Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2004

Written by Ayo Onatade

In only the second year of its existence, Harrogate Crime Writing Festival is gaining the reputation of being the one not to miss. Once again it took place at the Majestic Hotel, between 22nd and 25th July. There was a very good and happy buzz about the conference and in the hotel. All the authors that I managed to talk to were very enthusiastic about the conference and were pleased to be there.

The exitement of the opening night was heightened by the announcement of a new literary award for 2005 worth £3,000: the Theakston’s Old Peculier Prize for the Crime Novel of the Year. This award is in association with Ottakar’s Bookshops, the official booksellers to the Crime Festival, and will take its place in the literary award calendar, celebrating the broad spectrum of crime fiction and will currently be the only crime fiction award voted for by readers. A long list of 20 books will be chosen by the staff of Ottakar’s. For the first year only, books published in paperback between January 2004 and March 2005 will be eligible. Crime readers all over the country will then be able to vote for their favourite book with the shortlist being announced in April 2005. From the shortlist two finalists will be chosen and the final votes will be made by all those present at the Festival’s opening night on Thursday 21st January, 2005.

Despite missing the opening event, which was Minette Walters being interviewed by Jenni Murray, and the opening party, the four days turned out to be extremely good and entertaining. I also somehow managed to miss the first event on Friday which was not surprising since it was at 9:30am. This panel was an industry forum event on How to get published in the crime world. The panel consisted of Transworld Editor Selina Walker, literary agent Sarah Lutyens, Book Club Associates’ Kate Bradley, and Paul Henderson, Marketing Director of Ottakar's. The moderator was Mystery Women member Margaret Kinsman.

Clued up on Sherlock, the second panel of the day, was a quiz featuring two teams of two crime writers, the first team consisting of Richard Burke (one of Orion’s New Blood authors) and American crime writer Kathleen Skye Moody, the author of the Venus Diamond series. The second team was made up of Minette Walters and York-based crime writer John Baker. Author of several books and a play on Sherlock Holmes, David Stuart Davis chaired the panel, an entertaining hour of role play, mimicry and some surprisingly tough questions. There was also a lot of audience participation and Rik Shepherd walked away with the audience prize of an exclusive hardback boxed set of the complete Sherlock Holmes.

They Thought It Was All Over: The Renaissance of the Political Thriller was a stimulating hour chaired by Hutchinson publisher Sue Freestone and featuring Robert Wilson, Boris Starling, Dan Fesperman and Martin Sixsmith as they discussed the rise of the political thriller. One of the best panels of the day was Expert Witness - festival programme chair Val McDermid was in conversation with Professor Sue Black, the UK’s leading forensic anthropologist. It was very interesting to hear her not only talk about her work, but also about the way in which forensic developments have had an impact on crime writing. Professor Black has worked in various war-torn places including Kosovo, Sierra Leone and, most recently, Iraq. She has also worked with most of the police forces in the UK, the United Nations, the FBI, and many international investigative forces.

Capital Noir was a talk by four authors, Stella Duffy, Christopher Brookmyre, John Williams, and Julie Parsons on the capital cities, namely London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Dublin, that inspire their work. The panel was ably moderated by Mark Billingham. All the five authors were enthusiastic about the reasons why the various capital cities they live in had an effect on their writing.

One of the most interesting and anticipated events over the weekend was the American Guest of Honour Karin Slaughter in conversation with another American author, Laura Lippman (see Laura Lippman interview) who has herself won virtually every major crime writing prize in the United States including the Edgar, Agatha, Nero Wolfe, Anthony and Shamus for her excellent Tess Monaghan series. Karin Slaughter is best known for her Grant County novels which are dark, traumatic and deeply noir. (See Shots interview)

Regrettably I missed Foul Play - an interactive radio play by Simon Brett. This was a specially written Harrogate version of his popular Radio 4 panel game and consisted of Liza Cody and Mystery Women member Alison Joseph being presented with a murder mystery, the opportunity to question the suspects and witnesses while trying to find out whodunit. The ever genial Simon Brett was in the chair and he was well supported by the outstanding and entertaining crime writers/improvisers Mark Billingham and Stella Duffy who took on the many and varied roles of suspects, witnesses and perpetrators!

One of the best things about this festival is the fact that they have factored in a break between each session. There is ample time to get books signed, have a tea or coffee break, or even wander into the bar for a quick drink and to catch up with friends.

Throughout the festival Anne Cleeves was present to talk to readers about books which have excited them and to also let readers have a chance to share their favourite books. A board was set up where attendees could leave the name of their favourite reads. A short story competition was also run at the same time where the first sentence was provided and the rest of the story had to be completed with no more than three hundred words. The competition was won by Mystery Women member Donna Moore.

Saturday morning had another industry forum panel: How to write crime for radio. Once again this excellent panel was moderated by Simon Brett and included Alison Joseph, who also writes radio crime dramas and has recently adapted a number of the Maigret novels for the radio. The other two members of the panel were BBC Radio Drama producers Lu Kemp and Katherine Beacon. The discussion looked at crime writing for radio and the pitfalls that occur. The wide-ranging conversation also looked at music that is chosen to complement the drama, background sounds and the importance of the sound effects department, and what has to be taken into consideration when choosing a book to be adapted for radio.

As much as I like CSI, I was not too keen on attending the panel More Spooks Than CSI - The Truth Behind High Tech Crime Investigations. This was a session featuring Angus Marshall, a part-time advisor to the Digital Evidence Recovery and Internet Crime Unit, part of North Yorkshire’s Trading Standards, as he described some of the techniques and applications of forensic computing. I did however use the opportunity to talk to G M Ford who was at the festival with his wife, Kathleen Skye Moody.

Following up on his sold out event last year, once again there was An Audience with Colin Dexter, Creator of Inspector Morse, this time with his own quintessential one man show.

The Long Shadow of the Past: writing in the past and the present was a talk with four authors who had managed to blend both the present and the past into their work. The panel consisted of Mystery Women members Mo Hayder and Andrew Taylor, as well as Robert Wilson and Jim Kelly. John Baker (also a member of Mystery Women) chaired. This was a very illuminating and enlightening event as the authors explained how they managed to weave two different periods of time into their work and how they did their research. It was also interesting to hear from Mo Hayder as she described how, in her latest novel Tokyo, she managed to interweave two different stories.

Tartan Noir was another extremely interesting panel that had what is seen as a new generation of Scottish award-winning and best selling crime writers that have emerged over the last decade. The panel of Denise Mina, Val McDermid, Louise Welsh, and Christopher Brookmyre discussed the phenomenon with the chair, Faith Liddell.

On Saturday evening the room was transformed into an intimate club for the second night’s entertainment: The Cabaret of Crime. It was an evening of comedy, song and laughter as Val McDermid, Martyn Waites, Simon Brett, Christopher Brookmyre, and Stella Duffy took to the stage with Mark Billingham acting as compere. It was a brilliant evening watching some of the UK’s finest crime writers as they moved from page to stage to sing, tell jokes and make fools of themselves. It was a delight to see Val McDermid singing and playing the guitar. It was entertaining with a lot of laughter and fun and was certainly one of the events not to be missed. After the cabaret finished everybody moved into the hotel bar where cabaret songs were being sung by Jane Gregory, Jane Wood and others. We all stayed up very late drinking and chatting...

Early on Sunday morning the penultimate panel was called Past Tense. Bernard Knight, Simon Levack, Gillian Linscott, and Laura Wilson were the authors whose books covered a vast range from Aztec Mexico to 1950s England and who discussed what inspires them about their particular period. The panel was moderated by the current chair of the CWA, Michael Jecks, himself the author of a series of medieval novels.

The final event of the festival was a quiz called I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Cluedo hosted by Mike Ripley with theatrical support from the superb Stella Duffy and Martyn Waites. Two teams of three battled for the crown of “clued up crime writers.” The female team consisted of Denise Mina, Val McDermid, and Minette Walters (who won the quiz last year) against Mark Billingham, Andrew Taylor, and Christopher Brookmyre. It was a closely fought competition (even though the men did light-heartedly accuse the women of cheating on more than one occasion) with Stella Duffy not only acting out some of the characters but also playing the part of score keeper. It was the perfect way to round off the festival.

Next year the crime writing festival will take place between 21st and 24th July and the guests will be Alexander McCall Smith, Ruth Rendell, Kathy Reichs, and Michael Connelly.

Click here to read Ayo's Soundbites with the attendees:
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