I then took some time out to chat to regular Theakston Crime Festival goers, Phil and Lauren. The ever popular New Blood panel at noon was packed out. Val McDermid hosts this panel every year and told us about the large number of first novels she’s been reading since last autumn. It must have been incredibly difficult to choose just four authors to interview. The new bloods were: Clare Mackintosh (I Let You Go); Ben McPherson (A Line Of Blood); Renee Knight (Disclaimer) and Lucy Ribchester (The Hour Glass Factory). These four debut novelists have quite a plethora of qualifications between them. Lucy has a degree in English from the University of St Andrews; Ben has a degree in Modern Languages from Cambridge and is a TV producer/director; Renee has worked for the BBC directing arts documentaries and has written television and film scripts; Clare Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, including CID and was a public order commander. It made me question whether a mere ex-Modern Languages graduate and teacher stood a hope in hell of getting a novel published. The New Blood panels are always exciting, because you know that these debut novels are going to be the creme de la creme. I always go home and purchase at least one (I’m currently reading I Let You Go, which is based on a real hit-and-run incident, which took place in Oxford). I was fascinated to hear about each and every one of these novels and how they came to be written. I then thought how useless I’d be, should I ever be invited to the New Blood panel (not that there’s much chance of that!). The question and answer session was interesting, as two ladies (who were both sitting next to each other) proceeded to give an in-depth critique of two of the novels featured, one of which wasn’t entirely positive. You could sense the rest of the audience squirming in their seats. And their question? There wasn’t one. Val then asked if there was anyone in the audience who actually had a question, which caused a ripple of laughter. Val, to her credit, did point out how much writers appreciated readers who had taken the time to study their work in enough depth to give constructive feedback. Well saved, Val!
After I spent half an hour trying to extract roast beef from between my teeth (lunch provided as part of my Rover Ticket package.... the Eton Mess was lovely, however), I had great fun playing Battleshots with Sharon in one of the tents. This was one of the publicity events organised by Crime Files Books to promote James Law’s novel, Tenacity. James is a sub-mariner and we had some wonderfully entertaining conversations with him last year. I lost the game, which was good, because I got to drink a fair few rum n’ coke shots (channelling my inner pirate). Quite a crowd had gathered to watch and the photographer was snapping away. You can see the pics here.
I did a bit of mingling, then was about to go to my room for a bit of a chill and a read, when I came across Sharon in Reception.
“Are you booking for next year?” I asked.
She told me that while relaxing in her room and scrolling through Twitter feeds, she noticed Theakstons Crime had tweeted that they only had seventeen rooms left at The Old Swan for next year, so she rushed down to book.
“And I’ve booked you in, too. I’ve paid your deposit as a present.”
How wonderful is that? I’m so very lucky to have such a generous friend.
The Forensics panel is another popular event at Harrogate and one I try not to miss. The panel was hosted by Lin Anderson, creator of forensic scientist, Rhona MacLeod. She did an excellent job of extracting extremely useful information from Lorna Dawson, a Principal Soil Scientist; Niamh Nic Daeid, Professor of Forensic Science and Director of Research at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee; forensic entomologist, Martin Hall; and Professor James Grieve, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Medicine and Police Forensic Pathologist. These experts gave us a wealth of insider information and no doubt triggered a series of plot ideas for some members of the audience. Body Farms got an honourable mention once more and so did pigs heads, which are closest to human heads in the way they decompose. Niamh talked about setting fires in sixty-odd cupboard-sized rooms and pointed writers in the direction of Cardiff University’s website for up-to-date forensic information, including fingerprinting.
We’d arranged to meet our lovely writer friend, Amanda Huggins at 4.30pm and found ourselves queueing for the TV Panel at 5pm as soon as we’d said hello. This is always another popular event. We were all gutted that Sally Wainwright had cancelled earlier that week, as we are big fans of Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax and Scott & Bailey. She is up there with Jimmy McGovern as one of my favourite screenwriters. This was always going to be a particularly important event for me this year, as I’ve signed up for an Arvon Course in Writing TV Drama at the beginning of August. Sally Wainwright’s are the scripts I’m going to study before departing. Anyway, Paul Abbot replaced her and I don’t think they could have picked anyone better (with the exception of Jimmy McGovern, of course).
Paul Abbot’s CV is impressive by anyone’s standards: Coronation Street, Shameless, Clocking Off, State of Play, No Offence.. to name but a few of the TV dramas he’s written. He admitted that he directly ripped off his own family situation for Shameless, which is pretty shocking in itself. His mother abandoned the family when he was nine and his father left just a couple of years later. His sixteen-year-old pregnant sister took on the role of head of household and between them, all ten children redecorated the whole house, which took them two days, working through the night and skiving off school. He said the only reason they noticed their dad had gone was because there was more room.
Abbot’s humour deflects his obvious inner turmoil. He tried to commit suicide at fifteen, was sectioned and has been in therapy for years. A classic example of the writer’s tormented soul. Abbot is softly spoken and it was difficult to catch his punchlines. He had a couple of rude stories to tell, but we missed his point. He was interviewed by the stunningly attractive Steph McGovern. She’s obviously a big fan of Paul Abbot and said how much she’d love to live inside his head for a day. Abbot said that he’s currently working on seven different projects, two as executive producer and the rest ongoing writing projects. The fact that he’s working on another series of State of Play was very popular with the Harrogate audience. He also revealed he’s working on a musical set in the Old Bailey (and he hates musicals!). There is also going to be a second series of No Offence.
Saturday night was a blast. After a quick shower and change, Mandy and I met in Sharon’s room for a large glass of red. We then walked down to the town centre, as Mandy had booked a table at L'Albero Delle Noci in Cheltenham Crescent (highly recommended). We wended our way back to The Old Swan and sat with Stuart Neville and Steve Cavanagh before mingling with Paul Finch, Col Bury and co. Apparently, the Northern Writers beat the Southern Writers at the football match and injuries were sustained (Luca Veste came off worst with a fractured ankle).
I had a lovely chat with Mandy while Sharon flitted about trying to buy a bottle of white wine that wasn’t warm. Once Mandy left for her B&B, I found myself in the company of the ‘last ones standing’ in The Old Swan bar. An hour earlier the bar declared ‘residents only’ and I was conned into putting someone’s drinks on my room bill with the promise of cash to compensate which didn’t actually materialise. Lesson learned. (He wasn’t a writer) At 4am I staggered to bed.....
I just about managed to get up for breakfast and the 10am Celebrating Patricia Highsmith panel. This was one of the highlights of the festival for me. Highsmith published eight short story collections. I consider myself (so far) to be a short story writer first, and novelist second, so she is on my list of great writers. Andrew Taylor (who reviews crime novels for The Spectator) chaired this panel (brilliantly, it has to be said) of four crime novelists: Peter James; Sarah Hilary; Martin Edwards and Peter Swanson.
More coffee and chats outside as well as a few goodbyes before heading off to lunch at Hales Bar. Already that feeling of anti-climax and sadness that it’s all over for another year. How can one weekend go so quickly? To compensate there is that warm feeling that I’m booked for next year.
The journey home was long and tiring, but there was the promise of telling my family all about it and feeling enthused about my crime novel once more.