As I still get asked from time to time, what’s Harrogate’s Crime Writing Festival actually like, I’ve flicked back through previous notes and reports and discovered this article I wrote for Ottakar’s then Crime Fiction fanzine ‘The Verdict’ in 2004.
This was only the second year of the festival, but it was already firmly established as a MUST in many peoples’ calendars for years to come:
Why every Crime Fiction reader and writer should attend the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival
On a Friday in July last year (2003) I set off from my home in Kent and made the long and lonely journey by car all the way to North Yorkshire.
I ran out of CDs to listen to, and the journey took me the best part of the day to complete, meaning that I unfortunately missed the first event I was booked to attend – New Blood – a discussion with a group of recently published new crime writers, and ran very close to missing the second event.
Lack of budget meant I was booked in a slightly cheaper hotel than where the festival was taking place and had only been able to book the one day, and overnight stay, and then the long drive home the following day.
I eventually found my hotel and parked the car . I ran like a thing possessed into the reception and checked in, took the lift up to my room, threw my bag on the bed, changed my shirt , rushed back down and out of the hotel and ran up the road to the festival hotel.
Once there I just had time to collect my goodie bag and tickets, before sitting down in the main hall within seconds of Val McDermid taking to the stage.
But, I have to say, it was certainly worth all of the travelling and stress to be even a small part of such a great event.
I sat in on the first talk which was between McDermid and Professor Sue Black, the UK’s leading forensic anthropologist. This was amazing stuff. Sue assists McDermid on much of the nastier detail of her novels. Some of the tales she told of war-torn countries she has had to work in, including Kosovo and Iraq were particularly harrowing, but the detail and procedures she described were, nonetheless, fascinating. It will be a long time before I forget, if ever, her stories of carrying two human heads back and forth through customs in buckets fo forensic testing, or the information she gave about traces in the blood stream of all parts of the body if tattooed anywhere.
This was swiftly followed up by Capital Noir – in which Mark Billingham chaired a discussion with Christopher Brookmyre, Stella Duffy, Julie Parsons and John Williams about how the place they write about is a character of its own in their work. This was both entertaining and informative, and opened my eyes to another group of interesting writers I had yet to read.
Karin Slaughter took to the stage shortly afterwards, joined and interviewed by fellow crime writer Laura Lippman. This was an interesting, entertaining and, at times, laugh-out-loud humorous discussion between the two writers, much of their friendly banter about the exaggerated age difference between them. Before this event I had read all of Slaughter’s Grant County series books, but again was introduced to the subject and themes of Lippman’s work as yet another crime writer to investigate further.
The first real break of the day, since setting off from home, allowed a very quick bite to eat and a change of clothes before joining the assembled writers and visitors once again for the evening’s entertainment.
Writer, TV and radio producer Simon Brett chaired a special Harrogate-themed version of his Radio 4 show, Foul Play, featuring Mark Billingham and Stella Duffy as multiple characters in a crime investigation play.
Both Billingham and Duffy have backgrounds in comedy and stand-up as well as their crime writing and they were hilarious as they transcended from one character to another under serious questioning from the panel and chief investigator.
So, was it worth it?
Damn right it was! – The single day I spent last year in the hospitable company of some of the best crime writers in the business will stay with me for a long time to come.
I promised myself I would have to take in the whole event in 2005 and, as soon as I saw the line-up on the website www.harrogate-festival.org.uk/crime , ordered a set of tickets to all the events in the programme, with accommodation at the event hotel.
I would strongly recommend anyone with an interest in crime writing, or even if you are a reader whose interests currently are only for reading the work of a couple of the featured authors, that you take a further look into what’s happening in Harrogate this July and come along if you can.
So, whilst the cast may change from year to year and there are always new events/topics up for discussion, the one thing I found in reading back my report above was that, even back then, I was incredibly impressed with what a memorable and friendly time the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival has offered year after year.
Counting down the days and preparing for Thursday’s trip North.