Finally, I gave a highly successful talk to my local writers’ circle on epublishing. So that’s me now until the end of August when I’m booked to talk about epublishing to a writers’ group on the west coast.
So, has my marathon of talking been worth it? Well, I did notice a surge in sales after each talk, so I suppose that proves personal appearances and talking does have a marketing spin off. On the other hand it could simply be a coincidence because my sales have been increasing month by month since I first started to epublish. But the main pay off for me has been enjoyment. I have loved meeting my readers and people who are enthusiastic about my writing, even if it has been at the expense of the amount of writing I can do. So I would say, yes, it has been worth it.
In the meantime I’m all talked out.