Monthly Archives: July 2011

Friday P.M at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

After a great cooked lunch in the dinner hall – again an opportunity to sit and chat with fellow bloggers, writers, agents and publishers – it was back to the main hall once again for a first this year.

Old Blood was the logical follow-up to the regular New Blood panels which have been a very popular part of the festival since it began, but this is the first time that writers who have appeared previously have been asked back to talk about how their work has developed since.

Chaired by Martyn Waites, the panel consisted of Nick Stone, Allan Guthrie, Cathi Unsworth and Mark Mills – all of whom have had considerable success since their first appearances at Harrogate in previous years.

Mark Mills kicked off by firstly talking a bit about his previous role as a screenwriter and mentioned how undervalued he’d felt at times – particularly when he was kicked off set of the filming of a 12 minute short starring Gemma Redgrave, when he went along to see one of his scripts being given the film treatment.  He has since had a lot more luck, particularly with his novel The Savage Garden being selected for a Richard & Judy book club selection which did great things to raise his profile.

Nick Stone, whose Voodoo Eyes is just out, shared banter with Martyn Waites at the fact that his first novel, Mr Clarinet, beat Waites’ The Mercy Seat to a major award on release.   Martyn Waites chipped in that he’s often asked how he starts a novel, how does he begin? His answer to this is that he defrosts the fridge, then cuts the lawn…..

Nick Stone’s King of Swords was optioned in 2008 by Brilliant Films for Direction by Martin (Casino Royale) Campbell – but he’s not holding his breath as average book to screen gestation time is around seven years (unless you’ve written a Harry Potter book).

Cathi Unsworth, who started out in music journalism and loved music right up until ‘Brit-pop’ exploded turned to writing and sees her work as a pop art collage of music, fashion, and a complete ‘surround-sound’ experience of the time and place in the area of London she is writing about. Included in her research is the googling of the number one singles at the time of each murder she features just to add an extra layer of realism.

Mark Mills is considering a contemporary novel for his next book, to give him a chance to write in his own voice, something he says his publishers are a little nervous about. Discussion turned to modern technology and, in particular to mobile phones.

Allan Guthrie said it’s important to try to remove them from plots whenever possible, to destroy masts so they don’t get in the way of a good plot. He then went on to say that he is grounded in his books being based in Scotland and couldn’t cope with dealing with cultural differences even if he only moved a location setting to Manchester. He’s described by Martyn Waites as the ‘only tee-total, vegetarian in Scotland.

A real advocate and champion of the ebook and in particular the e-short story, Allan’s Criminal-E newsletter features new and established writers’ downloadable short stories for great prices (he’s responsible for the quick filling kindle at my house!). One of his own recent ebook releases, Bye Bye Baby has racked up 30,000 purchases since December! (at time of writing, one week later with the other ebooks he has released, Killing Mum and Two Way Split, his sales now total over 45,000!)

The discussion then led on to series books vs standalones with Martyn Waites quipping that if you have the same characters doing the same things over and over, book after book, then you’ve essentially created your very own genre (there followed a little bit of Dan Brown battering, which I’ve found is customary at these events).

Cathi Unsworth commented that he believed that Allan Guthrie’s ‘punk-rock’ approach to digital publishing could well be the best way forward. Things have changed and publishing does not allow 5-6 years for their authors to find their stride anymore (it’s the same in the music industry), so an Ian Rankin (who struck the big time after several books) is unlikely to happen again nowadays.

Ebooks look to replace mass market paperbacks and ‘bundling’ a hardback purchase with a digital download ebook could be the best way forward for both parts of the industry, Allan Guthrie suggested. Or, as Cathi Unsworth commented, we all just go and plug ourselves into ‘the Matrix’ and never leave our houses again!

So, what was up next from the panel? Mark Mills is working on a sequel to his 1935 set The House of the Hanged, with the second book set in 1937. Allan Guthrie has Two Way Split set for release in November. Cathi Unsworth is releasing her new book, Weirdo, in July 2012, featuring Jack the Stripper and going back to her old London roots. Nick Stone’s Voodoo Eyes has just been released and he’s then working on a London-based legal thriller and murder trial seen through the eyes of a clerk. Based partly on his previous job.

The panel then discussed other areas such as self-promotion, including twitter – which Martyn Waites said was great to tell people what you were working on, but no so good if all you ever tweeted was what you’d had for breakfast that morning.

He was then asked if he’s planning any further Martyn Waites books or if he will continue with his pseudonym and continue to ‘plow the Tania Carver farrow’ – a question that was met with much laughter and he declined to discuss plowing that farrow before the watershed.

Nick Stone gave a impassioned speech about how he loves to get letters from fans, real letters not emails and how he likes to write replies, he then went on….maybe we should take out the internet in Death Star-style, then go back to queuing at post offices to mail letters, book shops and record shops would return to our high streets….. a fine closing speech to a great panel.

We were sadly an author down at the What Lies Beneath panel, with Camilla Lackberg unable to travel due to illness, but the NJ Cooper chaired event was still very good, with Andrew Taylor stepping in to admirably fill the chair on stage. Steve Mosby, Tana French and Sophie Hannah made up the rest of the panel and, like many of the other panels during the weekend, the conversation took in lots os areas and subjects within its hour’s slot.

Starting with Steve Mosby, he was asked if his recent fatherhood had influenced his writing in any way, particularly as with his excellent latest book, Black Flowers, the father/child relationship seems explored on so many levels. He advised that he had already got very much underway with the book before the birth of his son (who could be heard above his dad from the back of the hall a couple of times during the event) but he was sure that the change in duties/responsibilities must have some bearing on his work now.

He also added, when talking about Mosby Jnr, that it ‘will be a miracle if he grows up okay and not twisted!’

Sophie Hannah discussed the whole question of mad vs sane and said that she notices the odd details and quirks in people when she’s out and about (audience lowers heads collectively for fear of a mention in her next book).

Tana French notes the changes in Ireland and the fact that she’s also lived elsewhere means she can also note changes to places there as an outsider. All of the authors on the panel have lots of personal stuff in their novels. Andrew Taylor thought of his work sometimes as ‘channelling his own internal nastiness’ and, once again, the whole concept and what is now a given that, crime writers are really nice people got a mention.

Sophie Hannah writes about what is obsessing her – she writes the book she’d most like to read but the irony is that once she’d finished, it’s the last book she’d want to read.

Andrew Taylor writes crime because it gives such freedom to write whatever he wants – as long as he puts the odd corpse in every now and again. He no longer feels inferior being a crime writer as PD James and others have managed to infiltrate and make permeable the barrier between literary and crime fiction.

Sophie Hannah admitted to having had ‘oodles’ of psychotherapy and thinks it’s very linked to the writing of crime novels for its moments of revelation.

Tana French added that she thought of characters in crime novels as posing the question ‘will they crack and what will be left of them?’

Sophie Hannah cited a very disturbing case where a dentist and a devout Catholic were having an affair and ended up killing both their spouses. In order to have sex, he would have to knock her out with gas first each and every time.

Andrew Taylor suggested that writing is very much like sculpting in that you never know the exact ‘shape’ of the story until you’ve finished chipping away.

Tana French added a very disturbing thought, that it’s likely we all know at least one psychopath – though not in the Hannibal Lector sense. To which Natasha Cooper added that it was a sure thing that we are all walking amongst strange people every day.

Steve Mosby then told us that he had two influences for the Black Flowers novel; the video for Peter Gabriel’s ‘Digging in the dirt’ where the shape of a figure rises up from the earth in flowers and also a documentary he’d seen online; My father, the Serial Killer.

Andrew Taylor admitted to scaring himself during the writing of the Roth trilogy – with a scene featuring the kidnapping of a 5 year old child and the mother’s sudden realisation that she’s gone. It was a section of the story which he and his wife batted back and forth for a long time as he’d scared himself, his own child also being that age at the time he wrote the scene.

Tana French described herself as a big movie fan – her first editor advised her where to cut locations and scenes was almost in the way a film director would work. When asked what her own greatest fear was, she responded that it would be a world coffee shortage (I’m sure she’s not alone in that one). When describing the appeal of mysteries she said it’s down to the fact that humans ask a lot of questions so we’re fascinated by mysteries. Whereas animals tend to just have three questions for everything: Can I eat it? Is it gonna hurt me? Can I shag it?

Sophie Hannah went on a little more on the subject of fear and building tension in a novel. She said that fear has a lot to do with the content and what is happening to characters that we care about. With fear on the page, just before the reveal, the closer you get to an answer the more scared you are – almost not wanting to know. In real life we don’t get all questions answered – so a crime novel that ties everything up neatly can seem disappointing. The best crime novels leave some unanswered questions and she cited Tana’s novel ‘In the Woods’ where one case is solved and another goes unanswered.

With the main discussion over, the panel was open to questions from the audience.

The first of these was to ask them if they were making money and whether it had all been worthwhile for them?

Sophie Hannah: Said she liked the money, but that’s not why writers write.

Andrew Taylor: You get a good year, then you get a bad year and then you get another bad year…

Steve Mosby: Said that he messed up a maths exam but consoled himself with the thought ‘Don’t worry, you wanted to be a writer.’

Tana French: Said she had a lot more stability with a two book deal than she ever had with her acting work.

They were then asked about their writing structure:

Steve Mosby: Each book he writes in a different way. For the first draft he tries to get 2000 words down per day. Editing is not anything like as scary as a blank page.

Tana French: Writes every day. Doesn’t have an outline, just dives in and hopes. Works to 1000 words per day, but edits as she goes along.

Andrew Taylor: Counts words – but quantity is less important to him than making sure he writes every day, even a small amount. ‘No day without a line!’

NJ Cooper: Tends to write a ‘scene’ then stop rather than work to a daily word count.

Sophie Hannah: For her first draft she’s normally up at the crack of 11am and then works through till 6.30pm. She changes her writing process with each book – if she can move house between books, then that’s even better.

The next panel I had to miss (yes, shock-horror! I missed one!). This was due to me needing to get back to my hotel and get changed and get food before the CWA Dagger and ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards event.

Chasing the Story – which featured journalists who had made the transition from fact to fictional writing was, by all accounts, one of the best panels of the weekend (so I was disappointed to hear that after missing it). Niamh O’Connor had to bow out of the event due to having a baby (a fair excuse and congratulations to her) and I heard that Belinda Bauer ably stepped in at the last minute to take her place.

So, after a brisk walk back to the Holiday Inn, quick spruce up, a toasted panini and a soft drink (the one and only of the weekend as I recall), it was back to the Old Swan for the start of the awards.







This was the first time that the CWA Daggers have been announced alongside the launch of the Specsavers ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards and, once again, it was an event where reviewers and fans stood shoulder to shoulder with the biggest names in crime fiction to hear the nominees and winners announced.

Chair of the CWA, Peter James, did an admirable job under very difficult circumstances and it was clear that all the parties involved had had next to no time together prior to the event, which made for a little confusion. Also, it had the strange quality of being awards for a room full of writers which was strangely missing any of those that actually had an award to collect. In most cases the awards were announced and then collected by members of the author’s publishing team or taken away by the person who had announced the winner. I had a conversation with a press photographer after the event who said it was the most surreal awards he’d been sent to photograph as there were only announcers on stage and no recipients to photograph. Nevertheless, as with all these things, it was great to be there and to mix with the great and the good – and both the CWA Daggers and the Crime Thriller Awards with its October lead-up are all things to look forward to. 8.30pm and it was time to return to the main hall to see North American crime writers Linwood Barclay & Lisa Gardner in conversation.

As they took to the stage a loud mobile phone ringtone sounded and it was hilarious to see Joseph Finder rummaging in his jacket pocket for the offending item before rushing out into the corridor. For reasons that I, and many others I spoke to afterwards, could not fathom, they were joined on stage by a lady chairing the event. There was no mention of her in the festival booklet and, having just googled to find out who she was, cannot find a mention of her either. It was totally unnecessary as both authors were great speakers and clearly had a fantastic rapport – I assume having been on the same panel circuits at other events in the past, and yet there she was, bringing in monotone questions, all from a clipboard which she read as an autocue – it was painful to watch at times.

All that was needed was for someone like Joe Finder (with his phone turned off) to run on stage announce the two authors and let them get on with the chat between them (Joe’s talk with David Baldacci the following day worked just fine like that). But, with that gripe out of the way, Barclay and Gardner were a fine double act and very entertaining.

Between them they cover most aspects of the current crop of crime novels, Lisa Gardner concentrating on police procedurals and subjects often ripped from real cases, whilst Barclay deals with ‘what if’ situations for everyday people. I discovered early on in the discussion that I share very similar traits to Linwood Barclay – I also fear the knives upside down in the dishwasher drawer – but I didn’t see it in ‘Lost’ unlike he did. He uses everyday worries as his starting point for much of his work.

Lisa Gardner said she likes to tap into fears – What would I do? How far would I go?

They discussed research with Lisa Gardner telling of her desire and recent opportunity to visit The Body Farm – a place where the staff expect the visitors to throw up when they see the bodies in various degrees of decay. She said she didn’t do too bad and didn’t throw up, despite clearly being in Death’s Acre.

Barclay chipped in that his research recently took him to visit a used car salesman, and he did throw up!

Gardner made it clear that the fiction she writes is just that, fiction – the reality of police work is a lot of paperwork and long waits for DNA results to come back – so research needs to be amended to make it entertaining fiction, with rules bent to suit dramatic requirements.

She also added that it’s often the anecdotes from people she meets on research which are the best bits to drop into the story. One day she was with a medical examiner in Boston, talking through something for a novel when he got a call – a body had been found in the chimney of a brownstone building which was being renovated ‘we get this all the time’ was the throw away line she was given.

Barclay invented Milford, his fictional ‘safe place’, although he added that places were not his primary concern, people and their interaction were more important and putting them into situations. He has in the past written four comic thrillers (which are not out in the UK) and they all dealt with a generic suburb – lots of people wrote to him claiming to live there.

For ideas for his work they are sometimes based on real events or real places. The Toronto Theme Park, Wonderland, had an urban myth of child abductions surrounding the place and this led to the idea behind ‘Never Look Away’.

In Lisa Gardner’s ‘Love you more’ she has an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances – You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.

This then led them to discuss the strange comments people make to reporters when a neighbour has been found guilty of a terrible crime:

‘He was a normal neighbour’ – He kept 25 babies in his basement.

‘They kept themselves to themselves.’

They then made comment to the saline killer nurse that was in the UK news that very week.

Gardner commented that she is always amazed when readers tell her what her themes are – she’s unaware of them herself.

Linwood’s new novel ‘The Accident’ is due out in September – he spoke a little about how he writes and about the breaks he takes when writing.

His passion, when taking breaks from one screen is to go and look at another one as he’s become addicted to 9 hole wii golf, currently has a handicap of 10 under and loves to kick his sons’ friends’ asses when they come to play.

He also has model train-sets in his basement, but added that it’s not something you really want to tell people about so it’s better to say you collect porn.

Lisa said that she loves distraction since having her baby, needs music. So she makes music playlists to inspire her to write, then playlists for chapters (apparently Stephanie ‘Twilight’ Myer also has this preoccupation) – despite the fact that for 15 years she wrote in silence, not she has to have music.

Linwood produces a first draft in 2-3 months, working 8.30 – 5pm every day (with golf and coffee breaks) getting a minimum of 2000 words down a day.

When he starts a book he just wants to finish it – being a result of his newspaper writing days, he still feels if he writes the books fast they might get published quicker.

Lisa confessed to spending much too much time in chatrooms and ones that could cause her trouble if the FBI ever go looking (pages on how best to dispose of human remains etc). She gets about 30 pages written in an average week and takes 6 months to get a draft finished.

She used some of her old work experiences and feelings in her books. In her first ‘The Perfect Husband’ she basically killed all her old bosses on the page.

Linwood used his experiences in his early comic thrillers. His Dad used to illustrate automobiles in car magazines, but work dried up when photography took off, so his Dad then ran a trailer park – his father died when he was 16 years old and Linwood wrote ‘Last Resort’ as an ebook, based on that period of his life.

He used to write articles about farming and wrote a long piece on cow disease – convincing himself that, as the first symptom was not being able to produce milk, he must have the disease himself!

Lisa grew up in Oregon and wrote her first book at 17 and sent it direct to a publisher. She was 20 when she sold her first book. ‘I have no employable skills – so please keep buying my novels!’ she told the audience.

Her first book was about a prostitute who solves a murder – she said her mother was SO proud. But her friends never considered it a proper job and offered that she could still babysit for them as a job if she wanted.

Linwood read the Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie and Nero Wolfe when he was younger, then moving on to Hammett, Chandler and McDonald. He started writing crime fiction when he was in his twenties. ‘Plot is the skeleton – I have to have a sequence.’

Lisa said that she loved puzzles and her family always played word and maths games. Suspense for her is the working out of puzzles, the catharsis of getting to the other side. We want to experience the things we write and read, but the closest drama we might experience on a daily basis might be a papercut. It’s wanting to be entertained and have a veil drawn back on a world we don’t know – it’s why The Silence of the Lambs was such a hit. In reality, the biggest issue for many cops is taking a pee, though – due to the amount of equipment they have to carry these days!

Linwood backed this up by saying the prime piece of equipment in the car for law enforcement officers on a stakeout is a plastic bottle ‘to take a whizz’.

Lisa said that the best writing guide for characters should be: Goal, motivation & conflict (and the conflict should include a lot of violence!)

Linwood said he couldn’t write a book set in the UK, he’d have too many complicated issues with afternoon tea and scones!

From his work on newspapers he added that, knowing how keen reporters are to announce their scoops and how they got them, there is no way that ‘they’ (in the current Murdoch phone-hacking scandal) didn’t know what was going on.

The conversation then turned to their current reads or favourites:

Lisa Gardner: JT Ellison – Where the Dead Lie, Karin Slaughter – Fallen, Tess Gerritsen – The Silent Girl.

Linwood Barclay: Ross McDonald still his favourite. Best book read this year – Defending Jacob by William Landay – like Presumed Innocent but way better, and Joe Finder’s Buried Secrets (even if his cell phone rang earlier!)

On plotting, Linwood said this was the toughest part for him. He needs to know the big picture. He makes changes in revisions but he needs to know where the story is going to end up.

Whereas Lisa said that she can’t know the ending beforehand. Her books have to follow logical steps as they are mainly police procedural but the twists often come to her as part of the research conversations.


And, above all, remember, no one ever has to see your first draft!


And so to the last panel at the end of a thoroughly enjoyable, but thoroughly exhausting Friday, and a real change to the norm for the festival. Howard Marks – to many known as ‘Mr Nice’ from his autobiography and film made from it starring Rhys Ifans, was one of the most renowned dope dealers of all time.

During the 1980’s he had 43 aliases, 89 phone lines and 25 companies throughout the world. And now, he has turned to the fictional world of crime which his first novel ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.

Interviewed by Mark Lawson, the event was opened by Lawson stating that this was a double first for the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

It was rated ‘X’ in the programme and it was the first unsponsored event they had ever held. To this Marks replied that he had tried to get sponsorship from Rizzla but they wouldn’t assist. And that set the tone for the whole conversation, with much of it about his drug dealing and very little of it about his fiction book.

I only had to look around me (the main hall now set out with circular tables and candles (cabaret style) rather than the formal rows of seats) and populated with lots of faces who hadn’t been at the other events so far this weekend – this was a different crowd, this was the crowd that ‘got’ Howard Marks and what he stood for back in the ‘80s and probably still now. I can’t say I count myself amongst that number.

The conversation was bit of a struggle at times, with Lawson having to ask if the memory losses that kept occurring were due to Marks’ past, to which he responded ‘No – I’m f**king old, man!’

Coming out of jail to a £100K deal for the book ‘Mr Nice’ and loving the title he was given as ‘The Most Wanted Man in Britain’ did little to endear him to me.

Marks now does a one-man show five nights a week and reads from his books in pubs and clubs, saying that it beats standing in book shops with a glass of shite wine in his hand.

That and the fact that he maintains that he writes better when he’s high, all compounded just to make me think that this was a brave choice for this year’s festival, but Howard Marks isn’t about his new foray into crime fiction, he’s still Howard Marks and it’s the fan-base he already has which is the one I expect he’ll stay with.

Or maybe I’d have felt different after a few more beers? – Somehow, I think I’d still feel the same.

And that was my Friday done and dusted. With an early start the following day, as FMcM Associates and Corvus had kindly set up for me to interview C.J.Box before the first event of the morning, meaning an 8am breakfast interview, it was time to head back to the Holiday Inn to write up some notes, transfer photos and drink coffee, lots of coffee.



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‘Indigo’ has far to go – Orion’s great new imprint.







A few weeks back, I was honoured to be invited along with a group of other book bloggers to visit Orion Towers and to celebrate and hear more about their exciting new YA (young adult) imprint, INDIGO.

With my crime-fan head on, the title that most appealed to me on this new list is the first YA novel by top crime author, Harlan Coben, Shelter – which is due out on 15th September (review to follow prior to launch here), but there were some other great exciting new titles also announced, many of which I’ll feature here, or over on the JNR blog if review is by my daughter, Georgia.  She has already beaten me to reading Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick and you can read her review here.  Her second review, of Kate Harrison’s Soul Beach will follow shortly, so please keep dropping by, here and over there too.


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Friday morning at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Friday morning came and I was out of bed on the first alarm – I always am at these things, as no wife or children to alert me if I oversleep.

A hearty breakfast at the Holiday Inn and a brisk walk back to the Old Swan Hotel for the first event of the day.

Martina Cole interviewed by Dreda Say Mitchell.

An illuminating and, at times, hilarious discussion between these two writers of tough gritty London and the South based crime kicked off with Martina, dressed all in black and with her microphone headset, bounding onto the stage to announce that she and Dreda were thinking of ‘doing a Britney’, but that they couldn’t as they’d both had a wash that morning!

Cole was an inspirational speaker – I’ve always found her work a little too heavy on the dark side for my liking as a rule, with few redeeming features to her character, but I loved hearing her speak and will be seeking out more of her books as a result.

Both spoke of their involvement with prisons and writing groups within and of their love of theatre, particular of their support of the Theatre Royal, Stratford – where I saw an excellent adaptation of Cole’s The Graft a few months ago.

There were comments and subjects I never expected to come up, such as Cole’s love of tv show ‘Come Dine with Me’ which she described as having everything – Food, idiots….

It was great to hear of her start in writing too, and her putting on a phoney posh voice when top agent Darley Anderson called her, as she thought it was one of her mates winding her up.

The thing I’ll take away more than anything from Martina Cole’s talk was her inspirational ‘Go for it!’ attitude and advice to anyone in the room who wanted to write, saying that if she and Dreda could make it, then…..

Top lady and a great start to the first full day at the festival.


Next up was Penned In.

This was the one event on the list that I was a little unsure of as to whether it would work for me – as essentially the panel was made up of former prison inmates who made a writing career for themselves whilst inside and are doing pretty well out of it now they are on the outside.

The panel was chaired by investigative journalist and crime author, Duncan Campbell, who unfortunately tripped up as he stepped onto the stage, a pattern which was followed by Cass Pennant who followed him in similar style – resulting in nervous laughter from the audience, not daring to mock too much.

I’ve joked to my wife in the past that if I committed a crime and served a bit of time for it, it could just be the space and time that I need to concentrate on my writing without having the day job and bills to concern myself with – This event threatened to reinforce that idea. However, despite the fact that all the men on the panel (Erwin James, Cass Pennant and Jonathan Aitken) had become successful in a new writing career as a result of starting to write in prison, there were stories of very dark experiences at times which I wouldn’t have wanted to face.

The common thread seemed to be that these men were able to read and write in a place where not everyone else can and, as a result of that, they were chosen to help those other inmates. Everything from reading letters from briefs and assisting with replies to penning love letters to girlfriends on the outside – they each became very useful to the others on their wings. Cass said that he realised just how important reading was to inmates when one told him he was ‘on the moon’ because a book he was reading placed him there and that’s where he was escaping to whilst he read it. He’s the first person to be titled a ‘Hooliologist’ for his knowledge of football hooliganism and is now known as ‘the book man’ to others inside who look to him for contracts (of the publishing kind!).

Jonathan Aitken illustrated how respected he was in prison when an inmate walked along the corridor holding a letter he’d written for him, shouting ‘This MP geezer of ours – he’s got fantastic joined-up writing!’ Aitken’s letters of love to the ladies of Brixton also made him very popular.

Erwin James confirmed that his favourite read whilst inside Wandsworth Jail was Papilion – which he read three times – he knew that there was no chance of escape from Wandsworth other than through books. He also agreed with the comment that a prisoner is at times free-er than a free man on the outside.

The last panel of the morning was entitled Wrong ‘Uns, and was, I thought, one of the most impassioned panels – mainly due to some serious opening up to problems in her past from Mandasue Heller and some strong arguments during the discussions from Denise Mina.

Alex Wheatle and Craig Robertson made up the rest of the panel, which was chaired by James Twining. The discussion began by asking the panel if they believed there was such a thing as ‘evil’. Denise Mina suggested that crime fiction enables us to unpack veiling of truths and that, if you want your children to become psychopaths, then you really need to work at it.

Craig Robertson also agreed that he didn’t believe that there was such a thing as ‘evil’.

Mandasue Heller then told of a terrible attack that she’d suffered when younger, by a man with a claw hammer and that she’d been very badly treated by the police afterwards as she understood that there had been a number of attacks on prostitutes in the area and they had little sympathy for anyone regardless of their own situation, tarring all victims with the same brush. Later, she suffered a tumour behind her eye, meaning that her balance was impaired whilst on stage – so all this led to her sitting and starting to write down all of her problems – a memoir too personal to publish, but enough to make her realise that she wanted to write.

Alex Wheatle spoke of needing to include context/background to the reasons why people can turn out the way they do.

The conversation then turned to fictional violence and whether it was necessary to up the gore quota to outsell an author’s previous novel or books by others.

With his superb debut novel, Random, Craig Robertson wanted to put the reader inside the killer’s head to make the reader as uncomfortable as possible (it did) but all agreed that there is still a strong case for good writing meaning that not so much violence needs to actually be ‘shown’ on the page.   Alex suggested that a slow-down in the lead up to the scene of violence can greatly improve the pace/action and recommended watching Sergio Leone movies to see great examples of how that pacing can work so well.

Denise Mina stood up for violence – she likes her gore and wasn’t ashamed to say so.

‘We’re not buying books about cats!’

She said that we all like the fact that we read things that we maybe shouldn’t and she recommended the movies of Beat Takeshi for great examples of the aftermath of violence.

‘I like a bit of gore – Let’s be honest about it’. She went on to say that many people probably bought books where characters are stabbed to take on holiday to reduce the chances of them wanting to stab their own families whilst away.

James Twining stepped in to say that, from the discussion so far, all seemed to be in agreement that the increase in violence in books was a mirror on society and not a distortion of it.

Craig Robertson fell into trouble with Denise at the fact that he had a sex worker killed in his second novel, Snapshot.

But should books be restricted?

‘Everybody read dirty bits’ in books at school, advised Denise.

Mandasue agreed and added that ‘The Happy Hooker’ was a favourite when she was younger.

So, has the battle been lost – our children have already seen bloodshed/violence on the internet and in videogames, but in books it’s usually different, in most cases there is a resolution at the end.

Denise Mina suggested that those present in the room should start a ‘secret censorship’ – we should go out and mark books by Robbie Burns and Milton as XXX and put them on a high shelf in bookstores and libraries and tell children not to read them!

Alex Wheatle stated that he felt that publishing and books in general was still too white middle class and was still under-represented in black authors/editors and readers – he’s on a mission to improve that.

The panel was then asked for their favourite anti-heroes:

James Twining: Glenn Close’s character in ‘Dangerous Liaisons’.

Craig Robertson: Robert Murdoch (going for a very topical name), and then added James Stewart as Mr Potter in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

Denise Mina: ‘Violent Cop’ by Beat Takeshi – despite the fact she’d discovered it by accident in thinking she was renting another in the ‘Maniac Cop’ horror series. She also added Humbert Humbert from ‘Lolita’.

Alex Wheatle – Noodles from ‘Once upon a time in America’.

Mandasue Heller – Bette Davis in ‘The Anniversary’ – pure evil and fascinating to watch.

Craig Robertson then got the chance during a Q&A session to redeem himself with Denise Mina when he told her he did feature a bit of male rape in his first novel.

And Denise commented that she felt that we are a much more visual culture now – and, as a result of that, we don’t want a lot of detail and long descriptions of landscape, we just need glimpses of scenes.

And that was Friday morning up until lunch-bell.

Five more panels to go on this first packed day of criminal activity.


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A full round up summary: Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

I’ll be posting full reports of Friday/Saturday & Sunday at the HCWF on this page as soon as possible but, in the meantime, have also posted a summary report which covers the bare bones of what went on each day over at The Culture Vultures blog.

You can read it by clicking the link below:


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The Full Case File: Harrogate Crime Writing Festival (Thursday).

I have to admit I found the trip up to Harrogate very tough this year – but it had nothing to do with the festival itself, more to do with its timing.

All those months before when I’d leapt around (not a pretty sight I assure you) at the news that I’d been selected as one of two ‘bloggers in residence’ for this year’s event, the significance of the date of day one of the festival hadn’t really hit home.

Thursday 21st July was the first day of the festival, but it was also the last day that my daughter was at Primary School and about to depart for greater things.

For the two weeks prior to the festival I heard nothing but the other parents speaking about being there on the last day, completing the circle in some way as we’d all been there for our children on the first day of school – every time they spoke it made my leaving even tougher.

And then there was last week – parents’ evening – and the head teacher walking into the classroom where we were discussing out daughter, and closing the door behind him.

She was going to get a best achiever’s award  – her name engraved on a school shield and displayed in the reception for as long as the building would stand.  We were invited, he told us, to come to the school on Thursday afternoon, to see the presentation, to record the event and to stay for the leaver’s assembly and farewell song before they would troop out into the playground through a corridor formed by the other children.

I wasn’t going to be around, my wife told him.  I’d be away in Harrogate.  But she’d video it for me – I could watch it when I got back.

She knew how much attending this year’s festival meant to me, and the fact that I had at least a four hour drive that coming Thursday to be at Harrogate in time for the first event I’d scheduled to attend.  It wasn’t even one I’d originally been asked to cover, but had requested a ticket to be there, wanting to cover as much as possible, to make the trip as worthwhile and productive as I could.

Go – she said – we’ll be fine.

All I kept asking was if it was really okay, oh and had she charged the camera, did she have enough memory cards.

Thursday 21st July.

I did the school run – least I could do was deliver my children to school, even if I was going to be the absent parent later in the day – then the garage to fuel up and then headed North, with the festival and all the people I knew would be there in my mind.

To pass the hours of the drive I’d sat up the night before burning ‘3 weeks to Say Goodbye’ by C.J. Box onto CDs so I could get another of his novels at least half ‘read’ before a planned interview with him over the weekend.

The audiobook worked a treat at getting the miles done as painlessly as possible, with one break for lunch and I was at the Holiday Inn, Harrogate, around 3.30pm.

The first sign that there was a crime festival in town was spotting Ali Karim from Shots in the reception as I checked in.

We had a brief hello and then parted company as I took the lift for the tenth floor.  Seconds later and the doors opened on the lift, Ali standing outside with a puzzled look on his face, and me back on the Ground Floor – due to some elaborate ‘put your pass key in the lift control if you want to get anywhere above second floor’ shenanigans.

Once we’d worked that one out, I hauled my bags, laden with books, MacBook (and my daughter’s lovely pink netbook which was on loan to me as the MacBook’s been playing up of late), cables, chargers, batteries, camera, books, notepads, emergency Pot Noodle, wash kit, books, clothes and books, up to my room and then, as is customary for me on arrival, sought out the kettle immediately (but no biscuits – shame on you Holiday Inn).

After a quick cuppa, shower and a change of clothes, I headed off into town in the direction of the Wetherspoons pub, where it had been arranged that a few of those of us who knew of each other on twitter would meet up for a pre-festival drink and bite to eat.  It was great to meet friends old and new at this point, and to finally get to meet Dave Jackson (whose New York set novel ‘Pariah’ I’d enjoyed so much earlier this year).  We chatted and drank but, alas, never got round to ordering food before I had to make a move and get to the festival venue hotel, The Old Swan, in time for the first event I was attending.

Crime drama television channel ‘Alibi’s – Search for a New Crime Writer competition in conjunction with Harper Collins was whittled down to a shortlist of seven entries a few weeks back, and the announcement is held at a champagne reception at the end of the Creative Thursday’s events, so it’s always a room filled with existing and yet to be discovered writing talent.

I may have had the embarrassing title of ‘first to knock a drink over’ this year, but my glass was swiftly refilled in time for the announcements.

Preceeding the writing award, was a promo reel from Alibi, showcasing some of their current shows and those to come in the new season, probably the most eagerly awaited but sadly not shown in clip form here was the new Rizzoli & Isles series based on Tess Gerritsen’s characters which is in its second season in the states and will launch on Alibi later this year.

Unfortunately the scheduled host for the evening, Camilla Lackberg, had been taken ill and was not able to travel, so old pro at these things, Stuart Macbride, stepped up to make the presentation after the Alibi slot.

‘A Well Kept Secret’ by Geraint Jones (a wildcard entry on the website from Wales) was announced as the winner   – you can check out his entry and those of others on the website

After a bit of chatting in the room and a few more drinks it was time for everyone to make their way to the main hall for the main festival launch and the announcement of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

After a welcome and introduction by Chief Executive and all round Superwoman, Sharon Canavar, Radio 4’s Mark Lawson was back on the stage again this year to let us all know who out of a very strong longlist had made it onto the very strong shortlist and had eventually risen triumphant from the pack.  But, as the way with these things, you never get to find out too quickly – and that’s just fine as he has such an entertaining way of prolonging the agony that it’s become accepted.

He spoke at first about the controversy that had arisen following last year’s selection process, when his own dog had correctly selected RJ Ellory as winner from a selection of the shortlisted books on his patio.  Apparently, psychic Fred (the dog), had since been found responsible for hacking the mobile phones of the judging panel and, due to that, had been banned from taking part in this year’s event.  Apparently he also took the news that he is in fact a mongrel and not a Jack Russell very badly too, so he’s having a pretty bad time right now.

One at a time Mark Lawson invited the shortlisted authors to the stage to collect their Theakstons tankards and to talk for a short while about their book.

This year’s shortlist comprised of:

Mark Billingham – From the Dead.

S.J Bolton – Blood Harvest.

Lee Child – 61 Hours.

William Ryan – The Holy Thief.

Andrew Taylor – The Anatomy of Ghosts.

Stuart MacBride – Dark Blood

And to much applause the award and prizes went to Lee Child (the man who, apparently, sees one of his books sold somewhere in the world every second) for 61 Hours.

Lee took the stage again to collect his Theakstons barrel trophy and was clearly humbled by the news and very grateful for the recognition.

Following the main award, it was then time for Val McDermid to take to the stage to talk about Phyllis – who we all know as P.D James – and the award for contribution to crime writing that she was to be presented with.

Detailing her long and well-respected career, Val welcomed P.D James to the stage to a standing ovation.  And then, when the cheers and applause had faded down, she spoke – she talked about her friends in the crime writing world, of her work and of the festival – a 90 year old stalwart of the crime writing community (the Queen Mum of crime as Val commented) who was full of good humour and created very moving first night speech –much in the same way as Reginald Hill did the previous year accepting the same award.  And then, when the applause came again she waited until it had died down before leaning back to the microphone, pointing at Simon Theakston and saying that from that day onwards Adam Dalgleish would only drink one brand of beer.

So, that was the first evening – the awards followed by many a bar area reunion.

And then, one by one, we all started to realise that this was just the beginning, the first evening, the first official event of a long weekend ahead and reluctantly (some of us) began to filter away to get some sleep – after typing up a few notes, of course….



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Harrogate Crime Writing Festival – Sad it’s all over

Well, that’s another Harrogate Crime Writing Festival over and it has to have been the BEST one to date.

Full run-downs on all the events will follows with photos as soon as I’ve settled after a full-on immersion to all the events and the long drive home.

In the meantime, here’s a really nice intro video from The Yorkshire Post – filmed during the set up of this year’s event and featuring some of the hard working team and some of the potential new names lining up to try their hands at a life of crime (writing).


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Harrogate Crime Writing Festival – Friday

The first full day at the festival and, wow, what a day.

Based on comments made and the sheer volume of people here (in excess of 9000 tickets sold), this really is shaping up for an even bigger festival next year for the 10th Anniversary of the festival.

Once again, this is a late post, followed by an early start tomorrow for more great crime events, so a quick summary follows (full event write-ups will follow when the dust settles).

Kicking off with a superbly entertaining Special Guest appearance by the ‘contemporary Queen of the British Crime Novel’ Martina Cole – interviewed by Festival Chair Dreda Say Mitchell – this was just the tonic to wake us all from our Thursday night sore heads.

Then it was Penned In – an interesting and, at times, disturbing, insight into the minds and writing of three authors (Cass Pennant, Jonathan Aitken & Erwin James) as they discussed their time inside and what led to them writing with Duncan Campbell.

Just time for a quick coffee before it was back to the seats for Wrong ‘Uns.  James Twining held the fort with a discussion between Mandasue Heller, Denise Mina, Craig Robertson and Alex Wheatle.  A walk through the dark alleyways of each of their minds and books.

Lunch break (and a very good lunch it was too) was followed by Old Blood – in which Martyn Waites got to chat with former New Blood authors Nick Stone, Allan Guthrie, Cathi Unsworth and Mark Mills about their successes since the day that they appeared at Harrogate as newbie writers.

What Lies Beneath had NJ Cooper delve into the work and the minds of the psychological thriller with Sophie Hannah, Tana French, Steve Mosby and (standing in for Camilla Lackberg who has sadly been taken ill and unable to attend) Andrew Taylor.

Chasing the Story followed (unfortunately without Niamh O’Connor who was unable to attend) and I was also unable to make this event due to a dash to get changed and ready for the following event.  I have heard since that Belinda Bauer stepped in and that it was one of the best events of the day (if anyone has pictures or wants to send me a brief report on that one it would be gratefully received).

Then it was time for The Daggers & Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards – a veritable who’s who of the greatest names in crime fiction all in one great room for an event only marred by the fact that all of the recipients of prizes were either overseas or unable to attend.

Back to the main hall for a great discussion with perfect banter between Linwood Barclay and Lisa Gardner – hilarious at times and very insightful into both of their writing styles and research.

And last up, a unique event for the festival.

The first time that the X-Rated certificate has been applied and the first time that an unsponsored event has taken place.  Howard Marks took to the stage with Mark Lawson and told us that he had tried to get sponsorship from Rizzla, but they weren’t interested ☺

A Fantastic Festival Friday – Bring on Saturday!!!! (but after a bit of shut-eye I think).


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Harrogate Crime Writing Festival – Thursday.

What follows is short and sweet, due to the fact that it’s now 2am and I’m hoping to be up and back to see Martina Cole at 9am ! – That’s Harrogate for you 🙂

A fantastic evening’s launch tonight, which saw Geraint Jones win the Alibi Search for a New Crime Writer Award, PD James receive a special award for her contribution to crime writing and Lee Child scoop the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year for 61 Hours.

All that, plus a new, festival only, brew from Theakstons – Crime of Passion – what more could you ask for?  Okay, how about three more packed days and nights of Harrogate Crime Writing fun – cos that’s what is about to follow.

A lengthier blog and more pics will follow in due course, but I’m hoping these mini reports and pics will be enough to whet the appetite in the meantime.







And, next year’s looking mighty fine already – returning Chair, Mark Billingham, has already secured Harlan Coben, John Connolly and Charlaine Harris for 2012.

More tomorrow (although actually that’s today already.)


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Craig Robertson takes a break from packing his case for Harrogate to drop by for a quick chat.

Ahead of his appearance at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, where he’s sharing a panel entitled ‘Wrong ‘Uns’ with Mandasue Heller, Denise Mina, Alex Wheatle and chaired by James Twining, Craig Robertson dropped by to have a quick chat with Books and Writers as the ink dries on the first draft of his third crime novel.

I can’t wait for book three, as I loved both Random and Snapshot.

I think I’m right in saying that last year you were at Harrogate on the Creative Writing day ? (as was I).

Clearly, you did a lot better than I since then, so would you be willing to take a break for a while, now you have two great books out there and a third one drafted, so you can come and deal with my family whilst I give this writing lark a shot?  Let me know dates that suit you (3-4 months end of this year should do for a start).

No, I read online somewhere that someone had met me at the Creative Writing event but whoever he spoke to, it wasn’t me as I wasn’t there. I was in Harrogate that day but I was at the Alibi lunch where the shortlist was announced for the CWA New Blood Dagger. I remember it because I somehow made the shortlist for Random! No problem on the job swap though, I could probably do a month from the end of September if that’s any good.

Deal !

Did you find the writing of Snapshot any easier than Random?  Or was it the typical harder ‘second book’ that we always hear about?

I certainly didn’t find it easier. Mainly because I’d had all the time in the world to write Random but suddenly found myself with a good bit less than a year to write Snapshot and, at that time, I was still working full-time as a journalist. There was also the added pressure of expectation, some self-imposed, because Random had done quite well. There was quite a bit of work on the second draft but we were happy with the result.

I love the way that, whilst Random appears to end with no possibility of a sequel, that you have managed to maintain a thread into Snapshot by characters – is this something we can expect again in book three?  And further on into future books?

Yes, the principal characters from Snapshot (Tony Winter, DS Rachel Narey, DI Derek Addison and Danny Neilson) all reappear in Cold As The Grave. I liked the characters plus it saves me having to work on new ones! The plan at the moment is that they will all feature in book four as well – if they survive book three…

Who are your favourite crime authors or favourite crime titles?  And is there one in particular that influenced you or made you want to write?

Favourites would include James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, Louise Welsh, Ian Rankin and Allan Guthrie. I couldn’t honestly say that one writer or book inspired me to write. It was all of them and none of them.

Can you tell me a little about your writing regime/day?  Are you very disciplined?

I am extremely indisciplined. I get up late, potter about, fence with every possible distraction and only once I have exhausted every avenue for procrastination do I drag myself kicking and screaming to the keyboard sometime well after lunch. Which is all a bit silly really because I actually love writing. So much so that despite, or more likely because of, the late start, I often work beyond midnight. Two in the morning is not unusual and that inevitably leads to another late start.

Where do you write?  Can you give a bit of an insight into what you surround yourself with at your desk, or can you write more or less anywhere?

I write either at the PC in the dining room of my home in Stirling or on the laptop wherever else I may be, usually Glasgow. I am surrounded only by distractions and the proximity of food. I rarely have reference books at hand, relying on memory or the world’s favourite search engine. Having worked in a loud newsroom for years, I can write anywhere and that’s pretty handy.

Is there anyone in particular you are looking forward to meeting, or a particular panel/event you are most looking forward to at this year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival?

I hope to catch as many panels as possible but will be making a particular effort to catch Dennis Lehane, Howard Marks and Lee Child. Other than that I am looking forward to meeting my agent as he will hopefully be on agency expenses and I will be expecting free beer. I will happily chat to anyone, whether they are buying beer or not, so do come and say hello.

What, for you, is the best part of being a writer and which bits of that do you enjoy the most?

I love the freedom to work when I choose and, more importantly, when I don’t. I was never very good at having a boss and being my own suits me just fine. That apart, I just love the process of putting words together. Forming sentences that become paragraphs that become pages and chapters and, against all odds, become books. I find it fun rather than work.

Do you download ebooks or own an ereader?  Do you have anything to say about them and the way they are becoming more commonplace?

I do have a Kindle and love it as a piece of kit. It hasn’t increased my reading schedule much and I probably read less than 90% of people at Harrogate this week. I used to buy books and not read them, now I download books and not read them. In general terms, and putting the problem of piracy aside, I’m in favour of anything which encourages people to buy books (even if they don’t read them!)

Is there a crime novel that you wish you had written?

Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia perhaps. It’s as noir as it gets but is a great argument for crime fiction as serious literature.

Do you have a favourite crime movie or tv show?

Favourite crime movie is a toughie. If I had to choose then The Usual Suspects might edge out Angels With Dirty Faces, City of God or Godfather: Part 11. TV show might be NYPD Blue although I’d have a shamelessly nostalgic vote for Starsky and Hutch or Kojak!

Can you tell us a bit about your writing before the deal was struck with Random?  Any other previous manuscripts that might be revived from before that and published in the future?  And has it always been crime that’s been your subject of choice?

My writing pre-Random had almost entirely been confined to journalism. There were no previous attempts at novels and only one short story that I can think of and that was about twenty years ago. Which makes me either lucky or a bit of a fraud, I don’t know which. That being said, journalism was excellent training in how not to waste words, the importance of openings and impact – and of meeting a deadline. I’ve always been interested in crime. Family lore has it that was down to being read Agatha Christie novels as bedtime stories when I was three…

Is there one piece of writing advice that’s been told to you that you’d pass on to others? Or do you have one of your own to offer up?

I can’t remember any particular advice and apologise if there’s anyone I am doing a disservice on that count. The single piece of advice I would offer is not to give up. I stopped writing Random umpteen times across the years, thinking that I was wasting my time, and am rather glad I stuck at it.

Who would play Craig Robertson in the movie of this crime writer’s life?

Blimey, I don’t know. Maybe Robert Carlyle if he reverts to his shaven-headed past. Scottish, only a year older than me and has experience of playing moody, bad-tempered headcases.

What’s your poison?

Guinness. And black pudding if you are buying snacks as well.

Cheers for stopping by, Craig, looking forward to your panel at Harrogate and to reading that book three as soon as it is unleashed.



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Win Win Win ! – 3 sets of Great Comic Crime novels from L.C.Tyler.

Thanks to those oh so lovely people at Pan Macmillan, I’m able to give you the chance to win not one, not two, not three, BUT (you guessed it) four great novels from one of crime fiction’s greatest comic authors.

To celebrate the publication of the new hardback in the Elsie & Ethelred series, HERRING ON THE NILE – which I am currently reading and loving to death for all it’s poking fun at crime writing and the golden age of crime fiction, you have a chance to win one of three sets of the following:







in paperback.

But, I hear you ask, what hoops do I need to leap through to be in with a chance of such a fantastic prize in time for some serious (well, not that serious, in fact deadly funny) crime fiction reading over the summer?

Couldn’t be easier and, as the man says, you have to be in it to win it….so just leave a comment after this post telling along with your email address (with ‘AT’ replacing @ to fool those pesky spambots) or your twitter name and you’ll be in the draw.

If you’ve never read L.C.Tyler (like I hadn’t before) then you’ll love discovering him (like I have).

Good luck



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