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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.


AliB said...

sounds like a fantastic day - not to mention night!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Great post, Chris, and thanks for a perspective on the Stephen Leather thing. I've read his blog post on it all and then read somebody else who seemed inordinately angry about and with him (mostly, I suspected, because he has managed to be so successful) so it was nice to read something balanced!

Chris Longmuir said...

The ebook debate always interests me because of the reactions the ebook publishers get. These panels and discussions always seem to be more heated than other ones and I'm never too sure what that's all about. I do think Stephen was put off his stride by some of the reactions and he made some comments he probably wishes he hadn't. I did wonder about whether he'd been set up because his instructions from Mark Billingham were that he should be controversial, which I suppose he was. However, when I heard from someone sitting close to him that it was Mark who had been the one to shout 'tosser', it did make me wonder.

Janice Horton said...

Thanks for posting about this Chris. Crime is not my genre but you have covered some very interesting news and views from the industry in general.

Debbie said...

I did the Creative Thursday a couple of years ago which was useful. Been meaning to save up enough to do the full weekend, but can't quite justify it to family yet!