Harrogate Hitlist: Ayo Onatade on Festivals, Festivals and more Festivals

In less than a week, I shall be making the journey from South London up to Harrogate. It is not my first trip to Harrogate for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival but after a four-year break in my attendance 2012 will make it my second year back.

Am I looking forward to it? Yes, I am for a number of reasons. However, I shall get back to that in a moment.

As much as Harrogate is the talk of Twittersphere at the present time, it is not the only festival, conference (or whatever you would like to call it) in town. From May to September, there are four events that take place in the UK.

Surprisingly not one of them takes place in London. As a Londoner, I would love this to be remedied but it won’t stop be from attending events taking place outside London.

The first event that starts the “crime fiction season” off is CrimeFest, which takes place in Bristol. It is unlike Harrogate. Firstly, they have multi-track panels that take place and these are also interspersed with interviews with the various guest of honour. There is also a gala dinner on the Saturday night. The last event that takes place, which has become a standing room only event, is Criminal Mastermind, which is based on the BBC programme Mastermind but with those taking part choosing a specialist crime fiction topic in the first round before going on to answering general questions on crime fiction. This year the topics included the Richard Stark’s Parker novels, Dashiell Hammett, the Albert Campion novels of Margery Allingham and UK debut crime novels since 2010. It an immensely fun event and one does get to hang around and talk to authors and readers. As per usual, the best place to hang out is the bar.

The next event on the “crime fiction season list” is of course Old Peculier Crime Festival in Harrogate, which takes place in July. This event is totally different from Bristol and for good reason. Unlike at CrimeFest where they have parallel tracks running everyone is in the same big room together. It does create an atmosphere of camaraderie, which is always very welcoming. In addition, the fact that they have a different Chair each year makes one realise that each year the Festival will be different as it goes without saying that the Chair’s influence on the invited authors will always be seen by those authors that are taking part in the panels, alongside those in attendance. It is hard to judge between Harrogate and CrimeFest, as they are two totally different events and I would not like to make comparisons, as they are both extremely good events. One thing that both CrimeFest and Harrogate have in common though is that they both have a quiz night and of course as with most events of this sort, the best place is to be is in the bar! Late nights are de rigueur at any event so make sure that you have detoxed before you arrive.

The third event is St Hilda’s Crime and Mystery Conference, which takes place every August at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. This is a conference, which is very different to CrimeFest and Harrogate. It is a lot more academic. Every year a theme is decided upon (the theme for the following year is announced on the last day of the conference that has just taken place) and authors that are invited to give a paper must use the theme as the background to their paper. According to Kate Charles, it is by taking soundings from speakers and attendees over the weekend that a decision is made as to the theme for the following year. Over the years, St Hilda’s as it is fondly called has always had a wide variety of Chairs for the conference and these have included Val McDermid, NJ Cooper and Andrew Taylor.

St Hilda’s is organised by crime writer Kate Charles and Eileen Roberts. This year the theme is Humour in Crime Fiction. St Hilda’s is the longest running of the crime events that take place in the UK it was started in 1994. St Hilda’s is lots of fun and with everyone staying in the rooms on the grounds; it is always as if you have snuck away for a weekend back at school. It can at times be intimidating (I mean, you have to stand up in a room of around 100 people and give a paper and then answer questions as well) and the attendees know their stuff, so any thought of coming unprepared will give you a rude shock. I have always found it to be fun (I should actually say that I found giving my first paper rather intimidating) and have now given I believe four papers at St Hilda’s. Crossing Boundaries(2004), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Characters in Crime Fiction(2005), The Past Becomes The Present (2008) and more recently in 2011 Anatomy of Justice: Life Along The Judicial Corridor. Staying at St Hilda’s is a bit disconcerting as you sometimes forget that you are in Oxford. When you look out of the window of the room that you are staying in (or in my case the room I tend to stay in) you find yourself in an oasis of calm with the River Cherwell flowing past your window. Drinking does go on and whilst St Hilda’s does not have a bar, everyone tends to bring a bottle or two into the Senior Common Room and stay up late chatting and drinking!

Lastly and no means least is the Reading Festival of Crime. This has been going on for the last three years in and around Reading. The events are mainly held in the Town Hall and local libraries as well as Reading Museum. Unfortunately, unless I am going blind, I can’t seem to find any information about the event this year. This is sad, as over the years they have had some rather good panels and authors in attendance.

Interspersed with the above there is also the brilliant Crime in the Court, which is only in its second year but has already garnered a loyal following and also Bodies in The Bookshop, which is hosted by Richard Reynolds of Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge.

Best thing about attending any of these events? Catching up with friends, finding out about new authors and books and what is going on in the world of crime and mystery fiction.

Going back to my earlier comment above, I am very much looking forward to Harrogate this year, (whether I am hanging around inside or outside), in the bar or sitting in on an event. The line-up this year is fantastic. What can one say, Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, John Connolly, Harlan Coben, Mari Hannah, Chris Ewan, Lynn Shepherd….. The list is endless. However, I have got to admit that the two authors that I am looking forward to seeing again are Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott and the one author that I am looking forward to meeting for the first time is Ben Aaronovitch whose books I started to read this year and have devoured.

The opportunity to chat, discuss crime writing, defend books, drink and have a wonderful time is all part and parcel of why events like these are so important and delightful to attend. You never know what news you are going to pick up or what new author/book will be recommended.

I’m off to prepare myself for four days of criminal mayhem see you all there!

Ayo Onatade

A big thank you to Ayo for taking the time to drop by – you can read her excellent regular crime fiction reviews and reporting at www.shotsmag.co.uk and at www.crimespreemag.com

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Harrogate Hitlist: Ayo Onatade on Festivals, Festivals and more Festivals

  1. I understand that Reading has been cancelled for this year. Let’s hope it’s just for this year.

    • ah, that’s a shame – hope it comes back – I liked Reading. Guildford Book Festival’s good too when they get the crime events lined up on one day – must check up on that one, oh, and Wimbledon – I must check that one too – then there’s always Bloody Scotland this year…….and that’s just on this island of ours….

  2. Pingback: Harrogate Hitlist | MEL SHERRATT

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