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.
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 www.theperfectalibi.co.uk
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.
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….