Written by Peter Guttridge


The second Bloody Scotland, in the lovely little town of Stirling (13-15 September 2013), was even more successful than last year’s debut festival.  Ticket sales were up 43% as audiences flocked to see a terrific range of writing talent including Lee Child, Jo Nesbo, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Arne Dahl, Denise Mina, Stuart Macbride, Ann Cleeves And Louise Welch.  Not to mention rising star Malcolm Mackay who won the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year for his second novel, How A Gunman Says Goodbye, despite being up against Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Gordon Ferris and Val McDermid.  (There was a replacement bus service over the weekend because of railway engineering works.  Denise Mina told me before the awards dinner she wasn’t so much worried about winning or losing as having to take the bus back to Glasgow in her posh gown.)

Audience members came from as far afield as Texas and Melbourne but most were Scottish.  (Chris Carter wondered if he’d leave the stage alive when he twice referred to being in ‘England’ in a panel he did with Craig Robertson and moi on serial killers.  I was more worried by Craig’s assertion that one in a hundred people are serial killers since there were over a hundred people in the audience…      

The weekend got off to a raucous and wonderfully scabrous start with Christopher Brookmyre and Mark Billingham’s Friday night post-watershed double act.  The audience loved the show – and it was a show, illustrated with slides even.  They want to tour it but need the right venues in the right towns.  They are shortly doing the Guildford Book Festival together.  Are they doing the show there?  ‘No, no, no, no!!’ Mark says – and you can see his point.

To be honest, I didn’t see too much after that because I was chairing three events a day on Saturday and Sunday.  I caught the last ten minutes of Val McDermid and Stuart MacBride (chaired by Craig Robertson) and it looked like knockabout good fun – later confirmed by audience members who enjoyed listening to the non-stop banter of three writers who obviously get on well.

So far as the events I chaired went – well, I believe they went very well.  Denise Mina and Louise Welch were a perfect pairing.  Two highly intelligent Glaswegians, both thoughtful and funny.  They’d driven over together so were worried beforehand they were talked out.  They weren’t.  Denise’s defence of swearing as being necessary to help the rhythm of a sentence was witty and f---ing persuasive.

Mr. Billingham and Northern Ireland noir writer Stuart Neville made an interesting pairing.  They spent a lot of time talking about twists in crime novels and how not to overdo them but I was most interested to discover that Stuart’s The Twelve is going to be filmed from a script by US talk show host Craig Ferguson (a Scot I remember doing stand-up on the comedy circuit in the Nineties) with Pierce Brosnan cast as the homicidal Gerry Fegan.  Remembering Brosnan’s turn in The Matador that’s a film I want to see.

I’d interviewed Arne Dahl, the Swedish author of the Intercrime series, at the Edinburgh Book Festival alongside Alex Gray and found him charming, thoughtful and witty.  (Any person who can crack jokes in a second language impresses me.)  He did admit that it was slightly odd talking about books – The Blinded Man and Bad Blood – that he wrote sixteen or so years ago.  (Yes, it’s taken that long for British publishers to catch up to him.)

Jo Nesbo arrived for his early Saturday evening event looking shattered. In fact he slept on the sofa in the green room for half an hour until it was time to go on.  But then he is in the middle of a packed schedule.  His publishers had even arranged for books to be on sale on the train from Preston up to Glasgow so that he spent the entire journey signing them.

On stage, though, faced with an enthusiastic full house, he woke up and was really great.  Among other things I got him talking about his relationship with his father, who had fought on the Eastern Front for the Germans during World War II because he was more anti-communist than anti-fascist.  (A consequence of living in rabidly anti-communist America before the war.)  On his return to Norway he had been imprisoned for two years for collaboration.  He told Jo later that was fair enough.

I asked Lee Child about his father too – not because I repeat myself but because Lee had described his father in an interview late last year as a bigot and I wanted to explore that.  I’d decided to focus on Lee more than Jack Reacher as there’s little new to say about the character.  (I left the Tom Cruise questions to the audience as we’d explored those a lot at last year’s Bristol CRIMEFEST.)  So nice, easy-going Lee also talked about his teenage years in Birmingham as a scrapper, complete with knife and the head-butting skills Reacher has inherited.

Altogether a fab weekend so major kudos to Alex Gray, Lin Anderson and the teamfor putting it together.  Looking forward to seeing how they top it next year.


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Peter Guttridge

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